I’m in gift-giving mode at every moment of the year — not just during the winter holidays — and these DIY oyster shell salt cellars are the perfect hostess gift (we stock gorgeous Jacobsen Salt Co. shells in the Shop – great minds think alike!). Just tuck a pair into a box, add sea salt and gift with a tiny tag. Before you do, however, let’s take a moment to remember summers by the beach with Melissa! -Maggie
When I was in college I was lucky enough to spend my summers on Martha’s Vineyard, managing a raw bar restaurant overlooking the Nantucket Sound. My days and nights were spent working doubles, with the din of crashing waves coming in through the open French doors that led onto the restaurant’s deck. Mere yards away was the ebb and flow of barnacle-and-seaweed-filled tides that circled the pylons beneath the pier. Their briny scent wafted up softly, like sandy kisses, when the weather was pleasant; but screamed, full of salt and reminders of the ocean’s ancient and all-powerful might, when it wasn’t.
Every Monday, while the restaurant was closed, my friends and I loaded up my old Jeep Wrangler – doors off, tires low on air, proudly sporting her over-sand permit – and hopped on the barge from Edgartown to Chappaquiddick. We’d spend the day fishing for striper and fluke, digging for clams and oysters, and then barbequing, from early morning until well past midnight.
Whenever I’m around oysters now, I immediately hear Van Morrison:
These are the days, of the endless summer
These are the days, the time is now.
There is no past, there’s only future
There’s only here, there’s only now.
I’ve since found out that I’m actually deathly allergic to oysters (my doctor told me this the day before I was headed to the Wellfleet Oyster Festival, of all things!), which somehow just makes them all the more romantic for me. Their allure redoubled when my husband and I moved to landlocked Austin last fall, a place where there are only three seasons: summer, flash floods, and April. So, in addition to shucking oysters for friends when given the opportunity, I’ve started decorating with them by making little painted oyster shell salt cellars for gifts and for entertaining.
They are originally inspired by this gilded sea urchin salt cellar by Connecticut artist Celia Landman that I stumbled across on a trip to Mystic Seaport a few years ago; however, I’ve been seeing these metallic-painted fruits de la mer everywhere in home décor recently. While many DIY tutorials recommend using gold leaf, I’ve found there’s a simpler and much less expensive way: Martha Stewart Crafts multi-surface metallic acrylic craft paint. In just under an hour of work (not including drying time), you can bring the true romance of the ocean to your table or the tables of the ones you love.
Oyster Shell Salt Cellars
Note: The paints are dishwasher safe when applied to glass, according to the packaging, but when using the salt cellars in a food setting I would recommend cleaning by wiping with a damp cloth when needed!
- Oyster shells, cleaned & dried (sold in pairs in the Shop!)
- Martha Stewart Metallics (non-toxic, good for porous surfaces)
- Small paint brushes
- Completely clean, scrub, and thoroughly dry your oyster shells. I soaked mine in a sink full of soapy water with a capful of bleach (just to kill any bacteria), and scrubbed each one carefully with a stiff brush. Careful: the ridges of oyster shells are just as dangerous as that shucking knife.
- Let dry, outdoors in the sun if possible, for a few hours or until completely dry.
- Choose your paint color – I used Champagne (fitting pairing, no?), Rose Chrome, and Titanium, which I had leftover from last year’s Christmas food gift project. There’s also that gold leaf, if you want to go all out.
- Paint the shells. The metallic acrylic paint is pretty simple to apply: just brush evenly onto the areas you’d like to cover, let dry about 20 minutes, and repeat. I did three coats, in an effort to minimize brush strokes and maximize coverage, but it’s totally a personal style preference. When you’ve reached your desired look, let the painted shells sit overnight, and voila! Ready to go, onto your dinner table or to your dinner host.
Photos taken and styled by Denise Woodward.
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