Halloween has never rated very high on my holiday favorites list. I mean, I love a good costume and I’m all about binging on my favorite candy (Sour Patch watermelon slices, if you’re curious), but the typical trappings of Halloween just don’t hold much appeal for me.
My family didn’t celebrate Halloween growing up, so it doesn’t hold nostalgic memories of childhood sugar-fueled wonder. You might call me the Ebenezer Scrooge of Halloween, in fact. I say “Bah! Humbug!” to the visually jarring combination of orange and purple (my two least-used decorating colors), cartoonish depictions of witches, ghosts, and monsters, and skeletons that often defy anatomic possibilities.
So as you can imagine, I posed a pretty interesting challenge for the Ghosts of Halloween Past, Present, and Future when it came to recruiting me to their cause. Lucky for them, my love of the eerie and the macabre does lend itself well to the end of October, and over the years, I’ve found ways to nod to the season while sticking with my usual style of decor.
A Study of the Curious and Curiouser
Do you guys remember my Halloween terrariums last year? They easily made me a Halloween convert, so I decided to start there again for my dining room decor this year. Drawing on the theme of “natural curiosities”, I decided to explore things I find beautiful and creepy in this tablescape that I call, “A Study of the Curious and Curiouser.”
“Curiouser” is, of course, a nod to a favorite work that relishes in the disconcerting:
‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).”
— Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
I don’t always create elaborate backstories for my decor, but when it do, it goes a little something like this…
Welcome to the study of the arcane naturalist.
A little bit instinctive artist, a little bit cold and dispassionate scientist.
Our friend, the naturalist, is an observer.
In his study, the spiders roam unhindered, the better to study their behavior.
Rich colors and textures remind us that we are peeking into a different time and place – a habitat for quill pens and rich colors and textures – although we’re not quite sure when or where we actually are.
Our scientist might just seem a little eccentric and misunderstood, until we take a closer look…
Cherishing a Victorian love for the miniature, our naturalistic has taken it upon himself to cultivate a vivarium (a terrarium where living things are housed), or rather, its direct opposite:
We don’t know the exact history of these miniature skeletons (perhaps they are Lilliputians?), but here they sit in a rather wild and unkempt environment, as nature slowly reclaims them.
Did our naturalist play a direct role in their demise? Or does he simply take an interest in their decay?
We may never know.
But we can tell he finds beauty in this strange, morbid display.
And so he takes his notes.
And quietly observed.
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I was lucky enough to already have many of the pieces I needed to pull this look together, but it can easily be recreated or riffed upon with a few thrift finds and craft supplies!
Many of the elements were past thrift scores, like the book stand and book (the oldest find I own), the brass banana leaf tray, and the candlesticks. I laid a black ostrich feather across the face of the antique book to signify a quill pen. You can shop for black candles here – great prices!
To make the centerpiece, I placed pages from an antique dictionary on the table and lined the brass tray with dried magnolia leaves from the yard (they always blow over from our neighbor’s tree!). I piled on warty gourds and miniature pumpkins from the grocery store, some dried lotus pods, and finally, sprinkled on a few miniature plastic spiders on top.
The large terrarium on the sideboard is a brass and glass light fixture from the Habitat for Humanity Restore. I removed all the wiring and simply filled it with stones and greenery. And the mini terrariums are actually a thrifted cheese tray!
I already had all the faux greenery from last year’s Halloween terrariums: fiddle head ferns, dried moss, weedy vines, Queen Anne’s lace, and lotus pods. I found my supplies at local craft stores, but you can also get some of these from Amazon, too.
The mini spiders are available almost everywhere this time of year, but you can order them from Amazon here.
Well, I think that about covers it, but don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions about sources!
If you have questions about the arcane naturalist’s murky past, however, I don’t think I can help you there – you just might need to supply your own answers!