Decorating: Animal prints gone wild

Animal prints are popular because of their exotic patterns and because they are good durable fabrics that can conceal most stains. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Pubillones)

Ever since the first caveman figured out the need for food, warmth and modesty, animal skins have been common textures inside dwellings. In caves, we have learned that in prehistoric times, the skins and furs of animals were used to cover bare earth floors for warmth and comfort. Since then, there has been no doubt that these patterned skins would become a classic in interior design all the way through today.

Of course, using skins immediately brings to mind Safari-like interiors. From very literal African style interiors to the uber-popular British colonial decor incorporate skins and animal patterns as a motif. Animal prints are used because of their exotic patterns and because they are good durable fabrics that can conceal most stains. Just open any design magazine today, and you will find leopard spots, zebra or tiger stripes, and even giraffe-esque squares.

You have to know how to incorporate animal prints in the space. Take caution because there is a fine line between trendy and tacky. For a subtle touch, you can make an animal print an accent piece in the room. This means it can be shown in a pillow, a lampshade or perhaps on the pad of a chair. Alternatively, it can be a bold and aggressive move, becoming the focal point of your room. In the latter, you might choose to incorporate these patterns of nature in a wall-to-wall carpet, to cover a large sofa, a pair of chairs or even wallpaper an entire room. This can be a playful and dramatic use all in one. Animal prints are wonderful to use if you want to create a room that stands out from the crowd due to its bold appearance, yet is inviting and comforting at the same time.

As with many elements in interior design, animal prints were used in fashion first from loin cloths of prehistoric men to fur trimmed royal garments for Empress Josephine and the fashion forward designs of Roberto Cavalli. While it remains an unknown which interior designer used animal prints first, there are a long list of designers including Elsie de Wolf, Madeleine Castaing, Billy Baldwin and Albert Hadley.

There is a great variety of patterns from Antelope, Cheetah, Heifer, Leopard, Panther, Tiger or Zebra just to name a few. Animal prints are very adaptable. You can incorporate these prints in most decor, from traditional interiors paired with red lacquered walls a la Diana Vreeland to just a splash here and there in a minimalist interior with white walls.

It takes a certain confidence to decorate with animal prints. It is not for the faint of heart. Nonetheless, today, animal prints are mainstream in decor. I suggest sticking to one type of pattern per room. I find rooms that have multiple patterns can be loud and confusing. Use animal prints in unexpected places for that surprise element that most great interiors have. Finally, be specific where you are using the animal pattern so it doesn’t become ubiquitous, or it will feel like Animal Prints gone Wild.

Pubillones is the owner of Joseph Pubillones Interiors, an award-winning interior design firm based in Palm Beach, Fla. To find out more about Joseph Pubillones, or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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