Shabby chic or cottage, whatever you may call it, is a type of decorating idea that designer Rachel Ashwell came up with in the 1980s. It uses accessories, distressed furniture or imperfect furniture, vintage/antique items and flea market finds to create a comfortable and relaxing home.

White and light pastel colors of pinks and light greens are the usual foundation for this design. Antique chairs, couches and pillows covered in floral (roses in most pieces) and striped fabrics are essential elements. Recently, reds with white checks or white dots are being added.

There are several places to find this kind of furniture, antiques and décor — search through salvage yards, flea markets, consignment and antique shops, garage and estate sales or auctions.

Most recently opened, on Dec. 8, is The Cottage, 3727 Commercial Drive S.W. in Rochester, behind the Old River Valley Antique Mall. Michelle Peterson is co-owner of The Cottage with Chris Rand Kujath, who owns the neighboring antique mall.

"I am a dealer there," Peterson said, "and we wanted to expand our business by adding a new cute shop with a twist."

Relatively inexpensive shabby chic is like antique shopping without the high prices. A chip or a scratch isn't important as long as the piece is relatively in good condition. Keep an open mind and eye when searching for your vintage pieces. Does it retain most of its original finish or paint? Can it easily be repainted? Could you see the piece used in a 1940s cottage? Are the colors of the piece mellow and not harsh?

"We have been in the antique business for years and see how things have changed with all of the reality shows, media and Pinterest," Peterson said. "With this there is a great demand for repurposing items and making them new, unique or practical and we are here to help you fit your item(s) into the look you are trying to achieve."

Melissa Placzek is an author and illustrator who works from her home studio in her Victorian-style home in Red Wing.

"I've been a 'shabby chic' enthusiast since before this style had a trademarked name and Rachel Ashwell released her first book," Placzek said. "I believe many people who love antiques, vintage items and time-worn objects and who shop at flea markets, tag sales, antique and thrift stores in lieu of a trip to their neighborhood department store, naturally begin to decorate in this charming shabby chic/cottage chic style."

Peterson's cottage shop is about 500 square feet.

"And we utilize all of our space," she said. "The outside of the building is around one acre; we will utilize this space in the spring by having larger items displayed outside for sale and possible flea markets."

Most shops like The Cottage carry vintage items and collectibles mixed with the shabby chic items such as rugs, aprons, linens, quilts and items that are possibly restored, recycled and repurposed.

"There is a high demand for something old that can be made into something new," Peterson said, "and it is the era for going green and recycling. We do carry a variety of these vintage collectibles, reusable items and more."

Open any decorating magazine today and you will find pages dedicated to the shabby chic/cottage style of living with a mixture of new and antique.

Placzek said:"Using these magazines or even without a guide book, you too can mix furnishings from different eras, give orphaned dining room chairs new life and make them a 'set' simply by painting them white or pale pink, and then sanding them here and there to give them a distressed finish.

"Start collecting single teacups and saucers and display them with tattered, antique books in a white washed hutch. Display wildflowers, roses, and tarnished pieces of silverware in vintage canning jars, or use the jars as candle holders."

Peterson said, "We do have customers that come looking for specific items that they have seen in magazines, (on the) Internet or a friend's house. We have customers from all over the world and just last month from Aruba, France and Puerto Rico."

Shabby chic makesflea marketing all the more fun. Remember, what may be considered "junk" to some, is a treasure to others.

On Feb. 24 and March 24, check out the flea market at Mayo Civic Center. The events run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.More information is online at www.iridescenthouse.com.

Also, pay a visit to Rachel Ashwell's Web site www.shabbychic.com. It's a great place to familiarize yourself with what shabby chic is all about.

Melissa Placzek's blog is at www.chindeep.com.

The Cottage is open one weekend a month during winter: Feb. 22-24, March 22-24 and April 26-28. For appointments call Peterson at 507-259-6178 orRand Kujath at 507-951-6412. The Cottage is on Facebook.