Shabby chic living room ideas: How to get the look

Over the years, shabby chic has proven to be one of the most enduring interior trends. While the term was first coined around 20 years ago in the fashion industry, it’s since taken on a life of its own in interior design and continues to be one of the most popular styles in British homes to this day.

Featuring lots of distressed finishes, chintzy fabrics, mismatched accessories, and unusual antique items, the shabby chic look has a nostalgic, lived-in feel. It’s this combination of rustic farmhouse simplicity and romantic detail that makes it such a timeless look — it never really goes out of style. All in all, it’s a wonderful décor style for a space like the living room, especially if you’re lucky enough to have any period features in your home. Here, we’ve shared our top shabby chic living room ideas.

•    What is shabby chic?

•    6 essential elements for a shabby chic living room
o    Incorporate distressed finishes
o    Use a cream or white colour palette
o    Stick to classic furniture styles
o    Use lots of rose or floral prints
o    Include curved and ornate furniture
o    Include unique objects

What is shabby chic?

Shabby chic is a type of décor that combines rustic comfort with traditional elegance, creating a space that looks lived in and pulled together at the same time. It’s a style that takes a lot of inspiration from French country farmhouse décor, using the same light colour schemes, natural fabrics, floral and chintz prints, ornate light fittings, and rustic touches. The end result is a room that has a cosy, lived-in vintage aesthetic while still being traditionally elegant.

This antique, slightly faded look is often achieved using intentionally distressed furniture and fabrics, rather than real antiques or vintage pieces. But far from trying to hide the faux nature of these, shabby chic décor is all about embracing that artificiality — a slightly kitsch, tongue-in-cheek feel is all part of the look. As such, a shabby chic interior will often feature pieces which are obviously not real antiques, or that mix and match pieces and styles from lots of different time periods for an eclectic look.

6 essential elements for a shabby chic living room

Need a bit of inspiration to create the perfect shabby chic living room? In this section, we’ll share six key design ideas that you can use to recreate the décor in your home, from colour palettes, to furniture styles and decorative accents.

Incorporate distressed finishes

One of the easiest ways to create a stunning shabby chic interior is to include furnishings with an intentionally distressed finish. This is where the surface of a new piece of furniture is treated or painted to create an aged, antique look. It’s typically done with wooden furniture, although it’s also possible to buy pieces with distressed paintwork, or a plastic coating or covering with synthetically aged finish.

This technique often produces results that are designed to look somewhat artificial. For instance, they aren’t worn in the same places or in the same ways that you might expect to find on a real antique. But, with this look, an element of artificiality is all part of the fun.

Owing to the popularity of the shabby chic style, wooden furniture with an artfully distressed paintjob is everywhere these days. It’s also possible to buy soft furnishings and sofa coverings that have been treated to create an antique finish (for instance, hand-finished antique or distressed leather), or even metallic fixtures and fittings with a faux tarnished effect.

Aside from looking stylish, buying something with an intentionally distressed finish has other benefits, too. You get a brand-new piece with all the quality and hardiness of a new item or covering, but with the lovely faded patina of age, which is such an integral part of this style. That said, you don’t want to go to over the top with distressed pieces, as this might tip the look over into being entirely shabby. So, try to keep distressed pieces to just two or three items of furniture, and maybe a couple of accessories.

Stick to a white or cream colour palette

Soft, light colours are one of the most important elements of the shabby chic style: they create that simple, romantic farmhouse feel that is quintessential to this look. The simplicity of light neutral colour palettes also helps to make sure that the more ornate and quirky aspects don’t overwhelm the rest of the décor.

So, for an authentic and classically chic look, you’ll want to stick to off-white and cream tones as much as possible, whether that’s on the walls, floors, or furniture. White painted floorboards have become very popular in recent years, and with good reason: they look very chic, and flood the space with light. Best of all, you don’t need to worry too much about them getting a little scuffed and worn away as the years go by, as it will only add to the authenticity of the look.

Of course, your living room doesn’t need to be entirely white, and if you prefer a room to have a bit of colour, you can incorporate this in other ways, like a statement sofa or chair in a bright accent colour or print. But, if you want to stay true to the style, go for muted greys and beiges, or light pastel shades, like sage green, pale pink, or very light duck egg blue. These will add a romantic touch of colour without overwhelming the palette.

Stick to classic furniture styles

There’s a distinctly nostalgic feel to the shabby chic look, so you want to choose timeless furnishings. A good way to achieve this is to stick to tried and tested, classic styles, particularly those which are often seen in country homes. So, go for traditional Shaker-style furniture in classic golden hardwood finishes, like oak.

For seating, you’ll want to choose classic shapes with antique-effect coverings. A Chesterfield sofa or armchair will look right at home with this style of décor: the rolled arms and buttoned back have an air of traditional elegance that works very well with this look. To really go all in on the shabby chic look, go for a sofa with a distressed or antique leather covering, and accessorise it with some scatter cushions and a genuine wool throw. You could even add a footstool in a matching covering to extend the shabby chic look further.

Use chintzy rose and floral prints

The ‘chic’ aspect of this look borrows a lot from the country house interior style, and that means a few traditional, chintzy fabrics or floral prints are a must. You can incorporate these feminine patterns in any way you like: for instance, you could go for an accent wall with a pretty floral wallpaper, or choose curtains, cushions, or even a sofa or accent chair in a chintz print. If you’re really not keen on flowery prints, go for a country inspired toile de jouy print in a soft pastel shade, instead.

As we mentioned earlier, a touch of eccentricity looks right at home in a shabby chic room, so don’t be afraid to include a few contrasting prints, especially when it comes to your soft furnishings. This will give your room that lived-in look, ensuring it doesn’t look too fussy and curated. For example, you can add instant personality with some mismatched scatter cushions, or a plaid wool throw. Or, if you’re a big fan of the quirky look, you could even opt for a full blown patchwork sofa, made up using a selection of different patterns and textures. After all, what could be more shabby chic than a sofa entirely made from “cast-offs”?

Choose feminine, ornate furniture pieces

Ornate, highly detailed furniture is a must have in any shabby chic living room. To get an idea of the sort of style we mean, take a look at furniture from the French rococco era. The style of this period has a soft, feminine and slightly over-the-top look, all of which is absolutely perfect for shabby chic home décor. So, you’ll want to include at least one or two pieces of furniture in this style, whether that’s a sideboard, an occasional table, or even a chaise longue or wingback armchair with ornate legs.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on genuine rococo antiques — nowadays, you can always get the look by buying modern imitation styles. For a truly shabby chic look, choose new furnishings in this style, but with an artificially distressed finish to simulate the faded, pre-loved appearance which is so integral to the look.

Add a few unusual objects for visual interest

No shabby chic living room is ever complete without a few quirky visual accents. So, once you’ve chosen all the other elements of your décor, you’ll want to accessorise your space, preferably with a few unique vintage finds and eclectic pieces. This will break up the room and add visual interest to the space.

There’s a lot of freedom to be creative with this look, so you can accessorise with almost anything you like the look of: vintage cups and jugs, metal jelly moulds and cookware, jewellery boxes, and perfume bottles are all popular choices for a shabby chic room theme. Don’t be afraid to get a bit eclectic with your choices, as a slightly kitschy feel is all part of the look. If you’d prefer to keep it simple, a couple of enamel pitchers full of flowers — whether real or artificial — will add a rustic sense of elegance to your space.

Artwork is another easy way to add character, and with this look, you can go as overboard as you like. Vintage posters, signage, and adverts are all popular choices for a shabby chic home, and they help create that sense of kitsch. Or, you could go for some simpler artwork or photography, but display it in an unusual frame. Ornate, rococo-style frames are a staple in shabby chic living rooms, especially if they have a slightly burnished or antique look.

It’s also worth remembering that, while shabby chic décor might have a casual, lived in appearance, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a bit of artistry to make it all work together. There’s a fine line between a room which is shabby chic, and one that is just shabby. So, don’t overdo the kitsch or distressed elements, and try to retain a sense of balance using neutral colour palettes and classic furniture styles.

Shabby chic home décor is timeless, elegant, and full of character. So, if you’d like to recreate the style in your living room, try incorporating a few of these suggestions. Remember, here at Timeless Chesterfields, we’ve been crafted classic Chesterfield sofas, armchairs, and footstools for over 35 years, and every piece is made to order. So, if you’ve got a specific style or covering in mind that you think will really bring your shabby chic living room to life, get in touch with our bespoke team, who will be only too happy to discuss it with you. 

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