Shabby Chic Decorating Style has become a very popular style among interior designers throughout the world. The idea is for furniture and artworks to have an aged look; even showing evident signs of wear and tear. New items of furniture and furnishings can be distressed to make them look like they are antique or old.
This element of the shabby chic interior design movement is then coupled with a softer and rather more luxurious theme. Furnishings that have a comfortable, plush, even farmhouse-style look to them are used to good effect here. It’s this mixture of old, comforting and also plush and opulent that characterizes this style of interior design.
It’s the complete opposite to the starker, linear minimalism that we’ve seen in recent history. This came about at a time pre-recession when everyone was investing highly in real estate, and there was a great emphasis on “buying new”.
What Does Shabby Chic Mean?
Shabby Chic is a design style that began in Britain inspired by the style of the country houses that featured old and worn out furniture and furnishings. The cottages were often furnished with abandoned and faded items from the main house. This led to a worn yet put together look, one of casual style.
The term “Shabby Chic” was coined in 1980 by the ‘World of Interiors’ magazine to describe the style that places emphasis on shabby, old items with stories to tell, items where the wear and tear are just added beauty.
The style became popular not just in the United States but also in France, eventually creating French Style Shabby Chic.
When trying to create a shabby chic style, use:
Shabby chic uses soft, muted colors. Off-white, Pale blue, light yellow, etc. come together to create this delicate visual style. Nothing too bold or dramatic. Pastels work beautifully in this look. Shades of white, cream and light yellow do the heavy lifting, with walls and most furniture pieces being painted as such. The furnishings are used to add in shades of blue, yellow, green and pink. Flooring is mostly light wood, however, even light colored carpeting can be used. The overall arrangement should be easy on the eyes.
Patterns are used considerably in shabby chic. Fabrics and wallpapers with floral, paisley, stripes, gingham, and toile all go well here. Patterns are used wherever possible, sometimes even on furniture pieces like cabinet drawers. Flea market finds and hand-me-downs can be used to decorate, to create the faded appeal.
Wood and fabrics are predominantly used in the shabby chic style. Salvaged wood is often painted in white or pastel shades and used here. Lace pairs well with most materials here. Styles like frills are also popular. Wrought iron, even rusted ones, can be used decoratively to amp up the shabby style.
Painted or distressed wooden furniture, like vintage coffee tables or dining chairs can be coupled with more decorative furniture pieces like an elegant armchair. Sofas and seating are overstuffed and cozy. The wooden furniture often contain detailed carvings and ornate designs, as do some windows and cabinetry. These are balanced well with the vintage items.
Flea markets and vintage stores are great places to find items for decorating the shabby chic room. Re-purpose old trunks to serve as seating or display. Use glass bottles to keep fresh flowers (There are never too many flowers or floral in shabby chic). Keep old mirrors and books on display. There are endless combinations with shabby chic.
The origins of shabby chic
This intriguing interior design style originated in Great Britain many years ago. It conveys the decorative scheme used in large, lavish country houses by using old sofas and distressed paintwork. It juxtaposes the grander Victorian style of décor, and one of the great things about this style is that you don’t need new furniture, so it’s great if you’re on a budget. The style became popular in the United States after the term was first used by The World of Interiors magazine. This iconic interior design publication maintained that this technique was best achieved by using paint effects, old-style furniture, distressed paintwork and antique accessories.
How to create that shabby chic look
There are various levels of shabby chic decorating. The extent to which you want to go depends on your own personal preferences and tastes. There’s an art to getting the correct balance between vintage / old and opulent / plush to create that look. If you’re wanting a more subtle look then it’s probably best to stick with one color and then distress the areas where the piece of furniture has been used or handled the most e.g. the handle on a bedside table or the drawer edges on a coffee table.
The idea is to expose some of the areas so that you can see the wood underneath. Chipped paint also gives the item that shabby chic design look. The shabby chic style can be achieved with the chipped paint technique too. This gives the piece that roughed up, distressed wood look and feel – just perfect for home decorating in this fun and inventive style.
To create the ultimate shabby chic vibe, you’ll need to combine all these ideas in a way that doesn’t look too contrived but gives your shabby chic home the appearance that it has evolved. Your color choice for throw pillows, the style you select for your pendant lights and other furniture pieces must have that rustic chic appeal – but never look forced.
You can find some amazing large pieces of furniture from the Art Deco period usually quite cheaply. These items ooze character and can be used in a chic bathroom, for example, or even roughed up to create a cottage-style décor that goes hand in hand with your shabby chic decorating style in your shabby chic home.
Chairs are the perfect item of furniture to have fun with when creating your shabby chic home. You could take a set of 70s café-style chairs or even a completely mixed up selection of kitchen chairs all in totally different styles or periods and just mix them up around the table. You could distress the legs and backs of the chairs, which definitely creates that shabby chic home accent. If you’ve found some wooden chairs with armrests, be sure to rough up and distress the areas where people’s hands would usually rest – this lends an air of authenticity to your shabby chic transformation.
If converting your boudoir into a shabby chic bedroom, a fabulous mirror is definitely a must. Take a garish horrible dark-wood mirror and upcycle it by maybe painting it white or applying several coats of a soft color to the frame and then rubbing back areas in random locations. This can look amazing in your shabby chic-themed bedroom.
It pays to have a really good think about the colors you’re wanting in your home and each room. Shabby chic isn’t necessarily all about throwing any old color together with any old theme and hoping for the best. Most shabby chic themes tend to focus on so-called “heritage” or “vintage”, neutral colors such as off-whites, grey-whites, duck egg blue, eggshell blue, pale greens etc., but it’s really up to you which palette you decided to go for. There really are no rules or regulations here.
You could go for a strong, bold theme where you have a few highly contrasting tones that you use sporadically throughout the themed area. Or you could opt for a more subtle, muted effect by choosing colors that work alongside one another for a much more relaxing and calmer feel. If you’re not all that sure about the palette or overall feeling you want to convey, then just check out some images of “shabby chic” stuff online.
There are so many resources out there. On the other hand, you could choose your color scheme based on a few favourite pieces of furniture, your existing curtains, cushions and soft furnishings, or even the color you currently have painted on your walls.
What equipment and materials will I need?
The amount of equipment or materials required for your shabby chic look will really depend on the complexity of your shabby chic project. Do you just want to distress the odd bit of furniture here and there? Do you want to buy some recycled or vintage pieces that you then want to distress and apply your shabby chic look to? Do you want to leave your walls in the same color and not have to worry about painting or wallpapering them again?
Or maybe you want to go all-in and redecorate on a massive scale – painting the walls, maybe even roughing up and painting your wooden floorboards, changing the curtains and soft furnishings and also buying some antique furniture to which you can then add your very own personal touches?
Paints & waxes
Irrespective of the scale in which you’re going to be creating your fun shabby chic environment, you’ll need to consider buying at least two colors of chalk furniture paint or emulsion paint. The type of paint really does depend on the look you’re aiming to develop and the paint colors more than anything else. When it comes to painting furniture for shabby chic, you’ll also want to use wax over the top of your paint – this is especially true in the case of “chalk paints”, as you’ll definitely need to seal and safeguard the finish achieved.
You can even purchase colored waxes to create a super-aged look. That said, although it’s a good idea to protect your furniture with waxes, you don’t necessarily have to use them, as some types of paint are more robust than others.
You really don’t need a great range of specialist tools or equipment, but you should have the following to hand:
- Protection for your carpets, furniture and flooring. You can use purpose-made dustsheets, or, in the essence of recycling, this is the perfect time to get out those old sheets and quilt covers that you’ve put aside “just in case”.
- A sugar soap solution is just the ticket for efficiently removing any dirt, stains, grease etc. before you start painting.
- It is really essential to have some good high-quality synthetic brushes. Ideally, you’ll have one for each color so that you can prevent the colors from contaminating one another.
- Sandpaper is a must. You’ll need this to abrade back the coats of paint to achieve that ultimate distressed look.
- It can be useful to have a buffing brush for applying wax to the furniture after you’ve completed your shabby chic painting.
- Some of you may wish to add a coat of varnish as a final finish. If you do, make sure it’s a clear varnish, and ensure it is compatible with the make of paints you have used.
- A filler knife is useful for carrying out the odd repair here and there. This can also be used to add some distress marks to the items of furniture once they’ve been painted.
- It goes without saying that you’ll need to wear some protective clothing.
- Safety goggles are essential! There will be lots of dust and paint flying around, so make sure you protect your eyes.
- A dust mask is also an absolute must!
- Protective gloves might also be useful, especially when you’re painting or applying varnishes.
Off we go!
Make sure the piece you’re deciding to distress or use your shabby chic decorating techniques on will definitely work in the room and with the other furniture around it. You don’t want to waste your time and money distressing it if it’s not going to look how you want at the end.
- Prep the wood: take off any finishes so that your new paint will adhere. You may need to use wire wool to remove any residual wax coatings.
- Apply a water-based primer: this just gives your piece of furniture a smoother base on which to work.
- Apply several layers of paint: work with thin layers. Let the first coat dry out before you apply the next. Sometimes a little sanding of the first coat can help.
- If you’re happy with the painted wood alone, seal your work with the varnish and you’re done! But you might want to distress?
- If you’re distressing, you apply the two coats of paint as before but each coat must be a different color. You then sand back the first coat in areas to reveal the underneath coat of paint. This gives the piece of furniture a natural “used” appearance.
- If you’re wanting even more of a distressed look, you can use wire wool or sandpaper, a nail, a knife etc. to scrape the surface here and there. You could even use a hammer on certain areas! You’ve got to be casual and not too regimented with where you distress the furniture. It has to look random!
- Then polish: use a good quality beeswax or standard furniture polish to provide a nice sheen to the surface.
The best rooms in which to go shabby chic
The bedroom is the perfect place to go shabby chic! You could rough up your bed frame – even if it’s metal. You could add wear and tear to the handles of your wardrobe, and you can even create some vintage-looking or even French vintage-style wall art. The bedroom is one of those places where you can really go to town – you may want to use some fabulously opulent bright colors perhaps? Or maybe you’d rather choose a more muted pastel palette.
Either way, you can definitely let your imagination run wild on your bedroom furniture. And even your bedroom floor! If you’ve got wooden floorboards, these really lend themselves to being given a coat of white paint, for example, and then a coat of a pastel shade. Then rub back some of the topcoats here and there to reveal the white paint underneath. It’s important that you do add a final coat of varnish to this though, as your floor obviously has to withstand a lot of wear and tear.
Featured Image Source: Instagram @simplysoutherncottage