Tag Archives: shabby chic

Design Principle – Contrast

Contrast image

Contrast is one of my favorite Design Principles because it is completely accessible and so very dynamic. In school you will recall being asked to “compare and contrast” two ideas or opinions. We have an intuitive understanding of contrast as opposites, when we see it. In politics, there is no debate without contrasting opinions. In life, change is contrast happening over time.

In designing, the idea is to use the Principles intentionally to change and effect the Elements of Design. Contrast is all about examining or depicting difference. Contrasts, especially those that are unexpected, create vibrancy, draw attention to the subject. Visual contrast creates interest and contributes to a sense of movement or balance (another Design Principle). Contrast defines edges. Uniformity is the absence of contrast. Incongruity is unexpected contrast.

Contrast does not have mean diametric opposites, however. Just like the Tonal Scale where contrast is inherent in defining it, degrees of contrast are possible. Contrast is always comparative – about the relationship between two or more values. Sometimes the degree of contrast defines a style.

One example is the 1940’s film genre Film Noir. The style is defined today by the deep contrast in tonal values of the visuals – with many deep shadows. Shadows will be cast on characters’ faces, highlighting their emotional duality and ambivalence. The audience is left with uncertainty, since every character seems to be both dark and light. The other part of Film Noir mis-en-scene will be the sense of deep shadows in the distance, much of the action taking place at night, in poorly lit cities. The visual style underscores the drama of the story, often crime dramas or mysteries, and characters’ journeys who often represent the “seamy underbelly” of society, or are engaged in some kind of deceit.

This visual style of deep shadows is known as chiaroscuro in painting, a characteristic of the High Renaissance and Baroque eras, among other periods. Painters and sculptors alike were interested in deep folds, faces looming out of dark backgrounds, and consistent looking light sources.

Shabby Chic and prim styles have an intentional lack of contrast. Blurred edges, faded prints or text, distressing and age. If it’s too white, it’s dipped in tea. If it’s too dark, it’s washed. If it’s too shiny, it’s sanded.

I’ve always been intrigued by Dazzle Painting – a high contrast method of camouflage. The key is distance. In nature high contrast often means a warning.

Dazzle painted battleships

Dazzle Camouflage obfuscates the shape

Let’s look at how contrast works with other Elements of Design.

 Color

Complimentary opposites, the colors opposite each other on the color wheel would be a Dual color scheme. Using three colors in an equilateral triangle is a Triadic scheme, while using four colors from the points of a square is Tetradic. Analogous colors have low contrast in hue, but might have high contrast when tonal values are considered.

What do you want the colors to convey? What ideas or emotions? Are you concerned with beauty and comfort, or challenging discomfort? (You see what I did there…..)

Texture

Triadic/Tetradic “texture schemes” are more interesting than just opposites. The opposite of hard is not just soft, but also spiky.

Too much of the same texture can be overwhelming. In Transformers (2007) it was sometimes tough to tell who was an Autobot and who was a Decepticon, when the two were battling. There was a lack of contrast in the bodies, and limited color palette.

Line

The properties of Line include thickness, degree of straightness or curve, and length. Line defines shape, but so does contrast; for example where two colors come together there is the suggestion of Line. However consider that a line may have blurry edges.

Shape and Space

Shapes may be geometric or organic, vary in size or complexity.

photopin.com

Mid-century Modern and Danish style of furniture employs a nice tension in the contrast between the simple shapes of the furniture and the space below and around the pieces. For example the height from the floor is an important part of the sense of airiness and definition.

Intentional Design Process – using contrast

Contrast makes things interesting.

  • Define your message – the reader/viewers takeaway – what you want them to think, see, believe or do?
  • How can contrast convey this message?

Writing with Contrast

Contrast is the foundation of much great literature. The contrast between good and evil is the most basic plotline. People say that irony is the foundation of Jane Austen’s work, but the irony is impossible without the contrasts inherent that idea.

Incongruity is the contrast between the expectation and the result. It works especially well in comedy. For example when the reaction does not match the trigger – that’s comedy. (“Nobody’s perfect.”) Interesting characters contain incongruities or apparent inconsistencies. A flawed hero is far more interesting. People sometimes behave inconsistently too. There can be a contrast between their desires or hopes and their ability to realize their potential.

Mismatches between sequential images, or between the image and the soundtrack, foreshadow events, or strengthen the message. The ominous music always cues our concern when the scene is children playing on the beach. Jolly music playing from the radio strengthens the horror of a catastrophe; lyrical music emphasizes the evil of cruelty. One famous example: Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange (1971).

“A Clockwork Orange” (1971) – Stanley Kubrick

Contrasts invite value judgments – that one product is better for your needs, more suitable than another. For this reason, be cautious when considering Contrast to do with real people. Especially your kids.

 

Aesthetic Preference – Shabby Chic

Lois Crowley Heritage layout

Lois Crowley Heritage Layout

I’m talking about Shabby Chic this week, because it follows on so sweetly from Romantic Country Cottage.

The term was coined, and trademarked, by textile artist and interior designer Rachel Ashwell. The style in home decor is characterized by a lot of whitewashing and very pale pastels. The accessories, textiles, and furniture are usually old or look old with intentional distressing. The watchword is Texture.

Hallmarks of shabby chic style include using glamorous and luxurious elements like gorgeous chandeliers in casual settings, and layering folk art elements like quilts and lace tablecloths.

There are two ways to achieve the worn and distressed look on furniture or other items. The most effective, in my opinion, is to sand back the paint at the edges, high spots, and places where “wear” would naturally occur. Using a nice wax based colored polish will add patina.

The other way is to add paint in a rough, even sloppy, way so that the underlayers show through. The best way to achieve that is to use crackle paint finishes, which are designed to shrink as they dry and reveal the underlayers as if they were aged in the sun and rain over decades.

Shabby chic designs include laces, textures, and frayed edges. Printed and stenciled texts remind us of old flour sacks or tea chests. Chalkboard – black with white lettering – is another recently popular element. Empty picture frames, sometimes stacked, suggest the idea of incompleteness.

A shabby garden would have more white flowers, and wild flowers, rusty metal elements, old bathtubs filled with shrubs, lavender (again) and peonies. Clothing would include antique and Victorian lace blouses, tulle layers, granny boots and textured tights (roll on winter). I think faded velvet shawls too.

To me fairy tales sometimes feel shabby chic – the cottage in the forest that is run down and filled with old books, the strange old castle with wrought iron fencing.

Here’s how I described it in my shabby chic treasury:

Simple, aged, distressed, neutral colors & pale, weathered, folk. Old lace. Connection, history, folk tales, burlap, farm house, sheers. Timeworn. Miss Haversham. “To Kill a Mockingbird”. “Picnic at Hanging Rock”.

To this I would add pale lilac, mint green, robin’s egg blue, blush. Wabi-sabi all over again.

Quail Eggs in a dish

Quail Eggs in a dish

Ways to Bring the Shabby

It’s popular because it’s easy.

One way to add shabby chic elements to your decor is to paint vintage or old things – tins, hooks, wood boxes, candlesticks, ornate picture frames – with white or pastel paint and sand the edges. The paint color adds a unifying aspect.

Another is to bleach floral prints and incorporate plain muslins, lace, crochet in cream string, doilies, and many layers of sheers as the textile elements – drapes, table cloths, pillows and slipcovers.

Include vintage and aged garden accessories – especially urns, wire frames from topiary work, and baskets.

Add nostalgic and memory elements – like hanging a vintage baby’s christening robe on a twisted wire hanger among a bunch of silk hydrangeas. Use old pewter and tarnished silver cups and jugs. Mercury glass.

Bring architectural elements, carvings and castings, that might normally be on the exteriors inside.

Shabby looks great in company with industrial, mid-century modern, or minimalism, and loves Beach Cottage style too. However, in my opinion, it doesn’t work as well with Traditional – since it either looks like you aren’t done refinishing the rest of the furniture, or that you have a bunch of old stuff that needs refurbishing. In a house full of very Traditional furniture, I would stick to a few pillows, and small items.

There are a lot of scrapbookers using shabby chic style in their layouts. It works especially well with a touch of glam – silver beads, tiny rhinestones, pearls and old buttons.

Family Ancestors mini-album

Family Ancestors mini-album

Because it is all about the white, it is also a very popular wedding theme.

Plus it’s a great way to affectionately showcase beloved heirlooms.

Carved old mirror

Carved old mirror

 

Please visit my Shabby Chic Aestheric Preference Pinterest Board to see more examples. Do you love it? 

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