Emily Winters: Exploring Shadow Box Home Decor

I’ve long enjoyed the aesthetic of a nice dimensional shadow box to display photos, treasures, and found objects. They really lend themselves to a creative canvas like no flat photo frame can, thanks to having a built-in gap between the back of the frame and the glass. I’ve used them a lot when designing friendly little Father’s Day gifts and graduation presents, and recently, when I came across a set at the store, I decided to make my own to add a little something special to my own home’s decor.

Note: That’s not me, just the frame lady and the frame boy. I really liked that this trio of 8.5×11″ frames was bundled and sold for $20. If you have a 40% off coupon at the craft store, you might even get the pricing down closer to $12, high-five. They’re affordable, yet not finished and constructed well enough for me to be distressed about tearing them apart and painting them, merrypad-style.

Customizing shadow boxes.

Keep on reading to see how these frames were given a happy upgrade, and became the perfect fit for my home.

First things first: That matte black plastic finish wasn’t quite right for me. It wasn’t in bad shape, not that at all, but instead of blacks, my home’s palette lends more to grays and browns.

Enter Rust-Oleum Oil Rubbed Bronze spray paint: Each frame was given a shiny new coat, immediately transforming them into something that could be hung on any wall or placed on any shelf.

Spray painting the frames.

While the frames dried, I began to map out my plan. Starting by creating my own backdrop for the shadow boxes, I used basic drawing paper (in an ivory color) and traced outlines sized to match the back panel of the shadow boxes.

Trimmed with scissors (and a utility knife for the finer curves), I was ready to start planning the organization of my little treasures.

Shadow box liner.

The treasures themselves, were seashells. Not necessarily seashells that I found and collected for years and am framing for sentimental reasons, just a stash of shells that I bought at a garage sale and stored in a pretty blue glass container until I found a good reason to use them.

Shadow Boxes

I didn’t know exactly what I was going to come up with when I started. I played with lots of different arrangements before I began to glue anything in place. Some of my favorites were:

The Christmas Tree:

Arranging shells for a shadow box.

And The Herringbone:

Arranging shells for a shadow box.

And the Packed Like Cocktail Sausages:

Arranging shells for a shadow box.

The resounding winner of my first trial was this design, very similar to The Christmas Tree, but purposely longer, and grading smallest to biggest, top to bottom.

Winning shadow box design.

To lock the background paper to the cardboard backing of the frame, I concentrated hot glue to the middle section of the cardboard, where the shells would also be laid. Having the paper reinforced directly beneath the shells will keep them from pulling the paper off the backing, like they might have if the paper was only glued in the corners.

Gluing the backing to the frame.

I used a touch of hot glue on the back of each shell too. Just enough to hold it in place without threatening to squish out from beneath the shell and expose itself on the paper. Hot glue is power.

Shells, installed on the shadow box backing.

That one happened to be my favorite of the three. It hangs nicely on the wall inside the sunroom, where I can enjoy its symmetry while I drink coffee and check my emails in the morning.

Pretty frame, now in the sunroom.

The other two frames were designed also. I really wanted the trio to stay designed as a series, but a series that could be hung together or separately with ease, since artwork tends to move about in my house. I used shells exclusively in one of the other frames, but in a slightly more classic way positioned in rows. A simple starfish (a San Francisco vacation treasure) found a home in the third frame.

Finished frames.

While the frame in the front has stayed hung in the sunroom, the other two are currently on the other side of the wall, positioned in the living room.

Hung shadow boxes.

I actually really like how the glass bulb of the pendant distorts the clean organization of the shells, demonstrated here:

Finished shadow boxes.

Pretty! And an easy and completely unique project at that.

Catching the home improvement bug at an early age, Emily Winters is a now a devoted DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects she covers on her blog Merrypad range from painting a wall to building a deck, so it’s only natural she landed at DIYNetwork.com. You can follow Emily on twitter at @merrypad and like her on facebook at facebook.com/merrypad.

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  5. Herbert Hardaway says:

    All forms and styles of seashells can be put together to make a fun and trendy garland. Just routine an opening at the top of each spend, and sequence them on a piece of obvious sportfishing cable. Line usually is not powerful enough. If you're short on seashells, you can make the same impact by interspersing obvious or bright drops in between the seashells. Decorate the garland over a clinging reflection, part it on top of a drawer or sequence it across a mantel.

  6. Ezekiel says:

    I love the manipulation of light and shade, hence the shadow effect that is quite 3d on revular angles. I can use this for my Cedar West concepts.

  7. Erica says:

    I impress how creative you make a home decorations and it is nice that you only used recycle materials though creating home decor with recycle material is exciting to do.

    Net curtains

  8. Terrence Westbrook says:

    That's actually not a bad idea. I sure hope some furnished apartments around Brussels come with those – not that I wouldn't just make or get them after the pad first.

  9. [...] made something fun-slash-pretty for this week’s post on DIY Network, and I think you’re going to like it. Even if you don’t have a gigantic cinderblock [...]

  10. elena says:


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  12. mariangel says:

    Love it..

  13. Winter Boyd says:

    I like how Emily incorporated nature into her shadow boxes. Seashells are not only eye catching. they capture a warm and sunny day at the beach. .

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About Emily Fazio 


I caught the home improvement bug at an early age, and now I'm a full-time DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects I cover on my blog Merrypad range ...

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