My Filipina Grandma Always Styled Spaces with This Light-Catching Material

published Oct 4, 2023
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corner of room with book shelf, candle sticks, and art on wall, flower vase
Credit: Kelly Dawson

My grandmother, affectionately known as “Lola” in tandem with the Filipino language of Tagalog, loved to get dressed up for a party. The fabrics of her dresses would change from florals to solids to stripes, and her red lips and nails remained the same. And when I think about her home, and its deeply 1970s style, one detail that’s burned into my brain is her use of capiz shells within her decor.

Her mid-century American home was adorned with the creamy shell of her native Manila. In some ways, capiz shell complemented the woven furniture and macrame art surrounding it, as if the rooms were somehow transported from her past. But given that Lola’s address was squarely in suburbia, this accessory also stood out. The capiz shells were a tie to her faraway family, as well as a complement to her ubiquitous earrings and necklaces made from the same materials. My mom decorated my childhood home with capiz shells, and now in my own place I carry on the tradition too.

Given their off-white coloring and milky finish, it’s no wonder I’ve seen the capiz shell trend grow and fade from interior design, like ever-moving tropical waves through the years. But at the moment, we’re in another boom. Stores that promise a worldly or bohemian take on style tend to keep capiz shells in stock, and in my opinion the shells capture delicate luxury, particularly in light fixtures, as the shells can be strung together into a careful structure. Describing their versatility is not unlike depicting the layers of my Lola: She was beautiful and easygoing, and cool yet classy. I always think of her with a smile on her face, primed for a photo even when we spent the day at home. If you’re looking to follow in my family’s footsteps, here are five capiz shell items that are sure to do the trick.

1 / 5

Fashioned from capiz shell, iron, and brass, this classically shaped table lamp gets its edge from my Lola’s favorite shell. Its neutral coloring means that it can go with anything.

2 / 5

For a small but nevertheless striking take on capiz shell, pick up this candle in Anthropologie’s most famous scent. When the wax is all used up, use the tin for storage.

3 / 5
PB Teen

Capiz shells are perhaps best known in interior design as light fixtures, and this one showcases the material beautifully. Light will bounce off it in the evening, and during the day, any sunlight will make it shine.

4 / 5
was $79.99

Capiz detailing can make an everyday tray more elegant, and can either be used during parties or as an accent in a living or bedroom.

5 / 5
World Market
was $199.99

Give a blank wall movement and light with this framed wall art, which features rows of capiz shell discs you can’t help but notice.