Much to the chagrin of most sharks and rays, their skin, shagreen, has been used on decorative items and furniture since ancient times. Egyptians adored its pearly texture and Japanese samurais used it on the handles of their swords. Louis XV and Madame Pompadour were huge fans of the luminescent, pebbly leather and had exquisite wig boxes covered in it. During the Art Deco period, furniture and boxes were commonly upholstered with shagreen and dyed in soft pastel shades. Today, shagreen is still coveted and used on luxurious furniture and decorative objects because of its amazing texture that is reminiscent of tiny beads. Luckily for sharks and rays, faux shagreen is an alternative option and unless you are an expert, it’s hard to tell the difference. When I am looking to add a little luxe glamour to my interiors, I look to a shagreen-finished object like a tray, accent table or box. (Photo alert: It is a little hard to see the texture in some of these images, but take my word for it – shagreen is to die for!)
Interior design by Smallbone of Devizes
I must admit that when I found this image of a bathroom vanity with it’s paneled doors covered in creamy shagreen, I started to drool. It is incredibly decadent but understated at the same time. Smallbone carries a line of cabinets finished with faux shagreen. I would love a client willing to try this finish. I simply adore it!
The company R&Y Augousti utilizes real shagreen on their pieces. The cabinet above has an incredible texture and even though the skin is peeling, this Art Deco-styled piece brings interest and a sense of history to this lovely beach house designed by Jean-Louis Deniot.
A few pieces of pottery in front of a shagreen-covered lamp is a charming grouping in Victoria Hagan’s beach house. This photo is a wonderful example of how to mix textures and keep a monochromatic scheme interesting. The soft petals of the flowers against the rough and smooth pottery layered with the beaded texture of the lamp make this display positively perfect. The shagreen adds a level of luxe, don’t you think?
This dresser combines celedon green shagreen with antique brass hardware and white lacquered cabinets. It is absolutely breathtaking. I’m not sure, but I believe this piece was custom-designed for the space. I am totally lusting over this cabinet and wish it were mine, although I suspect the price tag might make my hubby choke. Designed by British designer David Collins, this apartment is so lovely and I thoroughly enjoyed leafing through the pages. If you want to see what modern luxurious design looks like, check out the article.
You could always surround yourself with sumptuous shagreen by papering your walls in it, just like Celerie Kemble did in this Manhattan apartment showhouse for House Beautiful. The pattern of the bead-like surface of shagreen looks like subtle stripes from a distance. This particular wallpaper, by Valtekz, was designed by Kemble herself and is part of her collection for the company. It is a real statement-maker.
There are a huge variety of gorgeous objects finished with shagreen – tables lamps, and assorted decor items that I found for you here. Take special note of the wall sconce – last year, I saw one of these beauties while visiting a New York City design center and I nearly brought a pair home with me. The picture just doesn’t do it justice, and in real life they are far more exquisite than you could even imagine.
Clockwise from top left: Etagere Tiered Table by Vaughan, Round Mirror from Walker Zabriskie Furniture, Boxes by R & Y Augousti, Wall Sconce by MHG Studio, Round Accent Table by Ashley Hicks Furniture, Lawton Grey Shagreen Lamp by Arteriors, Coffee Table from Walker Zabriskie Furniture, Console by Galart International. In the center, the Continuim Three-Drawer Chest is by Stanley Furniture.
As you can see, shagreen (or shark skin) is highly prized by interior design aficionados because of the decadent, fascinating texture it adds to furniture, lamps, mirrors and other decorative items. If you think your interior is lacking and need to inject it with a little understated glam, add a touch of shagreen and your space will instantly feel more special.
Join me, Calgary interior designer Jacqueline Corea, as I decipher industry-specific terminology in my new series “Designer Speak”. Please contact me if you have a suggestion for a term requiring translation!