Long after seashells cease to be dwellings for the ocean’s creatures, they remain desirable as raw materials in home decor, especially in coastal areas.
A shell accessory can recall beaches visited long ago, say artists and crafters who make them. They also can connect interiors to surrounding natural environments.
From movable terrariums and photo frames to grand mirrors and chandeliers, things incorporating seashells long have been a source of fascination.
The range of popular accessories made with shells is wide in the Lowcountry. Prices can range from a $50 to $5,000.
Marilyn Reeves has been making custom home accessories with shells for 20 years. Her shell-design business, seaandshell.com, morphed from Sea and Shell, her former Market Street shop.
Early on, both tourists and locals would ask her to make pieces in a size or style to suit their homes, Reeves says. Over time, her business focus shifted from selling seashells to designing shell accessories.
Today, most of Reeves’ pieces are sold through decorators, including Southeastern Galleries and Elizabeth Stuart Designs. Reeves also sells them on her website.
While Reeves works with shells from many countries, most of the ones she uses today are oyster shells, which are found in abundance here.
“I do a tremendous amount in oyster shells,” Reeves says. “I take barrel loads of them from oysterers.”
Her oyster shell urns recently were seen in the HGTV Dream Home on Kiawah Island.
Reeves also makes accessories such as oyster shell mirrors. They have a rough, attractive look that fits well indoors and out. She crafts chandeliers and sconces as well.
“Shell accessories appeal more to people who live on a coast,” says Reeves. “I did a mirror for a bed and breakfast and they wanted all local South Carolina shells.”
Like some other clients, they wanted to incorporate shells that their children collected in the designer piece.
“I have spent a lot of time experimenting,” says Reeves, adding her pieces are designed to last. “You don’t see any adhesive on my pieces. I don’t use hot glue. I use industrial adhesives.”
David Huckabee, a designer with Southeastern Galleries, is among those who commission pieces from Reeves for his clients.
“Obviously, when you are doing a Southern coastal design in a home, shell accessories are a complement,” Huckabee says. “But they also are great to use when decorating in a more sophisticated style, when you want to make a home more comfortable or add a little fun.
“A lot of people want to use shells to capture the local flavor,” he adds. But for those who want their home to have a more international feel, shells from area beaches can be mixed with exotic ones in a single piece.
People shouldn’t automatically associate seashell crafts with those they made as children in summer camp, Huckabee says.
A beautiful shell lighting fixture can be a great addition to a powder room, dining room, kitchen or other space, he says.
Yet Huckabee acknowledges that a home can have too much of a good thing.
“I think you want it in little areas, little punches here and there. It’s always nice to have it in three places.” Those pieces don’t have to be of the same size either, he says.
Jo Carson of West Ashley, like many spending time at the beach, found herself picking up shells she spotted.
Before long, she and a friend were making angels out of oyster shells. Today, she makes shell butterflies, dragonflies, flowers and ornaments for the home.
Her creations are sold at local craft shows through her business, Sea Treasures.
“I think the ornaments are probably my favorite, but I love making wreaths, too,” Carson says. “When I finish a wreath or a mirror, something beautiful to hang in your house, it gives me a good feeling.
“A lot of people put wreaths on their front doors, bathroom walls, over fireplaces and over their beds. Just seashell flowers can be beautiful when hung in a kitchen window or on a wall in the bedroom.”
When Shirley Altman of Hollywood lays seashells on her work table, her creative juices start to flow, she says.
It’s been that way for Altman, owner of www.seashelltreasuresofcharleston.com, for almost a decade. That’s when she started working with Carson and making shell angels.
Her favorite creations include her pineapple wall plaque, mirrors and crosses.
Like Carson, she makes dish gardens with her handmade shell flowers, frequently an interpretation of magnolias.
While she still loves using local shells she finds and those she buys from Beads & Brush Strokes at Country Bumpkin in Mount Pleasant, her tastes have expanded to include shells she finds online.
Altman loves to work with cut shells and shell slices because of the colors and chambers found inside, she says. They are especially good for creating flowers, trees and crosses.
Altman’s pieces find their way into homes through her website, Off Market Arts at Citadel Mall, Tea Farm Cottage in Summerville and local crafts shows.
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.