Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Local designers explain how to use animal prints without overdoing it

By Katie McElveen

Photo by Jeff Amberg

Whether you choose zebra, leopard, cheetah or ostrich, animal prints are a timeless way to add a dash of drama to just about any room in the house — without turning it into a jungle.

As a newlywed on a budget, Julia Cagle was looking for the perfect accent piece for her dining room. When she spotted a large mirror in a funky gold and black zebra-striped frame in a boutique, she knew she’d found just the thing. Today, 18 years and a new house later, the mirror is still adding style to the her dining room, looking perfectly at home above an elegant antique chest set with an elaborate silver service. Brandon Shives of Brandon Davidson Interiors, who has helped Julia and her husband, Martin, add even more exotic touches to their Heathwood home, isn’t surprised. “Animal prints add so much to a room that they almost seem trendy, but they’re actually timeless,” she says. “Like a touch of black, they add a bit of an edge. The trick is not letting them take over.”

Knowing her client’s affinity for animal, Brandon included several exotically-printed fabrics when she presented her ideas for updating the Cagles’ home. “Julia has a traditional decorating style, but she wanted to jazz things up,” she explains. “Animal-print fabrics are a great option because they can be as subtle or as bold as you want them to be, they can mix with any décor, and they add great texture.”

 For Julia and Martin Cagle’s home, Brandon Davidson covered a pair of side chairs and a footrest with a cheetah print in a muted shade of robin’s egg blue and taupe, adding interest without screaming for attention. Photography by Jeff Amberg.

Since the dining room already had its touch of animal, Brandon started with Julia and Martin’s living room. To play against a trio of softly shimmering silk drapes in slate blue and a patterned rug, Brandon covered a pair of side chairs and a footrest in a cheetah print. Since the fabric is a muted shade of robin’s egg blue and taupe, the chairs add interest without screaming for attention. Against a far wall, adjacent to a 19th-century mahogany table, sits a wrought iron bench, the seat of which has been covered in a bold cream and black zebra fabric. Small and striking, it’s a cool counterpoint to the rest of the room. A yellow pottery lamp on a side table adds just the right amount of rustic texture. To balance everything, Brandon suggested covering the sofa in a creamy neutral. Pillows, covered in a multicolored geometric pattern, create more visual interest. The overall effect is polished and understated, yet stylish and fun. “The key was to find things that would move the room a little bit out of the completely traditional zone, but that still would work with the classic pieces that Julia and Martin already owned,” Brandon explains. “The color scheme softened the irregular pattern of the cheetah, and allowed us a little more room to mix up the textures.” Julia not only loves the room, but she has discovered that the patterned fabric is particularly adept at hiding spots and stains. “It never occurred to me when we chose that fabric how great it would work with children,” she says. “That’s just one more thing to love about animal prints!”

Christy Edens, a designer with Verve, isn’t surprised by Julia’s experience. “If you look in magazines as far back as the 1960s, you’ll see animal print fabrics, animal rugs and wallpaper being used,” she says. “It’s incredibly versatile too. It can be an accent, or you can cover your entire sofa in zebra or giraffe and make it the focal point of the room.”

 Verve Interiors used a large animal print rug to add punch to this fairly neutral living room. Photography by Robert Clark.

Christy has found that bold animal print wallpaper works surprisingly well in small spaces like powder rooms. “It’s okay to overpower a small space like a powder room because you walk in and walk out instead of spending hours in there like you would a kitchen,” she explains. “It’s a great way to add a great big impact.” But if you’re not quite ready for that much drama, Christy suggests tone-on-tone wallpaper, where the print is defined only by texture rather than color. “It’s a subtle way to add flair and personality,” she notes.

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