Why Seashell Decor is everywhere at Paris Design Week

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On my last vacation to the Bahamas, I packed up an entire suitcase to bring home a particularly peach-sized conch the size of a lapdog. Walk into any room in my house and you are sure to find a tray, bowl, or other container of seashells on a 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 with ocean motifs. That’s right, seashell decor (and other accents with coral, sea glass, fish, etc.) is officially trending.

Furniture from the new Uchronia line sits alongside Antoine Billore’s sculptures.

Alternate

To launch its new collection, the trendy French design studio Alternate presented a veritable underwater wonderland dubbed “Stolen Objects of the Sea”. Octopus-shaped lamps hung from the ceiling above a room in which every surface was covered with seascape sculptures by the artist Antoine Billore, who Uchronia has also collaborated with on several pieces of furniture that appear to have shells, barnacles, and corals sticking out of them. The final touch? A French version of That of the Little Mermaid “Under the Sea” played on the loudspeakers.

At Maison&Objet, one of the largest furniture and design fairs in the world which takes place just outside Paris, a crowd of design enthusiasts gathered to browse the shelves of Curiosities, which were lined with backlit pieces of bleached white coral. A few aisles further, the German studio Klaus Dupont featured totems of fish, shells, and stones, topped with waving plumes of fire-red coral.

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Hadley Keller

Back in town, Jim Thompson’s studio has been draped in the latest launch of the Tony Duquette collection earlier this year: on the most prominent wall is a trompe-l’oeil maximalist cabinet of curiosities, complete with shelving wearing shells, corals and other designs. For its design, Tony Duquette’s successor, Hutton Wilkinson, recreated Duquette’s own shelves at Dawnridge, his iconic California home. In the United States, in Philadelphia show this spring, Diana H. Bittel and Count Vandekar both attracted a lot of attention for two seashell-encrusted grandfather clocks, whose designs recall the tradition sailors’ valentines (3D collages of seashells that sailors have made for their loved ones during long stays at sea).

So what drives the submarine obsession? Julien Sebban of Uchronia argues that this obsession with the submarine is more than aesthetic. “In a world where everything is digital, we use nature and the know-how of the human hand to warn of the consequences of our actions on marine ecosystems and the death of traditional know-how”, says the creator in the description of his show.

white coral shelves

Objects of curiosity.

Hadley Keller
coral sculptures

Klaus Dupont.

Hadley Keller

Belgian workshop from Ostrea The latest line of terrazzo, also featured at Paris Design Week, is made from crushed seashells and touted as an eco-friendly alternative to plastic and other unnatural materials. Dutch manufacturer Zuiver launched the new “Ocean chair” made entirely from plastic waste from the ocean.

In the world of museums, shells also have their place: Many advertising posters “Things,“an exhibition at the Louvre exploring the history of still life, features a dramatic arrangement of three seashells against a background of shadow. In the city’s liveliest new hotel, Château Voltaire – opened last year by Thierry Gillier , founder of Zadig & Voltaire – the name of the bar is The Golden Shell, or, “the golden shell”, in reference to the shell motif adorning the facade of the 16th century building.

Paris may be the epicenter of the look, but it doesn’t stop there. “You want shells, you go Greece,proclaimed the artist Dionysios, whose most recent work was an installation among ocean rocks on the coastline of 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 is exactly what many creatives are doing. The trick is to leave a little extra room in your suitcase so you can pack a few to take home.

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