Shabby Chic: A Comprehensive Guide

Adapting your home to changing trends is easy when you integrate an interior design style that absorbs modern concepts, ideas and patterns with an integral vintage flare. Bright and absolutely charming, the shabby-chic style strikes a balance between rustic decor featuring worn and distressed elements with shiny and new baroque details. Discover why style enthusiasts are constantly seeking ways to incorporate the versatile look into their homes, the decor of venues, the furniture that fills their rooms and even their overall lifestyle.

Shabby Chic: A Comprehensive Guide

The beauty of attracting opposites

A juxtaposition of two separate elements of interior design, shabby chic effectively intertwines the comforts of rustic style with the elegance of refined beauty. Incorporating this design into a room creates a sweet getaway, where worries are as faint as the style’s pastel colors, and the nostalgia of sitting at grandma’s kitchen table envelopes the soul. This timeless motif is known for featuring textured materials that have been worn down with love and use. Interior designers can stumble upon these one-of-a-kind items anywhere from high-end boutiques to flea markets.

Shabby Chic Aidan Gray Chair

Features of shabby chic design

While shabby chic is often an eclectic array of different patterns and textures, there are several elements that are distinct to this style. Incorporating this look into your home requires some of the following key identifiers:

  • Worn and distressed furniture, with layers of paint exposed
  • Lightweight materials such as cotton
  • Pastel colors such as sky blue, soft pink, warm cream, mint green, light gray and pale purple
  • Weathered wood, warm oak, wrought iron and wicker
  • Vintage accents and overall look
  • Antique lace
  • Floral patterns

“Strike the balance between rustic and refined.”

Shabby chic features elements that remain constant, but it also adapts with changing times. For those looking for more up-to-date styles, you can integrate shabby chic into your decor by focusing on the rustic beauty and soft colors of accent pieces while incorporating modern furniture, according to Coastal Living. The key to achieving this look in your home is to strike the balance between rustic and refined.

How did shabby chic begin?

Relatively new to the world of interior design, the history of shabby chic is not nearly as rich as its exuding charm. However, its founding roots stem from designers’ appreciation of purity, raw beauty and historical value.

The very beginning

The term “shabby chic” was coined by a newly launched magazine in the 1980s called World of Interiors. According to the Daily Mail, founding editor of the magazine Min Hogg defined shabby chic as, “characterful, colourful, used but not abused.” She believed look was influenced by the habit of ’80s homes to collect overflowing quilts and mix-and-matched fabrics.

While it may have modern influences, the style has roots in the large country houses of Great Britain. Decorated with airy curtains, faded sofas, weathered wood tables and vintage accents, shabby chic made its debut in these homes before it had a name. In the early 1900s, many of these country houses were abandoned, left with the contents still inside, because of hard financial times faced by the owners. Through time and the change of seasons, the furniture became worn, providing the inspiration for the weathered interior of shabby chic we see today.

Launching into popularity

Shabby chic took the design world by storm with the help of London-born stylist Rachel Ashwell. For the past 25 years, Ashwell has been developing the definition for this design with her brand, Shabby Chic Couture. Her interior design line began for practical reasons. She had slipcovers made for her couch so cleaning would be easier when tackling messes made by her two small children, she told Inc. After friends plagued her with questions about where she found such unique pieces, she realized there was both a need and a demand for worn furniture.

Shabby Chic Aidan Gray Chest

Starting as a small store in which Ashwell sold slipcovered furniture and items gathered from flea markets, Shabby Chic Couture has turned into a widely popular style and brand, with five stores throughout the U.S. She hand-picks each product her stores sell, from artisan-crafted chandeliers to custom-made couches. She even opened an impressively quaint bed and breakfast in Texas in 2011, which features elegant rooms that exude the imperfect beauty of the shabby-chic style.

The popularity of the shabby chic also came from 1980s homeowners’ desire to demonstrate class and refinement in their decor. Incorporating this style into their homes allowed them to boast interesting vintage pieces that told a unique story.

Looking ahead

Rachel Ashwell sets the standard for shabby chic, and interior designers take her lead when determining the direction for this motif. In an interview with Houzz, Ashwell revealed that she’s working on simplifying the style by eliminating elements that distract from its true beauty.

The designer is “Making sure that the ‘noise’ doesn’t take over the magic,” she told Houzz. While Ashwell speaks to the overall theme and look, shabby chic is changing in more ways than this. The style is encroaching upon other venues than the home, expanding its role in design.

Shabby chic is becoming especially popular for wedding themes and decor. Brides and grooms can incorporate the charming pastel colors into bridal party garb, vintage accent pieces into centerpieces and twinkling lights into dance floor decor. Shabby-chic weddings may have items such as chalkboard signs, mason jars and wild flowers – items that kindle the down-home spirit.

The two sides of shabby chic

Because shabby chic is only about three decades old, it hasn’t had the chance to branch out into subgenres. However, it was formed as the product of other interior designs. Its vintage-refined melting pot is a result of rustic and baroque style combinations.

“Shabby chic falls under the umbrella category of rustic.”


The relaxed, worn and unrefined details of rustic design plays into the comfortable, “shabby” half of shabby chic. In fact, shabby chic falls under the umbrella category of rustic, along with other similar designs such as cottage, farmhouse, country and coastal. The term “rustic” elicits mental images of cozy cottages and warm fires, and quite appropriately so. The nature-inspired style focuses on raw materials in both the architecture and interior design. Large wooden beams often line the cathedral ceilings of cabins, stone walls frequently shape cottage homes, and lace cotton curtains don the windows of farm houses; all embody rustic design.


Cozy and comforting, the incorporation of cottage elements in shabby-chic design gives the innovative mode its quaint and homey feel. Its light and airy vibe mimic the pleasant, subdued pastel colors that are so frequently seen in shabby-chic decor. Lightweight fabrics such as lace and cotton are seen in both design forms, effectively exuding that warm and welcoming atmosphere. Houzz magazine provides several examples on how to incorporate colors into cottage design.

Shabby Chic Go Home Light


Since shabby chic was inspired by the large country houses of England, it only makes sense that the style holds farmhouse elements. Farmhouse design captures the more simplistic side of shabby chic. Though shabby-chic decor hosts orate and luxurious details, it’s the pure, worn and weathered base taken from the farmhouse style that gives the design its true character. However, even the plainer foundation of shabby chic is not quite as modest as that of farmhouse.


As with shabby chic, country style pulls decor ideas and furniture from flea markets and antique shops; country design just doesn’t host the same lavish details. Country style also shares the feature of metallic highlights as shabby chic, but the shining details serve a more functional purpose rather than just to add character – country design often hosts these details in light sources, such as bronze wall scones or copper lanterns.


Coastal design integrates many of the same weather-worn details of shabby chic, but – as the name would suggest – it resembles a home on the beach rather than a cottage in the country. Though coastal design is decorated with seashells and oceanic colors, such as blue, green and coral, the most prominent similarity between coastal and shabby chic is the lived-in vibe it renders. Both styles feature exposed paint on furniture and worn, antique accents. Additionally, just as shabby chic capitalizes on natural elements such as sunlight, coastal design often has open doors, wide windows and skylights. HGTV captures the elements of this style in a coastal-inspired design gallery.


Draped in intricate details, the baroque style forms the “chic” part of shabby chic. Baroque is characterized by its heightened levels of opulence and splendor fit for royalty. After all, that’s where this design has its roots. From the end of the 16th century to the start of the 18th century, baroque took center stage in European designs. Most notably, Louis XIV’s palace in Versailles embodies baroque style, complete with rich, deep colors, furniture featuring detailed curves and designs, and marvelously gilded accent pieces.

Baroque pairs with rustic style to create the imperfectly compatible shabby-chic design. Typically, rustic style takes the lead and baroque follows with sophisticated subtlety. For example, fabulous metallic details may elegantly line pastoral cotton curtains, or dim lights comparable to a countryside sunset will sprinkle down from a brilliant crystal chandelier.

Examples of shabby chic you can visit

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles

Most of the well-known structures related to the shabby-chic style were only partial contributors to this relatively new look. For example, the grandeur of Louis XIV’s castle in Versailles plays a major role in the development of the baroque influences of shabby chic, but it doesn’t touch on the more pure, rustic elements.

The Prairie

Ashwell’s bed and breakfast, The Prairie, in Texas may best capture the shabby chic design in all its nooks and crannies. Sprawling across 46 acres of open landscape in Round Top, Texas, the large size of The Prairie takes nothing away from the quaint aura of this shabby-chic bed and breakfast, which is surrounded by flourishing wisteria trees.

“Shabby chic is a charming design that fits into any venue.”

According to The Prairie’s website, the once run-down location was restored with a labor of love. Ashwell turned the vintage venue, tacked up with recycled materials, into a five-house  bed and breakfast, careful not to disrupt the beauty of the foot paths and hand-crafted elements of its previous owners. Guests can relax on the comfy furniture from her shabby-chic boutiques that fill every room, look up at her dazzling, signature crystal chandeliers and walk on the original floorboards of the farm houses.

Combining the rich, opulent decor of the baroque style with the pure, raw beauty of rustic form, shabby chic is a charming design that fits into virtually any venue from an elegant home to a humble cottage. The upscale accents on the weather-worn materials add just enough sophistication to strike a perfect balance that exudes nostalgia, comfort and refinement. Though the style has changed subtly through the decades, with much influence from Ashwell, its overall air is timeless and will forever fit your home.

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