Animal print may be trendy now, but it’s a longstanding classic.

Story by Meredith Coopman

Now trending in design, from fashion to interiors, is animal print. I’m loving it, not only for its flair, but also its versatility. It goes with any style and is a great way to add a touch of class, elegance, fun or modern punch to any space. I consider it a neutral, and it practically goes with any color palette. You can use it anywhere, with any décor and on any surface.

Exotic animal prints such as cheetah, zebra, python and leopard are timeless and sophisticated. A cowhide rug can also introduce style to a room. Animal prints can be rustic, modern, eclectic, traditional or vintage (the list is long). They have a glamorous, traveled feel that is also a bit playful, making them a great tool for layering. They also add a sense of warmth to any interior. Need another reason to love them? The patterns hide stains and wear well.

Like any pattern, animal print can either be a statement piece or a more neutral furnishing that doesn’t attract much attention. If you’re not ready for the cheetah sofa or the zebra stair runner, pillows are probably the easiest, least expensive and most common way to incorporate animal print into your home. If you want to commit to something a little larger in scale, animal hide rugs are among the most popular animal print furnishings, as they’re both versatile and traditional.

There’s no reason to confine animal print to your furnishings. Bring some exotic flair to your space by integrating it with art or wallpaper, placemats or table runners, drapes or roman shades, candles, picture frames, lamp bases or shades, utensil handles, and much more. It literally can go anywhere. Don’t be afraid to branch out from the usual leopard or cheetah print either. A zebra, giraffe or snakeskin print adds a stylish feel.

It became fashionable during the Victorian Age to display bearskin rugs, as well as mounted animals and birds. It indicated status as well as skill. Bringing the natural world inside was partly to showcase nature while also indicating a luxurious lifestyle.

Animal activists and celebrities began to strongly protest the use of real animal fur. Innovations in textiles and manufacturing led to early versions of some of the popular faux fur alternatives and animal print textiles we use today, including cheetah, zebra and leopard. Faux fur has come a long way and can be just as beautiful and luxurious as the real thing, with the synthetic materials often serving as realistic replicas.

When in doubt, defer to nature. It’s hard to make a mistake while using animal prints since they are so neutral and versatile. However, use your best judgment because animal prints, while fairly safe and easy to use, can be overdone and appear tacky. Try to avoid overwhelming a room with too much visual confusion. Here are some quick ideas to get you started:

Mixing Animal Prints with Solids Animal prints make wonderful accents for solid color furnishings and décor. Forms such as zebra, leopard, cheetah and giraffe stand out strongly against solid backgrounds. Animal prints in natural colors blend really well with neutral solids, creating an aura of sophistication. These bold patterns add interest and texture to solid fabrics and upholstery.

Mixing Animal Prints with Patterns It’s easy to mix animal prints with other patterns because they go with just about anything. The prints complement both masculine and feminine patterns, and they come in large-scale and small-scale prints. When mixing multiple patterns in a room, odd numbers tend to work the best. Similar background colors help create harmony. They all mix well with checks, polka dots, florals, plaids, paisley or ikat.

Mixing Animal Prints with Animal Prints A mixture of animal prints in the same room creates an exotic look with patterns that naturally complement each other. When used in their natural colors, animal prints give a sense of realism with a nice mixture of neutral shades. Different print patterns can also be repeated in the same hue.

Animal prints add a layer of texture, dimension, pattern and personality to any space. They really are classics that have stood the test of time. It’s easy to incorporate them in understated and sophisticated ways, or you can choose to be bold and use them in large scales or mix patterns. Neither approach is wrong.

Meredith Coopman has over 20 years of experience in architecture and interior design. She is currently the Design Director at InnSpace in Kalispell. You can reach her at meredith.coopman@inn-space.com