By Karen Parr-Moody
For a whiff of salt air, one need only bring a bit of beach décor to one's home. This style can be as simple as what one would find in a shingled cottage perched on a Nantucket wharf or it can be as grand as what's found in a Neoclassical mansion in Palm Beach. No matter what the design direction, the sea will be swirling in your imagination when you find a lucky pearl at GasLamp.
A hallmark of beach chic is shell-trimmed furniture, tabletop items and mirrors. "Coquillage," or the art of decorating with shells, is not new; it 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 bringing shell-covered gifts, called sailors' Valentines, to their sweethearts following their long journeys to at sea, typically to Barbados. What began as quaint tokens of affection are now highly collectible, fetching thousands of dollars per Valentine.
The frame in the photo, above right, is a playful example of "coquillage" ($38; S-544). The frame encasing the sailor boy, with his moody shades of blue, is trimmed in equally blue shells. These shells are the natural color and came from Cape Hatteras on the coast of North Carolina.
A shell mirror, like the one in the photo at left, is yet another way to turn a bucket of shells into an artistic statement ($52; W-411). This could have been any ordinary mirror, but it has been taken to the next level by the usage of coquillage. This could be used in a beach-inspired bedroom that is a melange of creams and pale blues; the soft, romantic style of this mirror would help to impart the tranquility of a coastal getaway.
The ship in the photo, right, is an antique work of folk art from the 1880s ($169; W-101). Note the name "Reprisal" painted in a childlike hand on the ship's bow. There was a ship called the "Reprisal" that was used in the Revolutionary War; Benjamin Franklin took passage on it for his commissioner's post in France. But that "Reprisal" was a brig; the masts would have been fewer than the ones on this ship. Rather, this is a four masted barque (or "bark") ship, a common workhorse vessel that was popular in the 1800s. It had three or more masts; the aft-most was fore-and-aft rigged (asymmetrical), while all other masts were square-rigged.
The set of shell dishes in the photo, left, feature sea creatures from crustaceans to fish (set of 6, $50; Booth B-309). Cleverly, some of the oyster shells feature tiny pearls; how perfect for all things under the sea in home décor! These dishes, with their scalloped rims, are by Chamart France, an importing company that was founded in the early 1950s by Charles Martine ("Chamart" is a contraction of his first and last name). According to the company, Martine was the first to import a variety of French porcelains into the U.S.
The framed needlepoint piece in the photo, right, is such a whimsical find ($20; B-103). The majestic clipper ship sails valiantly to make its voyage home, undeterred by the strong waves that buffet against it. The sails billow out, proving that this vessel will make a speedy journey. This needlepoint would be a favorite for the living room of any oceanside cottage, but it would also be a clever statement piece for a landlocked bedroom.
Whether you live by the beach or just dream about ocean breezes, decorating with seaworthy finds will send you floating blissfully on a sea of style. The easy part is finding the right combination to make you go completely coastal.