Wednesday, November 2, 2011


As fall all too quickly threatens to turn into winter, I always find myself drawn to muted colors, antique finishes and interesting textures. Perhaps that's the reason for my recent mini-obsession with shagreen. For those of you who haven't heard of it, shagreen is a type of leather made from the skin of sharks and rays (or from traditional horse's hide treated to resemble it). It has a naturally pebbly texture and greyish tone, and is often dyed to produce vivid colors and ground down to create a smooth surface with a complex pattern of tiny dots. Commonly used in China and Japan to cover the handles of weapons, it became extremely fashionable in the eighteenth century and has recently seen a revival in luxury goods. Today, since many species of rays are now endangered, most shagreen goods are made from leather or manmade materials.

photograph of a man in Central Asia
shaping shagreen leather, c. 1865

I've divided this rather massive roundup into three categories: antique, aspirational, and affordable (yeah, I hate the term "aspirational" too, but what can I say, I like alliteration). First some gorgeous eye candy, then a whole array of items under $100! These examples of antique objects made from shagreen come from auctions, dealers, and museum collections, spanning the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. 

clockwise, from upper left:
Maitland Smith Stingray Tusk console table, 1stdibs
French Deco shagreen and gold leaf vanity, 1stdibs
Movado "Ermeto" hermetic travel clock, Aspire Auctions
Set of drawing instruments in shagreen case, the Met
Jean Michel Frank style coffee table, 1stdibs
Asprey shagreen and ivory clock, found here
Chinese ox horn glasses in shagreen case, 1stdibs
shagreen and ivory stationary box, Christie's
pair of stools, 1stdibs
Chinese eyeglass case, $150 at Requiem Antique

Go ahead and zoom in on that set of drawing instruments - the detail is amazing. (Plus, it's actually on view in the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts galleries, for those of you who live in NYC!) The tendency to use shagreen for small objects that had to take some abuse is evident - and understandable, since shagreen made from the skin of rays or sharks is a tough but beautiful material. Nowadays, shagreen is commonly dyed in bright colors and used for a wider variety of objects, from fashion to furniture to home accessories.

clockwise from upper right:
Rebecca Minkoff "Alaina" handbag, $595
Kara by Kara Ross stingray earrings, $119 at Saks
Karen Bizer "Tree of Life" cuff bracelet with gold and multicolor diamonds
Kara by Kara Ross narrow stingray cuff, $290 at Intermix
Chrissie Morris suede and stingray ankle strap pump, $1273 at Luisa Via Roma
Genevieve Jones clutch, image found here
Yves Saint Laurent "Stingray" cuff, $603 at Farfetch
Kara by Kara Ross stingray earrings, $122 at Saks
Anya Hindemarch box clutch, $1595 at Net-a-Porter
Pink pill case by Lotus Arts de Vivre, $225 at Vivre

clockwise from upper left:
Custom shagreen desk with bronze base by Galart International
Fyn shagreen box top and side table base by Hickory Chair

Side table by Lyle and Umbach
Desk Set by Linley, £295 - £395
Pair of side tables, $4995 at Area iD
Nickel etagere with shagreen by Vaughan, to the trade
Lawton grey table lamp, $550 at Clayton Gray Home
Williams Sonoma Home carousel box
Custom shagreen hardware by Turnstyle Designs

Which of these luxurious pieces would you choose if you had unlimited resources? I think I'd have to choose the desk – or perhaps the desk set – but the shoes are pretty tempting too! For those of us who don't have a few thousand to spare, here's my favorite part of the roundup: a variety of pieces under $100 for our realistic wallets!

clockwise from upper left:
Wedgwood "Shagreen" plate, $17 on Ebay
Fitz & Floyd "Shagreen" plate, $15 on Ebay (or $5.57 in teal)
Round box, $20 at C.S. Post & Co.
Vintage tasseled perfume box, $75 at veraviola on Etsy
Bangle bracelet, $40 on Ebay
Small box, $40 at Cobble Court Home
Boxes, $19-24 at West Elm (also available as a frame!)
iPhone 3 case, $39 on Ebay
Cynthia Vincent "Lotus" sandal, $77 on Amazon
Calvin Klein "Arielle" peep-toe pump, $77 at 6PM
Desk clock, $16.99 at The Source Collection
Pocket journal, $70 at Papier d'Amour
Mousepad by Dransfield and Ross, $18 on Ebay
Pencils with matching box by Dransfield and Ross, supposedly $27

And if you want something that makes a bigger statement, this line of faux-shagreen tables gives you lots of bang for your buck! They come as a console, desk, and side table (the desk comes in black and ivory). I haven't seen them in person but they look lovely in the images (anybody want to be my guinea pig and hire me for a design board using one of these?)

console $280, ivory desk $315, black desk $331, side table $170

Are you loving the textures and colors of this material as much as I am, or does the thought of shark and ray skin freak you out? Do you prefer the traditional forms of the antiques or the vibrancy of the newer accessories?

1 comment:

  1. hello!

    I just found your blog today when I was browsing copy cat chic and was happy to see that you live in Boston too! My name is Paula and I recently fell in love with home design too and love browsing all the beautiful photos and going to flea markets and all that fun stuff. Could you tell me your favorite flea market around here? I went to the one in Lynn once but didn't find anything great. I would love to chat more if you'd like though email if possible?

    Paulap08 at yahoo dot com

    Hope to hear from you soon and best of luck:)