Sea Shell Chic
By Karen Parr-Moody
Decorating furniture with shells is not a recent trend, despite the current rage for "cottage" or "beach" style. This style movement, called "coquillage," or the art of decorating with shells. actually started during the Rococo period of 18th-century France, when the shell motif was a popular carved decoration. Then in the nineteenth century, New England whalers were fond of delivering shell-covered gifts, called sailors' valentines, to their sweethearts following trips to the Caribbean. Now, playful home decorators love the look, finessing even city homes with a whiff of salt air.
A shell mirror, like the one in the photo at right, turns random shells into an artistic statement ($85; at A Flair for Vintage). What could have been a lackluster mirror is taken to the next level through a little "coquillage." This could be used in a beach-inspired bedroom to impart the tranquility of a coastal getaway; the pale colors of the seashells make this mirror especially soft and romantic.
Another perfect room for a shell mirror is the bathroom. An earth-toned room would create an neutral oasis, particularly if the tumbled-stone tiles on the floor and shower stall were done in natural tones that echo the beach. To enhance the theme, one could add a collection of starfish and seashells to the edge of a tub.
There's something magical about shells -- and the same can be said of a chandelier. This is which is why adding shells to a chandelier is such a great idea, as seen in the photo at left ($102; Booth B-103). This shell and moss chandelier has an artfully arranged shell construction that includes starfish and other gems, and holds five candelabra lights. The natural shells have been carefully selected so they all have a light, creamy appearance -- this would be a true showpiece for a beachfront home. Or, by using a little imagination, this chandelier would make an unusual statement piece for a landlocked dining room. What a beachcomber's delight.
Whether you live by the beach or just dream about ocean breezes, you can enhance the natural beauty of a porch or sunroom with one of these seashell planter baskets (photo, right; $29; Booth B-103). What a way to enhance an eclectic style of home décor, or to to decorate for a Tiki party. This beautiful hanging plant basket is made of hundreds of shells of various different species. It's easy to set one of these up for style. Just fill a coconut shell-lined basket with a potting soil mixture, then fill with blue-grey succulents, a fern, or any other plant that looks fabulous in a hanging basket. It can be hung on fishing line so that it seems to "invisibly" hang from any perch.
Taking a less literal approach to decorating with shells is this shell-carved Chippendale block front chest in the photo, below left. The rectangular top has molded edges, and the four drawers are blocked and graduated. What gives it a real sea-worthy style is the shell carvings; there is a recessed shell in the uppermost center, flanked by convex carved shells. This chest certainly would have looked right at home in one of Newport's luminary beach houses of the Gilded Age.
Shells and beach motifs offer so many ideas, and they are scattered throughout GasLamp right now. The oversized, decorative resin clam shells can be found here and there, and we all know how grand one of those can look on a coffee table. A good, old-fashioned conch shell looks pretty on an end table. Tiger cowry shells -- found in abundance at A Flair for Vintage -- look great when grouped on top of a stack of thick books in a bookcase. And a grouping of smaller seashells looks darling when displayed on antique silver serving dishes. Even when one is miles from the coast, a little sea shell chic can deliver the beach to your home.