Faux animal skins are always stylish The patterns create the illusion of texture

August 16, 1992|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"Naturals," I'm told, are in these days. That doesn't come as much of a revelation, since I wasn't aware that they were ever out.

What has changed, I've noticed, is the way in which this term is used. In the realm of interior design, "naturals" once referred to such fabrics as linens, cottons, wools and silks, usually in beige or off-white shades. And when used as a modifier for materials and finishes, "natural" generally meant wood, ceramic, stone and leather, treated in ways that emphasized their basic texture, color and grain.

These definitions still hold. And those types of naturals are very much in evidence in the casually elegant interiors that are so fashionable today. But now I also hear the term "naturals" used in regard to patterns that emulate the look of animal skins like leopard, tiger, snake, shark and antelope. Imitation tortoise shell and even fake feathers are described in this way, too.

While this may well be a new use for the term, there's nothing new about the look itself. Animal-skin patterns have been seen for centuries on fabrics, carpets and wallpapers. Then as now, this styling wasoften executed in an artistic manner, though with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

We need look back only to the 1920s to the Cole Porter apartment in New York to find a famous example of leopard-like carpeting.

While that treatment didn't pretend to be the real thing, it was nonetheless a serious piece of craftsmanship much admired for its decorative effect.

To avoid confusion, perhaps it would be better to call these exotic examples the "faux" or the "false" instead of the "naturals." But regardless of what it's called, the animal-skin look is very popular just now. That's partly because we understand that the genuine item will never again be available -- and rightly so. Besides being ecologically incorrect, it's also illegal to sell certain animal skins.

Adding to the allure of these patterns is that they go so well with so many other designs. The multi-pattern look is very much in vogue at present. It gives a room a relaxed and eclectic appearance, with the imitation animal skins adding a textured dimension. They work with plaids, stripes, florals and just about any other pattern.

The room in the photo, for example, is filled with rich patterns, all of which manage to mesh with the ersatz snake-skin carpeting from the Stark Carpet Co. This is a sophisticated and daringly dramatic setting. A granite-top coffee table stands beside a sofa upholstered in a large jungle leaf design. The other fabrics in the room include shimmering silks in pewter colors. Accented with ferns, palms and orchids -- all of them spotted with pinpoint lighting -- this qualifies as a very uptown space.

K? But is it natural? That's up to the trendsetters to decide.

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