HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Get ready to be shell-shocked. The International Home Furnishings Market was awash in all manner of sea life as manufacturers dove into an ocean of design ideas. Oyster shell mirrors and chandeliers, sea shell consoles, votives and lamps combined with coral, fish and watery hues had the spring market swimming in coastal style.
"One of the first things we noticed after seeing several showrooms was this very strong nautical theme," observed Stacy Weiss, owner of Weisshouse furniture in Shadyside.
The store ended up taking home a massive iron anchor that stands upright like an instant sculpture. More than 100 years old and 200 pounds, it's the ultimate way to anchor a room. You can have it for $2,250.
Neptune has surely risen and his trident is aimed directly at the world of interior design. For Currey & Co. this is not so much a trend as a tradition.
"The shells are part of our DNA," said design director Cecil Adams. "Since childhood Mr. Currey has been a shell collector."
The company is known for its shell designs on lamps, consoles, tables and mirrors. Its round coffee table, The Montauk, features a driftwood base.
"What we did for this market was take the very popular Moroccan look and include shells. I like to say it's Montauk meets Morocco," says Mr. Adams.
The Aladdin occasional table is just that, while the Silvio chandelier by Marjorie Skouras is a wonder of shells and sea life.
"She actually has that one in her kitchen," says Mr. Adams.
Another company keen on shells, marsh reeds and driftwood is Low Country, which was showing new oyster shell votive candle holders, plant urns and hanging lanterns.
Made Goods showed several versions of mirrors framed with coral or shells such as the Ava, a reproduction clamshell, and the Katherine, an octagonal mirror covered in hand-placed cut shells.
It wasn't just mollusks making the move to interiors. Vintage boat pillows, oars, anchors, water skis and life preservers all got the call. Genesee River Trading Co. specializes in vintage accessories including old water skis and fishing poles among its one-of-a-kind finds.
If you aren't quite sure you have your sea legs, Blue Ocean Traders had a boat load of old life preservers. "We acquired them from some Eastern European shipping line," an employee says.
The company specializes in unique pieces, antiques and well-done reproductions. Some of the life perseveres were turned into mirrors, just as old ship wheels once were. Blue Ocean also had reproduction figureheads, the figures at the bow of a ship. Some are mermaids but they can be almost anything.
Theodore Alexander introduced the Yacht cocktail table with a curved bow and stern in white lacquer. The top is fitted with stainless-steel cleats and line-strung decking details.
Bassett created several collections for the new HGTV line. Water's Edge, with watery hues and compass-inspired hardware, is all about evoking a coastal life stye.
Of course, Coastal Living magazine has its own line of sand- and sea-inspired furnishings. Jamie Young was inspired by ships' rigging in wrapping the Nautique chandelier in rope.
Dransfield & Ross for Tozai Home navigated into nautical decor with the working compass side table with rope-covered base.
OOMPH, which showed off wonderfully rich lacquer pieces, introduced the chart coffee table. The nautical chart covered in glass and framed by lacquer is available in navy, cream, sky blue and other colors. The customer can also choose the map or chart to be used.
Other companies riding the wave were Global Views, with turquoise accessories, ceramic mermaids, bubbles and fish wall decorations, and Palecek's glass fish and large clamshell display stand, which is perfect for serving shrimp cocktail. Lilly Pulitzer showed its Whitney club chair in a Splendor Pacific fabric with a coral pattern.
Not everything was so literal. Lexington Home Brands introduced its Aquarius collection, which featured several high-gloss lacquer pieces. The aqua Neptune chest, with wave-like front, suggests the cool calm of a pool.
C.R. Laine's Clayborn sofa in Cove Ocean fabric and Jack sofa in Hartford Navy with nail trim around the arms and paneled back is reminiscent of a naval officer's uniform with shiny buttons.
So what caused this maritime madness? Perhaps it's an unconscious reaction to global warming; with oceans rising we could all be living near a large body of water soon. Ann Maine, editor-in-chief of Traditional Home magazine, thinks there may be several reasons for the sudden tsunami of seaside style.
"It's likely some designers took their cues from fashion. Stripes are everywhere. On the runway Michael Kors showed a nautical striped top paired with pants and gold chains," she says.
"I sensed an optimism this market," she continues. "Perhaps people are simply ready to relax and not worry. You have to admit that crisp blue and white, vintage accessories and whitewashed woods say beach, weekends away and good times."
The original beach boy of design, Barclay Butera, seems to agree.
"The fresh air, life-affirming sunshine, ocean breezes -- these are a designer's quintessential inspirations. One of my favorite go-to palettes for design has always been soothing coastal colors -- washy blues, fresh, crisp whites, rich, sandy shades. They are the perfect foundation for creating what I call casual coastal elegance. It's a real lived-in but spectacularly beautiful environment."
His showroom featured all those colors as well as white coral lamps and Columbia deep navy and red lacquer square coffee tables.
"Honestly, it's a classic look that for some people never goes out of style. It's a summer staple," said Ms. Maine.
Expect retail shops to be swamped by this current wave of coastal cool by late summer.