Walk on the mild side when using animal prints

Animal prints are on trend. Courtesy Jane Morgan. Photograph by Marian Billet.

Written by Jane Morgan

“What becomes a legend most?” asks that timeless ad for Blackglama furs.

While real fur has fallen out of favor, faux fur textiles and animal prints are just as on-trend and ubiquitous in the interior design world as they are in fashion. Animal prints connote power and status — overmuch luxury brimming with decadence. Lusty and voluptuous, animal prints flex their muscles in a room, commanding immediate attention. It’s how we focus this attention that determines which spaces look exciting and which spaces descend into the realm of gin-soaked glamour gone too far. Think Jackie Collins or Siegfried & Roy.

Please don’t take a walk on the wild side. Keep it minimal. In order to strike a modern chord, animal prints need to sidestep category completely. They must be used as an evocative accent or they will go from hot to not in the blink of an eye. Animal prints are timeless and work beautifully with both traditional as well as contemporary décor. They can even function as neutrals. When executed with aplomb, an interior using animal prints can shine as a daring and confident personal statement and a testament to measured risk-taking. You can afford to be bold if you follow a few simple guidelines:

Firstly, never cover more than two surfaces in any room with an animal print. Conservatives would even say one would suffice. Two matching accent chairs, check. Two throw pillows, check. One ottoman, yes. An entire sofa, not on your life. I’m saying don’t do it. Just trust me on this.

COLOR

Some of the most popular animal prints are zebra, giraffe, alligator, leopard, cowhide and tiger. Do not use animal prints that are rendered in cold colors such as blue and pink because animal hides are intrinsically warm-toned. Don’t venture far from the original if you don’t want to get kitschy. Zebra, on the other hand, can handle a bright white palette. Use a low-contrast, tone-on-tone print for a subtler look. It’s also best to limit yourself to one type of animal pattern (for example, all zebra or all leopard) in the same room.

SCALE

Large prints are best used on furniture and throw rugs. Smaller prints are best on textiles and accessories.

ACCESSORIES

Believe it or not, Betsey Johnson, the fashion designer, has put her signature print of zebra stripes with alternating zippers on Kleenex tissue boxes. When I saw these at the drabbest of local supermarkets, I grabbed them immediately. I say it’s worth the extra dollar to brighten up your landscape, especially when you have a cold.

Animal-patterned throw pillows are classics and will never go out of style. Be sure to get a throw in a different fabric like a knit or something woven so it won’t compete for attention. Do not be tempted to use a matching throw.

There are many kinds of accessories that make brilliant use of their real estate — placemats, coasters and anything in the tabletop category.

Don’t ever install animal-print curtains. Any conceivable reason defies good taste.

RUGS

As accent pieces go, these are fabulous. A throw rug in the shape of a hide with a pattern on it can really go almost anywhere because it won’t take over. It adds interest, focus and just the right amount of bling. They even come in solid neutral colors for pattern-shy people. Locate them under a desk in an office, under a coffee table in a living room or in a nook in the corner under an accent chair. I would advise against using the pattern in wall-to-wall carpeting as too much of a good thing.

You don’t have to be a legend or a diva to pull it off. I think Bette Midler would approve.

For more, visit janemorganinteriordesign.com.

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