What Is Shabby Chic Style and How Can It Shine In Your Home?

shabby chic living room

Mackenzie Merrill Photography for Amy Leferink

Perhaps you grew up in a shabby chic style home and are now outfitting your own place with furniture and decor that falls within this aesthetic. The shabby chic look has been a favorite for quite some time, having risen to popularity in the late 1980s. We spoke with interior designers who shared more about the style's history and its key characteristics. They also provided many useful tips for decorating your own shabby chic home.

Meet the Expert


Origins

The shabby chic style became quite popular in the 1980s and '90s. It surged in popularity after designer Rachel Ashwell opened a store with the same name and began to partner with mass retailers such as Target to make shabby chic style products readily available to the public. While other aesthetics have emerged in the years since Ashwell's rise to fame, designer Carrie Leskowitz knew it was only a matter of time before shabby chic became mainstream yet again. "Welcome back Rachel Ashwell, we have missed you and your shabby chic aesthetic," Leskowitz says. "I am not surprised the shabby chic look that was so popular in the 1990s is now seeing a resurgence. What goes around comes around, but presently it is streamlined and more refined for a new generation. The look, once a tired trend, now seems tried and true, with a few tweaks."

Leskowitz attributes the return to shabby chic style to increased time spent at home over the past year-plus. "People were searching for familiarity, warmth and comfort from their home as the pandemic took hold," she explains. "The deep understanding that our home is more than an address became especially prevalent."

shabby chic kitchen

Mackenzie Merrill Photography for Amy Leferink

Designer Amy Leferink's explanation of the style supports this point. "Shabby chic is a style that is all about lived in comfort and age-old charm," she says. "It creates an instant feeling of homey-ness and warmth, and can cozy up a space without working too hard."

Key Characteristics

Designer Lauren DeBello describes shabby chic style as "a classic and romantic alternative to more opulent styles, such as art deco." She adds, "The first things that come to mind when I think of shabby-chic are clean, white linen, and antique furniture."

Distressed furniture—often coated in chalk paint—as well as floral patterns, muted hues, and ruffles are some other key characteristics of shabby chic style. Adds Leskowitz, "The shabby chic look is defined by its vintage or relaxed appearance. It has a romantic and authentically grounded feeling." As a bonus, the more wear a piece of furniture receives over time, the better it fits within a shabby chic space. "The look holds up under heavy use and the inevitable scratches and nicks that a well-loved piece of furniture endures only adds to the charm," Leskowitz explains.

shabby chic dining room

Toni Deis Creative for Mimi & Hill

Decorating Tips

Note that the shabby chic look that is in style today is different than the aesthetic of decades' past. "Nail heads, tufting and skirting may remain, but gone is the unnecessary embellishments, garlands, oversized rolled arms, and heavy swags that defined the earlier shabby chic look," Leskowitz explains.

Designer Miriam Silver Verga agrees that shabby chic has shifted over time. "The new shabby chic has more depth than the shabby chic of 15 years ago," she shares. "The colors are more inspired by English style that became popularized by British shows such as Bridgerton and Downton Abbey." Wall moldings, floral wallpapers, and vintage accessories are must-haves, she adds, as are organic materials such as jute. "Keeping the connection to outdoors is key whether though color scheme, materials or art."

The "chic" component of the phrase "shabby chic" is accomplished by incorporating pieces such as French bregeré chairs and crystal chandeliers, which Leskowitz says "lend a regal air to the look."

Designer Kim Armstrong also shared advice for creating a more elegant shabby chic setup. "A few nice wood pieces and custom slipcovers help to achieve a more polished shabby chic look that looks refined, instead of like a flea market," she comments. "Using nice fabrics and designing the slip covers with little custom accents like flat flange details, contrasting fabrics, or ruffled skirts makes the upholstery pieces feel shabby but also chic!"

shabby chic sideboard

Kaley Elaine Photo for Marian Louise Designs

Designer Mimi Meacham notes that the best way to source shabby chic furniture and decor is to visit an antique store or flea market—items found at such locations will "add a lot of history and depth to your space." Leferink offers a shopping tip. "You don't want to bring in too many disparate elements, as it can create visual clutter and seem very disjointed," she says. "Stick with your color palette, find items that fit within that overall palette and make sure they have that worn in feel to them to bring the shabby vibe through."

When styling furniture in a shabby chic space, you'll want to "mix and match furniture pieces and styles that maybe are not the most obvious pair," Meacham suggests. "This sort of intentional haphazard look will bring a lot of character into the space and make it feel cozy and homey."

Additionally, shabby chic style can easily be altered to incorporate elements of other styles and appear more neutral in tone. "Typically it can skew feminine, but it doesn't have to," Meacham notes. "I love the idea of injecting some tension into the typical shabby chic look but adding some industrial edge to it with worn in, galvanized metal in things like barstools or decor items."