Shabby Chic: The Style of Living That Celebrates the Imperfect

Romantic, nostalgic, and unique: that’s the best way to describe the Shabby Chic interior style. It’s not about chasing a fashion trend – but about celebrating the timeless beauty of the imperfect: furniture with traces of use, self-crocheted tablecloths, and wallpaper that seems to come from another time.

The most important things at a glance

  • Shabby chic is an interior design style with a vintage and worn aesthetic.
  • For this look, furniture pieces with peeling paint or intentional scratches are often showcased, and driftwood is also a popular choice of material.
  • A specific coat of paint with a brush or sanding with the help of sandpaper are ideas that make the furniture pieces look as if they have received signs of use over the years.
  • Delicate ornaments are often used on curtains or pillows to add elegance to the room.
  • The style creates a warm and inviting atmosphere where past times come back to life, and a nostalgic aesthetic is created.

What does Shabby Chic mean?

No, Shabby Chic is, contrary to the literal translation, “shabby” or even “rundown”, not equal to bulky waste. But: supposed bulky waste can often become a Shabby Chic showpiece. Shabby Chic is about giving everyday objects and even furniture a special aura, making them a part of the past or emphasizing the same in them. Things that at first glance do not seem perfect are perfect precisely because they already belonged to grandmother and, with a little soap, chalk paint, and wax, can be made to shine again.

The interior style originated in the 1980s in Great Britain as a solid counter-movement to the flashy Victorian interior style reviving at the time – which the broad mass of Britons could not afford financially and instead restored old furniture. The name is Shabby Chic was then made big by the US-American Rachel Ashwell. She defines the furnishing style as “timeless history”, i.e., chic without an expiration date. Ashwell opened the first store under Shabby Chic in Santa Monica, California, in 1989. In Germany, the interior design style has been experiencing a real boom since the 2000s.

How does Shabby Chic work?

The Shabby Look is recognizable because, for example, the furniture is not perfectly white or colorfully painted but has deliberately open, chipped, or subsequently rubbed spots. The object’s original material thus peeps out from under the painted color. In principle, any furniture is in shabby chic style: from chairs to tables and kitchens to shoe cabinets, dressers, and bathroom vanities. After all, the interior design style was born from what is now called upcycling and Do-It-Yourself. If you have not found something suitable in your attic or grandma’s basement, you might find something at a flea market or on the Internet. Online many tutorials explain to both beginners and advanced hobby restorers step by step how old treasures can be professionally refurbished.

The furniture is sturdy and in excellent, usable condition. To call a three-legged buffet full of mold and without handles simply out of personal laziness, Shabby Chic is not the point.

Here is an old scale; there is a letter from the past - Shabby Chic treasures can be found mainly at flea markets
Here is an old scale; there is a letter from the past – Shabby Chic treasures can be found mainly at flea markets.

What is the difference between Shabby Chic and Vintage?

But Shabby Chic is more than just a way to make furniture or wood look older than they are or freshen up old wooden furniture. Shabby Chic is a feminine, feel-good interior style: light colors, soft fabrics, and extravagant eye-catchers are the ingredients for a successful interior. What pleases is allowed, as long as it respects the basic rules of the style and gives the eye enough to look at. Romanticism is writ large.

At first glance, shabby chic has a lot in common with vintage style. Both celebrate the past and the imperfect. With vintage, however, one attaches importance to the present age of furniture and decorative elements. Just “making it look like” would be a faux pas here. But instead, antique finds from many different eras appear and stand side by side on an equal footing – something like Grandpa’s steel bike from the 1940s next to his parents’ kidney table from the 1950s, and all of that combined with family photos from 1880 to today. In contrast, fans of Shabby Chic prefer pieces and motifs from romantic periods. Consequently, Shabby Chic is more playful, dreamy, and kitschy than vintage.

The materials in Shabby Chic

Furniture in Shabby Chic is usually made of wood; chairs can also be made of white lacquered rattan. Printed paper or fabric with rich applications is often used as wallpaper; cushion covers are made of satin, linen, or cotton – either monochrome or with floral patterns. Occasionally there are metal elements for decoration – then gladly provided with a rust patina. And glass accessories can also be combined well. In addition, there are branches and fresh flowers, plants, porcelain figurines, and – especially popular in the kitchens – enamel pots in various sizes, which can also be used as flower planters.

Typical showcase cabinet in shabby style
Typical showcase cabinet in shabby style.

The colors in Shabby Chic

Mostly white, cream, beige, or nude prevail in Shabby Chic. These are joined by pastel shades such as delicate pink, lilac, light green, or beautiful sky blue. The floor should be light, which best lets you see a wood look. Chairs, tables, and dressers are usually white or beige, as newer copies are painted and then sanded to get the desired patina. Occasionally, there may be a colored piece of furniture – however, light shades are also preferable.

Patterns in Shabby Chic

Flowers, birds images, and generally any form of natural patterns or nature-imitating shapes are welcome in Shabby Chic. Also, welcome toile-de-jouy, the thoughtful design from grandmother’s time with bucolic motifs. They provide pillows and blankets, curtains, and tablecloths for the splash of color that brings variety. Often they can also be found on cups and plates. Another style feature is small pom-poms that can dangle from all textiles and embroidery work that makes everything from cloth napkins to tea towels and pillowcases unique.

Like the country style, Shabby Chic relies on natural materials and light colors. However, it is a bit more playful and romantic
Like the country style, Shabby Chic relies on natural materials and light colors. However, it is a bit more playful and romantic.

The decoration in style shabby chic

Showing what you have: This is also a hallmark of Shabby Chic. Restraint in terms of decoration needs to know the style. Here, everything is displayed, which one has inherited, found, or saved – or will still rummage on numerous flea market tours. Therefore, in the Shabby Chic interior, numerous eye-catchers can be found, one more beautiful than the other, which can seem partly overwhelming and cluttered. The seasonal decoration is, therefore, usually limited to discreet little things like fresh flowers or Christmas fir branches between the individual pieces.

The shabby-chic style is perfect for getting creative yourself. You can make your own lace or crochet tablecloth or embroider your cushion covers with individual motifs – just like Grandma used to do. A nice pastime for the work-life balance at the end of the day or an opportunity to learn new things – there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube. Or look in the boxes in the attic: You’ll be surprised how many Shabby Chic suitable accessories you already have – you have to stage them properly.

With which interior styles can Shabby Chic be combined well?

Shabby Chic is an interior style characterized by its vintage and worn aesthetics. Shabby Chic combines well with various other styles to create a harmonious look. Here are some styles that go well with Shabby Chic:

  • Country style: country style has a similar aesthetic to Shabby Chic and emphasizes a rustic and cozy atmosphere. Use pastel colors, floral fabrics, and natural materials like wood and rattan to combine Shabby Chic with country style.
  • Vintage: Vintage style goes perfectly with shabby chic, as both aim for past times and worn elegance. Add antique furniture pieces, retro accessories, and vintage fabrics to create a nostalgic charm.
  • Boho chic: The style adds a more exotic touch to shabby chic. Combine playful patterns, colorful pillows, and ethnic elements with your shabby chic furniture for a relaxed and individual look.
  • Scandinavian: Although the Scandinavian style is known for its minimalist aesthetic, it can be combined well with Shabby Chic to create a unique contrast. Use bright colors, natural textures, and clean lines to combine Scandinavian style with the playful charm of Shabby Chic.
  • Industrial: Industrial style features raw materials, metal accents, and a rustic aesthetic. Combining shabby chic furniture with industrial elements like metal shelving, factory light fixtures, and rough surfaces creates an interesting contrast between elegance and ruggedness.
  • Modern Chic: To add a modern touch to shabby chic, combine it with minimalist furniture, clean lines, and neutral colors – this creates a contemporary yet elegant atmosphere.


Remember that when combining different styles, balance is important. Experiment with other elements to find your style and create a harmonious environment that reflects your taste.

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