The first decorator to work with animal prints was likely beautifying a cave — and working with pelts left over from dinner. Many hundreds of years later, we have way more options: We can coo over cheetah, go for giraffe, and love lizard. Some of the most stylish rooms we’ve seen have heard the call of the wild: Renowned designer Madeline Castaing, whose influential decor was known as le style Castaing, famously had a leopard-spotted carpet in her home; decorator Markham Roberts has a tiger-striped chair in his study; and the mod living room in ultra-stylish J.Crew president and creative director Jenna Lyons’ just-sold Park Slope townhouse featured a zebra rug.
Today we’re not limited by what we can go out and catch, but Tom Delavan, Gilt Home Editorial Director, cautions that mixing patterns should be done with care. “I would err on the side of ‘less is more,’” he says. “An animal print represents something very rare and exotic, and should be used sparingly. This is even more true with bolder patterns.”
Safari style is a beloved classic, as interpreted by the likes of Ralph Lauren and the production designers of movies such as Out of Africa. Calling up images of explorers and Victorian naturalists, a touch of animal print in a room gives it a feeling of worldly sophistication. “I’m wild about animal prints, and think no living room is done without at least one in it,” says interior designer Elaine Griffin, author of Design Rules: The Professional's Guide to Do-It-Yourself Home Style (Gotham Books). Her caveat: “But use two or more, and you risk becoming Safari World.”
Big Cat prints look best in velvet-y fabrics, says Griffin (“Clarence House’s gazillion-dollar version is the industry’s gold standard”), and she likes her zebra printed on linen or cotton.
When it comes to rugs, faux is the way to enjoy the animal without the cruelty. “Zebra rugs should be frankly faux (think needlepoint),” Griffin says. Carpeting in antelope, cheetah, and leopard adds “zing, zip, and movement to an otherwise boring space (such as stairs).” She adds that cheetah and leopard prints are ideal for living rooms and dens that are the natural habitat of young children. “Those spots hide a multitude of sins!”
The color and random pattern in animal prints can be breathtaking—and truly seasonless—while adding a touch of luxury to your home. It all goes to prove: Mother Nature is truly the greatest designer.
(Photo by Rene Stoeltie)