Animal Prints in Interior Design: Awesome or Awful?
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Animal Prints in Interior Design: Awesome or Awful?

Two design writers lock horns over the aesthetic merit of including fauna motifs in home decorating. What one considers daring, the other finds disrespectful. Where do you stand?

Tue, Oct 18, 2022 8:59amGrey Clock 3 min

For the recurring series Love/Hate Relationship, two writers in a chosen topic debate the merits and failings of a controversial trend.

DESIGN PROS’ PERSPECTIVES on animal prints are fiercely divergent. Opponents believe the motifs of zebra and cougar and cowhide hog all the attention in a room, like a miniskirt at a funeral, and as Alexis Barr, instructor at the New York School of Interior Design, said, “carry associations of drama and decadence.” Others believe the prints function as a neutral. Sarah Vaile, an interior designer in Chicago, holds that a critter-pelt pattern actually “falls away” in decor, adding, “The universe knew what it was doing when it made these patterns a camouflage.” Here, two design aficionados take sides.

Luxury home interior
Animal prints bring timeless texture and joie de vivre to a space.

The great 20th-century French designer Madeleine Castaing—remembered for befriending avant-garde artists like Jean Cocteau as well as for her affection for wall-to-wall leopard carpet—once summed up her approach to interiors thus: “Be audacious, but with taste.” Is it any wonder she was a devotee of animal prints?

I’m in Castaing’s corner. Wildlife motifs that some people find tacky I see as the epitome of insouciant chic—full of Auntie Mame joie de vivre. Indeed, animal prints have been a staple of luxe décor for millennia. In ancient Egypt, the tombs of the pharaohs were filled with fabric adorned with panther and leopard designs. Today, contemporary designers like Ken Fulk, Miles Redd and Jenna Lyons (who uses splashes of animal print at home as deftly as she did in her fashions for J.Crew) keep the motifs current.

“Animal prints get a bad rap because they’ve been used and abused,” said Ms. Vaile, the Chicago designer, “but since they’re found in nature, they really work wonderfully as a neutral. I like to think of them as just a more organic version of a dot or a stripe.” Her go-to upholstery fabric for skeptical clients? Les Touches by Brunschwig & Fils—an “entry-level” design of abstracted spots that Ms. Vaile said she’s found to be universally loved, even by those most averse to animal print.

New York City designer Ashley Whittaker said she often reaches for Tigre from Scalamandre or Velours Tiger by Nobilis to add a strategic splash of luxe texture to a space, as in the home office at top. But she added that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. “You don’t have to overdo it by upholstering an 8-foot sofa,” she said. “There are a million scales and palettes—it’s all about the mix.”

Leopard not your thing? “There are endless patterns—zebra, tiger, cheetah, giraffe, even cow print and tortoise shell,” said Ms. Vaile. “A pop here and there is just the way to strike a balance between old-world and fun.”

—Sarah Karnasiewicz

Animal prints make interiors look debauched and feral—not fun.

Anything the more unsavoury souls of history rabidly embraced is a hard no for me. Hugh Hefner, for example, kept a Georgian-style sofa upholstered in a bestial tiger-patterned velvet at the Playboy Mansion. (Perhaps proof of its ick-factor, it sold at auction in 2018 for just $4,375…in a mere four bids.)

Of course Hef liked them. Animal prints instantly sexualise the look of the person wearing them—think Peggy Bundy of “Married…with Children”—and they do the same in an interior. These motifs also pilfer from an animal kingdom that has already coughed up plenty to humankind without consent. “I don’t believe animals should be used as a decorative object, even if it’s not actual fur,” said New York designer Becky Shea. “Those patterns are meant to be in the wild, not in a house.”

Even a sleek, modern pouf, when wrapped in tiger or giraffe, lends a room the inherently debauched, feral note of Snooki & JWoww’s Jersey City home. The 1855 former firehouse they shared for their eponymous MTV reality TV series featured zebra, cheetah and Dalmatian-print décor and was anything but hot.

“You can find things that are more interesting and appealing to the eye,” said Rebecca Birdwell, a Manhattan strategist for the design and architecture industry. She points to the patterns of Parisian textile designer Sylvie Johnson, a go-to artist for starchitects like New York City’s Annabelle Selldorf. The French maker weaves organic, nature-derived patterns, like a Japanese-silk motif named Bolero that recalls fish scales, a subtle alternative to ham-handed mimicry.

Because bold animal prints like zebra and cowhide are polarising, they swing in and out of fashion more than other patterns, said Ms. Barr, the instructor. “They fall into the ‘proceed with caution’ category,” she said, also because they command so much notice. I guess I like my interiors on the introverted side. I don’t need to come home to a sofa à la Snooki without a mute button.

—Kathryn O’Shea-Evans


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Booming demand for wellness tourism shows no slowing, with travel related to health and well-being projected to have reached $1 trillion last year and to hit $1.3 trillion by 2025, according to the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit based in Miami.

Curated wellness travel programs are especially sought-after, specifically holistic treatments focused on longevity. Affluent travellers not only are making time to hit the gym while gallivanting across the globe, they’re also seeking destinations that specifically cater to their wellness goals, including treatments aimed at living longer.

“I believe Covid did put a spotlight on self-care and well-being,” says Penny Kriel, corporate director of spa and wellness at Salamander Collection, a group of luxury properties in places like Washington, D.C., and Charleston, South Carolina. But Kriel says today’s spas are more holistic, encouraging folks to understand the wellness concept and incorporate it into their lifestyle more frequently.

“With the evolution of treatment products and technology, spas have been able to enhance their offerings and appeal to more travellers,” Kriel says.

While some growth is connected to the variety of treatments available, results and the digital world are also contributing to the wellness boom.

“The efficacy and benefits of these treatments continue to drive bookings and interest, especially with the support of social media, influencers, and celebrity endorsements,” Kriel says.

While genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices such as regular exercise, a diet free of processed foods, sufficient sleep, and human connection play essential roles in living well and longer, experts believe in holistic therapies to help manage stress, boost immunity, and ultimately influence length and quality of life.

Anti Ageing and Beyond

“For years, people have been coming to spas, booking treatments, and gaining advice on how to turn the clock back with anti ageing and corrective skin treatments,” Kriel says. However, today’s treatments are far more innovative.

On Marinella Beach in Porto Rotondo, on the Italian island of Sardinia, guests at the five-star Abi d’Oru Hotel & Spa can experience the resort’s one-of-a-kind “longevity treatment,” a unique antiaging facial using one of the island’s native grapes: Cannonau. The world’s first declared “Blue Zone”—one of five designated areas where people live longer than average, some into their 100s—Sardinia produces this robust red wine varietal, the most widely planted on the island.

Known as Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France, Cannonau supposedly contains two to three times more antioxidants than other red-wine grapes. By incorporating Cannonau, Abi Spa says its unique 50-minute longevity session increases collagen production for firmer, younger-looking skin.

Maintaining a youthful appearance is just one facet of longevity treatments, which range from stress-reduction sessions like massage to nutritional support and sleep programs, Kriel says. Some retreats also offer medical services such as IV infusions and joint injections.

Keeping with the trend, Kriel is expanding Salamander Collection’s existing spa services, such as detox wraps and lymphatic drainage, to include dedicated “Wellness Rooms,” new vegan and vegetarian menu items, and well-being workshops. “Sleep, nutrition, and mindfulness will be a big focus for integration in 2024,” she says.

Data-Driven Wellness

Skyler Stillings, an exercise physiologist at Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort—an adults-only wellness centre in Lanai, Hawaii—says guests were drawn to the social aspect when the spa opened in November 2021.

“We saw a huge need for human connection,” she recalls. But over the past few years, what’s paramount has shifted. “Longevity is trending much more right now.”

Human connection is a central draw for guests at Sensei Lanai, an adults-only and wellness-focused Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort

Billionaire co-founder of tech company Oracle Larry Ellison and physician and scientist Dr. David Angus co-founded Sensei. After the death of a mutual close friend, the duo teamed up to create longevity-based wellness retreats to nurture preventative care and a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the Lanai location, the brand established Sensei Porcupine Creek in Greater Palm Springs, California, in November 2022.

Sensei has a data-driven approach. The team performs a series of assessments to obtain a clearer picture of a guest’s health, making wellness recommendations based on the findings. While Sensei analyses that data to curate a personalised plan, Stillings says it’s up to the guests which path they choose.

Sensei’s core three-day retreat is a “Guided Wellness Experience.” For spa treatments, each guest checks into their own “Spa Hale,” a private 1,000-square-foot bungalow furnished with an infrared sauna, a steam shower, a soaking tub, and plunge pools. The latest therapies include Sarga Bodywalking—a barefoot myofascial release massage, and “Four Hands in Harmony,” a massage with two therapists working in tandem. Sensei Guides provide take-home plans so guests can continue their wellness journeys after the spa.

Sensei Lanai, an adults-only and wellness-focused Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort

Sanctuaries for Longevity

Headquartered in Switzerland with hotels and on-site spas across the globe, Aman Resorts features an integrative approach, combining traditional remedies with modern medicine’s advanced technologies. Tucked behind the doors of the storied Crown Building in Midtown Manhattan, Banya Spa House at Aman New York—the brand’s flagship spa in the Western Hemisphere—is a 25,000-square-foot, three-floor urban oasis.

Yuki Kiyono, global head of health and wellness development at Aman, says the centre provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Aman’s customisable “Immersion Programs” consist of a three- or five-day immersion. “The programs encompass treatments and experiences that touch every significant aspect to create a path for longevity, from meditation and mindfulness to nutrition and movement,” Kiyono explains.

Banya Spa House at Aman New York.
Robert Rieger

The spa’s “Tei-An Wellness Solution” features 90- to 150-minute sessions using massage, cryotherapy, and Vitamin IV infusions. Acupuncture is also on offer.

“With its rich history of Chinese Medicine, modern research, and the introduction of sophisticated electro-acupuncture medicine, acupuncture has been proven to assist with problems and increase performance,” Kiyono says.

Resetting the Mind and Body

Beyond longevity, “healthspan”—the number of years a person can live in good health free of chronic disease—is the cornerstone of Mountain Trek Health Reset Retreat’s program in British Columbia, Canada.

Kirk Shave, president and program director, and his team employ a holistic approach, using lifestyles in long-living Blue Zones as a point of reference.

“We improve our daily lifestyle habits, so we live vitally as long as we’re meant to live,” Shave says of the retreat. He built the program from an anthropological stance, referencing humans as farmers, hunters, and gatherers based on their eating and sleeping patterns. Food includes vegetable-centric meals sans alcohol, sugar, bread, or dairy.

Guests wake at dawn each day and have access to sunrise yoga, several hours of “flow” or slow hiking, spa treatments, forest bathing, calming crystal singing-bowl and sound therapy sessions, and classes on stress reduction—one of Mountain Trek’s primary goals. The program motivates people to spend much of their time in nature because it’s been proven to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that can lead to inflammation and disease when elevated for extended periods.

While most guests aren’t aware of how immersive Mountain Trek’s program is when they arrive, they leave the resort revitalized after the structured, one-week program. Set in the Kootenays overlooking its eponymous river, the resort and adventure promise what Shave calls a “visceral experience of transformation.”

“They’re interested in coming to be in nature,” Shave says of the guests. “They hit a wall in their life and slipped backwards, so they know they need a reset.”

Banya Spa House at Aman New York provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being.
Robert Rieger

This article first appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of Mansion Global Experience Luxury.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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