A History of Animal Print in Interior Design

by |

Vintage, traditional, or modern? Animal prints can be such a versatile accent that it's difficult to say! Animal hides, exotic leopard, cheetah, and zebra prints, and even taxidermy have all had their day in the design world. Let's take a look back through the history of animal print in interior design, starting with...

Hunter Gatherers

We can thank cavemen for starting the animal print trend we know today. Animals furs and pelts were originally worn as protection from the elements. Over time, as societies evolved and hunting became more of a sport and less of a necessity, animal furs and prints became a status symbol. Exotic animal prints were difficult to come by unless you were fabulously wealthy or an experienced hunter.


History of Animal Print in Interior Design | Cavemen Painting

Source: National Museum Wales


Royal Fashion

The royal families loved their furs, as seen in countless portraits from centuries past. Grand hunting expeditions and a lifestyle of grandeur ensured the kings and queens of days past were up to date in the latest fur fashions. What's a king without a portrait in a custom-made fur cape? Fur coats and accessories can be traced centuries back, like in this portrait of Louis XIV from 1701.


History of Animal Print in Interior Design | King Louis XIV Fur Fashion

Shown here: Louis XIV, Painting from 1701
Source: FurInsider.com


The Victorian Era

Taxidermy rose to popularity during the Victorian Age, when it became fashionable to display bearskin rugs, as well as mounted animals and birds. The art of collecting specimen grew popular as it indicated status as well as skill. The rise of naturalism and the desire for scientific knowledge of the animal kingdom created a perfect market for taxidermy. Former U.S President Theodore Roosevelt would proudly display trophies of his many hunting excursions and donated many to the Smithsonian Museum. Bringing the natural world inside was in part admiration for the natural world as well as a signal of a lifestyle of luxury.


History of Animal Print in Interior Design | King Louis XIV Fur Fashion


The Roaring 20's

In the 1920's and 1930's, Elise de Wolfe, known by many as one of the first professional interior designers, popularized animal accents, boldly mixing animal prints with Chinoiserie and French antiques.


History of Animal Print in Interior Design | Elise de Wolfe Interior Designer

Shown here: Elise de Wolfe design
Source: The Study


When designing a Park Avenue apartment for Hollywood actress Hope Hampton, she chose an exotic zebra stair runner and hide to complement 18th century furniture and lighting. This eclectic mix of antiques and animal print created a modern interior for the famous actress to entertain and delight in.


History of Animal Print in Interior Design | Zebra Print Staircase

Source: A Decorative Affair


Retro Glam

The 60's and 70's embraced rooms that featured animal print not as an accent, but as a focal point. Taking cues from the glamorous and fashionable (Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, anyone?), animal prints became much more mainstream, especially in fashion. Animal activists and celebrities began to strongly protest the use of animal fur and faux fur manufacturers rose to meet them. Advancements in textiles and manufacturing created early versions of some of the popular faux fur alternatives and animal print textiles we use today.


History of Animal Print in Interior Design | 1960s Zebra Print Chairs

Source: Cote de Texas


Modern Day

The rise of faux fur alternatives as well as textile imitations of popular cheetah, zebra, and leopard prints have made animal prints widely accessible. Faux fur has come a long way and is just as beautiful and luxurious as the real animal furs of the past. Donna Salyer's Fabulous Furs are a perfect example of cruelty-free fabulous animal print furs and accessories.


History of Animal Print in Interior Design | Donna Salyers Fabulous Furs

Shown here: Donna Salyer's Fabulous Furs Snow Leopard Throw


Synthetic materials can create realistic replicas of animal hides, like the beautiful Loloi Grand Canyon collection. Animal hides can be used in a variety of modern styles, from eclectic to rustic.


History of Animal Print in Interior Design | Loloi Grand Canyon Rug Collection

Shown here: Loloi Grand Canyon Rug in Camel & Beige


The key to using animal print accents in modern design is maintaining a cohesive color palette. You can even mix and match different animal prints! Mixing leopard print pillows with a zebra hide rug works in the space featured below because it's anchored by a fairly neutral color palette of white, black, and gold color. Some designers have even argued that animal prints *are* a neutral!


History of Animal Print in Interior Design | Animal Print Home Decor

Source: The Everygirl - Photo by Cassandra Monroe


Browse our collection on animal print rugs including the Grand Canyon Faux Fur Rug Collection for more of our favorite modern design pieces featuring animal print, and don't forget to find more inspiration by checking us out on Pinterest!