Tips for Curating a Modern Cabinet of Curiosities

Collecting and displaying natural treasures is a historic pastime linked to a passion for learning. Here's how to start today.

 

Weathered shelves can boast large seashells, starfish, and dried coral fans. Create a sense of wonder by including a myriad of objects from the tide brimming with a spectrum of colors.
Weathered shelves can boast large seashells, starfish, and dried coral fans. Create a sense of wonder by including a myriad of objects from the tide brimming with a spectrum of colors.

During the Nineteenth Century, fictional heroines like Alice famously tumbled down rabbit holes and explored other worlds. However, exploration was not limited to characters in novels alone! Collecting seashells was a way for Victorian women to explore the natural world and engage in avenues of scientific inquiry. In fact, did you know the old rhyme “She Sells Seashells” was inspired by an early female scientist who combed the shore for prehistoric fossils?

Make a Cabinet of Curiosities

Pay homage to these early female explorers by creating your own aquatic-themed curiosity cabinet.
Like Victorian collections of curiosity assembled in cabinets, display cases featuring natural finds from around the world—taxidermy animals, assortments of insects, bones and other specimens—your collection could also display unique finds by the sea!

These cabinets are not only beautiful conversation starters but they also make for fantastic pieces of décor that could be ever evolving, depending on the pieces you continue to find for your display.

You can search the beaches for fun finds, but faux specimen replicas found in shops can be just as fascinating for your collection.
You can search the beaches for fun finds, but faux replicas found in shops can be just as fascinating.

Start Exploring!

Turn your love of beach strolls into a fun hobby and décor project! Remember to defer to local beach laws about what is and is not permissible to take from the beach. Once you find a local where it is safe to remove items, start searching for seashells by locating areas along the shoreline that push debris the most—rocks, shells, seaweed—toward the beach. Wait for the tide to come in and then venture ankle deep in the water, picking up any stray shells that wash up. Also try reaching just beneath the sand for pebbles and shells that could be caught underfoot. Act quickly, as the current will soon pull these toward the deep.

Historically, such collections were educational. Keep the tradition alive by researching your finds.
Historically, such collections were educational. Keep the tradition alive by researching your finds.

Gather Your Finds!

Sea glass begins as unrecycled glass bottles worn down over years by the ocean to become beautiful and smooth pebbles. Some of the best times to collect sea glass are after the falling tide and a strong onshore wind. Pebble beds and rocky beaches produce some of the better finds.

Sand dollars are typically found in the northern hemisphere in temperate and tropical waters. The external skeleton that is shed by the creatures is what beachgoers search for. If you find a sand dollar covered in fur-like spines, the animal has not discarded this external shell and should not be removed from the beach. Sand dollars can best be found at low tide after a storm. To preserve the sand dollars soak them for fifteen minutes in a water/bleach solution. Once dry, paint them with a mixture of water and white glue to prevent the fragile sand dollars from breaking.

Upcycled type trays and wood crates with small cubbies make perfect displays for small collections.
Upcycled type trays and wood crates with small cubbies make perfect displays for small collections.

Decorate Your Cabinet

Weathered shelves can boast large seashells, starfish, and dried coral fans. Create a sense of wonder by including a myriad of objects from the tide brimming with a spectrum of colors.

Not all objects need to be in perfect condition or complete. Perfection is not a requisite for addition to a collection! In fact, the aged and broken shell pieces add a scavenged quality that Victorian explorers would have adored! Odds and ends only add to the unique quality of a curious collection.

 

Seashell cross sections are artistically arranged in a symmetrical pattern and glued to the surface of the glass, looking as if they float on air.
Seashell cross sections are artistically arranged in a symmetrical pattern and glued to the surface of the glass, looking as if they float on air.

Finally, do not hesitate to include framed art depicting sea life as well. Books on nautical subjects placed among the array of objects are likewise welcome! In other words, a curious collection should be brimming with a myriad of objects and mediums—specimens, literary texts, and artwork—to capture viewer interest. The wider assortment of objects implementing the aquatic theme, the better!



Glamorous Coastal Retreat

Situated on the Connecticut coast, this 1904 colonial cottage combines timeless elegance with ocean-inspired colors.

Tina Anastasia commissioned custom drape fabric for the formal living room
A large, mullioned window—complete with window seat—brings in plenty of natural sunlight to illuminate the living room. The space is elegant in the white and pale-blue color palette, French- inspired furnishings and gold accents. The draperies are a bespoke design, specifically patterned to include each shade highlighted in the room’s color scheme.

Dotted along the New England coastline are cities and towns that play host to the numerous New Yorkers who escape the cramped hustle and bustle of urban life and retreat to quieter settings for their vacations and holidays. Ezra and Marlene Field are two such city dwellers, who found a place to call home away from home in the town of Southport, Connecticut.

During the summers, the couple and their three girls enjoy spending time at a century-old Colonial cottage located right on the beach. The family turned to interior designer Tina Anastasia and her team at Mark P. Finlay Interiors to make their vision for a luxurious and traditional home become a reality.

White walls and cabinets keep the Christopher Peacock-designed kitchen looking fresh, open and clean. Tina and her team updated the range and refrigerator to larger options suitable for entertaining and refinished the multihued wood floors in a uniform color. The blue upholstered counter chairs are a comfortable place to pause for a snack.

True Colors

Gold and red was Marlene’s original idea for a traditional and elegant color scheme that would honor the age of the house. But she changed her mind when Tina introduced the option of paler shades, which are currently used throughout. “We moved the red to soft powdery blues and sage greens, and kept the gold for elegance,” the designer explains. “We chose lighter finishes for an updated look. We also wanted to keep the accessories light with glass, crystal and touches of gold.”

Mirrored French doors hang as art in the dining room, where they make a stunning focal point without overwhelming the space.

Unobstructed views of the harbor are the highlight of several rooms, so Tina drew inspiration from the seascape to decorate the home’s interior. The same shades of aqua, blue and white found in the ocean’s waves are also found inside the home. The muted tones maximize the sun’s brightness as it enters each room through mullioned windows, making the gold accessories glitter.

Metallics, particularly gold, can elevate any space when used properly. Careful to keep the decor from becoming gaudy, Tina uses gold just often enough that it acts as a neutral tone, but not so repeatedly that it overwhelms. In the living room, the designer’s foundation is the classic combination of white and blue; the addition of gold accents results in a look that is luxurious yet approachable.

Furnishings with French Flair

Curated furnishings in gracefully traditional shapes complement the airy elegance of the color palette. Bulky furniture in dark finishes would have been a burden on the vision they were working to achieve. “The views of the water are amazing, so we focused on choosing pieces that were not too heavy,” the designer says. Dark tones are at a minimum, which means where they do occur, they are even more impactful. The breakfast room benefits from the energy created by the contrast of the turquoise velvet upholstery against espresso-stained wood and the white walls.

Comfort is key in vacation homes, and pale shades help ensure a calm atmosphere. Tina incorporated pieces with ornate French influence, balanced by those styled in transitional simplicity for a sophisticated blend. In the family room, plush upholstery rounds out the mix, with an ottoman-style coffee table featuring tufting for refined texture.

Pale shades of gold and blue set the stage for the master bedroom, which combines both drama and comfort with luxury

Textiles with a Luxe Look

In addition to the plush upholstery, Tina strategically uses textiles to bring color and pattern into each room with old-fashioned refinement and fresh appeal. She pays special attention to the draperies, using the rich fabrics to frame the picturesque views and tie each room together. In the living room, the designer could not find the ideal fabric that incorporated touches of gold as well as the right shades of blue. The solution was to design a custom pattern that would exactly match her specifications for the formal space. Tassels and tie-backs complete the look.

Green, pink and gold combine in the twins’ nursery for a gentle and feminine feel.

Rich fabrics are not limited to the window treatments in this house, as Tina also uses elaborate canopies to crown the beds in the master bedroom and the children’s rooms. “Canopies over the beds add softness,” she says. Over the carved headboard of the master bed, intricate folds in the palest gold complement the gold shade found in the wallpaper. Likewise, the twin girls have white-and-pink canopies over their sage-green cribs that add to the old-fashioned femininity of the room.

Luxury requires impeccable attention to detail. In this Connecticut getaway, Tina has honored tradition, while infusing the space with concepts that are as fresh as a sea breeze.

 



A Seaside Table Setting

Aqua, teal and blue are the obvious colors when it comes to a sea-inspired palette.

 

seaside entertaining 2179

When it comes to summer entertainment, what better way to celebrate than with an ocean-themed luncheon or dinner party? Here are 10 elements you can use to throw the ultimate romantic seaside party.

  1. Rustic table. Any wood left outside will weather, but near the ocean where there’s more salt in the air, the aging process happens more quickly. Celebrate the rustic nature of the sea with a weathered wood table as the foundation for your party. If you want an upscale feel, pair the rustic table with elegant wrought-iron chairs.
  2. Ocean color palette. Aqua, teal and blue are the obvious colors when it comes to a sea-inspired palette. But don’t just stick to one shade. The color of the ocean changes, depending on location—from the clear aqua of the Hawaiian shoreline to the royal blue of a California beach and the light gray of a stormy day in New England. Use many shades of blue and green to reflect all the colors of water.

    The gauzy table runner and different shades of blue used to create this beach theme table achieve a seaside air.
    Using different shades of blue and a gauzy table runner all contribute to the ocean feel.
  3. Sea texture. Don’t stop at color—recreate the texture of the ocean too. Use a gauzy table runner that looks like the foam on the crest of a wave, or scatter sand as part of your centerpiece. Have guests come barefoot to the party, or give them a pair of flip flops as if you really were at the beach.
  4. Gold elements. Gold is the perfect complementary color to aqua, perhaps because of legends of mermaids who wear gold crowns and ruby necklaces from sunken ships. Use gold as a layering color, through chargers under the plates, cutlery and even salt and pepper shakers.

    The magic of this beach theme table is in the whimsical details like gold accents, strings of glass beads and pale driftwood.
    The magic of this table setting is in the whimsical details like gold accents, strings of glass beads and pale driftwood.
  5. Driftwood. It’s beautiful and it recalls the power of the ocean to smooth away rough edges. Use driftwood as part of your centerpiece, or tie short sticks around a candle with twine for rustic lighting. If you don’t have access to driftwood, you can make your own. Collect a few fallen branches; then sand or chisel off the bark to create a smooth surface. Finally, add a coat of white paint to recreate the sun-bleached look.
  6. Sea shells. These are a given for an ocean theme, and you can use shells in creative ways. Tie a sea star onto the back of each chair, or paint the names of your guests on a scallop or buttercup shell to use as seating cards. Hot glue a layer of tiny shells onto several Styrofoam balls and hang them with clear fishing wire above your centerpiece.

    A white sea star tied to a rustic chair with ribbon makes a perfect seating statement at this beach theme table.
    A white sea star tied to a rustic chair with ribbon makes a perfect seating statement.
  7. Sparkly accents. Have you ever noticed that on a sunny day, the ocean sparkles as if a million diamonds were shifting on the surface? Add sparkly items to your table to recreate this feel. Drape strings of glass beads over driftwood, or fill the crook of a conch shell with crystal gems to catch the sunlight.
  8. Sea glass. Sea glass is a treasure to find, and you can use it to add both sparkle and color to your table. Drop individual pieces amid your centerpiece to add an additional layer, or add a few pieces to your collection of sparkly gems. You could even use green glassware to serve lemonade and champagne. 

    Get creative by making an old sea map-like menu for this beach theme table.
    Get creative by making an old sea map-like menu. Not only will your guests be delighted to know the menu, but they’ll also love the unique detail.
  9. Treasure menu. Part of the excitement of a trip to the beach is the possibility of finding treasure or a message in a bottle. Give your guests this thrill with a menu you’ve aged, rolled up and placed in an apothecary jar. To age your printed menu, dip it in tea to stain it, repeatedly crumple and flatten it to give it a soft feel and rip the edges to make it more rustic.
  10. Sea creatures. If you want to go the extra mile, include live sea creatures as the stars of your centerpiece. Fill a clear vase with a layer of pebbles and dechlorinated water; then add a goldfish or betta fish. You could even add a hermit crab as a companion.
    This magnificent fish, with multiple hues of vibrant blue, is a true beach theme table finisher.
    This magnificent fish, with multiple hues of vibrant blue, is a true table finisher.

    Photography by Bret Gum. Styling by Staci Dumoski, Elise Portale and Victoria Van Vlear