Thursday 21 February 2019

Animal house... how interiors are embracing tropical and safari themes


Homestead cow skulls from Alexander and Pearl
Homestead cow skulls from Alexander and Pearl
Pegasus wallpaper by Matthew Williamson
Monkey lamps
Giraffe wall sticker from Oakdene designs
Toucan money box by April and the Bear
Fish wallpaper
Audenza zebra print rug
Leopard money box and pelican oversized velvet cushion, both Audenza
Audenza cushion
Seba wallpaper

Let your imagination run wild... the outdoors comes indoors in this maximalist safari trend.

What did the horse say to the zebra?

A: Take those pyjamas off, you good thing!

There used to be a lot of snobbery around animal-themed interiors. Less was definitely more. You might be allowed a single tasteful ornament, but only if you didn't have animal wallpaper or curtains. Animal prints - like leopard and zebra - were almost considered tacky and using them in combination was as taboo as mixing silver with gold.

Pegasus wallpaper by Matthew Williamson
Pegasus wallpaper by Matthew Williamson

How times have changed! Animal-themed interiors have been creeping up on us for years. Now, the trend has gone maximalist and its fans have shredded the rule book. "I think that there used to be a lot more rules but the current interiors climate is braver and more confident," says Hollie Brooks. "People are decorating whole rooms around an animal theme. The wilder, weirder and more wonderful the better!"

Brooks is one of the team at Audenza, an online retailer of quirky homeware. Over the past few years, she's noticed a subtle shift in the trend. The prevalent taste has moved domestic to wild animals (preferably exotic) and, more recently, from tropical to safari themes. "Last year it was all about the jungle, but the safari look is a bit more grown-up and refined. It's rustic, but you can give it a lift and a bit of luxuriousness with a touch of gold."

If you're inclined to mix animal prints together, the safari look is the best excuse you're ever going to get.

"I love zebras," Brooks confesses. "We have zebra vases, jugs and eggcups, and a zebra print cowhide rug. It adds a real pop to the space." The latter comes in the traditional black-and-white (€355), but is also is available in gold (€485). Audenza's delivery charges to Ireland range from €12 to €20.

While exotic birds and beasts have been popular for years - witness the ubiquitous flamingo - there's a new inclination towards mythological beasts.

"Unicorns have been around for a while in fashion, now they're coming through in interiors in a very glamorous way," Brooks says. A unicorn wall decoration in a distressed gold finish costs around €102 from Audenza, which also stocks a golden mermaid vase (€70) and a pair of mermaid bookends (€53). "But is a mermaid an animal?" she wonders. "I don't think it is..." The maximalist approach to interiors is an inclusive one, but Brooks reckons that it's possible to take it too far. "When maximalism verges into clutter it stops looking good. The way to make it work is to edit, curate, and keep everything really tidy."

Giraffe wall sticker from Oakdene designs
Giraffe wall sticker from Oakdene designs

But where do you draw the line? "Interiors are so personal," she replies. "If you love it, then it's not a mistake."

For animals of a similar ilk - or birds of a feather - there's a fine selection of exotic beasts at April and the Bear, based in Dublin and online. They range from monkey lamps (from €215) and monkey doorknobs (€15 for a pair) to the truly wonderful Ark of Seba wallpaper featuring a medley of animals including porcupines, toads, tapirs and bats in a muted palette. It's made in Transylvania by Mind the Gap and costs €175 for a set of three rolls, each 52 cm wide by 300 cm long. If this is too exciting, it also stocks a restful fish wallpaper.

Maximalism is not for everyone. With exceptions, it tends to be a young, urban style. The interior designer Collette Ward, based in Co Wicklow, finds that rural home owners also like animal-themed interiors, but tend to go for a more restrained take on the trend.

"Most people want their homes to be smart, but not overpowering, and to have an eclectic edge without being cheesy."

The interiors that she designs are intended to reflect the lives and interests of the people who live there but she's known for using plenty of pattern and colour in what she describes as "a gentle layering process that gives the house a bit of identity".

In country houses, the cloakroom can become almost like a print room with wallpapers like Gilpin from Lewis and Wood. It's based on a set of six etchings of work horses made by Sawrey Gilpin in 1760. Ward has also used Lewis and Wood's Equus wallpaper, with subtle sketches of horses in the appropriately named colourways of grey and bay.

Fish wallpaper
Fish wallpaper

"Even people who don't like horses like it!" she says, while admitting that the keenest market for equine-themed wallpaper is among people who keep horses.

More extrovert equine wallpaper, with a touch of mythology, includes Matthew Williamson's Pegasus, an upscaled scrolling damask print in metallic on a range of backgrounds that includes hot pink and turquoise. "There are winged horse in the pattern, but you have to look to see them. It's a bit bonkers in the way that only Matthew Williamson can be bonkers."

Elephants are also popular. The Jaipur wallpaper from Zoffany (€72 per roll) shows Indian elephants in colonial trappings, with tigers and palm trees, against a marbled background. "It's sophisticated and not too predictable," says Ward. "The first impression should just be that it's a beautiful room. Then, as you settle in, you begin to notice the elephants." If you like a pattern, but don't want to commit to a wallpaper, most are also available as fabrics and can be used as cushions.

Once considered childish, animal-themed patterns are now firmly established in the adult world, but there are still wallpapers and fabrics designed for children. Ward's favourites include Sanderson's accurately titled Dogs in Clogs print (€43 per roll). "It makes you smile," she says. "But I've yet to use it in a children's room!"

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