What is shabby chic design? Everything you need to know about the style

So timeless, so beautiful

Two pictures of a shabby chic room with a table, chair, and a rug, on a brown background
(Image credit: Ruggable)

If you’re looking to decorate your home in a cozy yet classic way, shabby chic design could be the style for you. It’s been around for many years now, and while it has increased and decreased in popularity, it has always been a staple trend that seems to come back.

It’s all about drawing on rustic charm, but with elegant finishing touches that make it look refined. Think like your grandparents’ house, but if an interior designer swept in to make it effortlessly stylish.

Seen shabby chic style make a comeback yet again and want to know more about it? I’ve rounded up expert advice to find out about its style hallmarks, its history, and how you can get the look in your place.

Your shabby chic design questions, answered

Whether you're a shabby chic newbie or are a fan that wants to know more, here's all the info you need...

What is shabby chic design?

In short, shabby chic design is vintage, distressed decor, paired with a romantic aesthetic. It has been popular for over 20 years, thanks to its sophisticated yet timeless design. 

Where did shabby chic come from? 

This is a decor trend that can be handily pinned down to one designer. “The term shabby chic was coined by designer Rachel Ashwell in the 1980s, who sought to combine the best of used furniture and new design elements,” explains Mark Buskuhl, founder and CEO of Ninebird Properties. “She aimed to create a look that was both comfortable and stylish, and which celebrated the beauty of worn pieces with age, imperfection, and patina.”

A picture of Mark Buskuhl on a wood panel background
Mark Buskuhl

Mark Buskuhl is the founder and CEO of Ninebird Properties in Dallas, Texas. His company specializes in buying, renovating and selling dozens of houses every year. It takes on challenging projects, including fire-damaged homes, and transforms them back to beautiful spaces.

What are shabby chic design hallmarks?

Want to know what to look for when shopping and styling shabby chic decor? Common elements of shabby chic interior design include whitewashed furniture, faded and textured fabrics, vintage pieces, and a palette of soft colors. “Other hallmarks are distressed accents such as chipped paint or worn finishes, antique details like crystal doorknobs or clawfoot tubs, and rustic touches like metal lanterns or reclaimed wood accents,” says Buskhul. 

How to decorate with shabby chic decor?

To achieve a shabby chic look, Buskhul says to combine vintage pieces with modern accents for a timeless, eclectic style. “Start by choosing soft, muted colors like whites and pastels that will create an inviting atmosphere,” he says. “Then, layer textured fabrics such as lace or linen for added visual interest, and add distressed furniture and accessories to balance out the room.” From here, you can accessorize with upcycled items like vintage frames or antique mirrors to complete the look.

For a more modern take on shabby chic, you could also add bolder colors such as blues and pinks for an updated feel. “Look for contemporary furniture pieces with distressed finishes, add industrial elements like exposed brick walls or metal accents, and finish with larger statement pieces like oversized mirrors or floor lamps,” Buskuhl adds.

Get the shabby chic design look

Want to transform your place with shabby chic style? Here are a few furniture and decor buys that will instantly bring the look into your home.

The prices below were correct at the time of publishing this article.

Loving the shabby chic look? It really is chic, timeless, and easy to decorate with. If you want a more natural way to bring it into your home, cottagecore is a great spin-off of the style, and has become popular in its own right.

Eve Smallman
Staff Writer

Hi there! I’m a staff writer at Real Homes. I've been a lifestyle journalist for over five years, previously working as an editor across regional magazines. Before this, I graduated from Nottingham Trent University a degree in journalism, along with an NCTJ gold diploma. I love running, decorating my rented Victorian home, and discovering new cheeses.