What Is Shabby Chic, and How Do You Get the Look?

published Oct 16, 2023
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Interior decorating styles, like everything else, go in and out of fashion, and one of the most recent to make it back to the mainstream is shabby chic decor. This romantic yet rustic style was first popularized back in the late 1980s, and is becoming popular once again alongside similar styles like French country, cottagecore, farmhouse, and more. It’s marked by light and bright interiors, filled with vintage pieces, pastels, floral motifs, and romantic touches. “Basically, if Belle from ‘Beauty and Beast’ had been given the task of decorating the castle with Mrs. Potts, you’d have a lovely shabby chic home,” says Kathy Kuo, founder and CEO of Kathy Kuo Home.

Below, check out everything you need to know about the shabby chic decorating style and how to incorporate it into your home. 

Quick Overview

What is shabby chic style?

Shabby chic is an interior decorating style characterized by predominantly white spaces, floral prints, ruffles, and soft, pastel colors. It’s full of vintage charm with a time-worn look, which means that you can easily source shabby chic decor from thrift stores, flea markets, and antique shops. It’s different from similar decorating styles like French country and cottagecore, yet often draws inspiration from rustic French interiors.

Where did shabby chic come from?

Shabby chic was originally introduced in the 1980s, thanks to interior designer Rachel Ashwell. She coined the term and went on to open a home furnishings company under the same name. The style emphasizes creating cozy, romantic, and inviting spaces, inspired by the vintage aesthetics of French country homes, says Charity Buchika, founder and principal designer of Vermont-based design studio Teaselwood Design.

Credit: Pinkystock / Shutterstock

Shabby chic vs. French country

Shabby chic and French country often get mixed up, sometimes even being described as the same style, but Kuo insists the two are separate and distinct. 

“The shabby chic trend is a sister aesthetic to classic French country — but it’s a bit more bohemian and laidback, as opposed to the formality sometimes associated with French country,” she says. Where French country aims to strike a balance between rustic and elegant, inspired by the simplicity of the French countryside, shabby chic leans more towards creating soft, romantic, and vintage-inspired interiors. 

Shabby chic vs. cottagecore

Another similar decor style to shabby chic is cottagecore. Both embrace a vintage aesthetic with rustic influences, yet have several distinctions. For example, while shabby chic is characterized by interiors with plenty of white, pastel tones, and vintage floral prints, cottagecore incorporates more natural elements, textures, and tones (think: neutral or earthy hues, fresh flowers and greenery, and more). Additionally, while shabby chic does tend to rely on elements from rustic French interiors, cottagecore takes after the slow-paced lifestyle associated with cozy countryside English cottages.

How to get the shabby chic look

Ready to add some vintage charm to your home? Check out a few simple ways to incorporate shabby chic decor into your space.

  • Stick to light, muted colors and pastel tones. Avoid overly bright or dark shades, as well as using too much black. 
  • Use white as a backdrop. Simple white walls are a classic shabby chic design choice.
  • Incorporate plenty of vintage touches. Buchika recommends gilded vintage mirrors and chandeliers to add some elegance and charm.
  • Opt for soft, muted floral fabrics throughout your space.
  • Decorate with romantic-looking ribbons and ruffles. Throw pillows with ruffled flanges are an easy way to achieve this look, says Buchika. 
  • Bits of sweet imperfection can push this look over the top, says Kuo (think: patchwork, raw hems, and DIY quilting).

Ultimately, shabby chic is a decorating style “that draws its inspiration from the romantic and vintage aesthetics of French country homes,” says Buchika. It also has a familiar appeal to many people who grew up surrounded by shabby chic decor as kids or teens. Give this interior design style a try if you’re looking to add a charming and romantic touch to your space.