20 Shabby Chic Living Room Designs
Feminine fabrics, rediscovered (and repurposed) heirlooms and perfectly-imperfect patinas have all characterized “shabby chic” for nearly four decades. Join us on a tour of where the style has been, where it’s going next and how it can work in your space.
Photo By: Houlihan Lawrence, a member of Luxury Portfolio International
©Rustic White Photography
Photo By: Kristada
Photo By: Laura Larkin
Photo By: Dan Piassick
Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn
Photo By: Courtesy of Schnadig
Photo By: Alise O'Brien Photography
Photo By: Alain Pinel Realtors, a member of Luxury Portfolio International
Photo By: Marian Parsons, Mustard Seed Interiors
Photo By: Anisa Darnell
Photo By: Laura Larkin
Photo By: Ansley Atlanta Real Estate, a member of Luxury Portfolio International
Once Upon a Time...
“Shabby chic” as a design term was coined back in 1981 by Min Hogg, editor-in-chief of the English design magazine Interiors (now World of Interiors). As she is said to have put it, the style is all about “characterful, colorful, used but not abused” pieces; she championed comfortable, informal pieces with great back stories, and her influential eye was an antidote to over-the-top trends that dominated other parts of the design world in the excessive ‘80s. Rachel Ashwell — whose Shabby Chic Couture decor and accessories are featured in this living room by Lulu Tapp — opened her first store in 1989 and quickly became synonymous with the term as well.
Regal Meets Rustic
Asked to describe her aesthetic, Rachel Ashwell has said, "Think Marie Antoinette in jeans and a cowboy hat." The unfussy finery in this Westchester County home characterizes that contrast perfectly: consider how the plaster walls and timbers frame more formal elements like the area rug and upholstery fabrics. The mantel clock, tabletop globe and hearthside bird cage contribute a hint of world traveler sophistication to the space.
Shabby chic celebrates well-aged interiors (like that gorgeous New York home in the previous slide), but it’s also all about beginning new stories, like in this Arkansas living room, where Dave and Jenny Marrs of Fixer to Fabulous added architectural detail with a traditional mantel. A supporting cast of leather-bound books on the coffee table, the trunk repurposed as an occasional table, and the pair of leather armchairs — all 21st-century versions of shabby chic classics — contribute to the new-is-old-school feel of this living room.
Patina and Polish
Designer Bryan Patrick Flynn modernized shabby chic motifs in this space by juxtaposing expected elements like the massive mirror with a weathered white frame with the contrasting trio of Art Deco inspired pieces in the hallway to its left. Dreamy pastels on the armchair, accent pillow and throw blankets perk up beside an eye-popping arrangement of roses perched on an oxidized brass tray.
In With the New
This neutral reading nook demonstrates how contemporary pieces can embody the aesthetic shabby chic fans love. While combing local estate sales could be the most surefire way to cultivate the look, its feel is available in new pieces like this sweet armchair, wrought iron lamp and delicate drapes.
It’s no surprise that shabby chic is alive and well on shorelines around the country. Its celebration of scuffs and association with slipcovered upholstery makes it well-suited for vacation spaces. Pieces like these are also good candidates for rooms that spend a lot of time in a lot of sun. If the fabrics fade a bit, they'll fit into the shabby chic style even more.
Shabby chic doesn’t have an official flower, but if it did, it would have to be the hydrangea. Its modest, yet gorgeous clusters are a mainstay in vases (and on fabrics and tableware). Available affordably in an array of charismatic hues, hydrangeas are now popular in foliage-heavy arrangements like this one. Pair them with tone-on-tone foliage for an updated take on an old favorite.
Fabrics and Frills
One could argue that these sofas’ slipcovers have ruffles at the bottom and they are glorious. Shabby chic’s unapologetically feminine fabric details — like ultra-romantic patterns, exaggerated draping and, yes, serious ruffles — are a key element of its appeal. Look for descendants of more traditional versions, like the ultra-textured toss pillows and parachute-fabric linens.
Mix and (Mis)Match
This eclectic apartment showcases antiques and flea market finds with pieces like a standing bird cage, a wall-mounted thermometer and an exuberantly odd collection of photos and frames. Create a feature wall with estate sale and thrift store finds, and be sure to include a quirky piece like the elephant Brian Patrick Flynn foregrounded here.
This pale linen sofa could serve as the centerpiece of a more formal family room, but the key to its casual charisma is the nearly unfinished flooring beneath it, which has a subtle tinge of beach-glass green. As Chris Martin of LASSCO (the London Architectural Salvage and Supply Co.) told the Daily Mail, modern shabby chic is “threadbare chintz, muted linens, painted furniture gently worn to reveal the timber underneath, variegated surfaces with good patination, old pine floorboards (not sanded, but scrubbed with a cloth, water and sand), painted cabinets and cupboards for household napery and kitchen pans, and elegant old sofas with the whiff of faded grandeur.”
The pair of armchairs in the foreground of this airy family room demonstrate that shabby chic slipcovering can feel downright special. The slipcovers’ romantic, trailing ties and the chairs with carved arms give them distinctive personality. The cloche on the coffee table and the miniature ship between a pair of oyster shell adorned table lamps offset the simplicity of the snow white cotton upholstery fabric.
This cottage in Carmel demonstrates the appeal of shabby chic’s intimate scale. The furnishings in this large room are comparatively small, but they can be arranged to create multiple gathering spaces without overcrowding the space.
Forming a New Pattern
Marian Parsons carried a meticulous color story through traditional textiles like the sackcloth pillows and quilts on the (ruffle-bottomed) armchairs and gingham and floral fabrics on the sofa. As a result, this living room has an eclectic feel that doesn’t exhaust the eye.
Making It Personal
This cozy reading nook channels shabby chic’s sense of found-object fun with items that tell the homeowners’ story. Family keepsakes like the photo, hand print and silhouette gathered here are especially lovely because of their diversity.
This coastal, shabby chic cottage draws its palette and theme from the waves and dunes beyond its walls. Designer Laura Larkin filled the shelves with jars of beach glass, pale green vases, and sea-hued ceramics. A well-weathered whale presides over the mantel, and pale seating surrounds a play set repurposed as a one-of-a-kind coffee table. While a verdigris lantern on an occasional table echoes the set’s hue.
Shabby gives way to chic in this Atlanta living room, where a dusty blue velvet sofa faces a pair of floral armchairs with crocheted and tasseled skirts. The clue that the space doesn’t take itself too seriously is to the left of the hearth, perched in front of the firewood: we can’t get enough of that tiny upholstered chair, or of speculating about who might sit in it.
Home Town’s Erin and Ben Napier are masters of reinterpreting shabby chic for modern homes. In this Mississippi home, for instance, they replaced the hearth’s unlovely, ‘80s-era tile with comely yet casual tumbled stone and an heirloom quality new surround. Erin completed the space with a pair of linen upholstered caned chairs.
Shabby chic meets Tinseltown in this Los Angeles living room. Traditional pieces like the slipcovered white sofa, a worn leather chair, a trio of hats and a coat rack made of cobblers’ forms share space with fuchsia pillows, a gleaming gold table lamp and a peacock painting.
This maritime, family-friendly take on shabby chic celebrates the rumpled look of its sectional and the beauty of well-loved wood and leather. This space demonstrates the idea that our possessions become even more appealing when they're used with gusto.
What's In a Name?
It takes some time to find ‘shabby chic’ pieces these days, not because the look has fallen out of favor, but because it has been influenced by cottage, modern farmhouse, retro-industrial and even minimalist styles (truly, there’s a slipcovered sofa for every taste). Take those terms for a spin and see what catches your eye. When in doubt, bring home armloads of unfussy flowers.