Summer might be coming to an end, but you can keep that coastal feeling going. Let me show you how I decorate with seashells all year round!
She Sells Seashells By The Seashore
No, I don’t really sell seashells.
But I do collect them.
And shell art too.
In fact, I decorated with shells even before I moved to the coast.
You see, I dreamed of a home on the ocean for years. Decorating with a coastal vibe was my way of living that dream before it became a reality.
A way to keep that summer-by-the-shore feeling going all year.
Of course you don’t, however, want your home to feel out of place or out of season.
So, let me show you the trick to decorating with shells throughout the year, no matter where you live!
Shells By the Bowlful
The easiest way to add seashells to your home decor is to display them in a bowl or glass container.
There is a shell-filled antique wooden dough bowl and two small wire urns on the dresser in the corner of our living room year round.
I shared this grouping on my Instagram feed back in February 2019, my very early days on the platform. I remember filling the dough bowl and then taking a picture, then adding more shells, taking another picture, and so on… Until finally it looked right. I haven’t really touched it since!
Hint: The more shells the better! Just pile them on!
And unless you live somewhere it is warm year round, I would recommend going with a mix of lighter and darker shells. It tends to look less “beach” and more “Victorian cabinet of curiosities”. (More on this later in the post!)
There are a few containers of shells scattered around the house in other rooms. too. I love their texture, colors, and unstyled look!
Hanging above the dough bowl of shells is a gallery wall of shell art, mostly antique lithographs.
I was lucky to find a ready collection of these, already framed, at an estate sale in Maryland when I was decorating the original cottage here.
I have added a few other pieces through the years — a modern oil painting, two other prints, and a clay tile.
The most recent addition is a sweet watercolor of Maddie lying on the loveseat with the shell bowl and gallery wall behind her. It is by English artist Emma Wills. You can purchase her charming artwork through her Instagram account. I absolutely love the whimsy of having a painting of the scene that the painting is now in! (Minus the new artwork, of course!)
Once again, the key to keeping a collection of shell artwork like this multi-seasonal is to use pieces that are more formal and darker-toned. The natural wood and gilt frames and shells in shades of browns and blues give the artwork more substance making it feel appropriate even in the cooler months.
You can find antique, vintage, and reproduction shell prints in antiques stores and on sites such as Etsy, eBay, and Chairish.
Having a theme like this is a great way to create a gallery wall! Read more about gallery walls in my blog post Creative Wall Decor Part 1: Art and Gallery Walls.
The sailor’s valentines hanging above the bed in the primary bedroom are one of my most treasured collections.
These were actually the very first thing I hung on the walls here in Maine. In our home in Maryland they graced the living room.
I get a lot of questions about this collection when I post pictures of the bedroom on Instagram.
Are you familiar with sailor’s valentines?
They are mosaic artwork fashioned from hundreds of shells and encased in an octagonal wooden frame. The geometric designs traditionally include flowers, hearts, and nautical motifs such as anchors or a compass rose. Sometimes there is a painting in the center or sentiments such as “Forget Me Not” spelled out in tiny shells.
This art form dates to the late 18th century. It was originally thought that sailors created these while out on long journeys at sea and missing their loved ones. Hence the name “sailor’s valentine”.
Now it is generally believed that the sailors bought these primarily in Barbados — often the last port of call on their way home to New England — as souvenirs or gifts for those at home.
No matter their origin, the fact remains that they are true works of art requiring creativity, patience, skill, and attention to detail.
My sailor’s valentines were all made by contemporary artists and purchased for the most part on Nantucket.
A Few Other Shell Elements in the Room
When I had the four poster bed made for the bedroom, the craftsman suggested that I add shell “finials” to the tops of the posts. This whimsical detail ties the bed perfectly to the sailor’s valentine display!
And while I change my bedding seasonally, I love that the summer Botanical Garden Relaxed-Linen bedding from Garnet Hill has a few shells in the pattern. It and the throw pillow covers I got years ago from Etsy talk to the other shell elements in a whisper, rather than a scream.
You can read all about this bedding in my blog post A Bedding-Inspired Spring Bedroom Refresh.
Victorian Shell Trinkets
Earlier in this post, I mentioned a Victorian cabinet of curiosities. These rooms or cabinets filled with antiques, objects of natural history, and art date to the 1500’s in parts of Europe, but became popular with the English upper and middle classes during the Victorian era (1837-1901).
An offshoot of this fascination with “exotica”, “shellwork” — gluing tiny shells to boxes and frames — became a pastime enjoyed by upper class ladies of leisure.
At the same time, shellwork trinkets were also being created by working class entrepreneurs as souvenirs and sold in port towns of England, France, and Holland.
I have quite a large collection of shellwork that I display on shelves in the den. Velvet-lined jewelry boxes, whimsical pointy-toed shoes, miniature furniture pieces, and glass vases, all covered in tiny shells!
My favorite piece is a tiny hutch, with shells displayed on the shelves instead of dishes. I got it at an antiques show on Nantucket, and I have never seen another like it.
I have collected these treasures for years from antiques shows, estate sales, and online sites such as Etsy.
The antique beauties are certainly special, but there are many contemporary shell boxes that are lovely too. Especially if brought back from a special trip!
On the dresser in the bedroom I have a collection of “bathing beauties” lounging on shells and some other unique shell objects.
I tried to learn more about these charming finds, but came up empty. You can see that some of them are obviously souvenirs from vacation spots.
Again, I collected them through the years at antiques shows and online.
If any of you know their history, please share!
The primary bedroom is also home to a number of other shell treasures.
Two large shell covered boxes and a contemporary blown glass shell.
A glass vase full of shells and coral.
A shell bowl full of, you guessed it, shells!
And some lovely bottles decorated with shells by a neighbor.
Are you feeling a bit shell-shocked at this point?
No, you don’t need to fill your home with as many shells as I have!
But if you love shells, you also don’t need to put them away just because summer is ending. After all, shells litter the beach in the winter too.
And if you carefully choose shell objects that are darker-hued and a little more “formal”, you can certainly enjoy them in your home all year round.
At the very least, they will serve as a warm reminder that summer will be back!
I hope I have convinced you to embrace these treasures from the sea, even after the temperatures drop!
This Week Into Next
I went to see the Barbie movie this week. This was the first time for me since before the pandemic, and I had forgotten how completely immersed you become in a movie on the big screen. There is no hitting pause to go get a snack. Or to look at your phone. I had actually kind of forgotten where I was when we left the theater! This is all by way of saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie!
I did a clean out of my table linens a few days ago and took two big black trash bags of napkins, tablecloths, and placemats to the resale shop at our transfer station. That felt really good! I am happy to report that three drawers are now empty in the cottage chest that the dough bowl full of shells sits on. Go me!
I need to work on my clothes next. And the “junk” closet in the front hallway….
I have a teeny sewing project that I will be working on for the kitchen. Right now I am still waiting for the fabric to arrive, but I can’t wait to share it with all of you! I loved my kitchen as it was, but it has been fun adding some more personality to it.
Sitting at the corner table in the living room writing this blog post, I just noticed that what I thought was a funky new leaf on my ZZ plant is actually a “flower”. Apparently this is “very rare”. It is also very ugly. Google it. You will see what I mean!
I have college friends coming for lunch on Monday. What should I make?!
Also, what should I write about here on my blog next week??
Enjoy these last weeks of summer and be well, friends!