She turns Florida's seashells into spectacular works of art.
By Marisa Spyker
1 of 7Photo: annie Schlechter
Karen Robertson started collecting seashells at age 8 near her hometown of Lexington, Massachusetts. Today she captures the ocean’s essence with handmade creations—from one-of-a-kind decorative flowers made of shells and tinted oversize sea fans suspended in transparent glass to trumeau mirrors dressed with clusters of coral.
2 of 7Photo: Courtesy of Karen Robertson
An iconic staple in marine-inspired décor, the sea fan becomes an exotic showpiece when displayed atop a hand-turned ceramic column. Robertson, an expert forager for shells and other sea treasures in her hometown of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, creates these decorations from both hand-cast and real sea fans that are sustainably harvested from all over the world.
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Beyond the Sea
Because Robertson’s Florida living room doubles as a showplace for her designs, she kept the palette primarily neutral, letting accents of sea lavender punctuate the space. A gallery wall of marine art and sculpture keeps the home strongly connected to its coastal setting. “By placing three-dimensional objects on the wall alongside framed pieces, it creates a stunning focal point with lots of dimension,” she says.
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A private studio in Robertson’s home serves as a design and testing lab for her seafaring creations, like these fossil calipers, which showcase shells found by Robertson that date back 2 to 3 million years. The fossil shells—which include clam, conch, cone, murex, whelk, and spiky oyster varieties—are secured in a gold plated caliper and topped on a travertine base.
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In Robertson’s dining room, a wall of framed pressed seaweed pieces she collected while on vacation in coastal New England serve as a backdrop to a mix of antique and modern furniture. “Shell-back chairs with toile accents give the room a Palm Beach Regency-style feel,” she says. A sisal rug she hand-painted in a bright green stripe pattern adds a shot of color to the room.
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A soft palette of grey and white and a simple headboard in her master bedroom allowed Robertson to choose a more statement-making piece of art for over the bed. Her Blue Grotto piece revives an 18th-century art form called mosaic shelled grotto work, which is formed from creating intricate, mosaic-like swirls and designs from different types of seashells. “Sometimes, I can’t tell if something’s going to work until I see it on my own walls,” she says.
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Created using finds from Robertson’s personal collection of thousands of shells, this one-of-a-kind artwork is made by double framing a dozen scallop shells between two sheets of glass. Each shell was carefully chosen to highlight the differences in color and shape of one type of shell, making it a truly unique piece. Visit karenrobertson.com for more.