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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A new trading year kicked off just weeks ago. Already it bears little resemblance to the carnage of 2022.

After languishing throughout last year, growth stocks have zoomed higher. Tesla Inc. and Nvidia Corp., for example, have jumped more than 30%. The outlook for bonds is brightening after a historic rout. Even bitcoin has rallied, despite ongoing effects from the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX.

The rebound has been driven by renewed optimism about the global economic outlook. Investors have embraced signs that inflation has peaked in the U.S. and abroad. Many are hoping that next week the Federal Reserve will slow its pace of interest-rate increases yet again. China’s lifting of Covid-19 restrictions pleasantly surprised many traders who have welcomed the move as a sign that more growth is ahead.

Still, risks loom large. Many investors aren’t convinced that the rebound is sustainable. Some are worried about stretched stock valuations, or whether corporate earnings will face more pain down the road. Others are fretting that markets aren’t fully pricing in the possibility of a recession, or what might happen if the Fed continues to fight inflation longer than currently anticipated.

We asked five investors to share how they are positioning for that uncertainty and where they think markets could be headed next. Here is what they said:

‘Animal spirits’ could return

Cliff Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, acknowledges that he wasn’t expecting the run in speculative stocks and digital currencies that has swept markets to kick off 2023.

Bitcoin prices have jumped around 40%. Some of the stocks that are the most heavily bet against on Wall Street are sitting on double-digit gains. Carvana Co. has soared nearly 64%, while MicroStrategy Inc. has surged more than 80%. Cathie Wood‘s ARK Innovation ETF has gained about 29%.

If the past few years have taught Mr. Asness anything, it is to be prepared for such run-ups to last much longer than expected. His lesson from the euphoria regarding risky trades in 2020 and 2021? Don’t count out the chance that the frenzy will return again, he said.

“It could be that there are still these crazy animal spirits out there,” Mr. Asness said.

Still, he said that hasn’t changed his conviction that cheaper stocks in the market, known as value stocks, are bound to keep soaring past their peers. There might be short spurts of outperformance for more-expensive slices of the market, as seen in January. But over the long term, he is sticking to his bet that value stocks will beat growth stocks. He is expecting a volatile, but profitable, stretch for the trade.

“I love the value trade,” Mr. Asness said. “We sing about it to our clients.”

—Gunjan Banerji

Keeping dollar’s moves in focus

For Richard Benson, co-chief investment officer of Millennium Global Investments Ltd., no single trade was more important last year than the blistering rise of the U.S. dollar.

Once a relatively placid area of markets following the 2008 financial crisis, currencies have found renewed focus from Wall Street and Main Street. Last year the dollar’s unrelenting rise dented multinational companies’ profits, exacerbated inflation for countries that import American goods and repeatedly surprised some traders who believed the greenback couldn’t keep rallying so fast.

The factors that spurred the dollar’s rise are now contributing to its fall. Ebbing inflation and expectations of slower interest-rate increases from the Fed have sent the dollar down 1.7% this year, as measured by the WSJ Dollar Index.

Mr. Benson is betting more pain for the dollar is ahead and sees the greenback weakening between 3% and 5% over the next three to six months.

“When the biggest central bank in the world is on the move, look at everything through their lens and don’t get distracted,” said Mr. Benson of the London-based currency fund manager, regarding the Fed.

This year Mr. Benson expects the dollar’s fall to ripple similarly far and wide across global economies and markets.

“I don’t see many people complaining about a weaker dollar” over the next few months, he said. “If the dollar is falling, that economic setup should also mean that tech stocks should do quite well.”

Mr. Benson said he expects the dollar’s fall to brighten the outlook for some emerging- market assets, and he is betting on China’s offshore yuan as the country’s economy reopens. He sees the euro strengthening versus the dollar if the eurozone’s economy continues to fare better than expected.

—Caitlin McCabe

Stocks still appear overvalued

Even after the S&P 500 fell 15% from its record high reached in January 2022, U.S. stocks still look expensive, said Rupal Bhansali, chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, who oversees $6.7 billion in assets.

Of course, the market doesn’t appear as frothy as it did for much of 2020 and 2021, but she said she expects a steeper correction in prices ahead.

The broad stock-market gauge recently traded at 17.9 times its projected earnings over the next 12 months, according to FactSet. That is below the high of around 24 hit in late 2020, but above the historical average over the past 20 years of 15.7, FactSet data show.

“The old habit was buy the dip,” Ms. Bhansali said. “The new habit should be sell the rip.”

One reason Ms. Bhansali said the selloff might not be over yet? The market is still underestimating the Fed.

Investors repeatedly mispriced how fast the Fed would move in 2022, wrongly expecting the central bank to ease up on its rate increases. They were caught off guard by Fed Chair Jerome Powell‘s aggressive messages on interest rates. It stoked steep selloffs in the stock market, leading to the most turbulent year since the 2008 financial crisis. Now investors are making the same mistake again, Ms. Bhansali said.

Current stock valuations don’t reflect the big shift coming in central-bank policy, which she thinks will have to be more aggressive than many expect. Though broader measures of inflation have been falling, some slices, such as services inflation, have proved stickier. Ms. Bhansali is positioning for such areas as healthcare, which she thinks would be more insulated from a recession than the rest of the market, to outperform.

“The Fed is determined to win the war since they lost the battle,” Ms. Bhansali said.

—Gunjan Banerji

A better year for bonds seen

Gone are the days when tumbling bond yields left investors with few alternatives to stocks. Finally, bonds are back, according to Niall O’Sullivan of Neuberger Berman, an investment manager overseeing about $427 billion in client assets at the end of 2022.

After a turbulent year for the fixed-income market in 2022, bonds have kicked off the new year on a more promising note. The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index—composed largely of U.S. Treasurys, highly rated corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities—climbed 3% so far this year on a total return basis through Thursday’s close. That is the index’s best start to a year since it began in 1989, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Mr. O’Sullivan, the chief investment officer of multi asset strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Neuberger Berman, said the single biggest conversation he is currently having with clients is how to increase fixed-income exposure.

“Strategically, the facts have changed. When you look at fixed income as an asset class…they’re now all providing yield, and possibly even more importantly, actual cash coupons of a meaningful size,” he said. “That is a very different world to the one we’ve been in for quite a long time.”

Mr. O’Sullivan said it is important to reconsider how much of an advantage stocks now hold over bonds, given what he believes are looming risks for the stock market. He predicts that inflation will be harder to wrangle than investors currently anticipate and that the Fed will hold its peak interest rate steady for longer than is currently expected. Even more worrying, he said, it will be harder for companies to continue passing on price increases to consumers, which means earnings could see bigger hits in the future.

“That is why we are wary on the equity side,” he said.

Among the products that Mr. O’Sullivan said he favours in the fixed-income space are higher-quality and shorter-term bonds. Still, he added, it is important for investors to find portfolio diversity outside bonds this year. For that, he said he views commodities as attractive, specifically metals such as copper, which could continue to benefit from China’s reopening.

—Caitlin McCabe


Find the fear, and find the value

Ramona Persaud, a portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, said she can still identify bargains in a pricey market by looking in less-sanguine places. Find the fear, and find the value, she said.

“When fear really rises, you can buy some very well-run businesses,” she said.

Take Taiwan’s semiconductor companies. Concern over global trade and tensions with China have weighed on the shares of chip makers based on the island. But those fears have led many investors to overlook the competitive advantages those companies hold over rivals, she said.

“That is a good setup,” said Ms. Persaud, who considers herself a conservative value investor and manages more than $20 billion across several U.S. and Canadian funds.

The S&P 500 is trading above fair value, she said, which means “there just isn’t widespread opportunity,” and investors might be underestimating some of the risks that lie in waiting.

“That tells me the market is optimistic,” said Ms. Persaud. “That would be OK if the risks were not exogenous.”

Those challenges, whether rising interest rates and Fed policy or Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern over energy-security concerns in Europe, are complicated, and in many cases, interrelated.

It isn’t all bad news, she said. China ended its zero-Covid restrictions. A milder winter in Europe has blunted the effects of the war in Ukraine on energy prices and helped the continent sidestep recession, and inflation is slowing.

“These are reasons the market is so happy,” she said.

—Justin Baer


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