Are you a fan of a more soft, relaxed, and romantic interior design style? Then Shabby Chic design might be right up your alley. Shabby Chic is a look that’s comfortable and inviting, but with a hint of old-world elegance that’s evocative of an old English country estate. In fact, Great Britain is where this design style was born.
It came onto the style scene in the 1980s, a decade of opulence and grandeur. Expensive, modern furniture and decor had become very fashionable during this time. A counterculture movement of bohemians and artisans bucked this trend, instead of adopting a Victorian-inspired look in their modern homes. It was faded and worn, with the type of decoration found in old country houses—full of chintz upholstery, faded portraits and landscape paintings, and sagging furniture that had solid frames. The result was a charming, elegant look that also evoked the sense of an English estate that had been in the same family for generations.
This style was more broadly embraced in the late 80s and early 90s, with Laura Ashely prints and ruffles becoming quite popular. Author, designer, and entrepreneur Rachel Ashwell even launched a brand in 1989 under the name Shabby Chic—which was full of pieces that embodied this design style. While this style faded from popularity in the 2000s, with the surge in popularity of Cottagecore style, Shabby Chic is actually having a bit of a moment right now—but in a slightly different format than years past. It’s no longer Laura Ashely-style frills and florals, but a more refined take on this cottage style.
What is Shabby Chic Design?
As an interior design style, Shabby Chic combines rustic style with elements of classic design. It’s a twist on farmhouse design, with feminine touches and more frilly accents. Furniture and upholstery has an intentionally worn down and faded look about it—but these distressed pieces feature classic silhouettes that elevates the aesthetic. This style is often associated with distressed wood and vintage furniture, soft hues, linen and cotton upholstery, sofas with slipcovers, and florals galore.
The rustic design elements of Shabby Chic come through in the focus on comfort (think: sink-in sofas and plush upholstery) and the wood finishes used in Shabby Chic spaces. Natural materials are very popular in this style, with plenty of jute, rattan, and caning found in furniture and rugs. Wood pieces often have soft finishes, like a whitewash or grey wood finish. You’ll also see a lot of reclaimed, painted furniture in Shabby Chic spaces. Antiques, flea market finds, and upcycled objects are celebrated in this style, with lots of old trunks, stools, cabinets, and dressers painted in soft neutrals or pastel colors. These painted pieces will often have an antique look, with intentionally distressed finishes or chipped paint that reveal layers of other colors and finishes beneath. Shiplap walls are also a hallmark of the Shabby Chic look.
The classic side of this style shows up in the details. Upholstered furniture with nailheads and tufting add some refinement to this style, and scrolling and turned-wood legs on furniture add subtle ornamentation. You’ll also see some classical elements in furniture shapes and light fixtures—whether it’s an English roll-arm sofa, a scalloped headboard, or Rococo-inspired or vintage chandeliers.
The combination of these rustic and classic design elements results in a style that’s charming yet accessible, elegant but a little undone.
Is Shabby Chic Still in Style?
Right now, Shabby Chic is undergoing a bit of a facelift. Today, we’re seeing it remixed in a way that’s reminiscent of French Country design. This style has always involved European influences, and the more modern take on Shabby Chic involves European elegance taking the place of some of the more kitchy elements of the traditional Shabby Chic aesthetic. So, say goodbye to mason jars and bring on the vintage vases! Today’s Shabby Chic also involves more gray wash and natural woods than painted finishes. Gone are the days of painting and intentionally distressing wood furniture. Rather, Shabby Chic style now celebrates antiques and vintage-inspired wood pieces in all their natural glory. But soft neutrals, upholstered furniture, and plenty of natural materials? That’s definitely still at the heart of this look.
Since this style evokes the simplicity and elegance of the European countryside, you’ll notice that it has a lot of the same stylistic roots of the wildly popular Cottagecore aesthetic. The more “precious” side of Cottagecore involves florals and ruffles, which is where Shabby Chic elements primarily show up in this style. But Cottagecore and Shabby Chic also place the same premium on comfort and lean into a more romantic aesthetic.
The collected nature of Shabby Chic interior designs means that, depending on the furniture silhouettes and decorative objects you choose, it could also lean a bit bohemian. In this case, you’d dial back on the florals and ruffles and lean more into the farmhouse side of this style, with plenty of natural materials.
What colors are good for Shabby Chic interiors?
Shabby Chic is big on the neutrals. Whites, creams, beige, flax, and other soft neutral colors form the base of this design style. But other soft colors—like bleached out pastels and earth tones—bring some color into Shabby Chic spaces—the most common colors being pinks, blues, and greens. In a more 90s/early 2000s take on Shabby Chic, these colors would have shown up in upcycled painted furniture. Today, you’ll see them more in patterned upholstery—in vintage floral patterns, ticking stripes, and linen pillows, bedding, and slipcovers in earth tones.
7 Tips to Ace the Shabby Chic Look
Below are some of our designers’ key tips for getting a modern Shabby Chic look in your home.
1. Start With a Neutral Paint Color
This vintage-inspired style requires a neutral base which everything else can be layered over. So, go for neutral paint colors that lean a bit warmer to balance out the crisp white upholstery often used in this style.
2. Prioritize Comfortable Base Furniture
When choosing base furniture like sofas and beds, Shabby Chic style demands comfort. Cush, comfortable sofas are a must—and a slipcovered style is ideal to pull off this look. You want it to be something that you can really sink into, while still looking somewhat elegant. For a bed, opt for an upholstered bed with tufting for an extra dose of comfort.
3. Opt for Upholstered Pieces
Rather than choosing a wooden bed frame or clean-lined modern accent chair, lean into upholstered styles that are super comfortable. Linen and cotton upholstery in white, cream, and beige are particularly popular in this style. Though, adding in some vintage-inspired patterns in bedding, throw pillows, and even accent chairs is a perfect way to mix in some color and add some charm. Slipcovered or upholstered dining chairs in soft hues are also big in this style. But your upholstery doesn’t just have to be cotton and linen fabrics. You can also mix in a bit of leather (bonus points for pieces with patina!) and even some velvet to add in a bit of luxury. These two materials are especially great in accent chairs!
4. Layer in Classic-Inspired Accent Furniture and Decor
While Shabby Chic design has rustic style as its foundation, classic design elements are what visually elevate this style. Bring in classical elements through accent furniture like side tables and ottomans, plus sofas or chairs with more ornate legs. You can also bring in classic-inspired elements into Shabby Chic decor through art and small decorative objects. This is a style where you can lean into collections—especially if they’re something like tea cups, porcelain plates, or Staffordshire dogs! A very Victorian move, this affinity toward collections comes from the English estate side of this style, where homes tend to strike the delicate balance between ornate and cluttered.
5. Mix Woods in Similar Tones
Light-toned and raw wood add the perfect rustic tone to Shabby Chic style. But this look doesn’t demand perfectly matching wood tones. You can mix wood tones, as long as they’re in the lighter finish range. (You could also go for some natural, light finishes mixed with whitewashed wood pieces.)
6. Look for Finishes with a Patina
Finishes should feel rustic and a bit organic and vintage in their patina. Historically, that has meant intentionally distressed pieces of painted wood furniture. But you can also get furniture with patina by looking for antique furniture and rugs that show a bit of wear. We always prefer genuine patina over a manufactured look! (Flea markets are a great place to uncover unique pieces of vintage furniture!)
7. Bring in Cozy Accents
We mentioned this earlier, but Shabby Chic has comfort at its core. So, bring on the cozy accents through plush pillows and bedding, soft throws, and antique or vintage-inspired rugs in traditional patterns (but in faded colorways). Poufs and ottomans add to the sense of comfort in Shabby Chic spaces!