July 15, 2021 | Updated: 8 September 2021

Trends & Styles

A guide to shabby chic kitchen décor

The décor of our homes, fortunately or unfortunately, is rarely like the idyllic magazine lifestyle spreads, or Social Media posts that we are bombarded with daily. It’s a great deal messier and not so perfect for the majority of us. 

The ‘shabby chic’ style recognises this reality and revels in it, celebrating the imperfections, the anecdotal and the patina of wear and tear. This is nowhere more evident than in kitchens, at the beating heart of any home, places where life happens.

This article examines ways to bring individual character to the kitchen, with a style that brings us back to a simpler time: the shabby chic kitchen.

Credits: @sharon_s_home / Product shown: Baltimore White 59.6X59.6

Putting the bohemian into shabby chic

Shabby chic and bohemian are two sides of the same coin when it comes to décor. The term bohemian denotes a world view, one that embraces life experience over-accumulation of material things. Specifically, it’s an inclusive approach to design where “more is more”.

Shabby and chic conjures up ideas of travels, of books and cooking, of stylish retro fixtures and fittings, of things that have been put to use and enjoyed. Shabby chic, in short, is all about pretty things that are delicate but robust, thoughtful without being dogmatic; things that tell a story about who we are, and represent our outlook on life.

A guide to creating the shabby chic kitchen

The principal rule of shabby chic décor is that it should reflect our lives, our interests and our tastes. So having cookbooks on shelves, fridge magnets, post-its with family birthdays, decorative knick-knacks, are not only allowed but encouraged.

The following guide provides an overview of the most important ingredients for achieving the shabby chic kitchen:

Credits: @batlloconcept / Product shown: White & Colors Collection

#01 Shabby chic kitchen shelves

The most important thing to get right when it comes to shabby chic kitchen storage is open shelving. The idea is to keep everything on display as much as possible within attractive containers and jars. Preferably the mixed and match variety.

Credits: @our_crispin_home / Product shown: Prada Acero 59.6X59.6

#02 Shabby chic kitchen cabinets

The secret to achieving a convincing shabby chic kitchen décor is the cabinets, think rustic, country-style or cottage core. The colour scheme should be muted; cabinets in green, blue, timber and white or off-white have more authenticity. Shaker style or similar designs work best.

Here are a few tips on how to give your kitchen cabinets that genuine and authentic look that characterises the “shabby chic” style:

  • Combine open shelving with cabinets, not just above the worktop but also below to store larger cooking utensils or bulky items. Tip: for instant shabby hang a fabric over open base shelves with a traditional pattern like gingham.
  • Mismatched base and wall cabinets can help achieve the shabby chic kitchen look. Choose contrasting colour shades, a neutral colour combined with an off white, stone or light grey shade works best.
  • Avoid the high gloss finish for cabinet doors. Painted wood or neutral matt colours work best for the country style kitchen.
  • Hang cooking utensils and dry foods from hooks over the worktop. This lends the cabinets a working kitchen look. The shabby chic kitchen is all about the smells of baking bread and cooking as well as the aesthetics.
  • Integrate distressed or vintage elements of furniture with the cabinets. A dresser with plates on display is a simple device especially if the crockery has a motif or pattern.

#03 Shabby chic kitchen finishes 

It’s not just the cabinets, furniture and appliances that help create the décor, the wall and floor finishes also add to the shabby chic ambience. The combination of pattern and plain tiles for kitchen flooring is a great way to add character, especially if the pattern is kept within the same colour palette.

Another option is the timber effect tile that provides all the charm of real wood but without maintenance issues. For larger shabby chic kitchens that have a separate dining area, the flooring can help establish different zones within the same space: a wet zone and a dry zone.

Walls, on the other hand, should be left raw or filled with kitchen-related elements, like shelving, cabinets and artworks. Exposed brickwork, shiplap timber cladding or metro style wall tiles are recommended.

Credits: @albemarle.redrow / Product shown: Oxford Blanco 19,3X120

#04 Shabby chic kitchen appliances & fittings

An alternative approach to creating the shabby chic kitchen is to avoid a fitted kitchen and opt for an assortment of freestanding elements. A vintage style kitchen range combined with a stand-alone sink, a fridge and storage units kept free from the walls for instance. Remember to respect the triangulation rule; preparation, cooking and storage should all be related to each other following the optimum kitchen layout. Tip: the Belfast style sink is ideal for the shabby chic kitchen, there are many manufacturers still producing modern versions.

#05 Shabby chic kitchen accessories

Above all else, the shortcut to shabby chic is through the correct use of accessories. From cooking utensils in fabrics, lighting and ironmongery.

Here are some of the most popular shabby chic kitchen accessories:

  • Timber cutting boards or butcher’s blocks are the ideal complements for a shabby chic style kitchen. When laid over a timber worktop the effect is even more rustic, recalling a proper country kitchen.
  • Cabinet handles and other elements of ironmongery as well as kitchen sink taps can add greatly to the rustic look. Choose efficient modern products that look authentic but offer efficiency.
  • Decorative lighting features that include vintage style lamps suspended over a kitchen table, or worktop convert a practical element into a shabby chic feature. Tip: old fittings found in flea markets and antique shops can be reconditioned. The more decorative the better, including Victorian-era glass chandeliers.


Depending on whether the cabinets are new or found there are two recommended approaches.

A) For existing cabinet doors a distressed paint finish will provide instant character for even the most boring of kitchen cabinets.

To distress kitchen cabinet timber doors:

1. Remove cabinet doors and prepare by cleaning and sanding down.

2. Paint the doors with a base coat, or undercoat.

3. Once dry distress the painted finish with sandpaper or steel wool to the desired effect.

4. Protect the finished coat with a layer of matt varnish.

5. Re-hang the cupboard doors.

6. Remember to add retro style cabinet handles for the full shabby chic effect.

B) For new kitchens choose a simple design for cupboard doors such as the Shaker style or another framed style door.

The shabby chic kitchen doesn’t mean sacrificing hygiene standards around food. The rules of storage and preparation must still be followed; the only difference is that the overall look of the kitchen is more decorative. To avoid dust gathering on shelves an alternative to open shelving with dressers and cabinets is to have glass doors with everything on display. Or add fabric curtains to open shelving and base cabinets. Just make sure the fabric is removable and washable.

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