tortoise shell

In interiors, animal prints, patterns like zebra (below), leopard, and antelope tend to take center stage. However one animal motif that’s making a comeback is the ever so classic tortoise shell. Whether its an antique box adorning a coffee table or a faux finish in a great cabinet, this pattern never fails to bring that little touch of sophistication every room needs.
37443fa74b6c36b1d565d3ce29dcf3f4In this living room (above), a zebra patterned wallpaper creates quite the impact but it’s the tortoise shell patterned coffee table that provides just the right amount of a graphic contrast. Below, in a now famous Miles Redd decorated living room, Redd breathes new life into a vintage table with some serious decorative paint.

tortoiseshellmilesreddBamboo modeled furniture was brought over to the Western World when Chinoiserie was becoming the fashionable taste. Tortoise shell finishes were often applied to these pieces lending to their exoticism. This glass front bamboo cabinet, below, is a perfect example.6dd790b9d12e8bba26931990ca9d99bbA tortoise shell wallpaper by Schumacher (below) peeks through a cabinet in the manner of Albert Hadley. Details like lining the inside of a cabinet is a simple way to make your accessories seem artful and curated. It’s also a great alternative to hiring a decorative painter. 

2-hadley-0409-xlg-31260797Tortoise shell finishes don’t have to be just for furniture and walls. In this office (below left), a tortoise shell finish has been applied to the ceiling, bringing warmth and a nice textural element. Below right, an easy application wallpaper designed by Karen Robertson that creates a similar effect.


Designer Jeffrey Bilhuber had a door molding in this house, below, decorative painted to look like tortoise shell. So subtle you almost miss it!

tortoise shell trim by jeffrey bilhuber

In this walk in closet designed by Jonathan Adler, every single surface is adorned in a tortoise shell finish. Talk about drama! While this closet appears to be designed for a fashionable woman, we think that tortoise shell has a very gender neutral aesthetic.

Arenas, NYCLooking to add a little tortoise shell to your life? Here are a few of our favorite small pieces and accessories to help you dip into this bold trend.

 1) Liz O’Brien Editions, Sam Table 2) Monogrammed Tortoise Print Guest Towels from Horchow 3) 19th Century English Tortoise Shell Box from 1st Dibs.Tortoise Shell itemsThis custom-made parsons style faux tortoise shell painted coffee table from Gracie is available to the trade and sometimes pops up on 1st Dibs. Another great resource for tortoise shell, and typically more affordable, is One Kings Lane, so be sure to check in there for new items. gracieDo you have any great resources for tortoise shell accessories or furniture? We’d love to know!



  • Karolyn Stephenson

    Always have and always will love tortoise shell, great post!!

  • Tiffany Leigh

    I’m really loving tortoise shell! I just got a faux tortoise shell picture frame which I love. I’ll be on the look out for more this summer at flea markets. Great post!