Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Try Going Wild: Invite the Animals onto the Furniture

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Try Going Wild: Invite the Animals onto the Furniture

Article excerpt

BETTY SHERRILL has a thing about leopard.

Forget what you've heard about animal prints, that a little goes a long way. Sherrill has taken eight antique French chairs, covered them in faux leopard and placed them in her dining room - on a leopard-print rug.

"It's practical, grandchildren-proof, simple and has impact," explains Sherrill, who was named one of America's 101 most influential interior designers by House Beautiful. "And it wears well." Only a grande dame of design would call an all-leopard dining room practical. Most of us are more comfortable with animal patterns as accents. We may want to take a walk on the wild side, but it had better be a short one. Not to worry. You won't have any trouble finding those cheetah-patterned hand towels or that faux zebra pillow. Animal prints are available in all sorts of decorative accessories and accent pieces. Such prints have been a staple of high-end decorating for decades; now they're becoming important across the board: Pottery Barn features zebra-striped pillows in its current catalog. Ralph Lauren recently introduced 100 percent cotton leopard-print sheets and pillow cases. Gretchen Bellinger Inc.'s new fabric collection includes a plush called "Stick Your Neck Out" in a yellow-and-brown giraffe pattern. The collection is available through architects and designers. What accounts for the enduring appeal of wild-animal patterns? Unlike the cow and other barnyard animal designs of country decor, wild-animal prints suggest sophistication and exoticism. First popularized in the 1920s, they still bring a whiff of Hollywood glamour to both home and fashion. The appeal of animal prints has grown with the current interest in ethnic home furnishings from around the world. (Of course, here you want to tread lightly. Pair animal prints with too much in the way of wicker furniture, tortoise finishes, exotic woods and leather, and you'll end up with a room that looks as if you just got back from a safari.) "The interest in animal prints is driven partially by the popularity of ethnic furnishings," says Nancy High of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association, "but also because it addresses the need of African-Americans to connect with their past." Sharne Algottson, author of "The Spirit of African Design" (Clarkson Potter), suggests using leopard and zebra prints with distressed furniture and wicker for a colonial look reminiscent of east Africa and cattle-herding country. "People can overuse them," she says, "but they can tie an African feel together." Their versatility helps explain the popularity of wild-animal prints. They are different things to different people: A sophisticated and even glamorous design statement. A touch of whimsy, fantasy or fun. A way to bring a bit of the natural world or one's ethnic heritage into one's home. …

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