The 5 Under 40 Awards gala is coming up. Normally, I wouldn’t worry so much about what to wear, but since I am one of the honorees, I figure I better look good. I found a little black dress and some funky jewelry. But I still felt I needed more, and you can probably guess what I went for next—shoes.

I have been eyeing snakeskin in fashion magazines all year, so I set out to find a pair of snakeskin (or faux snakeskin) shoes. As I combed store after store, I began thinking about just how wrong one could go with animal prints. And since I’m an interior designer, it got me thinking about animal patterns at home.

Like it or not (and some hate it), animal prints and patterns are classic and timeless. Take the Le Corbusier LC4 cowhide chaise lounge from Cassina, for example.

Photo courtesy of Cassina

Designed in 1928, this chair remains an icon today. Used in a neutral palette, as in this living room by LDa Architecture and Interiors, the cowhide becomes the cornerstone of the room.

Photo by Greg Premru

These vibrant patterns suit nearly any setting. Whether your look is contemporary, traditional or somewhere in between, the ultimate key to using them is to tame the animal.  Too much is tacky, so if you’re trying this on your own, do not overdo. Use it as an accent or a focal point. Cover the walls, or two chairs, or four pillows, but not all of those at once.

Zebra seems to be most designers’ instinctive animal accent. I couldn’t imagine a better choice for Annie Selke’s jungle-themed dining room than this Dash & Albert zebra rug.

Photo courtesy of Annie Selke

Kate Jackson uses zebra brilliantly in this living room, playing the light greens, dark woods and accent pillows off of the bold zebra-striped ottomans by Lee Industries.

Photo by Sam Gray

Of course, we must all be careful about mixing too many animals in the same space; there is a fine line between playful and tasteless. But as Tara Seawright executes seamlessly in this living area, mixing can be wildly successful. If that’s the route you are headed, I would definitely seek the help of a professional designer.

Photo by George Ross

Living rooms aren’t the only spots for these spirited patterns. Intimate spaces can be great places to show off some animal. A bold leopard-print wall covering envelops you in this otherwise classic powder room by Lori Berg.

Photo by Jill Greer for Gabberts Design Studio

If you aren’t up for wall covering or you’re looking for something more contemporary, Settecento’s “Animalier†line may be just for you. These animal-patterned tiles come in “Leo,†“Zebra,†and “Cobra” (pictured here).

Photo courtesy of Settecento

Finally, don’t forget that a few accessories can play a powerful part in a space.  This murano glass giraffe collection from Formia Glass will pack as much punch as an LC4 chaise.

Photo courtesy of Formia Glass

You’ll have to come to the “5 Under 40†party to judge how my animal accent measures up (I didn’t end up with snakeskin, ironically enough).  I want to look fun, but let’s face it, too much animal and you may be noticed in all the wrong ways. Keep the same thing in mind when you add it at home. A little bit of animal goes a long way.

-Kelly Taylor

Kelly Taylor is the recipient of New England Home Magazine’s 2012 “5 Under 40†award for excellence in design.  She practices residential and commercial interior design in Providence, Rhode Island. Her work can be found at www.ktid.net, or follow her on Twitter at @ktidnet.

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