Animal Prints in Interior Design: Awesome or Awful? | Kanebridge News
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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


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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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