Making my own Sea Shell Mirror
This is not a tutorial.
But, I am going to show you how I made my own sea shell mirror.
It’s not a tutorial because that implies I knew what I was doing and I didn’t. I was just winging it.
We’ve all seen those gorgeous, incredibly expensive mirrors for sale in little boutiques at the beach. Places where you can buy a small jewelry box covered in oyster shells for 90 bucks. Or a pelican welded from rebar, hoes, and shovels for $50.
Our youngest daughter and I were in one of those little shops a few years ago and I admired a large, over-the-fireplace-type seashell mirror in all white shells. A mere $1000.
I could do that, I told myself.
My guy brings home stuff he finds when out and about. Some of it’s pretty good. Some of it’s tacky. Some of it doesn’t ever make it across our threshold. But, you never know just what treasures he may find.
We both like to watch Salvage Dawgs on TV. This is a Roanoke, VA company that salvages old buildings and owns Black Dog Salvage. A reality show without naked bodies.
I think my guy would like to have his own salvage business. Not necessarily the business end of it, but he does like to scavenge around. We both do, so there are various projects always in the works around here from something he’s brought home or some idea one of us thought we should try.
One day, he brought home a perfectly good, cheap mirror. It did have beveled glass, but the frame was just a pressed, embossed-to-look-like-it-was-carved wood. Painted gold.
And I happened to have a bucket of shells collected from several years of beach trips.
And I had some paint and glue.
I’ll make a mirror! A seashell mirror! It will cost practically nothing!
So I got to work. The first thing I noticed were my shells– there was nothing special. TJMaxx, of all places, has bags of shells you can buy for $10-$20, depending on the size and variety. I bought seven starfish for $10. A variety bag for $20 of cute shells.
First thing I did was paint my mirror white. This was nothing more than taping off the glass and giving the frame a good coat of white spray paint.
I had glue on hand. Some E6000, you’ve all heard me rave over. I also had some Loctite and contact cement. Before I was finished, I’d tried them all. Hot glue was tempting, but my experience has been it’s not durable enough. It can seem to “wear out.” This is not a light-weight project. I had a shell break off–the shell itself actually broke, but not come unglued with E6000.
I started by sorting my shells out on my work room floor. Oyster shells together, scallops together, clams together, etc. etc.
I glued on the oyster shells first as a background filler. My goal was to not have any of the frame showing when this was completed.
Next came larger shells that may have a broken corner, but the rest looked good. The broken place would be covered up later with a pretty shell.
I placed shells around each side in a pattern, but not an identical pattern. Mother Nature is a bit random and I wanted this the same, but I did want it balanced. Also, I wanted to be able to hang it vertically or horizontally, so I placed what could be considered “focal” shells on all four sides.
I glued a coarse rope I had stuffed under my work bench around the outer perimeter of the mirror frame to give it a nautical edge. The white bare frame spots were later covered up with more shells.
I broke apart some ancient earrings– really ancient, from as far back as the 70s– and used the pearls as hidden treasures inside some of the shells.
I added some sponges we’d picked up at the beach.
And this is what came out in the end:
Our friends from Montana, Marj & Norm, came for a visit and Norm helped my guy hang the mirror. It’s a four person job. Two to do the heavy lifting and two to say where she wants it hung.
Now, let me tell you what I learned:
- Use blue painters tape and 3-4 sheets of newspaper to mask off the cleaned mirror before you begin your project. I did this, but then, stupidly removed it. When finished, I had a massive clean up on the mirror. Plus, it’s hard to clean under some of the shells that extend over the mirror. Using Q-Tips helps get to the hard-to-reach places.
- Secret: This is my second mirror. I did not tape the first mirror and scratched the glass trying to clean the paint off.
- Before gluing anything onto the mirror, turn it over and attach any hardware you’ll need for hanging. I used french cleats I picked up at Hobby Lobby for about $10 each (Which ended up costing $6 with their 40% daily coupon). I didn’t do this and had to balance the mirror face down on cans to prevent the shells from breaking.
- Use E6000 glue. Loctite turned orange and contact cement is yellowish. E6000 dries clear and is super strong. It costs about $5 at Home Depot, but only about $3.50 at Hobby Lobby– and they have their daily 40% coupon discount.
- Keep the masking tape & newspapers on the mirror until you’re finished. This will also prevent glue from getting on your mirror. I didn’t do this and had to scrap glue off— very labor intensive.
- If you’re going to line the inside edge of your frame with small shells do this first— before adding the oyster or unattractive shells you’ll be using as filler. I didn’t do this and have some gaps of the frame showing.
- If you’re going to line the outside edge of your frame with anything— shells, rope, etc.— do this before the filler shells are placed. I didn’t do this. I decided on the rope last minute. That meant fitting it under and around shells already glued in place. It worked, but would have been easier if done earlier.
- The back had two eyelets for a wire hanger already attached. The guys used S-shaped shower hooks to carry it down to the dining room because it’s hard to hold since the shells cover all edges. If I did this regularly, I’d look into a pair of suction carriers from a glass store.
- Basically, think back to front. Work on the back side of the mirror first— attaching any hardware needed, flip over and begin working from the surface of the frame— your foundation, or the under layer of trim and shells out to the top most layer of shells. You’ll want your most beautiful and unique shells, corals, and sponges to be in the spotlight. Large shells may need to be under smaller shells.
Now, for the costs:
Glue $50+/- $5 a tube @ 6 tubes + Loctite and contact cement
Paint $2 already on hand, only used part of can
Tape $2 already on hand, only used part of roll
Shells most were free from beach trips
Cute shells $30 TJMaxx: starfish and unique shells in a bag
Hanger $10 French cleat
I saw some seashell mirrors on Etsy for $200-$400 each in sizes from 12 x 12 to 20 x 30. Mine is about 25 x 42.
I have about $100 in purchased materials and using what I already had– practically nothing! And look at what I saved, if I’d bought one ready-made. I saw a beveled mirror for $189 and I’d would have five times the cost of shells if I’d had to buy all of them. I can see why they are expensive.
Time involved is misleading. This took several weeks because there’s drying time involved each day. Some days, I’d work 10-15 minutes. Other days, an hour. Hard time working on it was probably in the 10-12 hour range.
Balancing the shells before the glue dried so they’d stay in the position I wanted was a problem because the glue doesn’t dry fast like hot glue. I thought about hot glue, but E6000 is tops. For a small project, hot glue with shells that have little weight might be okay, but this mirror is fairly heavy.
Based on the finished size, plus my time and money invested, I could see this for sale in a beach boutique for $800. We’ve hung it in a dining room, over a piano, and over a bed. It would also work perfectly on a covered patio.
So, there you have it.
Until next time. Be sweet!