ADG Architecture Design Graphics - Far From Perfect (thank goodness)

Far from perfect (thank goodness)…

Far from perfect (thank goodness)…


It seems like whenever I talk to people about ‘modern’ houses the majority express a liking, but a preference for something far less ‘sleek’. This is often followed by a comment about a cosy cottage. It appears that the country cottage, despite being far from perfect (thank goodness) in many ways, still has major kerb appeal in a world that has moved on considerably.


The origins of the modern shabby chic trend probably go back to the earlier origins of the ‘hipster’ movement, not then a movement as such. This was something borne out of necessity as artists and artisan makers needed affordable premises to live and work. The only real city living options lay in the disused, low rent warehouses and older city fringe areas, predominantly in the US. A ‘make do and mend’ attitude had to be adopted by their less than affluent occupiers, but over time this simply became synonymous with the lifestyle, aspiration, and output of these people. The style could be easily replicated, if not the lifestyle, wherever and whenever. The approach sat well with the ecologically conscious, promoting re-use, recycling, a kind of modest urban way of living that sat worlds apart from the Wall St Bankers’ glitzy penthouse apartments


Many of us seem to be drawn to things that are far from perfect, but not necessarily because of the imperfection as such. This appeal is readily visible in fashion, furniture, and cars. The current trend in classic cars is not for highly restored examples, in fact this approach will often devalue a classic car. The marketplace wants to be able to see and feel the naturally occurring patina of age and use. The use tells a story, it confirms the fact that the object has been loved, looked after but actively used and enjoyed. The patina confirms the authenticity, and sets it aside from a common, dare I say it, replica. I knew someone who hated new clean white trainers, they couldn’t wait for them to wear-in and get a bit grubby, their own wear and tear mind you.


What appears slightly different however is the trend for ‘distressed’ new clothes. This seems bizarre to me, why buy new clothes with ripped knees? Mine get the shove at that stage. But this marketplace seems huge, and the trend appears to be here to stay. Does this represent just pure fashion, or is it a way that the buyer can purchase something with a pre-made back story, to validate a notion of working-class hard work and toil? This is the opposite of the ‘original condition’ classic car, there’s absolutely nothing authentic about this approach and we all know it, but it doesn’t appear to matter either. The Vintage Inns chain of pubs built a whole brand around creating ‘fake’ historic venues, and to be fair, they did it rather well. Who wants to go to a new, modern pub after all? Real fashions in the twenty first century almost appear to have got lost along the way. I listen to new music that could have been produced in 1980’s or 90’s playing alongside actual music from this era that’s equally accepted by the younger generation. This is more about having easy and instant access to things and finding out what you like, than it is about being told what you should like. There appears to be less of a revolution against past fashions and more of an excitement about being able to access all these different ideas and styles, and ultimately reinvent or reimagine them. In hindsight, this was always bound to happen now that information is so readily available and free to access by the majority of the population.


From my perspective, I think some of this comes down to being able to relax a bit. Anyone who’s ever had a brand-new car (I did just once) knows the worry of potentially scratching or denting it. With something new and perfect you’re only ever going to go one way! A clean white rendered wall will only ever look worse over time as it gathers grime, algae, and graffiti. You must decide if you actually like something new. You need to live with it, find its flaws and foibles. Something that appears already used and familiar has an instant easy appeal.


The owner of an historic or older building will generally feel like a custodian of it. They appreciate that it will most likely outlive them and as such they become an important part of the process of securing its ongoing survival. Ownership is key when it comes to really caring for something, wanting to make the right decisions, invest and take pride in something.


But there must be more to it than that? There is something attractive to many people about buildings and objects that are maybe viewed as ‘classless’, non-showy and don’t appear to wear any kind of badge in terms of attempting to try hard to impress. There’s little pretention in a cottage, it’s almost designed itself and it’s evolved with time to suit its owners and the way they wanted to live at that moment in history. The remnants of this evolution live on and become mixed with new improvements and interventions. Hence there is an organic, almost anthropomorphic, process and a result that we can relate to as humans.


The shabby, old, and patinaed also provides a fantastic foil to the contemporary. Chosen well, modern light fittings, finishes and furniture can be shown off to their best against less than perfect backgrounds, the visible difference accentuating the quality of the modern and new item by comparison. Carefully chosen materials can age positively. A new stone-faced wall, or brick wall, will weather and soften, and the passage of time sits comfortably upon these materials, even improving them when compared to their ‘raw’, new appearance.


It’s easy to suppose that, for instance, a 1970’s interior was wholly in the 1970’s style. This might have been the case for the very wealthy, but the majority of interiors of that decade would have comprised objects and furniture from a variety of the preceding decades as few people would have been able to afford a complete change in style. How many of us would be able to, or want to, do this now?


The shabby-chic style has certainly become the interior stylist’s best friend over the past decade or two, providing a wealth of opportunity for up-cycling, reinventing, mixing, and reusing items, spaces and places. Bringing the familiar and historic cheek-by-jowl with the new, sleek and ergonomic. I’m very happy to live work and play in these spaces, but I’m not about to rush out and buy ripped jeans anytime soon!

Dale's experience spans a wide range of project sectors, sizes and stages and has particular interests in environmental design and earth-sheltered construction. His favourite projects reuse and breathe new life into under-loved existing buildings.