Sophisticated design – How to create a chic garden on a budget

When I think of chic, these flashes of places and people pop into my mind.  There is the neighborhood shop owner from when I lived in Notting Hill who was always captivating in jeans, white Converse low-tops, a t-shirt and colorful velvet tailored blazers. Or the place in Italy where we once stayed on vacation that had little more than beige walls and white garden furniture, but their ability to surprise us each night at dinner with a simple touch of added beauty and elegant decor (like silver stars hanging over the table and twig bundles) was remarkable.  There are others, but what strikes me about these touch-points is that Chic or sophisticated truly doesn’t mean expensive. To even make a point of being ‘cheap’ or on a budget not only seems to undermine the notion, but it also fails to understand what ‘chic’ really means.

(Ok – but even though it isn’t chic to talk about budgets and costs – we are going to do it anyway – because, hello, we live in the real world).

What is ‘chic’?

It is the ability to draw attention to the best parts (of anything) and keep it there.  

Its courage, charm and class.  

It is the ability to edit and it takes patience.  

It has nearly nothing to do with money and everything to do with confidence.  

Don’t think it has to be some expensive and/or fake shabby thing.

It definitely isn’t as hard as you might think.

Here are a few tips to Create a chic garden:

How to create chic garden

Have Patience

Rome wasn’t built in a day (and that is one seriously chic place) and neither will your chic garden, home, wardrobe or what ever you aim to cultivate.  Have the patience to scour e-bay, craigslist, thrift shops, and sales.  Take time to discover what you love, define your personal style, and what makes you and your garden unique and special. Give yourself permission to experiment, mess-up, learn and refine. Enjoy doing all those things and don’t apologize for it.  Being chic takes a knowing….and knowing anything takes time and experimentation.

When you find something that works – lean in to it. Hard. It might be a plant (repeat it everywhere and let it become one of your signature plants), or it might be a color or material or even and idea – whatever it is make it yours by doing it with gusto.

The casual benches and the rolling pallet coffee tables in the garden above are quite chic (if you ask me) – but they aren’t new or expensive.  They look like something that a confident person would create. Someone who knows they want and they need a large comfortable gathering place, that works within their budget. It is all set in a garden that clearly isn’t overdone.  The whole thing screams that the person who put this together knows what they like, isn’t afraid to be themselves and strives to be original….that is chic.

How to create a chic garden

Less is More, More is Less

It is a cardinal rule of nearly all design professions – but a constant eye towards removing rather than adding will take you far closer to chic than any other effort.  

I think about this every time I travel.  By being forced to make decisions about what fits into the suitcase, I think hard about how to make the most with the least….and it is always better than what I end up with when I rush through my overstuffed closet every morning.  

Simplify and pare down your garden to essentials you truly love and that serve a purpose. By doing so, you’ll create an oasis that feels uncluttered, visually striking, and effortlessly chic.

How to create a chic gardenDetails Matter

It is details that will make the benign extraordinary.  It will also save you a bundle.  Simple things dressed thoughtfully often become very special.  (like the notting hill lady with the white t-shirt and the velvet jackets).  

In the garden, perhaps it is an easy wooden picnic table….but dressed with lace and garden fresh flowers and illuminated by some pretty lanterns, it is the vision of casual chic.  

Just like a scarf, a good pair of shoes or classic jewelry can make jeans and a t-shirt the height of good taste.


how to create a chic gardenKeep It Simple

A string of lights, a collection of Terracotta, an easy color scheme – these are simple.  Grace comes with not trying to do something that is too hard; it is about being comfortable with your place and letting the simple things speak.  Simplicity will always feel better than the angst that can come from something that is trying to be more than it is.  Find comfort in your garden’s simplicity, and allow the understated elegance to speak for itself. Remember, grace is the epitome of chic garden design.

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Add Art to your Garden

Integrate art pieces and sculptures into your garden to add an extra layer of sophistication. Select sculptures that complement the overall design style and create a focal point within the landscape. Don’t get stuck in the garden art realm of kitsch – I’d advise most of your garden art shopping should not be in a garden center – look for beauty and find beauty in unexpected ways. Murals, ephemeral installations, art that wasn’t meant for the garden but will serve for at least a little while and natural installations are all exciting ways to add the unexpected.

How to create a chic garden - 4 tips for better garden design

I’m collecting a board full of image that define my sense of chic garden design — it is called  Chic (and Cheap) Gardens and Ideas – you are welcome to follow it over on Pinterest. – rochelle

images by: jonas ingerstedt at dalani magazine, brooke gianetti, Style My Pretty, Debi Treloar, and Scott Webb on Unsplash

Other on Chic Garden design style posts that you might be interested in:

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  1. Hi Rochelle,
    One of the great things about these posts is the collection of views that are gathered together.
    I think the turquoise chairs are huge fun, but chic? No!
    I think the pictures mostly relate to laid back, relaxed. Good taste but not chic.
    I completely agree however with editing out and inspired touches. But most of the time these are the work of inspired and trained professionals whose eye has been honed by practice and hence costs to employ or you would not have the same results.
    Chic to me is snappy, smart, contemporary!
    But hey the wonderful thing about you guys across the pond is that we can have different views and then shrug our shoulders and part good friends!
    Best and for your year ahead!

  2. Louise says:

    Lovely writings, I love the thoughts and approach to filling a space. So, ok, it may not the textbook definition of “chic”, I think your post may even be a say-no-to-chic, in the sense that it is a word that is quite stacked with ambivalence for the one not so concerned with shallow prettiness. Isn’t chic very close to overdressing? I think chic may be not looking at the bones but adding a bow to draw the attention away, at best it looks cheerful and loving with a twist, at worst just cheap and over-the-top. Great inspiration and a reminder of true values.

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