Shabby Chic Style Defined

Find out how to start decorating in this comfortable style.

By Lisa Frederick

The shabby chic design approach, intended to create an air of history and charm, is rooted in the decorating traditions of English country homes. It became wildly popular in the late 1990s and still has a strong fan club. Although the look today is more commonly known by other terms, such as "cottage," none sum it up more neatly than the original moniker. 

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The Basics

Homey Country/Rustic Dining Room
Michelle Workman

Shabby chic interiors bring together a blended family of furnishings, accents, and finishes that carry the impression of age and use. The style dismisses pedigree in favor of character and celebrates the beauty of everyday objects. It's important to note that shabby doesn't mean grubby; instead, the look suggests storied, careworn elegance.

These designer rooms embody shabby chic décor:  

Get the Look

Smitten with shabby chic? Try these tips to make it happen in your home.

Fairhaven Fabric
Jane Churchill

Slipcovers. If there's one element that defines shabby chic, it's slipcovers. They're de rigueur for sofas and chairs, of course, but you can slipcover just about any piece of furniture that strikes your fancy, from headboards to accent tables to ottomans. Choose an inexpensive, lightweight fabric in a pale color or a dainty print with a slightly faded appearance.

Pastel palettes and sweet patterns. Shabby chic colors are light and airy. Whites and creams are a must, especially on walls and big-ticket furnishings, but strokes of barely-there blue, green, lilac, or pink round out the scheme. Keep patterns subtle and feminine: florals, gingham, ticking stripes, toile.

Comfortable fabrics. Textiles should feel welcoming, natural, and light to the touch. Cotton, linen, and muslin are classics, punctuated with hints of coarser weaves such as burlap and delicate lace or eyelet. Upholstered pieces, draperies, table and bed linens, and throw pillows gain a little old-school flair with dressmaker detailing such as pintucks, skirts, and scallops.

Luberon Rectangular Table

Mismatched pieces. Shabby style celebrates the art of the mismatch, as though you inherited a series of hand-me-downs from relatives who just happen to have fantastic taste. Establish parallels between line, form, scale, and finish to tie together disparate pieces or the room may feel like a hodgepodge.

Texture and patina. Sleek, high-gloss surfaces would feel as out of place with this look as patent-leather stilettos with a cotton sundress. Go for gently worn finishes on woods and metals, a few nicks and scuffs on china and porcelain, a little fading for paint. Scraped wood flooring, beadboard walls, and other textural surface treatments add depth.

Secondhand treasures. The shabby chic trend almost single-handedly revived flea markets as the new hot spots for shopping. If you like it, it's fair game, from vintage road signs to antique kitchenware. Finds such as these help to give shabby chic style its timeworn aura. The only caveat? Use them judiciously or you risk your interiors taking on the feel of a junk store.

  • If you like Shabby Chic style, you may also like Cottage and French Country Style. Click to explore!  

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