Owls, elephants and monkeys are no longer just for the nursery

Giles Kime revels in the the fact that these beautiful, colourful designs are now being deployed all around the house.

The menagerie of animal-themed decorations on these pages over the festive season was no passing festive fad. Furry and feathery creatures are here to stay, on everything from fabrics and wallpaper to ceramics and cushions. For centuries, a taste for animal forms has ebbed and flowed in interior design, most recently in the 1960s, when Casa Pupo on London’s Pimlico Road (now Linley) fed an appetite for life-size ceramic Afghan hounds. Along with flokati rugs and beaded curtains, they were an essential interiors accessory for those free spirits not wedded to a life of Laura Ashley and Habitat chicken bricks.

The new generation of animal-inspired designs is different — they have a charm and a naïvety more akin to illustrations in children’s picture books than the decoration of a fancy Spanish hacienda.

Examples are everywhere: Beatrix Potter-esque rabbits on textiles at Thornback and Peel, lap dogs on the ceramics of Fenella Smith and scampering hounds and foxes in the work of Country Life’s in-house illustrator Emma McCall.

An animal-inspired artist who is leading the pack (Herd? Pride? Flock?) is Holly Frean, whose simple but highly expressive animal paintings and ceramics have gained her attention around the world, including from the American fashion and interiors giant Anthropologie and Kit Kemp, the creative force behind hotels such as the Ham Yard in London and the Whitby that opens in New York next month.

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Most recently, Miss Frean has been commissioned to create a collection of fabrics and wallpapers for Andrew Martin that is populated with lions, tigers, giraffes and elephants. One of the (many) remarkable aspects of her work is that it’s aimed at adult drawing rooms rather than nurseries.

Is there a fashion element to all this? The fact that there is currently a parallel in fashion—namely, Gucci sweaters, Valentino bomber jackets and Marc Jacobs shoes emblazoned with everything from tigers to monkeys—would suggest so.

No doubt, as I write, there’s a breakout area in a trend-forecasting consultancy full of people cooking up catchy new terminology to capture the new mood (‘neo naïve’, ‘menagerie chic’, ‘zoology zeitgeist’) and theories about the fact that it’s a subliminal reaction or response to something or other (the technological revolution, global warming, Brexit).

However, in the meantime, the rest of us can enjoy these designs for what they are: utterly beguiling.

Giles Kime

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