How to Decorate Shabby Chic on a Budget

Updated July 06, 2018

Shabby chic decorating emphasises comfort and a vintage or antique appearance. With its hallmarks of distressed furniture, soft pastel colour palette and use of floral motifs, shabby chic---also known as cottage style---is a feminine and soft style of decorating. The idea is to create a space that is warm and inviting, using pieces that appear to have been well-used and well-loved over the years. Shabby chic is ideal for decorators on a budget, since you can use things that you already own in new ways---and perfection is not the objective.

Paint your walls. Paint is an inexpensive way to update any room. Most shabby chic rooms have a backdrop of pure white walls; you could also choose a pastel shade, such as pale pink, green, yellow or blue.

Distress the furniture you already have. Shabby chic furniture is defined by worn edges and a weathered look, and is usually painted white or a very pale pastel. Cover your existing furniture with a coat of paint, and distress the edges with sandpaper to achieve a shabby chic, well-worn look. If you do not want to distress your existing furniture, scour yard sales for inexpensive pieces that you don't mind painting and distressing.

Update your lighting. Chandeliers are a common decor item in shabby chic style. If you can't install a chandelier, use a number of smaller lamps around the room to provide a soft glow. The idea is to avoid harsh overhead lighting and modern or minimalist light fixtures. Embellish your lampshades with ribbons, beads or fabric to continue the shabby chic theme.

Layer fabrics on beds, sofas and chairs. Inexpensive white slipcovers, available at most home retailers, can instantly update a sofa or chair and provide a neutral background for a collection of throw pillows. If you are decorating a bedroom, use a simple white chenille bedspread, and layer well-worn quilts and throw pillows to create an inviting bed.

Create vignettes using collections of things you love. Use a small side table to display a collection of vintage tea cups, for example, or fill a wall shelf with family photographs in mismatched frames. Stack a collection of vintage books on the coffee table, and fill vases with flowers around the room.

Replace door handles and cabinet hardware with vintage glass knobs. You can often find antique or vintage doorknobs at antique stores, or reasonably priced reproductions at home improvement stores. Don't be afraid to mix and match knobs, especially on furniture.


Shabby chic may feature well worn pieces, but there is a different between shabby chic and just plain shabby. Avoid pieces that are broken or need more than just a coat of paint. Very modern pieces also don't generally fit in well in a shabby chic room. Avoid clutter. Shabby chic style features a lot of textures and colours, and it can easily become overwhelming to look at. Carefully edit your collections, and don't feel like you have to display everything all the time. You can always change things over time.

Things You'll Need

  • Paint in pastel colours
  • Paintbrushes
  • Sandpaper
  • Quilts
  • Slipcovers
  • Throw pillows
  • Accessories, such as picture frames, books, vases, light fixtures and lamps
  • Embellishments such as ribbons and beads
  • Vintage glass doorknobs and cabinet hardware
  • Fresh flowers
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About the Author

An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer on topics including lifestyle, education, and business. She is the author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), and her work has appeared in Lewiston Auburn Magazine, Young Money, USA Today and a variety of online outlets. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.