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Vintage Picture Frames: A Shabby Chic Decorating Idea

Updated on January 25, 2018

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Vintage Picture Frames: Shabby Chic Decorating


Vintage Picture Frames: Shabby Chic Decorating

Before the time of her passing, I can still clearly remember occasionally running through a large hallway of my grandmother's home. With rooms radiating from either side of this fairly massive hallway, I also recall these walls being gracefully adorned with the most beautiful vintage picture frames that my grandmother had, over the years, purchased and collected from a variety of places. Though I am sure there is depth to the story of her obtaining each and every one of them, it was those childhood experiences, in her home, that I believe fostered such a love and appreciation for this shabby chic vintage decorating design aesthetic.

While I carefully ensured that my arms didn't accidentally nudge these picture frames while I vigorously ran up and down those hallways, I also grew to admire them. Not only had they become akin to cherished family heirlooms, but they told almost as much of a story as the pictures that lie within those very frames themselves.

As a minor decorative item goes, shabby chic picture frames are a great all purpose decorative item. They are universally useful, since almost everyone has art they need to place on their wall, and the frame itself adds a ton of unique character to your spaces. Vintage picture frames are also a great option for someone on a budget: they are easy to come by and cheap to purchase and install, if you're resourceful about it and don't mind putting in a bit of work! These same traits made them appealing items for my grandmother to purchase, even during her young years into her young and middle adult life.

This article is all about vintage picture frames as they are used in shabby chic decorating. It will teach you how to pick out the right kinds of frames to utilize, distress and re-purpose and how to make effective use of them in your home so they stand out properly. I'm hoping to inspire you to create your very own shabby chic vintage picture frames wall!

Let's learn how to choose and use vintage picture frames now!

Vintage Picture Frames: Shabby Chic Decorating

Vintage Picture Frames: What's Out There?

There are a LOT of different varieties of vintage picture frames to be found, and very few of them are suitable for shabby chic picture frames.


They are ugly!

What you want to be searching for, if you want to replicate this style, is big, chunky and ornate wooden or metal frames. The more width and mass to them the better, generally speaking. Something happened in recent years where the ornate, chunky frame was suddenly not in vogue anymore. The response was years of plain, thin wooden frames and matting. There is nothing wrong with this look, but I tend to think it is a little bit boring. Why not have an eclectic mix of unique frames in all shapes and sizes?

Had you seen my grandmother's vintage picture frame adorned hallway like I did, you would have noticed precisely this mixture of unique frames, in a variety of shapes and sizes.

You can find a lot of vintage picture frames in metal and wood that meet this description. They are found on vintage art in second-hand shops and antique stores, or even at garage sales. Some are even covered in gold leaf! You may have to remove the old photo or painting and ditch the art to salvage the frame (something I admit I hate to do), but it's a great and cheap way to give a tired old piece of art second life.

Just keep your eyes open, and take in the shape of the vintage picture frames themselves. You don't have to necessarily worry about the color or condition, as you can easily paint them and change the look entirely!

Vintage Picture Frames: Shabby Chic Decorating


Vintage Picture Frames: Use and Repurposing

Vintage and antique picture frames are easy to modify. Since they are so small, you can easily repaint them in any color you choose. This is in fact highly recommended in some cases, because it will add that nice pop of shabby chic to it. You can use the tips written in my article on distressing furniture, linked at the top of the page. I have also written a variety of other articles regarding vintage and shabby chic furniture (distressing techniques, methods, tools, etc.)

You can go to the hardware store and find spray paint in all sorts of colors. In this case spray paint is probably your best option, because a brush will have a hard time finding its way into the nooks and crannies of your vintage picture frames. You can use gold metallic paint for a nice faux gold feel, or another popular option is white with distressed edges.

Vintage Picture Frames: Shabby Chic Decorating


Vintage Picture Frames: Displaying Your Frames

Displaying your new pieces of art is up to you, but I have some suggestions. A very popular option these days is to create a picture wall of an eclectic mix of photos, art and / or frames. Vintage picture frames are practically works of art themselves, especially if you put in the time and effort to distress them, and a wall of shabby chic picture frames will really stand out and give your space a funky, stylish retro appeal.

If your vintage picture frames are very large, you can easily have one piece on a wall, preferably in an area suited to a large piece of artwork. Places to consider are above the mantle or centered between a pair of chairs. Using a large shabby chic picture frame in this way will help differentiate different spaces in an open concept living room or large space.

Vintage picture frames also work well if they're meant to stand on a table. Many small ones on a surface has a nice look to it!

Good Luck!

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    • DIYmommy profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      LisaKelly-I know what you mean, I am running out of wall space myself! Thank you for the comment. Farmhouse frames are so unique and beautiful!

    • Lisakelly profile image

      Lisa Kelly 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts

      My friend has a wall decorated with empty farmhouse frames. I love the way it looks. There are no pictures in the frames, but the chunky detailed frames (some even with hinges and hardware) are so cool to look at by themselves. I may have to try someday...need more wall space!

    • DIYmommy profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Thank you! I feel the same way, I love out of the box picture frames. Your picture frame sounds beautiful.

    • john000 profile image

      John R Wilsdon 

      5 years ago from Superior, Arizona

      Curious that just recently I found a shabby chic picture frame at the Goodwill. Modern frames seem so dull to me. My wife and I had just finished a beautiful jigsaw puzzle with a spring landscape as its theme. We wanted to frame it, and since it was so rustic looking, we wanted an old-fashioned frame. We actually got some gold spray paint and did it up fine.

      It looks much better than a black line bordering the whole thing!

      I enjoyed reading about this. Good ideas.


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