Sunday, August 16, 2015

Decorating In Italian Grotto Style




Seashells have always captivated and enticed. Just try and go to the beach without picking some up. It must be the lure of the sea and the fact that it deposits a portion of its deep for us to capture before it returns to claim it back again. This post puts the spotlight on ancient Grotto Style and how today's shell furnishings and accessories follow the same quest as theirs.....to create fantasy furniture from natures stockpile of beautiful things from the sea.

A grotto is a small picturesque cave that is near water and often with the threat of flood at high tide. However the kind of grotto we are featuring are the ones that were constructed as fanciful retreats from reality that appeared throughout Europe. As early as the 1500's grottoes were meant to complement Italian Renaissance gardens. Damp grottoes were used as cool places for Europeans to retreat from the sun, but they also became fashionable baths. Of course there was a need to furnish these spaces, so fantasy furniture, called grotto furniture, became quite the trend and Grotto had it's own "style". 

Today home grottoes and shell encrusted furniture are undergoing something of a revival as we too long to bring our love of the ocean indoors with fun and whimsical seashell-inspired decor.









In 1583, German Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria, built the Grottenhof (Grotto Courtyard) at Trausnitz Castle. It was inspired by Italian Renaissance gardens and designed by Friedrich Sustris.

Photo by Sailko

The Grotto in Boboli Gardens, some of the first and most familiar formal 16th-century Italian gardens, behind Pitti Palace, the main seat of the Medici grand dukes of Tuscany at Florence. Shell encrusted Grotto Grande
was architected by Bernardo Buontalenti, and frescos by Bernardino Poccetti, 1593.


Boboli Gardens grotto ceiling.

The word Rococo is derived from the French word rocaille, which denoted the shell-covered rock work that was used to decorate artificial grottoes.



Frederick the Great filled a vast shell-decorated room at Sanssouci Palace with shell-replica furniture.

The first big shell boom occurred in the 1600s when demand became so great that Dutch merchants opened a central shell market to supply connoisseurs with rare species for their “cabinets of curiosities” and architects with enough shells for the “grottoes” that were sprouting up on noble estates.


A Venetian painted and parcel gilt grotto two seat sofa. Grotto furnishings reflected an appreciation for the proportion and symmetry of the scallop shell and were originally created for the artificial grottoes of royal palace gardens.

Axel Vervoordt

Whimsical and bizarre, Grotto ''fantasy furniture'' became the  stuff of  fertile imaginations.

via Pinterest

The sea has always been mysterious and this is what makes Grotto Style seductive and magical.


Garden rooms and conservatories are great spaces to add some Grotto Style furniture.


A dolphin table, like this one in a David Easton decorated foyer, would be right at home in an interior inspired by ancient Grotto Style.


Venetian Chair (one of set) – 19th Century Reproduction of 17th Century piece. Unknown furniture maker The Venetian Baroque beauty was made up of two silver scallops, one forming the chair back, the other its seat. 


The majority of shell furniture dates from the late 1800's and was mostly made by two Venetian companies, Remi and Pauli.


A suite of antique carved and silvered wood grotto furniture.

Kelly Wearstler

Grotto style furniture works well today in eclectic interiors because of its classic yet fantastical appearance.


Shell encrusted wall and furniture in the style of designer Tony Duquette. Some use the word grotesque(in a nice way of course) to describe Grotto Style.

There are companies that will help you create your own personal Grotto Style space. 


This classically designed home is the perfect setting for an Italian style grotto. I just wonder how you keep it clean and dust free. Alot of work but it's uniqueness is worth it I'm sure.

Humorous and macabre the Grotto style definitely is not for everybody. However if you are bold and adventurous and looking for a unique interior, you might consider it. 


A new version of a 19th century Venetian grotto chair. Grotto style furniture often had Mediterranean themed carved features to make one feel as if they stepped into Neptune's Palace. 

source unknown


If you want to incorporate a touch of Grotto Style, the bath is a good place to experiment. 

Hutton Wilkinson, Tony Duquette Inc

A few accents like a clam shell basin and shell encrusted mirror will give instant Grotto style pizzaz.

via Pinterest

Or you might choose to go all out in a more ancient, old world Grotto style with murals that set the stage for a heavy encrustation of shells.


Look for furniture with intricately carved aprons with shell and leaf motif, and elegant scroll legs that will create a sophisticated Grotto Style interior.


To accessorize your Grotto Style interior I adore the beautiful old world style sea life objets d'art created by Greyfreth.  

Elegant and aged to perfection, a collection of these would make a stunning addition to an interior style reminiscent of the ancient Italian grottoes.



Featuring shells for chair seats and table surfaces, dolphin-shaped legs, sea horses, algae, coral, sea snakes, as well as other make-believe creatures, Grotto furniture tends to fascinate us with its emphasis on fantastical sea life.



A Grotto style floral arrangement artfully designed from coral and displayed in an urn with the right amount of patina. Add a bronze crustacean to the vignette for the finishing touch.

Shell encrusted accessories can be purchased or try your hand at a DIY project. Just do your homework and find stylish pieces to act as inspiration. Start small with a candlestick or commit to a "go big or go home" project like this chandelier.


Hire a professional (unless you have a good eye for design) to artistically encrust focal points in your home to give it Grotto Style.


Mirrors make wonderful Grotto Style shell encrusted accents.

Some of my favorite pieces are the shell encrusted consoles. They remind me of the authentic old world Grotto Style furniture.






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This blog post was published by Lisa Farmer

2 comments:

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  2. its great post on decorating and thanks for your awesome post.
    interior design

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