HEART OF THE SEA | Decorating with Sea Shell Art with Romantic Homes Magazine


Shells, with their memories of joyful summers at the beach, have enchanted us since the beginning of time.

Treasures of the sea, shells add a touch of seaside panache to any room.  I am excited I was asked to write about shell souvenirs by Romantic Homes Magazine, the article is in the July Coastal issue.

Shell Art Tiara


There is such a range of shell collectables to choose from, both antique and contemporary. These mementoes of the ocean have a quiet, understated beauty that connects us to the natural world, but more importantly, they bring us right back to our childhood memories of fun, relaxing days spent at the ocean!






Once prized as rare artifacts with magical qualities, exotic shells brought to European shores by the Dutch East India Company stimulated an avid passion for shells in the 17th century. Wealthy collectors gathered costly collections of shell specimens for their private museums. Shells were so prized in the early 18th century they were sold at auction, rivaling paintings by Dutch masters in cost.



Antique Victorian Shell Artwork Sewing Box



It wasn’t until the 19th century that shellwork came into fashion for upper class ladies.  Suddenly, covering smaller objects with shells became a fashionable craft, little packets with shells and designs for shell boxes, frames and floral designs were the most popular.



Antique Shellwork Sewing Dresser Box



Isn’t this little box with a drawer to hold a needle, thread and tiny scissors so sweet? It’s little pieces like this that sailor’s brought home for their moms, girlfriends, or wives.

Souvenirs covered with shells or made of shells became a cottage industry in coastal towns around the world during this time. Working class men and women crafted and sold the souvenirs to bring much needed income to their families.





Mostly designed for women, the small boxes, sewing drawers, little frames, and other small shell mementoes could be bought inexpensively and tucked into a sailor’s  “kit” to bring back home.


Antique Shell Art Frame




Collecting shell art, or shell decorative pieces is an enjoyable hobby. The shell variety, shapes, natural colors and pearlescent sheens bring beauty to any interior.






You can focus your shell collection on Victorian era boxes, frames and pincushions, or collect pieces from the (few) shell artists still actively creating today. Both will add the beauty of the sea to your home.



Antique French Suitcase with Shells




1. Look at the Shells. True antique shellwork will have shells that are rare to find today. Pelican’s feet shells, for instance, used on many pieces from the 1800’s, are now all but extinct. The shells that are on antique pieces won’t be perfect, a little dull, a little chipped perhaps.  Newer shell pieces will have much brighter, cleaner shells, more evenly matched in color and size.

2. Look at the Materials. Authentic antique shell art is most often made with paper covered carton boxes.  The shells are often glued on with either a waxy substance, or set in a thin layer of gesso.  The shell artists of today use a clear, strong glue.

3. Look at the Condition.  Antique shell art pieces were created with delicate shells, which may have a little damage after 100 years. Contemporary shell art pieces will have beautiful, clean and strong shells.


Decorating with your shell or shell antique collection is especially easy in the summer!  Just gather some shells, and add a few sea-side themed decorations. Mix it up, place them together until you love what you see.





For our family room mantel, I gathered a few “sea side” antiques: a beach theme lithograph, Victorian white bridal basket, an antique bisque spill vase, and shells and starfish.  I added an old aqua shutter that I’ve had forever for a pop of color in the mostly white and pastel group.



Parian Seaside Figure



Isn’t she so gorgeous? This girl, surrounded by real shells and coral, is made of bisque. She was most likely a “spill vase” which meant she held twisted pieces of paper used to light a fireplace in the late 1800’s. {I love her for many reasons, her sheep {!!} and the fact that she is surrounded by shells.}





Here in our guest bathroom, a collection of antique Victorian shellwork boxes are just the right size for a little wall hanging shelf.  I added an antique page with dried sea moss, and a French mother-or-pearl souvenir holding a small collection of shells we gathered on days at the beach to complete this summer vignette. Easy.





I played around with the arrangement a little, this is another version. I haven’t decided which one I like best. That’s the secret to making little vignettes at home, just re-arrange things until you like it!



Antique Sea Shell Pincushion Heart Box


To begin a collection of shells: First, be sure to find out if it is legal to gather shells in your area.



When you look for shells to add to your own collection, be careful to collect only “dead” shells, or shells that have washed up on the beach.





Please don’t harvest sea shells still being used by mollusks and other creatures, this damages the ocean’s ecosystem.



Curvaceous and graceful, shell covered objects, antique or created by a contemporary artist, bring the alluring romance of summer to your decor.  





I hope you bring your shells out to decorate with for this season, nothing brings back memories of sand, and sea more beautifully!





22 thoughts on “HEART OF THE SEA | Decorating with Sea Shell Art with Romantic Homes Magazine”

  1. Anna Pelonis-Mills

    These shell boxes and frames are stunning! I used to have a couple of shell objects that I bought on my trip to Greece, years ago. I need to absolutely start collecting again and would love to start with something like these gorgeous keepsake boxes!

  2. Shell artwork offers such whimsy and beauty. I have always been a fan. I really should take another look at my vast collection of shells

  3. Gloria

    Shells bring back so many memories of the
    family all together at the beach . My mom, dad
    and brother are gone but not those days. Thank you
    for my moment as a child again .

  4. I love your summer mantel. The Parian girl with the sheep and shells is so lovely. The sweet print with the children. The shutter with that beautiful color! Such a stunning combination.

  5. Christine Steller

    What a beautiful collection of antique shell art! Wow! The time and planning it took to create these is incredible!

  6. Linda Rubin

    I love sea shell art. I have a collection of thousands of shells that I have personally hand picked off the beach. This gives me some great ideas for crafting with my shells. thank you so much for sharing.

  7. Kim N. Jones

    My husband loves nautical things so we have many seashell themed pieces along with some sailor made scrimshaw and pond boats! Thank you for your beautiful article about shells. I grew up on the beach and collecting shells was what we did every summer! Your bisque figurine is so special!!

  8. Sherry B

    Beautiful tiara ! What a wonderful use of shells. a gift from the sea.

  9. The perfect post to start off the summer season…I have always admired your exquisite shell art collection. As I have stated previously, I always learn so much when I read your posts! Have a great day Lidy!

  10. Delightful post. Beautiful shell embellished items. Your collection is stunning and your styling and photography is also.

  11. Elaine Sharrard

    I love all of the shell designs. I live in South Florida and my house decor takes in Beach things. This has given me quite a few ideas. I really like how the shells can be dressed up.

  12. Hi Lidy,
    You have some exquisite pieces. I have never really been a fan of shell art until now. The tiara is amazing! I read your article on shell pieces and fell in love with them. You really teach me a lot about different antiquities that I have not been around. Thank you for that. Have a lovely day.

  13. Ginger Valdes

    I love your collection Lidy. Those pieces are exquisite! And do you know anyone that doesn’t need a beautiful shell tiara? I love to place shells in a large shallow basket with a pair of turquoise cat eye sunglasses poised with them, and randomly placed around the house for cute summer vignettes everywhere. Congratulations on yet another magazine feature.

  14. Stunning Lidy and well done! I have many of these type of boxes, but they are probably only 30 years old or so…as they were often sold for souvenirs here in Florida.

  15. I love the shells on those treasures! Its amazing the workmanship that goes into each piece. You have such a great collection. I work with oyster shells and I can tell you its something that takes time and effort to make it swoon worthy.

  16. What a great collection and I love the tips you’ve given showing us how to determine whether the items are antique. This post is also a great inspiration for collecting and crafting with beauties we have found on our own adventures.

    1. Thank you Marci! I am tempted to keep them all, but fortunately I don’t have room, so
      I bravely put most of the newly acquired ones on the website! Happy Friday!

  17. Lana Pederson

    My dad served in the Navy during WWII in the Pacific. He brought back suvenirs from many islands but no shells. He died from cancer when I was 3. I work with shells in rememberance of him. These shell objects are beautiful!

    1. Lana, what sweet souvenirs those are! They have such meaning for your family. Thank you for sharing that, I love that you work with shells because of your Dad. xo

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