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A Controversial ’80s Trend is Back…We Think


image source | designed by mary featherston

I think it’s important to start off this post with you knowing that I do not have a conclusion about how I feel about this trend. Obviously, no trend is ever brand new and shells (like Chinoiserie) never really went “away.” Both Arlyn and I are from coastal areas and can attest to that very real fact. But shells all of a sudden started popping up in the cool Instagram accounts I following (what?!) and on my Pinterest feed (uh, oh). It was time to investigate and I did so with trepidation. I have become overtly aware that my general hesitation with a handful of the current trends (lilac, clear handbags, ’80s squiggle lines/Memphis, etc.) are due to the fact that they are almost all reimagined styles from my youth that I was never into. It must be the circle of life that about every 30 years, a “trend” comes back bigger and better or just more palatable to the modern era. So are modern shells next up to bat? And do we think they have staying power?

Emily Henderson Trends 2019 Seashells 9
photo source | designed by deborah symond o’neil

I do want it also known that I love the beach. I have just never felt the need to bring it home with me. Okay, SURE I had one large shell in my room growing up that I was convinced echoed the peaceful sounds of ocean waves and probably Ariel’s voice when I held it up to my ear. BUT aside from that one, shells stayed at the beach where they belonged. But then, I think towards the end of last year, I watched an instastory of Manrepeller’s Leandra Medine Cohen about her upcoming shoe line that had me shook. Much to my immediate confusion (and if I’m totally honest, horror) some of them had shell detailing. Yes, the fashion trend-setting queen herself was wholeheartedly behind this rebirth. Once I saw that, I knew it was serious because fashion and decor are VERY linked in terms of trend predicting (a tip I got from Emily), it just takes a little while to trickle down. And now in April of 2019 good luck finding a major fashion retailer that isn’t carrying at least a handful of ultra-chic shell inspired accessories.

Emily Henderson Trends 2019 Shells Fashion Grid
from top left (clockwise) 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

See what I mean? But let’s turn our focus back onto home decor. The photos I’m about to show you took me on a journey that now has me kiiiinda convinced that this trend is cool. Much like any “eclectic” trend, it’s about picking your moments. This way it stays chic, special and nothing like the “beach” themed home of your childhood vacations.

Emily Henderson Trends 2019 Seashells 1
image source | designed by erika carlock

Definitely not your grandma’s beach house at all (no offense to grandmas here, FYI, we know they can be super stylish). It’s modern, Pop Art-y but certainly fun. I think the styling of this dresser is beautiful but when I started to see shell decor like this I thought not totally for me even though it does induce a surge of joy. How can a shell lamp not? But then I was seeing even more and I started to maybe sway…

Emily Henderson Trends 2019 Seashells 12
image source | designed by autumn hachey design

This stunning home, designed by Autumn Hachey, is nothing if not cool. It’s a great balance of high-end modern trends and classic pieces. The shell pillow adds a total uniqueness to the space that makes it more playful than your average sofascape. But said accessory does invoke a rather “current” feel which depending on the person may not last you longer than a few years. That’s not to say she won’t love this pillow in her space forever. Regardless, the space is incredibly cool and really had me thinking differently about shell decor.

Emily Henderson Trends 2019 Seashells 10
image source | designed by sara levitas

Here we have an even quieter shell moment from a tour The Design Files did of Sara Levitas’ rental home. It’s pretty darn cute, right? The shell shape is definitely reminiscent of the eighties but since it’s surrounded by greenery, solid dark toned accessories it feels cool and makes me want to know more about the homeowner. They feel fun people and who doesn’t like being around fun people. Maybe that’s something to consider…a cool shell accent = fun person.

Emily Henderson Trends 2019 Seashells 6
image source | designed by john and juli baker

Speaking of fun and weird, Emily showed this photo of the Mjolk House above in her Mountain House Monday: How I am Planning on Bringing in the Weird post. If you are anti-shell still, fear not, Emily isn’t planning on a Beach Meets Mountain theme even though I would LOVE to see what she could come up with. However, my point with this photo is what we all noticed (aside from that killer chair) was the shell-framed mirror brought in sooo much personality and looks chic as hell. Maybe I’m convincing myself now…

Emily Henderson Trends 2019 Seashells 4
image source | designed by julie carlson and justine hand

UPDATE: The shell is a string pull so it very much has a function. I still love it and think it adds the perfect does of personality. But I also think it still makes a case to just hang a pretty shell from the ceiling (no function needed) that adds texture, personality and a flawless contrasting style to the room.

Emily Henderson Trends 2019 Seashells 3
image source | designed by eliza clark and tim trojian

This shell pendant had me on the verge of me saying, “nope tooooooo ’70s coastal.” My mom had something kinda similar from her Miami college days. It never went up in our house but I always thought my mom was crazy for keeping it. But with this one, since most everything else is so neutral and varied in style I think I’m kinda into it. I’m sure I made fun of my mom and most certainly now owe her an apology.

Emily Henderson Trends 2019 Seashells 8
image source | styled by julia green and noël coughlan

Most of the photos above showcased either a “modern” shell in a neutral room or a natural shell in a neutral room. This one sports a large natural shell (VERY similar to my Little Mermaid one) in a very colorful modern space showing the versatility of styling with this trend.

Tdf Featherstonhouse Ameliastanwix 10 Web
image source | Designed by Mary Featherston

This photo of the famous but newly renovated Featherston House in Australia had me pretty much convinced that if I found the right shells and perfectly curated ocean debris that I could be persuaded to do something magnificent like that wall collection.

In case you read this and thought Jess convinced me, I LOVE SHELLS and how can I get my hands on some decor? Look no further than right here because I have curated some shoppable pieces to make your dreams come true.

Emily Henderson Trends 2019 Product Roundup

1. Shell Pillow | 2. Shell-Shaped Plant Pot | 3. Seashell Wicker Catch-All | 4. Concha Shell Wall Hook | 5. Ariel Rococo Shell Chair | 6. Silver Clam Shell | 7. Trapezium Barrel Chair | 8. Clam Shell Soap Dish | 9. Clam Shell Floor Lamp

That’s all she wrote…on shells at least. I’m still pretty sure I won’t be diving head first into this trend in my current apartment but who knows for the future. Maybe some chic shells will make their way into my life and we will live happily ever after. I mean it’s just hard to feel sad around shells. But I am DYING to hear what you think. Do you love this newer take on shell decor? Does the idea of it make you cry? Do you think every house should have a minimum of 20 shells per room? Let us discuss (with respect) in the comments. 🙂

Love you, mean it. xx Jess

Fin Mark


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one quick note: the hanging shell with “no function” per caption is actually a pull string for the ceiling fan. Not that you’d entirely be able to tell from that photo, but i figured you might want to know.


Came here to say this ?


lol same

Loveley of

most of them: yuck -the one with the pearl/oyster lamp looks like plastic junk of UO or some other big box store junk. but i like the rest of the stuff in that shot. -the one with the shell pillow looks bad. i think that pillow ruins the room. it’s so so random and out of place. -same with the sarah levitas one with the shell on the bureau. completely doesn’t compliment anything and sticks out like a sore thumb. it’s looks like someone had this random knick knack a relative gave them and they just needed to display it somewhere when that person was visiting, so they stuck it up there. i like the hanging shell on a string and the one you said looks like your old ariel one. probably because it’s just one shell and they are actually real shells. in the last picture, the wall decor didn’t read as shells to me. i thought they were birds nests and sticks. i don’t hate it, but don’t love it. now that i’m looking around in my living room, i actually have lots of shells (but not the standard “shell-shape”) that we have collected from florida sitting in… Read more »


I live in MN, but I’m from Florida and my mom lives near a really cute old-Florida style orange ice cream shop ( that sells the best shell decor, both cheesy and not, at crazy cheap prices (like $15 for a 70s over-the-top shell chandelier like the one you posted). All that to say, I’ve been decorating with shells for a minute since they remind me of my mom’s house so this post makes me happy 🙂


This is EXACTLY what I wanted to say – shells that look natural and organic and… shell-like… can be good (also, honestly, that shell frame is borderline for me but I do genuinely like it).

The fake-looking shells kinda feels like someone with access to an Urban Outfitters production line and a Little Mermaid obsession went a bit overboard, and is a definite NOPE from me. That said, for the record, most of the 80s-feel stuff that’s becoming popular gets a very visceral OMG NO from me, so we’re definitely talking personal taste, not any objective standard.


LOL! Urban Outfitters producer with a Little Mermaid obsession – so spot on!


above comment broken down by sentence:
Negative. Positive.
Negative. Negative. Negative.
Negative. Negative
Positive. Sort of positive/passive aggressive? Negativish. Neutral. Neutral.
Positive? Positive? Kinda Negative. Negative. Negative.


I LOVE this trend, especially the picture with the giant beanbag… but the first picture threw me off. The shell looks so fake, but I love all the ones where the shells are real, but if they are fake, it just looks a little too try hard. Loved this post!


Reminds me of my grandmas old condo in west palm beach from the 80s and not in a good fresh way. Hard pass on this “trend”. Also as a 32 year old I can’t believe how old I feel that pooka necklaces are a thing again. First it was tattoo chokers, now pooka??

Paula Carr

I still have the pooka shell necklace that a friend made me. She grew up in Kaneohe (on Oahu), and she collected the shells herself. Supposedly they’re good luck, but ONLY if the person giving you the necklace gathered the shells themselves.

I may not wear it anymore, but I’ll never get rid of it.


I’m in Ohio and nautical decor is my pet peeve here. WE’RE IN A CORNFIELD, PUT THE SHELLS AWAY, KAREN. Really hoping this trend doesn’t reach the Midwest, haha! 🙂

Natasha Luthra

Amen! Thank you, this brightened my morning right up.:)

OMG. I laughed out loud 🙂


Lololol Literally came here to say this. Though I’m very interested in that triangle beanbag chair…


Dang, my name is Karen, I live in Minnesota (grew up in Nebraska) and for years I have had real natural shells scattered throughout my home. Is there a self-help group for me somewhere? Maybe in a cornfield somewhere… 😉


I think I need an invite for that self-help group 🙂 Not named Karen, but I do live in the Midwest and I enjoy natural shells and restrained beach décor. When we moved to our current home I could see cornfields from my kitchen window. I like to think the shells are a pleasant reminder of trips to the beach, but maybe they are just a sad sign I live no where near a beach??


So since I don’t live in a forest I shouldn’t have a raw edge wood table or shelf? I’m not in the mountains so I can’t have a pretty crystal or agate bookend? It’s all about bringing nature inside, or reminding you of something you love, or it just looked pretty. My pet peeve are girls named Sarah. They make up for the sameness by being cunts.


wow calm down over there, ralph. Sarah was making a joke and it was funny.


An actual cornfield-Karen was able to roll with the joke, but manly Ralph couldn’t. And we women are supposedly the weaker, over emotional sex? ! Snowflake, thy name is Ralph.


Omg, please take this post down. I can’t believe I’m reading the C word here
🙁 🙁 🙁


Seconding this!

Melanie K

Why hasn’t Ralph’s comment been deleted yet? It’s unacceptable.


Ralph, having an opinion is one thing, using the C word is just rude and unnecessary!


Wow Ralph. That was a really sad comment. You had extremely bad behavior and I hope you are feeling sorry and sending nice energy out in the world right now to make up for it. No one wants to read that crud.
And yes, I’m a mom. You just got “mom’d.”


You need to calm down, son. The C-word is NOT welcome.


I have a scattering of natural elements through my house, including a few collected shells. Nature is easy on the eyes and I love the layer it gives plus the memory! My mom has a needlepoint shell shaped pillow she made in the 70’s that will stay in the family.

Plus if shells are trendy and make people think of nature then that is a good thing!


Looks like Ellen got to what I was thinking before I could–that longer string with the shell on is probably an extended pull chain that helps a short person (like me) more easily grab and pull the chain.

I’ve always liked seashells. I grew up in and live in Atlanta, so they’re not exactly easily found, but I pretty much always nab a few when I go visit the in-laws in Cape Cod.

Eliza Clark

Love this post. We had the same debate when we hung the big shell chandelier @foxfiremountainhouse (8th pic). But in the end we decided shells are sculptural and a natural wonder from the sea so if kept simple and treated like art, they’re timeless.


I’m in the hard NO category, when it comes to decorating with shells. Nope! Nope! Nope!

Lisa A. Martin

I recently started making Sea Sponge Baskets. Bowl shaped sponge filled with sponges and seashells. Some sponges alone are a piece of art.
I’ve sold some at local shows. I’m wanting to expand my market. Your column has inspired me to go with my idea.


I’m not usually a fan of decorating with shells, the restraint shown in these photos appeals to me. Featuring one perfect shell in a room + lovely vs. many shells scattered all over a room = kitschy.

Sarah D.

In that last picture with the seascape debris on the wall…How do you think they anchor it to the wall? I don’t see anything obvious and some items look fairly weighty. Thanks.


Fishing lure of course


I didn’t know it was a trend, but I recently bought the Gubi lamp with a brass shell. So I’m guilty of it!

I loved the shell, but also the mix of brass and rattan (which is also very on trend, no?).

kaitlyn coffee

i have tons of vintage shell decor for sale at @harrisvintage!!!


Yeah. Nope. Not on board with this one.


Hard pass – and I live in California! That’s a no from me. A single shell or a small collection as a curiosity in a shelf, perhaps. But NO on the shell-shaped decor items.

[…] Read More […]

Susie Q.

I do like shells a lot. Every time I am at at the beach I obsessively pick up tiny shells–the tinier, the better. Then I combine them somehow to make *art* that I hang in the bathroom. Yeah, it’s crafty but it reminds me of Florida and makes me happy.


If a lot of these pieces weren’t that clam shell shape, straight from the 80s/90s, I think it would look more modern. Trends need to be reinterpreted to feel fresh. I think the exception from these examples as far as that clam shape, and I get the sense I’m in the minority here lol, is the white clam shell lamp with the “pearl”. It’s a humorous take and I like it. So, I say yes to reinterpreted versions and no to just sticking an old shell mirror in an otherwise modern room.


I’m in love with this Papua New Guinea Shell Necklace in Althea Calderon’s old home.comment image

Jennifer Adam

I don’t like them, and I never will. It just reminds me of ugly 1980s decor and country crafts.

Julie Rae Kasner

Nothing new under the sun, but it’s not my favorite trend.


Letting you know that your site isn’t compatible with older model iPads.

Alison Blake

Funnily enough, the pull string shell is the only thing I liked. No thanks, shells. (And I, too, love the beach.) Shell-inspired color palettes, however, are a yes.

Patricia Hall

Aside from one perfect conch shell or chunk of faux or real coral (real only if you beach combed it yourself) I really can’t get into this one. Reminds me of art deco 30s musicals …

Christina Weiland

IMO, shells (and pretty much all nautical themes) are acceptable in a beach house only and, even then, should be used sparingly.

Paula Carr

O.k. see-through purses remind me waaaaaay too much of having to carry a clear plastic bag as a purse when I worked at The Broadway department store in Century City (their way of making sure employees weren’t carrying merch home with them).

But that straw shell-shaped bag is too cute! Really. Some of the other ideas are a bit too twee for my tastes.


Not a fan….I think they look tacky.


I love the shell pillow (I own that exact one) and a clam shell vase but I think it can be a tricky thing to pull off. I can see how some people may not love it, but it’s fun, quirky and can look modern in the right context. I remember when mom jeans made a comeback with the teenagers first and so many people (including myself) were absolutely grossed out. And now it’s all I wear! PS: I can’t get into anything puka shelled though!

Are kids wearing puka shells again?!?!?




I live on the west coast. The closest beach is about 2 hours away and I go as often as I can. I used to have a vacation house on the southern Washington coast, and of course it was decorated in kitchy beach house decor. I still love beach themed decor (not so much nautical/boat themes) and my current living space is decorated with lighthouse art, (featuring lighthouses I have personally visited) with a few glass floats and real shells gathered on a shelf. I have tried to keep it low key, but I can’t totally stay away from it. I just love the beach so much.


I grew up near the Atlantic Ocean, and now live near the Pacific, so I’ve been bringing shells home with me for as long as I can remember. I like real shells used as art, whether its a single shell, or a bowl of shells, or an outright shell extravaganza, such as a mirror frame covered with shells. Check out Marian McEvoy’s book “Glue Gun Decor” for fabulous examples of a shelled fireplace mantle, bed headboard, and chandeliers. Or search for “Marian McEvoy shell decor” Marian is a former editor in chief of Elle Decor and shell art, and now acorn art, cork art, and leaf art, are, in fact, “art.” Which isn’t to say that every object with shells glued to it is “art,” sadly.


What if those shell sinks come back?


Auugrrrhhhaa THE HORROR!!!! Seriously. I’d lose it. I just can’t.


No. Just no. I just can’t. Maybe it’s because I too clearly remember the 80s shells too.

I do love the “shell” chairs though. I think it’s because I never saw them as shells…


At first I thought I was way not into this possible trend, but then I remembered I am putting scallop/fan/fishscale tile in my master bathroom, which is also shaped like… a seashell. Maybe scallop tile was the gateway for bringing shells into the design world. ?


1000% here for it! Shells have been incorporated in beautiful decor since well before the 1980s. British houses since the 17th century have had shell grottos outside. There’s beautiful antique dressers covered in shells inspired by the grottos. They can be tasteful in the right homes, Nate Berkus has a gorgeous shell mirror in his study by Matthias Vriens-McGrath. Personally love the glam clam shell comeback as well, in jewellery and home decor, reminiscent of 1920s/Art Deco shapes and a cool 80s throwback. There are much worse things the 80s could bring back and there’s been a lot of great mixing of Art Deco and 80s design in the past few years!

Ironmongery Experts

I love this trend, I might even say shell yeah to this trend. I grew up near the ocean and it brings me back memories of home. Thanks for sharing! Carolina at Ironmongery Experts.


Man, we would be so on trend if we hadn’t renovated all of our bathrooms and removed the original shell sinks!! ?


Hard pass. Such a hard pass that this almost feels like an April Fools post. But I live in Minnesota. So anything oceany would be crazy so forgive my hard judgement.


I definitely see the trend with products I buy for the shop. It’s not really my favorite but what I do like about this time is it feels like “I am a pearl” female empowerment statement vs here’s a bunch of beach junk. It’s a single shell shaped chair in velvet not soaps in the shape of shells that confuse guests in a powder room. Sadly the trend will cycle by ending in dumb soaps and clutter. I’ve been doing this 22 years and I’ve seen the rabbit hole people go down many times. Love you and your blog.


I have giant shells styled on some of my shelves and I love the way they look. My apartment isn’t otherwise ‘beachy’ but they add a great organic, sculptural element that i adore. Bring on the shells!


In the 70s my parents lived in florida for a while and my mom made shell mirrors (and made more $ selling them than my dad did as a veterinarian). There’s still one in their house (on the beach, but in NYC) but the giant one that was in the basement when I was a kid got ruined by superstorm Sandy. I was in a fancy Elizabeth St. store the other day and saw one that was the SPITTING IMAGE of our basement mirror on sale for thousands of dollars! So clearly, they are back here in New York.

Joya Margolin

Shell jewelry and decor are exploding in Australia and SE Asia. It’s possible they’ve never gone away or that I’m more susceptible because I’ve been living in Singapore and traveling and observing those locales all year but from this data I say “yes,” shell decor is coming back.


I believe you!! It came back! ? Nautical themed decor is so kitschy that it should only been seen in beach vacation rentals.

Roberta Davis

For some reason, all I see is the 1980s.


I didn’t believe you until I saw this. Not a fan!


Any thoughts on why the 30-year cycle? I’ve been saying this for years!

[…] Julie’s guest bedroom on the Cape (and her clever light-pull DIY) got a shout-out on Emily Henderson’s blog this week. Photograph by Justine Hand for […]


Not feeling the need for this throwback

Corre Marie

I am TOTALLY into the shell trend coming back. But like anything borderline kitch-y it needs to be done right. I would pair my shell piece with something totally opposite like a dark and moody room or in a kitchen. I would have it be unexpected and not even remotely channeling Ariel.

Jennifer R

I live at the beach, and I love a modern take on a the coastal look which often looks cheap and cheesy. Copy cat alert: the large shell from PB can be found in the garden section of Home Depot for a third of the price.

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