Creativity Keeps Me Calm Amid Coronavirus Chaos

As the coronavirus crisis gathered momentum in March 2020, I found myself turning more and more to creative projects around the house to calm my nerves. The COVID-19 news has been anxiety provoking, to say the least. It’s so disheartening to hear that more people are getting sick, while others are losing their jobs, and still others are behaving with utter foolishness! These tragedies are beyond my control, which contributes to feelings of frustration and helplessness. To help manage these feelings, and to keep myself busy during stay-at-home measures, I have been exercising my creativity.

IMG_6985Whenever I am feeling low or anxious, my go-to for relieving stress and sparking joy is painting. If I can paint a picture or even a picture frame or a piece of furniture, brushing a beautiful color onto just about any surface relaxes me. When I am painting, I try to focus more on the process than on the end result. I think more about how the colors blend together, where I need to add more pigment to intensify the shade, or more water for a lighter wash of tint. In my case, the colors of choice are varied shades of aqua or pink. Aqua is so peaceful and soothing to my eyes and sensibilities. Pink just makes me happy!


Some of my painted projects have turned out better than others, but that’s no matter. With every creative project, I find I am able to enjoy a moment’s peace when things get crazy.


My other creative go-to for relieving stress is interior design. Lately, this has manifested as tinkering with home decor and rearranging my furniture into more workable formations or pleasing vignettes.


I’ve reordered my bookshelves, cleaned out my closet, tidied up my work station, plastered some decorative decals on my walls, and touched up some vintage art pieces. My home exterior is looking better, and my psychic interior is feeling better!


I’m sure some psychology expert somewhere has studied the therapeutic effect of different colors on our amygdala, the nervous tissue in our brain’s temporal lobe that governs our response to stress.


Some other expert has, no doubt, written about using furniture rearrangements to establish order, and using color therapy or DIY hobbies as a kind of “moving meditation” to soothe our souls. But I don’t want to over-think this. All I know is, it works! Painting and other forms of creativity allow me to let go of all the nonsense and just breathe for a bit.

That’s what I’ve been doing lately. What design or creative projects have you been working on? What colors make you happy? How have you been using creativity to relieve your stress and find moments of joy amid the chaos? If you haven’t tackled a creative home project yet, I highly recommend it!





Chalk Paint Workshop at Shabby Chic

Chalk Paint Workshop at Shabby Chic


Shabby Chic Couture, Santa Monica, CA

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to attend a paint workshop held at Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic Couture store in Santa Monica, California. Featuring the just-released Shabby Chic Paint by Rachel Ashwell, the workshop was led by Chantelle Deimler and Jill Rinner, co-owners of the home shop Bungalow 47.

The Bungalow 47 design team has partnered with Shabby Chic to distribute these chalk & clay paints nationwide, so they have been traveling to various Shabby Chic Couture locations to demonstrate how to use them.

A short drive from my home, Shabby Chic’s Montana Avenue location in Santa Monica looks like a fluffy white delicacy—the crown jewel amont the many high-end boutiques that line this popular shopping street.

Entering the store is like taking a breath of fresh air as you leave the busy street behind and step into Rachel’s world of crystal chandeliers, creamy white walls, soft linens, and tasteful vintage furniture painted in time-worn pastels.

IMG_1747Front and center as I walked in the shop was a small wooden chair sitting on a plastic tarp in preparation for the painting demonstration. Chantelle, Jill and the Shabby Chic staff welcomed me to join a group of other ladies who were seated on fabulous slipcovered sofas arranged around the soon-to-be-painted chair.


Tip: Pre-wash with a 50:50 mix of vinegar and water to eliminate bleeding through of old stains, and “pre-sand” a piece before you begin painting. When painting a chair, always start with it upside down.

I sank into sumptuous sofa cushions and whipped out my notebook and camera as Chantelle and Jill passed around the flyer showing the paint colors and explained that the formula for the paints is low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) and non-toxic.

These paints produce a flat, matte finish and are available in Rachel Ashwell’s signature palette—subdued shades like Lily White, Pink Petals, Dream Linen, and Malibu Bonne Blue. The line also reflects Rachel’s recent foray into deeper hues like Truly Teal, Beige Beauty, and Taupe Treasure.

The Shabby Chic paints are intended for furniture and home accessories (not walls), and will work on wood, plastic, metal or leather, and even on some upholstery (wow, I’ll be trying that!). The line includes a Clear Primer that can be used for better adhesion of the paint to various surfaces, as well as a Clear Coat intended as a top coat that seals the paint finish, once dried. As Chantelle started painting the wood chair in a soft, blush pink, Jill explained that neither the primer nor the top coat is necessary. However, the primer is recommended to prevent old stains in antique furniture from bleeding through over time.


Chantelle flips the chair over and begins painting the underside of the chair first. Tip: Manipulate the object you are painting, rather than moving around it, to save time.

The clear coat is recommended for items that will get heavy use. Chantelle didn’t prime the chair she was painting for the demonstration, and the paint adhered to the wood very well. The Bungalow 47 team advised that if you are repainting a shiny surface (like plastic or metal), it is best to pre-sand the surface to “rough it up” for better paint adhesion.

As she painted, Chantelle said that she prefers to use a brush, but if you don’t want paint strokes to show, you can use a water spritz bottle to soften those lines. You can also use the brush to stipple the paint or create other effects.

Jill told the group that a 50:50 mixture of paint to water is best if you are painting over fabric. Even better, when painting an upholstered chair, add 10% fabric softener to the paint mixture so the painted seat won’t crack when someone sits on it. Jill advised against painting a sofa that gets heavy use.

The 50:50 paint formula works best for lampshades or decorative chairs that will sit in a corner and get only “occasional use.”

Jill also advises that you skip the clear coat when painting upholstered items, and never wax a painted fabric.

Another tip from Jill: to get a crackle effect, use thicker paint and then hit it with a blow dryer on a high setting in certain spots until you see the paint begin to crack as it dries, giving it an aged look.IMG_1774.JPG

Chantelle handed me the brush so I could give it a try, and I found that this paint is very opaque, providing excellent coverage, and is extremely easy to work with. I was also happy to discover that when it dries, this paint doesn’t rub off on your hands or clothes, but “cures” to a solid finish that stays put (thanks to the clay in the mix?).

Watching Chantelle finish painting the chair, I noted how little paint she had used. She explained that if you use just one coat, a small 8-ounce sample of this paint will easily cover two chairs.


Jill provides painting tips during a tour of the Shabby Chic Couture store in Santa Monica, CA.

As Chantelle put the last strokes of “Pink Petals” paint on the chair, Jill gave the workshop group a tour of the store, so she could go over how to achieve the aged finishes seen on many of the furniture pieces on display. 

She explained that you can use various weights of sand paper (220 or 120 weight are best for heavy distressing), or even nails and metal chains, to achieve the chippy paint look that embodies “shabby chic.”

IMG_1731.JPGTip: Make sure distressing is not symmetrical, but heavier on one side than the other as if the furniture piece sat in a sunny window or got bumped frequently. Distress along the grain and along edges—never in the center of a table, for example, or on the front of a dresser where natural wear would not occur.

Jill suggested that to get the heavily chipped look that makes your painted furIMG_1759.JPGniture “Rachel-perfect” for Shabby Chic, you can use a plastic paint scraper along the edges and corners after applying two heavy coats of paint. Once you’ve achieved the level of distressing you want, lock it in with the clear coat product.

Another interesting technique Jill mentioned, was to lay a large sheet of cheesecloth over wet paint to achieve a linear, grid-like web of cracked paint, which can give a piece a nicely textured antique appearance.

We circled back to the front of the store where Chantelle was now distressing the edges and corners of our workshop chair. (She had placed it outside for 30 minutes, where it dried quickly in the hot, California sun—those in other climates are advised to let the Shabby Chic Paint dry for at least 2 hours before beginning the distressing process.)

To my eye, the finished chair looked “Rachel-perfect” and ready to take its place alongside other chairs in the store that had already received the Shabby Chic treatment. I really like the subtle tone of the “Pink Petals” shade, and I plan to purchase a sample size of this color, as well as sample sizes of “Lily White” and “Caribbean Sea,” a faded aquamarine that would work well in my “shabby beach” cottage.


The finished chair, in “Pink Petals” Shabby Chic Paint by Rachel Ashwell.

I thoroughly enjoyed the painting workshop and meeting IMG_1768.JPGthe lovely ladies of Bungalow 47! I’ve ordered some samples of this paint, along with a quart each of Clear Primer and Clear Coat. Please visit this blog again soon to read future posts about my painting projects using these products, and some of the techniques that were shared in the workshop by Chantelle and Jill.

Readers interested in ordering some samples or quarts of this paint to try on their own, can find it for purchase on the Shabby Chic Paint website, managed and distributed by Bungalow 47. Happy painting!

Image credits: Seaside & Sage, with permission from Bungalow 47 and Shabby Chic Couture

How to Shabby Chic a Table

How to Shabby Chic a Table

I’m no Rachel Ashwell. In other words, I’m not the founder of a home design empire, nor the veteran of countless years of vintage furniture shopping and refurbishing. However, I’ve read nearly all of Rachel Ashwell’s design books, poring over pages and pictorials that describe how she sources old pieces that have just the right shabby chic vibe, and spruces them up until she achieves that romantic “old-new” look. As described in “Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic Treasure Hunting and Decorating Guide,” she finds special pieces that others might overlook, and gives them a fresh, new look that deserves a coveted spot in a “shabby chic” home. I need a new coffee table for my tiny apartment, and I’m going to try and replicate Rachel’s methods. How hard can it be?

Finding the right tableWith hours of research under my belt, I head off on a “shabby chic” junket. I scour thrift shops in the Beach Cities of Los Angeles to find the perfect piece of furniture that is calling my name. I’m going to test out my “eye” for design and keep a lookout for a table that will lend itself to a cottage or shabby beach style. I need to keep an open mind, but the coffee table must: 1. Be round or oval; 2. Have romantic lines; 3. Look good painted white; and 4. Fit into the trunk of my Toyota.

The first couple of thrift stores I visit have some nice mirrors and baskets, but not a great selection of furniture. The third thrift store, in Torrance, is full of battered furniture, and…they are having a 50% off already marked down prices on furniture. Bingo! (This is the kind of thing we junk shoppers get excited about!)

After perusing aisles of battered bunk beds and deck furniture, I find it. A small, oval coffee table that will look perfect painted white. Bonus: It will fit in my car trunk.

ReadytoRefinishOnce I get the table home, I spread out my handy paint cloth and gather my tools. It’s best to find a spot outside for this work, because the whole refinishing, white-washing thing can get messy. Also, I wear a mask to protect my airway from all the dust I’m about to create. I usually pick up some painter’s masks when I buy my other paint supplies. I wear my glasses in lieu of eye protection.

I’ll need heavy duty sand paper, a couple of soft-bristle paint brushes, primer, and paint. I can buy most of my supplies at home improvement stores like Orchard Supply Hardware, or directly from paint stores like Dunn-Edwards Paints, or Sherwin Williams Paint Store. Many people favor Benjamin Moore paints, but I like them all.

GatherYourToolsThe first step is to sand the old finish off the table–at least enough to rough it up and give it some “tooth” that a fresh coat of primer will stick to. Note to reader: If this is your first shabby chic refinishing project, start out with a small furniture piece like this coffee table. Why?

Sanding off the old finish, or even just roughing up the old finish, can take a long time and lots of elbow grease. I am sanding this table by hand. I wish I could say I was another “Rehab Addict” like Nicole Curtis, who loves her power tools, but the truth is, those things scare me! So, since I don’t want to devote an entire weekend to this project, and I’m not ready to invest in an electric sander, I’m starting small.

Sand off the old finishOnce I’ve “roughed up” the entire table from top to bottom, I wipe it down with a slightly damp cloth or dampened paper towel. I don’t want any bumpy dust spots sticking in my paint.

Now I am ready to prime the table with paint. I use a satin finish latex paint for both my primer and my top coats. I have heard you can find a spray on primer, which would save me a bunch of time, but those little cans get expensive, and I know I’ll need more than one.

I try to find traditional, brush-on paints in the sale bin at the big DIY retailers like The Home Depot or Lowes to use as my primer. I have gotten some great deals on paint that way in the past. Since the primer doesn’t have to be an official “primer,” and it doesn’t have to be the final color, I’m going to use some off-white paint I previously bought on sale as the primer for this table.

Primer coatOnce in a while when I’m looking for primer paints, I find a can of pure white, pale blue or aqua color paint in the sale bin at a fraction of the retail price. This happens when someone orders a custom-mix color of designer paint (even better, with no odor and low VOCs) that isn’t quite right for them, so they return it and it lands in the sale bin. So, word to the wise: Always check the sale bin at the home improvement store or paint store!

Second coatI allow the primer coat to dry outside for about an hour. Once it is no longer tacky to the touch, I am ready to apply my second coat of paint. The second coat should be in the final color. In this case, I’m using a pure white or “Super White” low VOC latex paint in satin finish from Valspar. The “Super White” paint color from most brands or paint lines is comparable to the popular “Designer White” from Benjamin Moore. For shabby chic furniture, off-white shades can look nice, too. However, for bright shabby chic or shabby beach painted furniture, I can’t go wrong with a crisp, pure white.

Seaside walkI know I need to let each coat of paint dry before I add the next one. This little table needed one coat of primer and two coats of top coat, plus a few touch ups. Once I’ve applied the final coat of “Super White,” I need to let it dry for another hour. So, I’m off to have lunch and take a walk along the Palos Verdes cliffs overlooking the beach. It never hurts to get a little added inspiration in the middle of a project!

Scuff the edges

When I return to project central, I check to make sure the top coat or final coat is dry enough so that I can begin scuffing up my edges to recreate that “shabby” look. According to Rachel Ashwell and other shabby chic mavens, it is best to scuff up the edges that would most likely get bumped into and organically scuffed during the natural life of a piece of furniture. I’m looking for the most exposed edges along the table top and table legs.

To get that “chippy paint” look I usually use a heavy duty sand paper (about #200 or so) attached to a sanding block. Sometimes I’ll use another rough tool like a patch of metal screen from a screen door or a metal file. I work my way around the entire table, using a relatively light touch with my sandpaper. I don’t want to overdo it!

Shabby chic or shabby beach coffee tableI’ve read that many people who re-sell shabby chic furniture will paint or spray a clear coat of varnish over their refinished shabby chic pieces, especially the edges or corners that have been artfully chipped or scuffed, to lock in the chippy look. I opt to skip this step.

My view is, it’s supposed to look gently battered, so a few additional scuffs that happen along the way will just add to the look. Or, maybe I’m just lazy.

At any rate, I’m ready to move the table inside and see how it looks in its new home. I move some things around, add accessories, and feel proud of myself that I completed this entire project in one day. And, I’m pretty happy with the finished look of this little coffee table, which looks quaint in my tiny beach apartment by the sea!

Shabby beach details

I hope you found this article helpful. If you did, or if you have a few shabby chic or furniture refinishing tips of your own to contribute, please feel free to add your comments here. I’d love to hear from you!

Seaside & Sage

Cabana stripes, beiges and blues

Cabana stripes, beiges, and blues echo the colors of the sea

I have a passion for home design. I also happen to live by the seaside in a California community filled with beach homes–from cottages to condos, and Cape Cods to bungalows, Spanish Revival homes to Santa Barbara haciendas, scattered among the early craftsman- and ranch-style homes. It is all prime real estate, sold by a local cadre of property experts who readily share their insights on the latest trends in home design and the preferences of buyers seeking some version of a coastal chic vibe. Home interiors here run the gamut from beach cottage or shabby beach, to plantation style and British colonial, with a bit of shabby chic and California casual mixed in. And, somehow, it all works!

Sea glass and sun-bleached wood accents

Sea glass and sun-bleached wood accents

I’m certified in home staging and interior redesign, but even without those credentials, I’d still be trolling the local antique shops and flea markets to source “shabby beach” or “shabby chic” furniture and accessories for friends and clients. My idea of a perfect weekend is visiting a few “open house” showings to get a sneak peek of the architecture and design of interior spaces along the California coast. I love to see how people–other home stagers and interior designers, and creative homeowners as well–rock their own personal beach style, and reinterpret the quintessential coastal lifestyle. I gather a lot of ideas and inspiration along the way…many of which find their way into my own home and the homes I design with friends and clients.

Seaside decor

Ocean-themed decor can add a coastal vibe

The great thing about beach style is that you don’t have to live by the beach to pull it off! If crisp white linens, weathered woods, and the bluish-green hues of the sea are what you want for your interior space, it can work just about anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you live in a Chicago apartment, a Brooklyn boxcar flat, or a mid-century duplex closer to the mountains than the sea. You can even create a hybrid-seaside style by using richer hues or earth tones mixed with some subtle coastal or nautical accents. There are plenty of retailers and design companies that have picked up on the coastal-beach trend, and are offering a range of beach-themed home decor, furnishings and accessories at affordable prices. In this blog I share with you some of the sage advice, ideas, inspirations, tips, tricks, DIY projects, shops and bargains I’ve uncovered that will help you curate your own version of seaside style and create the beach home of your dreams.