Shabby Chic: Do It Yourself

Updated February 17, 2017

Shabby chic is a design style that embraces the loose, natural elements of materials such as wood, fibres, beads and other bohemian aesthetics. Shabby chic design is about making a room look effortless, comfortable and imperfect. Faded clothes, distressed fabrics, weathered woods and mismatched china are just a few of the elements that help create a shabby chic environment. Once you have a sense of how to put together a shabby chic environment, almost anything goes.

Scan the newspaper and online ads for used furniture and decorations. Often, movers will sell old rugs, linens, tables, chairs and dressers for very low prices. You can find vintage mirrors, dining sets, pottery, china and other articles that are difficult to move but easy to sell to buyers in the area. Your first step to designing shabby chic style is to find pieces you love for great prices.

Plan your room around a few central pieces. For instance, you might choose a large vintage dresser or a bright rug as the main feature of a room. It might also be a large antique mirror, a piece of art or an old wooden table. Whatever the feature piece, design the rest of the room to complement that piece by sticking to a similar colour scheme or an aesthetic theme.

For example, if you choose an old wooden table as a feature, consider what other materials make aesthetic sense with older wood. Aged fabrics, chipped china and other "cabin-like" elements might complement the table nicely. If you choose an antique mirror, you might pick lacy fabrics or wrought iron to push toward a Victorian theme. You can mismatch items and create a loose design that follows a particular theme or aesthetic by featuring a central piece.

Paint furniture and distress fabrics yourself to match your chosen featured pieces. Painting furniture in shabby chic style is easy and requires very little skill, since the finished product should look somewhat messy or textured.

To paint a piece of furniture shabby chic, lay out newspaper around and below it. Choose a main paint colour as well as a complementary colour. For example, you might choose light blue and grey. Paint the wood completely with the main colour. Then, using a sponge, cheesecloth, or other textured material, layer on the complementary colour and texture. Shabby chic is all about layering and imperfection, so the more casual the paint job appears, the better. Allow the piece to dry before moving it back into the chosen room.

Place smaller items, such as torn old photographs, candles, unpolished silver and knick-knacks around the room to make it appear lived in. You might find these items at a garage sale or even stored in your own attic or closet.

Antique vases, old typewriters, hats or musical instruments are great small items to play up the shabby design of the room. Place them in the room to appear natural rather than staged.


Anything goes with shabby chic, and you can frequently alter the room to suit your tastes or accommodate new finds. Have fun with shabby chic by having friends or family members bring over a small item that represents their friendship with you. Decorating a room with these items will lead to a more personal feel.

Things You'll Need

  • Newspaper ads
  • Fabrics
  • China and pottery
  • Furniture pieces
  • Flowers
  • Glass jars
  • Pillows
  • Vintage items
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About the Author

Jan Archer holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science and a master's degree in creative writing. Roth has written trade books for Books-a-Million and has published articles on green living, wellness and education topics. She taught business writing, literature, creative writing and English composition at the college level for five years.