Antlers, bones, and dead things as decor

March 21 |
See my raccoon skull? It was in two pieces -- easy to paint yellow and orange.
I love dead animals. I mean, I like LIVING animals more, but bones and teeth and taxidermied things are my favorite type of decorative detritus.

So let's look at bones in the home. I understand if this icks you out. There's only a little shame in that.

If you're GOING to keep bones in the house, make sure they're clean — any gristle can attract bugs and cause a stink. If you're going to keep bones in the house and want to use them more subtly, they take well to spray paint! My method is this:

  • Find bones on forest floor. Bring home.
  • Soak in warm soapy water for a few minutes, then scrub with an old tooth brush.
  • When dry, prime with one even coat of primer. I like all things Rustoleum.
  • Let dry (less than one hour OR more than 24) and apply thin coats of a brightly colored paint, turning the bones as needed.

You can also clean, then allow to bleach in the sun for picture-perfect white bones.

Take care, though, if you do this: older bones may already be decalcified, and laying them in the sun will make them more brittle. I'd recommend using a flat white or even beige to preserve structural integrity in weathered bones.

Get enough bones, and you can make geometric patterns.

Source: flickr.com via Rachelle on Pinterest

And these are the perfect things to fill up odds-and-ends cabinets and printer's drawers.

You might also just look for the weirder bones, and let them stand on their own. This is my prized whale vertebrae, bought by accident at an auction 25 years ago.

Sucka is HUGE!

Still icked? Get the look another way, like these candles:

100% wax, no bones about it (HA!)

Favorite bone-related decor? Is this just too gross? Why? Do tell!

  1. My son brought home a pelican skeleton last year. He boiled the bones clean and I grouped the bones in various jars on our mantelpiece. (The skeleton was incomplete, and there's no room to display it in it's original form.)

    3 agree
    • Seriously: This sounds like a fun family project!

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    • Be careful. Any native bird bones, feathers, egg shells, nests, etc. are protected by law in the US and carry a hefty fine for possession. About the only way around this I know of is antique taxidermy mounts (And a good relationship with your game warden).

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  2. One of my prized possessions as a child was a fox skull (complete with teeth) that my dad and I found in the woods behind our house. My dad boiled it clean for me and put a coat of clear varnish on it to keep it pristine.

    I brought it to school in first grade for show-and-tell, and some little sucker stole it. I've never forgotten my grief when I realized it was gone, and I'm still a little peeved at the teacher for not trying harder to encourage whoever the thief was to return it. :-/

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  3. I like it. It's so funny that you kept saying "Bones in the home". My cat's name is Bones and I was thinking, Of course I want Bones in the home!

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  4. I think those candles were in Harry Potter! In the scene where Lupin's teaching him how to do a Patronus…why yes, here is my Nerd Membership card…

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  5. I love this, personally. Since we eat game I don't mind seeing beautiful remnants of it. I especially treasure a found antler I stumbled upon when we were walking in the woods last year. It is on our TV stand amidst vintage milk glass and such other white-hued wares.

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    • I so love finding bits and pieces of creatures in the wild. They are so beautiful and mysterious!

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    • Even just cow bones – we cook up a cow shin every so often and let our little dog chew the bone from that (which makes her eyes light up so big!) and those look quite decorative, even though it's just the dog's bone left over from supper ;)

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    • That's most of the story! My parents love antiquing, and one estate sale they went to had several steamer trunks on the block. They bought two, one for 25 cents, and no one had opened the trunk, I guess. Free whale vertebrae!

      It absolutely must be from a whale. It it just huger than huge — and old. Too big for an elephant or other large animal.

      1 agrees
      • I'm jealous of this win. Greeeeeen with envy!

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      • Not that I'm an expert but it looks exactly like a whale vertebrae I used to use when teaching environmental education. Always got a good reaction from kids. :D

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  6. Oooh, this is right up my alley. I have antler sheds in my living room and wild turkey wishbones on my wall. (The turkeys were killed with bow/arrow by my stepdad.) I recently took an antler basket weaving class. I am really drawn to antler sheds though.

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    • If you will share how to weave antlers in a how-to for this site, I will award you a million Intarwebz, forrealz.

      6 agree
  7. GAH I LOVE THIS!!!! I collect fossilized shark teeth and random little other fossils and bones. I am in love with whoever build cool furniture displays with old bones. In. Love.

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  8. I found a Whelk egg casing while beachcombing once, so I put it in a little terrarium with sand and shells. it's coiled just so it looks like the remains of some sort of sea snake or something.

    1 agrees
  9. I absolutely love having these things in my home too! We have many little pieces from the natural world scattered throughout our home. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post, Cat.

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  10. If the remains of dead animals are too wierd for you: I have a spray painted dead Bonsai tree that does double duty as a necklace holder. And it looks very much like the white tree of Gondor. It's like I've got my own little Minas Tirith on my window sill.

    4 agree
    • Oh, that's great! Spray paint is so damn useful for making something suddenly beautiful.

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  11. my husband and i were just having a discussion about the cow vertebra that i have sitting on my desk.
    he thinks it's completely creepy that pretty much the only decoration that i've kept throughout my childhood into adulthood is a bit of dead cow spine.
    but hey – i found it one day when on a walk with my dad and brothers and thought it looked awesome.
    and now i don't know how to picture my room without it sitting on my nightstand or desk or somewhere visible.
    but i probably would get a little grossed out if there were an excessive amount of animal bones laying about a house.
    one or two is quirky.
    2 dozen is a bit much for my vegetarian stomach to handle.

    1 agrees
  12. A friend of mine collects and preserves bones, then turns them into jewelry for a hobby. She told me that if you boil the bones, they can become brittle, best way, scrape away all the gunk and submerge in hydrogen peroxide. Then you get the white without damaging the structure of the bone and making it brittle.

    Another friend collects bones and found a whole fox once.

    We use bones for our Danse Macabre costumes as well. Bones are very welcome in my circle of friends!

    2 agree
  13. Y'all have no idea how badly I now want a local nest of owls to form, so its members would deposit little mousie bones that I could clean up to use in my miniature houses. Mouse skulls would work so well in my modernist rustic lodge… *sigh*

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      • How much do I love that product idea! That's brilliant.

        Tearing apart owl yurp for mouse carcasses was actually a required lesson around third or fourth grade, where I went to school.

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  14. Bones are beautiful! We used to have a snapping turtle shell around somewhere. It was always the most-sought prop for childhood games, as it was a perfect shield/breastplate/whatever.

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  15. This reminds me of the biology building in my university. They had bones and skeletons and taxidermied animals and weird things in jars all over the place. I don't think they had any real system for it, everything was seemingly jumbled together in display cases all around the building. The complete gorilla skeleton at the bottom of the stairs always got a big reaction. There was also a human skeleton and I never did find out if it was real or not.

    At home I don't have anything all that interesting, but I do have a habit of "collecting" anything I think is cool so I've got some random stuff like a goats horn, a porcupine quill from a zoo (it was just lying on the floor) and several sharks teeth. Oh and a sand dollar which I found dead and still perfect, but it broke on my way home from the USA. :(

    1 agrees
    • OMG MINE TOO! My ethics class held in a building that was normally used for students in the ranger program, and my ethics teacher was a former game warden. He would award bonus points on quizzes if we could properly identify the "flavor" of the animal of his choosing.

      The room smelled a little like formaldehyde, but I have fond memories of that class and that building.

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  16. I live in the house my paternal grandfather built and lived in until his death. He was an avid hunter so besides there being deer sheds everywhere, I also have a 10 point buck that he started to mount and never finished. Basically horns and fake eyes on a plaster deer bust. I really want to make it a crazy quilt "fur" from old fabric scraps and hang it above my mantle. Someday…

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  17. I don't have any bones around the house, but Mr Ivriniel and I were on holiday in England last week, and Mr. I found a lovely ammonite fossil for me on the beach at Lyme Regis, which now has pride of place.

    I know it's kinda off topic, but I just wanted to squee a little online. :) I am a big admirer of Mary Anning, the 19th century self taught palaeontologist who lived and worked at Lyme Regis, so I did not want to leave the beach empty handed.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Anning

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  18. We recently hung a deer skull above the mantle. I love it, although a lot of our guests question our design taste :) I'm glad to hear that other people are into 'woodland' decorating too!

    1 agrees
  19. We're working on our bone collections. I found a cat jaw at a local dairy on a field trip with my class last year, a beaver skull/upper jaw a few years ago in the woods- Adam finds pigeon skulls at work all the time (he calls them forgetful birds, since they're always leaving their skulls behind). I also have a handful of bird bones that aren't easily identifiable. A parent at my school just brought me a mummified snake she found at HER job a few days ago.

    My brother in law finds skulls and bones and antlers all the time. I wish I was that lucky.

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  20. One of my most favorite things I own is a turtle shell I found on a camping trip with my father, which he cleaned and shellacked for me for my birthday. I loves it. I want to turn it into a lamp.

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  21. I have a display idea for any bones, especially really small or brittle ones that are difficult to display/going to crumble into dust any moment: EPOXY RESIN! You can preserve just about anything (as long as it's dry) in epoxy resin and it's pretty cheap and super easy. You can buy paperweight molds at some craft stores or even use silicone baking molds or trays to create flat pieces to be displayed as wall art (don't use them for cooking as well though, epoxy and food don't mix!) Just make sure you wear gloves, put down a drop sheet or plenty of newspaper to protect your working area and follow the (surprisingly easy) instructions that come with your resin which you can find at most jewellery making shops or hardware stores. My project at the moment it covering the top of our boring coffee table with mismatched buttons I got at a garage sale, which I'll then cover with resin to make a sort of glass top effect. I reckon that would look awesome with little bird/rodent bones and other forest finds.

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  22. Why is it that you advise to to let the bone dry "less than one hour OR more than 24"?

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    • It's the spray paint: they can get cranky if you apply a new coat more than an hour but less than 24 hours after the last coat.

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  23. I'm a day late commenting (this shut-in spent the day outdoors yesterday), but my dead things collection includes a mystery skull, a dehydrated juvenile sturgeon, and dehydrated, shellacked owl vomit containing several rodent skeletons.
    I have mine mounted using fishing line and straight pins to heavy black cardstock, but I had to keep them in storage, and now a curio cabinet thats too deep to really see them, because when I had cats they wouldn't leave the rodents and fish alone, and now I have a toddler who'd love to ruin all of the cool things.

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  24. Oh I *LOVE* this! We have got some mis-matched antlers on our "junkshop" shelf, some kind of skull mounted that was a gift off a friend (It has the jaw bones incorporated into the mount, hidden in the back) and I've just bought My other half a preserved Bat Skeleton for his birthday. I have also recently become obsessed with taxidermy, especially of the smaller creatures.

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  25. My prize is a nub buck skull. Thanks or helping me spiff it up!

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  26. I have a deer jawbone that I got from a Mammology prof. in college. It was already labeled with a number 6 (out of the 20-something the department was getting rid of). He now goes by the name "Jiminy 6" and sits on top of my desk surrounded by toy figurines.

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  27. One of my best friends in junior high once brought me a boar skull he found cleaning out an old man's basement. (How did THAT get in there?) It's on a pike in the middle of my woods, a la "Lord of the Flies".

    0 agree

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