Years ago, Emily came across a book, Shell Chic, by Marlene Hurley Marshall (Storey Books, 2002) about decorative techniques and projects using shells. "The beauty and purity of natural forms had always sustained me, and I recognized that shells had always given me pleasure." Three years ago she took a road trip to Florida’s Sanibel Island to attend the Shell Fair, which is held annually during March. Now, Emily admits, "I’d rather buy a shell than eat. I’m a complete shellaholic."

The front garden's spectacular shell grotto.

The bungalow's decorative saga that began with the fireplace continued when Emily's first shell piece was added to Berthold's mantel. "It needed something, so I started with the framed mirror but ended up covering the whole thing." The attraction of the glistening, light-reflective surfaces found on the polished shells soon extended to other aspects of Emily's collecting and design life. These are brought together by a meticulously arranged interior, set off by the saturated paint colors on the walls and the silken brocades and old lace used on soft furnishings. "The house is entirely Emily's work," says Berthold. "I really have nothing to do with it."

A detail of the fireplace.

Next to the grotto is Emily’s boudoir dans le jardin, a tester bed frame also embellished with shells. Many Austin homes feature outdoor sleeping areas, with beds outfitted in comfortable mattresses, colorful throws, and stacks of pillows—throwbacks to the days before air-conditioning replaced open windows.

"Gardens are for relaxing in, but we never do," says Emily with a note of regret. "So the bed is there to remind us," chides Berthold. And, perhaps as a further nudge to taking five, he added a seating alcove complete with a wood-burning fireplace and a vivid blue surround decorated with gold mosaics.

Detail of a shell-covered chest of drawers.

In the garden behind the house there's another, larger grotto with a koi-filled pond as its base. Space has also been found for two more sitting areas and Emily's studio. Every surface is covered with shells waiting to be used. "It's how I stay in shape," claims Emily, "moving shells around!"

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Shell Shocked

An expressive property in Old West Austin

Written by Ethne Clarke
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John Granen

Detail of a shell-covered chest of drawers.

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