If your home is filled with distressed furniture and mismatching dishes you grabbed at a flea market, then you’re likely a denizen of a decor style known as shabby chic.
Shabby chic was all the rage in the fabulous ’80s and early ’90s, thanks to its de facto founder, Rachel Ashwell, and her sweet Santa Monica, CA, shop of the same name.
To join in the shabby chic fun, you simply had to hang up some lace and sand away at a piece of old furniture and call it “distressed.” The best shabby chic pieces have bohemian flair, which gives folks more license to go wild with DIY ideas.
But alas, the reality of this decor scheme can be downright messy in the wrong hands. Truth: Shabby chic really should be mostly chic, with subtle hints of shabby, people! Otherwise, you run the risk of a trashy, near-homeless vibe in your own home.
Don’t fall down the shabby chic rabbit hole. Here are 10 no-nos when you want to go boho.
1. Mobiles and dresses
Photo by Chris Snook
A favorite shabby chic design trick is to hang vintage dresses, lace curtains, intricate mobiles, and dream catchers in an effort to seem worldly and effortless. But honestly, the eye doesn’t know where to land with things all over the place in this crammed boudoir, so nix a few before your entire home looks like a dressing room.
2. DIY cabinets and sink
Photo by Centerbeam Construction
I guess it’s great someone was able to repurpose a rusty old sink, but the cabinets with ripped screens are a tad too much. Used items are fine, of course (why not save money where you can?), but if it looks like you dumpster-dived for something, it’s time to return it to the junkyard.
Photo by Stephanie D Poole
Knitting is fun. Ditto for needlework. And while weaving macrame is also a nice hobby, when you get to the point where your creation can span an entire wall, you need to stop. Macrame in small doses is a classic boho and shabby chic accessory—just don’t let these knots and fringe get to the level of crazy town.
4. Old enamel
How many colanders and painted teapots does one person need to own? I’d say one colander for spaghetti draining and zero old-lady teatime accessories because you know darn well you don’t consume this much caffeine. Plus, flaking enamel from yard sale and flea market finds may not be entirely safe to drink from. (Use these for flowers instead.)
5. Cutesy dishes
Where to begin with this scary pile of vintage detritus? When you’re shopping at Goodwill or a secondhand shop to set up a shabby chic display, leave the creepy faces and side-eye lambs behind. Instead, stick to graphic T-shirts and mod skirts—and that’s it.
6. Distressed wood and trite sayings
Signage with old adages you’ve heard a million times aren’t only a hallmark of the ever-popular modern farmhouse style; they also rear their head among shabby chic lovers, too. Still, don’t they just inspire you to hold your head and sigh (or cry)? At the very least, hang the sign behind a door so it’s not visible 24/7.
7. Whitewashed brick
Just like distressed furniture, brick with rubbed-off paint looks unfinished and cold. In fact, painted brick in general is kind of a pain in the home, thanks to its chipping and fading. Put down your brush and bucket, and give your stone and brick a rest!
8. Ruffles and roses
Ruffles and roses are sweet on a baby’s jumper or your toddler’s bed skirt. And you might dig this look if you were staying at your 90-year-old great aunt’s house, too. Shabby chic walks a fine line with granny chic, so unless you’re an octogenarian, leave these fluffy shams behind.
9. Messy beds
We get it—you’re casual and also a grown-up—so if you don’t feel like making your bed, you won’t. Plus rumpled sheets channel a free spirit. But with all those plants looming large overhead, you can’t help but wonder about the leaf pieces and other dead plant bits that are dropping onto you bedding every night. Keep dirt away from where you sleep, please.
How comfortable is this bed, really? And must the mirror and lantern also be woven from sticks and fronds? Investing in sturdy furniture is part of adulthood, so think carefully before pulling the trigger on a rickety bed frame, even if you’re a boho gal at heart.