The words upcycled furniture, recycled and shabby chic are popular today. Over the last twenty years these styles have evolved from somewhat humble beginnings to being big business and available in some of the trendiest stores worldwide. While the design is, of course, important and appealing to many people, the fact that this furniture does not use new materials to build it appeals to those who are concerned with environmental issues – Many realising, more production more pollution.

Shabby Chic v Upcycled – Primary Differences

It is easy to think shabby chic and upcycled furniture are the same. However, there are marked differences between the two. Both are relatively environmentally friendly as neither utilise new materials. Even so, shabby chic recycles pieces of dilapidated (shabby) furniture using painting techniques and effects. Upcycling goes a lot further. It reinvents them, turning just about anything into something completely different. For example, an old airplane door becomes a rather trendy looking office desk: An old record becomes a plant pot…

The Evolution of Shabby Chic

Shabby Chic began in the UK, an aesthetic born from the world of bohemian art – Indeed, it is without doubt an art form. The term ‘Shabby Chic’ was first used in the eighties by ‘The World of Interiors’ magazine. In the early days the furniture has a somewhat ostentatious style as the primary inspiration for it was taken from old French chateaus, large English country homes and elaborate, eighteenth century Swedish painting styles. The style was quickly taken on-board in America throughout the nineties – The English opulent, vintage cottage style capturing their imagination. The simplicity that has evolved within the shabby chic style as the years went on came from the American Shakers furniture, renowned for its simplicity and ‘plain talking’. Rachel Ashwell was the first to create a commercial Shabby Chic furniture chain in 1996. She describes the style perfectly in her book, “the aura of old money, cushy comfort, and crafted indifference.”

Why Upcycling is not Recycling

When something is recycled it is actually broken down to remove the useful materials and those materials are then used to make something entirely different. Upcycling is very different in that the materials used are not previously broken down, instead they are transformed. Indeed, many refer to upcycling as ‘creative reuse’. On the other hand, recycling is often referred to as ‘downcycling ’. Reiner Pilz first used the phrase downcycling when discussing the EU demolition Waste Streams directive: “I call it downcycling. They smash bricks, they smash everything. What we need is upcycling, where old products are given more value, not less.” This phrase encompasses the idea behind upcycled furniture perfectly.

When you understand the difference between upcycling and recycling, you realise the difference in the concepts that create shabby chic and upcycled furniture. Both are environmentally friendly in their individual way and with people worldwide becoming more concerned with how and where we are using our resources, it is logical they are becoming ‘the’ trend – And why not? Beautiful, creative furniture that is individual and unique as well as reserving world resources – Well, that’s hard to beat!