Few homes in southern California have the architectural character or timeless appeal of older homes. If a classic style of home is at the top or your list of must-haves, you often have to search high and low for the right house.
But when Rachel Ashwell, designer and founder of Shabby Chic, stumbled across this Brentwood house eight years ago, she fell in love with its quirks and knew it would be just the place to call home.
“The architectural style is a hodgepodge,” Rachel says. “It has a bit of a Southern feel, but it also has a Spanish, an English and an Irish flair.”
In the main living room, a large brick fireplace is the focal point of the room and sets the warm, comforting tone of the rest of the home. The fireplace is so large you can walk inside of it, Rachel says, which is common in Scottish or Irish houses. “It’s actually what drew me to buy the house to begin with.”
While the home already had many exceptional details, including arched walkways, beautiful balconies, and original doors and hardware, Rachel decided to restore some of the key design aspects to a more classic style.
“As often is the case, the baths and kitchen had been renovated, but in a slick and polished style, so I restored them and put them back to what I consider would have been the authentic style for the house,” Rachel says.
For the kitchen, she found some white subway tiles from an old Belgian subway that offer just a slight hint of sheen and contribute to the simplicity of the space. Other elements that bring her kitchen together are dainty pendants above the farmhouse sink, simple white floating shelves neatly stacked with plates, and white painted barnwood-style cabinets. “It has the illusion of a funky little kitchen, but it’s a really good, functional one.”
When Rachel moved in, walls separated the kitchen from the main living room; she opened everything up so it’s all one large space. “It feels like New York loft living, and I have a lot of guests stay here, so I wanted it to have a feeling of a lot of space and not lonely with all these closed-off rooms,” Rachel says. Now with multiple seating areas and dining and workshop areas, it’s an ideal multipurpose room for everyday use.
A big part of the home’s charm—and what Rachel is very well known for—are the many floral designs in fabric prints and small-scale use of wallpaper patterns you’ll find throughout the home. They add a soft and sophisticated touch in her signature Shabby Chic style.
“I like to do the patterned wallpaper in these little nook areas,” Rachel says. “I tend to use vintage wallpaper. Often you can’t find a large quantity of vintage wallpaper, so that’s why it’s confined to one space, but it’s easy to do.”
Another design trick for bringing in soft color: Rachel paints the walls white, but from the floor to about 3 feet off the ground, she paints it over with a light gray, pink or blue for a two-tone look. “It [adds] color in an unassuming, subtle way,” she says. “They did that a lot in Morocco, and that’s where I got the idea.” These small but impactful design details give Rachel’s home its personality.
Antiques add patina and character, and Rachel looks to flea-market pieces to create the look of timeworn elegance she loves. “Nearly all the cabinets, tables and chairs are flea market-found and refurbished to the point that they’re functional and clean, but I try to hold on to the authentic patinas and textures,” Rachel says.
She also mixes in a few reproduction furniture pieces from the Rachel Ashwell Furniture collection to achieve the style, scale and function she wants. Many of her antique pieces are recovered in machine-washable fabric for durability since they’re white. Her collections of antique dishes, trays, vases and containers decorate hutches, tabletops and shelves for a cozy, charming look. All the bedding, in fabric patterns or soft hues, is romantic and vintage inspired.
What is the essence of Rachel’s decorating style? “I guess I would call myself a bit boho, but it’s also very classic. I don’t like things that go in and out of style,” Rachel says. “My mantra is ‘beauty, comfort and function.’ Everything in my house needs to be inviting and needs to be useful. That’s where I start.”
4 Elements of Rachel Ashwell’s Style
Want to emulate Rachel’s signature style? Learn how with her tips.
- Soft color: “My palette tends to be on the softer side,” Rachel says. From various pinks and raspberries to teal, the look is fresh and inviting.
- Eclectic: “I like things to be eclectic but not chaotic. I might organize it or give it a theme with color. Think expensive mixed with flea market and Target.”
- Glamour: “I always like a little bit of glamour.” These bits of bling can be crystal chandeliers or a rug with silver threading through it.
- Timeworn: “Embracing the beauty of imperfections and faded grandeur is a big thing for me. I don’t get too neurotic if something gets chipped.
Read Courtney Allison’s behind-the-scenes look at this photo shoot!