Classic interior design styles and how to light them – Shabby chic


There's a lot more to the concept of 'shabby chic' style than you might realise, and it remains extremely influential.

Continuing our series on the great interior decor trends (with a special emphasis on lighting), here’s a guide to how you can introduce elements of classic shabby design to give your home a unique, personal stamp...

More in our series 'Classic interior design styles and how to light them': 1. Mid-Century Modern 2. English Country House style 3. Industrial style 4. Eclectic style 5. Coastal style 6. Scandinavian style 7. Art Deco 8. French chic Would it surprise you to learn that the term ‘shabby chic’ has been around for almost 40 years? It is a look firmly rooted in the English countryside but one that has captured the imaginations of interior designers and homemakers around the world. This was largely due to the efforts of British-American designer, Rachel Ashwell, who first coined the term, and the late Min Hogg, the founding and highly influential editor of The World of Interiors. While some interior designers are firmly of the opinion that shabby chic has had its day, it actually remains as popular as ever. So what is the secret of its appeal? Will it work for you and your home? We’re taking you on a shabby chic journey and we’ll show you how contemporary lighting and accessories can complement 21st century shabby chic interiors, giving you the best possible combination of old and new.


Shabby chic roots

When Rachel Ashwell left England and settled in California with her family in the 1980s, she was looking at ways of styling her home that were practical, simple, affordable, comfortable and good to look at. Her famous Malibu beach shack is the archetype. William Morris would have approved… Rachel’s approach struck a chord and she went on to launch the Shabby Chic® chain of stores chain and inspired many enthusiastic followers with a series of books including Shabby Chic, The Shabby Chic Home and Shabby Chic Interiors. In the UK, Min Hogg championed the concept of shabby chic and took it to another entirely eclectic level in the features she created for The World of Interiors – an interior design magazine like no other, launched in 1981. As Veronica Horwell observed in Min Hogg’s obituary (Guardian, 1 July 2019): ‘Hogg rejected perfection to show dusty attics, flaking frescoes, crowded shelves, worn carpets, the kitchens of the schloss or the potting shed of the palazzo.’ After 40 years of shabby chic, it may be hard to comprehend just how revolutionary this approach was; it went on to inspire other areas of design, not least fashion – and it remains extraordinarily influential.


Min Hogg’s house. Image credit.

The essence of shabby

As with many now familiar interior design styles, shabby chic is related to or was influenced by other styles, including vintage, eclectic, country and beach cottage, French country, Shaker, and Gustavian (18th century Swedish). So what are its keynotes?

Wearing it well

Shabby chic interiors and pieces are not ashamed to show their age, whether by accident or design. Look out for furniture that has been painted and repainted over the years; it’s fine to let earlier layers of paint show through. Distressing vintage pieces of furniture (painting then rubbing and sanding away the top coat to show the wood or base coats) has become, appropriately, a flourishing cottage industry.


Image credit

Vintage fabrics, traditional patterns

Aged linen, mattress ticking, damask and chintz, vintage barkcloth, embroideries and chenille are veritable fabric heaven for the shabby chic aficionado. Floral fabrics especially anything featuring rosebuds or full-blown roses are a great choice. If you prefer to buy new, Cabbages and Roses has a good range. Undyed, natural sheep fleeces add a touch of warmth and comfort to chairs and beds and you can never have too much muslin – curtains, drapes…


Aldernary Natural Raspberry fabric by Cabbages and Roses
Look out for vintage textile events, from those hosted by the Textile Society, a wonderful source of global fabrics, to local flea markets and vintage fairs, where you can often pick up random lengths and ends of runs of beautifully designed fabrics, which can provide enough material to cover chairs, cushions and ottomans and make curtains, blinds or table coverings, for example..And if you have older relatives who are keen sewers, it’s always worth asking them about their fabric stash, often the source of some real gems.

Pale and interesting

The preferred colour palette for shabby chic is definitely on the pale side. You can never go wrong with white, but make it a soft, chalky white rather than a harsh white. The aim is to provide the optimal setting for vintage pieces and fabrics; soft white is easy on the eye and will work well in almost any setting, in any climate. It’s also a good choice for a small room, like this kitchen, as it will open up the space and enhance natural light. If you want to crate a sense of warmth take the pale up a notch – say to a cream or light pastel shade, and add subtle colour, as Italian designer, Enrica Stabile, has done in her French country kitchen (below). White painted beams and softly distempered walls offer a subtle backdrop for traditional tiles and the distinctive soft green glaze of local Provençal pottery.


Kitchen by Enrica Stabile. Image credit.
If you’re feeling brave you can be a little bolder in the use of colour, as Min Hogg showed in the dining room of her Canary Islands holiday home. The walls were painted a soft orchid pink, using a pure vegetable pigment, which – according to Hogg – didn’t fade in 30 years.

Romantically inclined

There’s no doubt that the traditional shabby chic look is decidedly soft and romantic. The archetypal shabby chic bedroom must always have one or two floaty garments displayed on hangers – old lace is very shabby chic. It’s harder to rock the floaty look in a dining room but a few key shabby chic touches – slip-covered chairs, plenty of white, freshly-cut flowers in a glass vase, and painted furniture all make for a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere.


Lighting your shabby chic home

If it’s going to be shabby chic white all the way, with just a hint of distress, Pooky’s Moonshine floor lamp is what you need. We’ve shown it here with our straight Empire gathered lampshade, which features Flashman squiggle on block- printed cotton. There’s more a hint of old-fashioned glamour and romance – in equal measure – about our striking Zsa Zsa clear blown glass table lamp, topped here with a not-quite white velvet lampshade. Really rather wonderful for a very inviting shabby chic bedroom.

But what about your shabby chic kitchen or dining room? Pendant lights are a good choice and Pooky’s Dahlia blown glass version might fit the bill, with its blend of vintage and contemporary. It’s shown here in a soft aquamarine but is also available in amber, blue/grey, and clear. Keeping to our glass theme, how about a pair – or more – of softly tiered glass wall lights in the sitting room? Henrietta has just a hint of vintage, teamed here with an antiqued bronze swan neck fitting.

And, finally, we couldn’t leave shabby chic without mentioning candles and candle holders, could we? What could be more softly romantic than Pooky’s blush pink clear glass Braid candlestick, with gently flickering, ivory Dusky candles on the dining table - or the boudoir or bathroom? Careful with those muslin drapes though… - Unfortunately the Braid candlestick is no longer available, but please take a look at our extensive range of candlesticks here

At Pooky we make stylish lamps for beautiful homes. Browse our range of affordable designer lighting here.