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Shell House Talks is unique in that it is the only site dedicated to the documentation of shell houses and grottoes, although we have also explored the shell as a decorative motif in garden and house design, and as a religious symbol in architecture and pilgrimage. Another specialised area is cabinets of curios, sailors' valentines and shell collections.

Shell swag

This website is the result of our years of travel and research through Great Britain, Ireland, mainland Europe and the Mediterranean. All photography is by Margaret. Throughout years of research and travel, we have examined and documented the work of shell artists from the post-Renaissance through to the 18th century, Victorian and contemporary period. 

Shell mask

The fashion of shell art and shell houses has been reborn spectacularly these last thirty years by professional artists – invariably women – and their work is noted both in this website and through our publications Conchinilia Journey I (2015) and Conchinilia Journey II (2018).

Our search is for nymphaeums and grottoes also, with an eye to shell symbolism in architecture. Rocaille – actual shell decoration within house and garden architecture- has been a core fascination. And in terms of the associations of birth/rebirth which accompany the shell, we focus here on symbols that are potent.

Shell Houses and grottoes in the UK, Europe and North America

A shell house is a landscape garden feature which is decorated exclusively with shells. In some cases, we note the addition of pebbles, coral, semi-precious stones, glass mosaic and other ornamentation.

In Europe and the UK, these shell retreats developed from seventeenth-century shell rooms which were located within the main house and took the form of more elaborate designs. Later, the 18th-century shell house started to become part of wider landscape design and became more abstract. 

Browse our website to see the collection of shell houses and grottoes that we have visited. Plus, learn how shells have been used in landscaping and architecture for years across the UK and in Europe

Shell cottage

UK & Ireland

Villa Corsini

North America and Barbados

Villa Corsini


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