by Theresa Rolen Long
I had never stood beneath the belly of a blue whale. But there I was, having nimbly worked my 7-year old body through the bustling Smithsonian crowd, gazing up in silent wonder at its speckled, blue-gray grooves. I became apprehensive about its seemingly insufficient suspension from the museum’s soaring ceiling. What will happen if the 94-foot, scientifically accurate model becomes untethered? My daydream led me to believe it might just swim away.
It was a feat for museum director Remington Kellogg to guide the creation of this replica. At the time of its construction in the 1960s, we didn’t know much about the magnificent sea creature. Project scientists relied on underwater footage of fin whales from Jacques Cousteau’s groundbreaking 1956 French documentary film Le Monde du Silence. Replaced by a North Atlantic right whale during renovations in 2000, the blue whale model is no longer there. But it lives on forever in my imagination.
As we “mature,” it’s harder to reference the intense feelings of astonishment regarding nature that we experienced in our youth. I believe, however, that it’s a universally innate desire, and even necessity, to retain such reverential respect. The respect that people like Cousteau and Marlin Perkins taught us. Especially as we now face multi-faceted environmental crises, species endangerments, and extinctions.
Elements of nature are currently adorning the chicest of homes, as part of a compelling design movement that highlights our desire to stay in touch with the essence of our planet. Tables accented with captivating collections of skulls, antlers, pottery shards, and shells define this trend. Animal bones mounted like sculpture fill alcoves once reserved for fine vases and bronze statues. Shadow boxes showcasing colorful insects enhance walls. And china cabinets now contain a distinctive high-low mix of fine porcelain mingling with finds like feathers, shed snakeskins, and skip rock collections.
Furniture crafted from wicker, rattan, and rope is mixing beautifully with leather, silk, and linen-upholstered pieces. Gleaming geodes, crystals, rocks, and iridescent decorative pieces provide sparkly, nature-made geological accent to manufactured rooms. And dreamy watercolors, botanicals, gauzy materials, nature photography, and hieroglyphic prints are at the forefront in artworks, fabrics, and wall coverings for the home.
Plants and flowers are also being used in fresh ways—cradled in macramé and spherical wire hangers, housed in terrariums, pressed behind glass, or potted in oversized and unique planters. Patio ponds and fountains are now housing personalized ecosystems of fish, symphonic frogs, turtles, crayfish, and snails, all dwelling underneath the shady cover of lily pads.
Reinterpreting these natural materials imbues an interesting, modern slant. Inspiration is taken from Native American painted skins, carved tusks, weaved baskets, feathers, beads, and totems from tree trunks. Consider that glossing a cow’s vertebrae with ebony or gilt paint transforms it from a sun-bleached pasture find into a cool and attention-grabbing paperweight. Taxidermy is again being incorporated in stylish rooms—of course, in a seriously restrained and non-endangered way. Upcycled fur, skins, and scales also provide interesting, natural texture in a room.
Decorating with phenomena from the physical world not only beautifies your space, it provides an opportunity for education. Research tools like telescopes, microscopes, magnifying glasses, globes, walking sticks, old maps, and curiosity cabinets add an alluring layer of adventurous decoration and can transform the living room into a science lab. When a child picks up a decorative seashell from a bowl, marveling at its colors and spirals, it appoints dual purpose to the existence of the shell in your home, for it’s both good design and a catalyst for the imagination. The smallest details in nature take the mind to great places.
You are the natural history curator of your own home. Look to the inky ocean depths, the vastness of outer space, and the kingdoms of plants and animals, and adorn your walls, tables, and floors with all things Earth. Blur the line between where the inside stops and the outdoors start. Allow imagination to take over, and the nature in your daydreams to make your home its own.