Seashellcore: Why Seashell Decor Is Everywhere at Paris Design Week

2022-09-17 06:09:54 By : Mr. Daniel Tian

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Why we love the wave of ocean-inspired design.

On my last vacation, to the Bahamas, I repacked an entire suitcase to bring back a particularly peachy conch shell approximately the size of a lap dog. Walk into any room in my home and you’re guaranteed to find a tray, bowl, or other vessel of seashells on some shelf. So you can imagine my delight at this year’s Paris Design Week, where the Maison&Objet fair and the city’s design scene were awash in oceanic motifs. That’s right, seashell decor (and other accents featuring coral, sea glass, fish, and the like) are officially in.

To launch its newest collection at Paris Design Week last week, the hip French design studio Uchronia presented a veritable underwater wonderland dubbed "Stolen Objects from the Sea." Octopus-shaped lamps dangled from the ceiling above a room in which every surface was covered in seascape sculptures by the artist Antoine Billore, with whom Uchronia also collaborated on several furniture pieces that appear to have shells, barnacles, and coral growing out of them. The final touch? A French version of The Little Mermaid's “Under the Sea” playing over the speakers.

At Maison&Objet, one of the world’s largest expositions of furniture and design that takes place just outside Paris city limits, throngs of design lovers gathered to peruse the shelves of Objets de Curiosité, which were lined with backlit pieces of bleached white coral. A few aisles over, the German studio Klaus Dupont presented totems of fish, shells, and stone, topped with waving feathers of flame red coral.

Back in the city, the studio of Jim Thompson was draped with the launch of the latest Tony Duquette collection, released earlier this year: On the most prominent wall is a maximalist trompe l'oeil cabinet of curiosities, featuring shelves bearing seashells, coral, and other motifs. For its design, Tony Duquette's successor Hutton Wilkinson recreated Duquette's own shelves at Dawnridge, his iconic California home. Stateside, at The Philadelphia Show this spring, Diana H. Bittel and Earle Vandekar both drew much attention for two shell-encrusted grandfather clocks, whose motifs recall traditional sailor's valentines (3D collages of shells which sailors crafted for their loved ones while on long stints at sea). And this week, John Derian launched his annual decoupage calendar for 2023. On the cover? An arrangement of seashells, of course.

So what’s driving the obsession with the underwater? Uchronia's Julien Sebban makes the case that it's more than just aesthetic. "In a world where everything is digital, we use nature and the skill of the human hand to warn of the consequences of our actions on marine ecosystems and the death of traditional skills," says the designer in the description of his show.

The eye to conservation is certainly an element of Belgian studio Ostrea's latest line of terrazzo, also presented at Paris Design Week, which is made from crushed shells and billed as an eco-friendly alternative to plastic and other non-natural materials. Also at the fair, Dutch manufacturer Zuiver launched the new "Ocean chair" made entirely from ocean-bound plastic waste. (Herman Miller released a similar riff on its iconic Aeron chair last fall).

In the museum world, shells are having a moment, too: Many of the posters advertising "Les Choses," an exhibition at the Louvre exploring the history of still life, feature a dramatic arrangement of three seashells against a shadowy background. At the city's buzziest new hotel, Château Voltaire—opened last year by Thierry Gillier, founder of Zadig & Voltaire—the name of the bar is La Coquille d'Or, or, "the Golden Shell," in reference to the shell motif adorning the 16th-century building's façade.

Paris may be the epicenter of the look, but it hardly stops there. “You want seashells, you go to Greece,” proclaimed the artist Dionysios, whose most recent work was an installation among ocean rocks on the coastline in Greece, his home country. Indeed, with the new Athens Design Forum (launched in 2021) and an explosion of post-Covid travel to the Greek islands, many creatives are doing just that. The trick is to leave a little extra room in your suitcase so you can pack up a few to bring home.

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Hadley Keller is House Beautiful’s digital director. She oversees all digital content for the brand as well as working on the print magazine. She has covered covering design, interiors, and culture for 10 years in New York. She served as Associate Market Editor, Design Reporter, and News Editor for Architectural Digest and AD PRO before joining House Beautiful. Hadley is a staunch maximalist and vocal opponent of the Open Floor Plan.

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