Guide to the Shabby Chic Decorating Style

With its delightful vintage charm, harmonious lines, and a calm palette, shabby chic décor is a fantastic design choice if you want to turn your interiors into a whimsical space that’s both elegant and artistic. When done right, shabby chic style offers the perfect balance between looking pulled together but relaxed.

The shabby chic style has been trendy during the second half of the ‘80s throughout the ‘90s, but it has been subject to common misunderstandings since then.

What is Shabby Chic Decorating Style?

The shabby chic interior style combines the coziness and comforts of rustic interior styles and the whimsical elegance of French and vintage-inspired charm. It focuses on vintage furniture with a distressed or wear-and-tear feel, whites, florals, and natural textures. It’s a delicate and delightful feminine style that can make your home aesthetically pleasing.

Here’s a guide to the necessary structure and characteristics of a shabby chic interior:

1. White, neutrals, and pastel palette

The right palette can reveal your décor of choice even before your guests’ eyes have had time to focus on specific design elements and features. Shabby chic décor is predominantly white in color, from ivory to cream to chalky white. This makes the interior look airier, helping you make small corners or rooms look wider than they actually are.

While white shades play a defining role in shabby chic décor, you can’t have it without layers and soft colors. In this style, soft colors are as practical as they are appealing. Balance it with soft hues and pastel colors like dusty pink, mint green, lavender, or powder blue. Nothing says shabby chic quite like a washed-out pastel color on a cozy fabric. But to prevent it from looking run-down, choose quality materials and thick textures to maintain its luxury style.

Many shabby chic pieces tend to be bold, eye-catching, and colorful, and this is why you have to balance them out with a neutral background. Besides white, you can opt for grays, tans, and beiges for the walls, floors, and things like beddings and couches.

Also, the lightest wood finishes are a smart way to keep the palette delicate while adding a natural element (more on that later).

2. Antique, upcycled, or distressed-looking furniture

dinnerware on white wooden shelf

While shabby chic furniture isn’t tied to a specific century or decade, it must look vintage or timeworn. Most of the time, the “shabby” in “shabby chic” refers to items that have an antique, weathered, or distressed aesthetic. Furnishings and accessories with a shabby look are welcome here. With this style, you get to celebrate imperfections, whether it’s a chipped edge on a cabinet or a discolored door. This means you can go for an eclectic collection of authentic period and vintage pieces.

Thanks to patina, you can easily find household essentials that will fit the aesthetic you’re going for. A little distress can go a long way, whether it’s an aluminum mailbox, a gleaming mirror, or even a silver trash can. Add a little rustic feel to your everyday items by looking for things with a worn-out finish.  

3. Mix-and-match decorations and furnishings

The fun thing about shabby chic is that you can mix and match things to create a whimsical assortment of furniture and decorations. This style creates a beautiful order out of surface-level chaos. While there are certain elements that are defining factors to this school of décor, it’s up to you to find a way to make them all fit together. This gives you room to experiment and rearrange until you find a style that works for you.

Layer various accessories, like blankets, pillows, wall art, throw rugs, and décor items, to create a cozy and casual space. Select items that feature different prints, textures, and patterns. If you prefer a more cohesive look, limit your color scheme to two or three different colors repeated throughout the space. Since shabby chic is less structured, it’s essential to ensure that your space doesn’t look cluttered.

4. Elegant lines, curves, and frills

Old vintage mirror with gold colored wooden ornament frame.

Shabby chic is all about the frills, from antique silhouettes and curly designs to playful fringes. Whether it’s on a rug, tablecloth, pillow, or furnishings – especially in vintage color combinations like ivory and navy – it refreshes dull spaces and shows off the old-fashioned heart of shabby chic.

Spirals, curlicues, and dramatic sweeping lines create a dynamic visual flow, while intricate carvings offer textural appeal. Cabriole legs on furniture are a staple of this interior design and a reflection of its European roots. Banisters, molding, and pilasters incorporate engraved flourishes, curvy leaves, and other hints of nature.

5. Floral accents

White flowers bouquet against wooden shutters

With shabby chic décor being partly influenced by country interiors, it wouldn’t come as a surprise that this style usually includes natural elements. Flowers are a shabby chic staple, both with fresh bouquets and floral prints. Even faux flowers will do – realistic-looking, soft-hued flowers are your best bet. When put in an antique vase or weathered tin vintage bucket, it makes the perfect shabby chic decoration. From your pillowcases, beddings, and curtains to throws, use floral prints to add a contrasting, feminine touch against a white and neutral background.

6. Natural elements

Shabby chic interiors often have a bright, light, and airy feel to them. It’s because the style’s French country and farmhouse influences elicit images of lush fields, grassy hillsides, and babbling brooks. Floral appliques on shabby chic curtains and beddings and depictions of twisting vines in wood reinforce that airy feeling.

But one of the best ways to elicit this aura is to bring in some elements from the outdoors. Placing live plants and bouquets of freshly-cut flowers around the house and laying a jute rug on the floor is a great way to add to this ambiance. Using wooden accessories can also add to the vibe.

7. Shiny details

Despite the weather-worn look of some furniture and accessories in a shabby chic interior, shiny accessories balance the look to show its aristocratic appeal. Whether it’s gilded accents on a headboard, stainless steel bowls, and polished metal candlesticks on a mantel – shiny details bring sophistication to shabby chic. It can amp up the neutral palette of the style.

As with other elements of the shabby chic décor, pay attention to the colors to pull off an effortlessly relaxed yet polished look. Pair silvers with silvers and golds with golds. Mixing and matching metals will make your space look cluttered. If you have your heart set on a modern-looking and sleek statement piece, like a glass coffee table with a golden steel frame, you can offset it with an antique table runner to incorporate a touch of shabby chic and balance the rustic-meets-elegant vibe.