Tour Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic Beach House

This Malibu beach bungalow is the perfect home away from home for days spent in the summer sunshine and sea air.

Dreamy details: My living room resembled a big fluffy cloud with my Shabby Chic Bloomsbury white slipcovered sectional, big and comfy for family gatherings and unexpected sleepovers.
Dreamy details: My living room resembled a big fluffy cloud with my Shabby Chic Bloomsbury white slipcovered sectional, big and comfy for family gatherings and unexpected sleepovers.

When I first moved from London to Los Angeles, Hollywood was where I set up home. As a young teenager, I absorbed the blue skies, Cadillacs and palm trees, and felt this was the pathway to my dreams.

With beach living comes open doors to friends and family with no concern about sand in the house.-Rachel Ashwell
The blue bench is the perfect spot to dust off sandy feet or enjoy the shade and cool summer breeze.

Later, over the years, I would be drawn to the ocean. I’m not much of a swimmer or sunbather, but the sunrises and sunsets and the rhythm of the waves spoke to my soul. Then when I had my children, Malibu became our home. The idea of the sand and waves being their playground felt like an opportunity that couldn’t be missed. Ocean life was their entertainment, from the pelicans on the rock outside our door to the dolphins swimming to seagulls singing and the stormy seas that would knock against the stilts that our house sat upon.

The kitchen is a white canvas, with glossy and matte finishes adding dimension and pops of pink and blue to accent the space in the Shabby Chic beach house.
Airy atmosphere: A pure white Corian kitchen counter and built-in floating shelves enhance the feel of an open-plan kitchen.

With beach living comes open doors to friends and family with no concern about sand in the house. Beachside decorating comes easily to me because it commands a casual beauty embracing the light and ocean breezes. Through all my moving around, I’ve always been attracted to little cottages and shacks. Smaller spaces are cozier and easier to decorate, but I still have to be mindful of practical living and little details.

Wood floors painted a shiny white aren’t ideal in high-traffic areas, but since beach living is often barefoot, white floors work perfectly.
Wood floors painted a shiny white aren’t ideal in high-traffic areas, but since beach living is often barefoot, white floors work perfectly.

Even though I later moved to Santa Monica (about 30 miles away) and I travel quite a bit, I thought having a mobile home in the Malibu community would keep my connection to this magical place. This would prove to be my biggest space challenge. So, I incorporated many of my signature Shabby Chic design techniques:

Throughout the little home, I painted the wall from the ground up 36 inches a pale gray. I do this treatment in most of my homes, and each time it reflects a different feeling. In this case, it felt like Mama Mia! meets Ibiza. It’s a quiet but impactful detail. -Rachel Ashwell
Cozy sleeping spaces: Beach living inspires relaxing spaces to snooze. I have made oversized daybeds covered in terry cloth, built a platform of drawers with a mattress on top as a makeshift bed with storage, and incorporated hammocks in seaside spaces.

• White with pale blue was my theme, which I used on paint trim and furnishings.

• Throughout the little home, I painted the wall from the ground up 36 inches a pale gray. I do this treatment in most of my homes, and each time it reflects a different feeling. In this case, it felt like Mama Mia! meets Ibiza. It’s a quiet but impactful detail.

Natural light filters through the open dutch door, filling the cozy but bright space with sunshine and the ocean air at Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic beach house.
Natural light filters through the open dutch door, filling the cozy but bright space with sunshine and the ocean air.

• Due to the proximity of neighbors, I created privacy without compromising light by sticking transparent decorative sheets on the windows.

• I squeezed in an oversized sectional (shown in the livingroom is Shabby Chic Bloomsbury Sectional), ignoring the tiny space.

Quiet but reflective art is always a welcome layer to a space, and it fits well with a coastal vibe.-Rachel Ashwell
Watercolor coastal art paintings provide a touch of color in keeping with the pale palette.

• Quiet but reflective art is always a welcome layer to a space, and it fits well with a coastal vibe.

I’m sure over time my Malibu connection will continue. Once beach living gets into your soul, you can’t let it go.


Romantic Homes Flea Market Guide

Our romantic contributors share their flea-market tips, tricks and favorite finds

Get Shabby Chic Style with Vintage Floral Patterns

Rachel Ashwell explains how vintage floral patterns influence her every day style and her new book, My Floral Affair.

Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic blue painted floral furniture with wallpaper in the background
A color palette of pink and blue is perfect for a floral-inspired space. Choose pale shades for a softer touch, or more vibrant hues of raspberry and teal for a fresh take.

As I have been focused on the journey of launching my latest book, My Floral Affair, I have been quite reflective, contemplating my world of flowers and just how much they have always been part of my life. Not only fresh flowers, but also flowers in fabrics, lighting, wallpapers and art.

Rachel Ashwell pairs busy floral patterns against solid surfaces to balance the look.
Rachel pairs busier floral patterns against solid surfaces to balance the space.

I have always appreciated finding floral beauties at flea markets and antiques shows even back when I first opened the doors of my Shabby Chic store in 1989. At that time, I was successful in consistently finding authentic floral-painted furniture, crumbling carved architectural pieces, faded artwork and threadbare fabrics. For me, the tattered elegance that comes with finding vintage florals is what helps each piece maintain its feminine beauty without being overly sweet.

Hand-painted details add character and charm.
Old-fashioned, hand-painted details add character and charm to a space. These pieces are particularly sweet when paired with contrasting elements, such as the makeshift vase in which Rachel has placed a bouquet of blue hydrangeas and pink roses. Photo by Amy Neusinger.

Over time there was a floral explosion in décor, creating scarcity for authentic vintage finds. Reproductions started popping up, some lovely and subtle, but some too strong and sugary for my shabby world. Because of that, I have treasured every original floral-embellished piece I could find. A few I have kept myself, and some just pass through my hands to become future heirlooms. My most favorite place to search for these treasures is at the Round Top Antique shows in Texas. Prices are much different now than they used to be, but these days I am just happy to stumble across any authentic vintage finds.

White Shabby Chic cabinet with purple painted folk floral pattern
Folk florals are experiencing a renaissance in appreciation, and the sweetest examples are still found on age-old furnishings.

I’m attracted to the fine handwork of painted furniture, typically from France and Italy. I have given the name of “timeworn elegance” to these special pieces. I also own several Hungarian pieces, where the painting is more primitive, often brighter, and fits with the boho side of me. I allow the style of floral furniture to guide me on where and how it should be placed in the world. Rarely do I have more than one piece in any one room, mostly so that each item can have its glory against my simpler palette of white and gray. Occasionally I will come across a bedroom set that I can’t bear to part with. In my home, I will designate a “floral zone,” maybe a guest room, just so it can be froufrou within its faded grandeur state.

Shabby Chic Prairie Stitch bedding in Shadow
Faded fabrics and natural fibers like linen help Rachel keep a simple aesthetic.

I continue to make it my mission to hunt for these rare beauties. It’s important to stay consistent while balancing my aesthetics of romantic and feminine with simplicity. Floral upholstery fabrics and my bedding collections continue to be moments where I can layer floral décor into my otherwise quiet aesthetics. I tend to like faded fabrics, and design with the thought of mixing and matching from one collection to another. I like the practical aspect of this, but also how it brings a less contrived feeling.

Floral wallpaper makes a statement when paired with all-white surfaces and accessories. The chippy green bench adds a pop of color to the space.
Floral wallpaper makes a statement when paired with all-white surfaces and accessories. The chippy green bench adds a pop of color to the space.

When I began Shabby Chic, there were still quite a lot of chintz florals available in the world. This, of course, speaks to my British heritage of country cottages and manors. Often these were quite bold in their palette, but the crumpled nature of the slipcovers back then that made the patterns seem less formal. My new Rose Majesty print, which is both for upholstery and a bedding collection, is inspired by the days of chintz.

The Bean Loveseat in Rose Majesty Chintz upholstery.
Rachel layers the larger, bolder print of this loveseat against the smaller, more muted pattern in the wallpaper. The pairing creates an interesting juxtaposition, while white wainscoting and floors balance the look.

My modern tweak is to print it both on a chintz and a grain linen fabric. The linen fabric captures the traditional floral on a muted background. While today’s furniture and furnishings have very clean, simple lines, which I am attracted to also, there is always room for a little floral slipcovered chair in a cozy corner. My floral bedding and fabrics are available both at Target under the Simply Shabby Chic line and at

Rachel Ashwell at the The Prairie in Round Top Texas
Rachel at The Prairie in Round Top Texas. Photo by Amy Neunsinger.

Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic Home

Step inside Rachel Ashwell's pretty and practical home.

Rachel Ashwell's blend of elegance and comfort is evident in her own living room.
Rachel Ashwell’s living room is every bit as comfortable as it is cozy. A colorful mix of paintings adds personality to the rough-hewn mantel.

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.

Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic blue painted closet
In an old home where built-in storage options are few, a stand-alone closet offers valuable space and fits right in with Rachel’s time-honored aesthetic.
Laurence Amelie tutu painting above Rachel Ashwell's piano
The painting above the piano is by artist Laurence Amelie. In the foreground, a Hollywood Regency style tufted bench offers extra seating.

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.”

Rachel Ashwell's dining room and kitchen
The kitchen and dining area flow from one space to the other for an open layout that is perfect for casual, convivial entertaining.

Building Character

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.

Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic Kitchen
White floating shelves against white tile, along with the farmhouse sink and painted cabinets, create a cozy kitchen space.
Rachel Ashwell's hutch is covered in whimsical wallpaper and full of mismatched dishes.
One of Rachel’s favorite feminine touches, floral wallpaper, adds whimsy to this antique hutch. She stores her collection of mismatched dishes inside.

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.

Rachel Ashwell's Master Bedroom
Bedding in Rachel’s signature florals adds a playful pattern to her master bedroom.

Feminine Touches

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.

Rachel Ashwell's master bathroom wallpaper.
Wallpaper in a lacy blue print adds a touch of elegance to the master bathroom.
Rachel Ashwell's mix-and-match floral patterns
Rachel layers this bathroom space with mix-and-match floral patterns.

“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.”

Rachel Ashwell's blue and white guest bedroom
The blue and white two-tone walls perfectly coordinate with Rachel’s Simply Shabby Chic bedding.

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.

Rachel Ashwell's gold and pink settee
An antique settee with gold trim and blush pink upholstery is an elegant touch.

Flea-Market Flair

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.

Rachel Ashwell's office space.
Rachel’s office is in a nook off the dining area. Though small, the floor-to-ceiling windows ensure an open atmosphere.

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.”

Rachel Ashwell's Living Room Mantel
The wood mantel is raw and unstained, a natural complement to the painted bricks below. Rachel as styled it with an assortment of her favorite small paintings.

4 Elements of Rachel Ashwell’s Style

Want to emulate Rachel’s signature style? Learn how with her tips.

    1. 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.
    2. 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.”
    3. 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.
    4. 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!

Rachel Ashwell’s Designer Secrets

Shabby Chic founder and Romantic Homes Columnist, Rachel Ashwell, shares the secrets behind her signature style.

Delicate and detailed, yet inviting and comfortable are the hallmarks of Rachel Ashwell’s signature style. Photo by Sarah Pankow.

Rachel’s signature Shabby Chic style is all about creating perfect imperfection. Here’s how she does it:

  • First, figure out how the room will be used and what it needs to fulfill that purpose. “The saddest thing is creating a space in a house that is never used,” Rachel says.
An inspiration book, complete with photos and fabric samples. Photo by Sarah Pankow.
Two large inspiration boards lean side-by-side against the windows in Rachel’s office nook.
  • Create an inspiration book or board. Rachel’s book for a project might include something like a picture of a pink blouse or some rose petals that speak to a palette or feeling, items that help tell the full story of what the house could be.
  • Evaluate what you already have and what can be repurposed.
  • Start visiting flea markets. Rachel keeps a master list of what she needs to buy for clients. It may take time to find just the right piece, but the end result is worth the time and effort.
Rachel keeps things simple with a soft, monochromatic color palette.
  • Don’t overcomplicate things. Details are important, but you can get caught up in them and never get anything done.
  • Less is more. Rachel was inspired by the recent bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. “Get rid of things that you don’t need,” she encourages with the caveat, “but be cautious because you could regret it later. There is a real emotional empowerment in not hanging on to stuff, things that don’t serve a purpose anymore.”
Two-toned walls are one of Rachel’s favorite ways to add color to a space.
  • When it comes to choosing paint or fabrics, Rachel doesn’t have particular favorites. “It’s how it looks or how it feels,” she says. “Try the paint on the walls to see how it works.” She does recommend avoiding creams or icy white wall paint; instead, Rachel says, “stay with pure, bright white.”

Announcing New Columnist Rachel Ashwell!

The founder of Shabby Chic joins Romantic Homes Magazine as a monthly columnist.

Dear Romantic Homes readers,

Today I start a new assignment that I am so excited to share with you: my own little monthly column in this special magazine.

Those of you who know me will know I’ve had many platforms over the past three decades to share my Shabby Chic journey. Ten books on the beauty of imperfection, a TV show on the E! channel of my real shabby and chic life—long before reality TV was a thing—and most recently social media and my blogs.

I have enjoyed sharing my world of beauty, comfort and function, which has allowed Shabby Chic to stay relevant. Like any long-standing business, I’ve had my share of ups and downs. My children have grown from babies to creative adults and, while the world has changed in leaps and bounds, my values and aesthetics have remained true to my passions.

In this month’s issue, my home in California is featured. I have included it in a couple of my books, but when I found out Courtney Allison was the editor of Romantic Homes, I knew it would be a perfect fit. I knew Courtney would reflect my aesthetics true to me.

While my aesthetic has evolved over the years, my core always starts with romance. My “nest” is my sanctuary. I’m happy to share all aspects of my home and lifestyle, including the little nooks, crannies and unsung heroes of hidden cabinets and hallways that I choose to give special attention.

My new book, My Floral Affair, is launching soon as well. As the title suggests, it’s about flowers, including real and fake as well as printed fabrics, wallpapers and art. I consider myself a flower plopper: I curate flowers and plop them rather effortlessly, typically in a vintage vase. I’m never quite sure how the petals and stems will fall, but somehow nature takes over and all is lovely.

Creating this book was an unforgettable experience, and I hope you will enjoy the tips and techniques I’ve learned along the way. Check back next issue for a book review, and signed copies are available on

Each month, I will cover various subjects, but always things romantic, and somehow I’ll always circle back to home. I truly look forward to connecting with you.

Instagram @rachelashwell