Decorating Ideas

Animal Instincts

Animal Instincts
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On this side of the Atlantic, design doyenne Elsie de Wolfe is credited with popularizing animal prints in home decor in the 1920s. In Europe, French designer Madeleine Castaing is said to have made the prints chic (especially leopard-print rugs, which she believed excelled at hiding mucky footprints). But while zebra and tiger stripes, leopard spots, and other animal prints epitomized glamour and taste for several decades, by the end of the 20th century they were considered déclassé. (The leopard-print ensembles of Peg Bundy and Scary Spice didn’t help the cause.)

Now, however, we’re happy to report that animal prints are making a decor comeback. And even if your aesthetic is more mild than wild, you can beautifully incorporate them into your home. Take inspiration from the examples below.

The classic silhouette and carved detailing of the Exeter Side Chair ensure that the leopard print feels refined rather than brash. At the same time, the lumbar pillow with its watercolor leopard manages to be both chic and whimsical.

The classic silhouette and carved detailing of the Exeter Side Chair ensure that the leopard print feels refined rather than brash. At the same time, the lumbar pillow with its watercolor leopard manages to be both chic and whimsical.

Because the leopard print appears only on the seats of the dining chairs, and in a muted colorway, it plays a supporting role to the more prominent pattern of the Beni Ourain rug and the bold art. Photo by Sara Essex Bradley, courtesy of Graci Interiors.

Because the leopard print appears only on the seats of the dining chairs, and in a muted colorway, it plays a supporting role to the more prominent pattern of the Beni Ourain rug and the bold art. Photo by Sara Essex Bradley, courtesy of Graci Interiors.

From the ivory settee and ottoman to the graceful art, this room is a picture of serenity. The tiger pillow keeps it from feeling overly sedate, however. Photo by Seth Caplan; room by Ariel Okin.

From the ivory settee and ottoman to the graceful art, this room is a picture of serenity. The tiger pillow keeps it from feeling overly sedate, however. Photo by Seth Caplan; room by Ariel Okin.

One rug two ways: The Fauna is one of our best-selling rug styles, and these photos show how versatile it is. Here, it commands attention.

One rug two ways: The Fauna is one of our best-selling rug styles, and these photos show how versatile it is. Here, it commands attention.

In this busier space, the Fauna is the neutral tying the other elements of the room together. Photo by Kelli Boyd; room by Courtland Stevens.

In this busier space, the Fauna is the neutral tying the other elements of the room together. Photo by Kelli Boyd; room by Courtland Stevens.

If one animal print is good, are two better? They are in this room. Because the leopard rug and the tiger pillows are both low-key browns, they work together with the dark nightstands to allow the green headboard and bedskirt to be the focal point. Find a similar rug here. Photo by Tony Vu; room by Lilly Bunn.

If one animal print is good, are two better? They are in this room. Because the leopard rug and the tiger pillows are both low-key browns, they work together with the dark nightstands to allow the green headboard and bedskirt to be the focal point. Find a similar rug here. Photo by Tony Vu; room by Lilly Bunn.

More proof of how well animal prints can play with other patterns. The relatively tight palette—blues and neutrals—helps, as does the fact that as the largest-scale print, the zebra rug is also the simplest.

More proof of how well animal prints can play with other patterns. The relatively tight palette—blues and neutrals—helps, as does the fact that as the largest-scale print, the zebra rug is also the simplest.

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