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Upcycled furniture goes from rugged to refined
Chic or Shabby creates vintage feel on all kinds of pieces
A female bust waits to be refurbished in the warehouse of the Chic or Shabby store off Ronnie Green Parkway in Gainesville. The store sells repurposed pieces with a vintage appearance. - photo by J.K. Devine

Chic or Shabby

When: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

Where: 975 Ronnie Green Parkway, Gainesville

More info: 770-540-0718,

What’s old is new again.

Some might go to thrift stores to purchase vinyl records or vintage clothing, but a developing trend is changing the customers’ purchase course.

Many residents appear to be flocking to secondhand shops in droves for more utilitarian items: furniture. And customers aren’t paying secondhand prices for them since the vintage look is in demand.

Pinterest and many others in the know have christened this furniture aesthetic trend as “shabby chic.” For those unfamiliar with the term, it involves giving furniture pieces a face-lift with some fresh coats of paint, new handles and a little distressing for a vintage look.

But this process is not limited to secondhand stores. Simply purchasing upcycled furniture and doing it yourself can often be more fun and, more importantly, cheaper.

Tamara Broome and Pam England, owners and operators of the Chic or Shabby furniture store on Ronnie Green Parkway in Gainesville, refurbish hundreds of pieces of furniture every year. They turn the average thrift shop or flea market finds into upcycled, vintage-themed pieces. From desks to headboards, end tables to chests of drawers, the two women have been in the shabby chic business for 20 years. Their wealth of experience makes them the go-to duo for advice on how to “antique” or distress your own furniture.

Finding a piece to antique is the first step.

“We do auctions, estate sales, and we buy from individuals,” England said. “Then we have people who look for us — we call them pickers. They look for us. The fun part, though, is for us to be able to look for it ourselves.”

Broome and England typically cross state lines to find pieces to upcycle. Their favorite spots include flea markets in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area as well as in Alabama, Florida and South Carolina. The hunt has become slightly more difficult since the shabby chic look has become popular as more buyers enter the market and more sellers hold onto pieces with the intention of bequeathing them to loved ones.

“We like the hunt,” England said. “The hunt is the thrill.”

Whether you attend an estate sale, a thrift store or rifle through your own basement to find a piece to antique, Broome and England’s requirements for a good piece are simple. The most basic requirement must be the piece is made from “true wood” — real wood, not plastic or varnish. In addition, Broome says it “has to be decorative.”

“Most people like decorative (pieces), the ornateness of an older piece,” Broome said. “Pretty (handles), vintage (handles), and a lot of times to be able to find the really pretty pieces, you have to go back into some antique pieces. You can (antique) some newer pieces, definitely, but it’s much more defined when you do it on older pieces.”

If you are antiquing something for the first time, Broome and England recommend not letting your eyes get bigger than your paint brush.

“You don’t want to ruin a good piece, or especially an heirloom piece,” England said. “Don’t start with something like that. Just take a little small table, an occasional table, a night stand, something that wouldn’t take as long, that way if you mess it up, you can redo it in no time.”

Once you have selected a piece to antique, make sure you’re in it for the long haul — the process isn’t as simple as the bygone era shabby chic pieces are meant to recall.

“There’s about 10 steps to it, actually,” Broome said.

A variety of ways exist to begin the antiquing process.

The first step is always sanding the piece down, either by removing any paint or veneer. This process allows the piece to take new paint easier.

Next, prime the piece before painting it.

Some can paint it without primer, which will contribute to the desired distressed look.

But before grabbing a brush and layering on the paint, you must select a color. Broome and England recommend going with one of the hues popular with their customer base.

“Cream, white, lemon white, blues are still in, grays,” England said. “The deep, richer colors aren’t as popular as they used to be. Black is still a favored color, but the whites are more in.”

You can also purchase paint with a chalky finish that lends itself more to a shabby chic look. Several coats will be required.

The next step to achieve a shabby chic look seems a bit counterproductive — once the paint has dried, get a piece of sandpaper and rub it back and forth along the parts of the piece that would undergo normal wear and tear such as edges, corners and handles. The distress marks are what really make or break the appearance.

A final, optional step is to coat the piece in polyurethane. You can purchase the chemical from any hardware store, just make sure to pick a kind that won’t change the color or integrity of the final product.

Transforming a thrift shop find into a shabby chic masterpiece might not be easy, but the popularity doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon — a trend motivated wholly by looking to the past.

“A lot of people like the mystery behind the piece,” England said. “It can be a conversational piece, a piece that tells a story.”