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An Updated Trend Guide on all Things Leopard Print and the Rules for Using it Well

Here is the House & Garden leopard print trend guide

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By House & Garden | February 5, 2024 | Living Room

From full blown fitted carpets to the tiniest accents, here is the House & Garden leopard print handbook

In a 2022 episode of our video series, Design Notes, Top 100 designer Sophie Ashby says of her office, 'the desk chair is a bit of a joke because my mother loves leopard print and it's a very Marmite pattern. My clients, generally speaking, don't ever let me use leopard print–and my husband hates it too.' Love it or hate it, the print is a divisive one that elicits passionate responses from both camps and, as Sophie summarises, often those two opinions have to coexist under one roof.

Here at House & Garden*, we are firm believers that a full 180 can be encouraged in even the most fervent of animal print haters; it's simply a case of using it right. Sure, as Natalia Miyar remarks, ‘incorporating animal print into a design scheme requires a certain amount of courage,’ - especially if you're being repeatedly vetoed - ‘but used correctly it’s a great way to bring boldness, energy and a wonderful sense of vibrancy to a room.’

To some it's a neutral, to others it's a garish print that should be avoided at all costs. But how to do it well? We've put that very question to fans of the print, from interior designers to tastemakers.

Where to use it

The question of where to use leopard print can be equally as daunting as figuring out whether to use it at all. For some, like interior designer and tastemaker Luke Edward Hall, the answer is the bolder the better: “a fitted carpet is more than ok! I have an excellent leopard carpet in my bedroom in London. The company, Ollerton Rugs & Carpets, told me when they installed it about five or six years ago that they don't get many requests for leopard carpet these days. A shame!”

Perhaps the design world's most fearless and most famous leopard print fan was Madeleine Castaing herself, who once decorated the salon in her house in Paris, Maison de Lèves, in wall to wall leopard print carpet. She was undeniably one of the 20th century's greatest interior designers, and she is cited as an inspiration by many of our Top 100 designers to this day. In her own words, ‘a leopard print carpet is both attractive and forgiving, particularly in a room with doors that lead in and out of the garden.’ To this day you can still find a few of her printed carpets produced by Codimat. Later, in a project she worked on for Jean Cocteau, she chose the print instead for all four walls and the ceiling.

Then there's always the other end of the spectrum, and many other designers prefer a gentler approach. ‘If you’re nervous, one of the easiest ways to inject a dose of animal print into your home is to start with an accent before committing to whole walls or floors. A runner, cushions, a throw or smaller objets such as a trinket box in a leopard print will add an immediate sense of adventure,’ advises Natalia.

But that's not to say you need to opt only for smaller items and homeware accessories. Larger areas like the floor can still be done in a gentle manner. Rémy Mishon, House & Garden's assistant decoration editor and lifelong leopard print fan, fondly references Paolo Moschino's space in 2022's WOW! House Exhibition. ‘He did a very clever thing, where he brought a very worn leopard carpet into a relatively white room. He’d gone at it with a razor and shaved it down to feel more well-used. In that altered state, it could be used in place of a jute rug in a very sophisticated room.'

What colours to pair with it (and which ones to not)

Not all leopard prints are created equal and once you start to see each fabric for its parts, rather than the sum of them, you become slightly more free to play around with it. Be aware of the undertones in the fabrics. Is it a yellow-y leopard print? Or perhaps a more orange hued one? Even very beige swatches will have warm or cool tones and these elements will inform the very best combinations.

Those that like leopard print agree that it pairs well with most colours. As Luke says, 'leopard print can work as a great neutral. There aren't really any colours that won't go with it, but I like contrasting leopard print with bright, block colour, or other patterns like florals and stripes.' Natalia adds, ‘it’s wonderful with almost any colour from neutrals through to richer hues of red, crimson and forest green.'

But it's not just individuals with this philosophy, but design houses too. Maximalist pioneer House of Hackney treat their leopard print fabric, ‘Wildcard’ as a neutral when designing. ‘We encourage people to throw the design rule book out the window and to be bold and brave with their interiors. There is no right and wrong when it comes to colour pairings.’

For those of a more cautious disposition, or dipping their toe into the world of leopard print, Natalia encourages ‘milder patterns of smaller motifs set against calming shades of pale blue, pinks and creams.’ Indeed, she's grouped those exact colours together in her renovation of member's club The Twenty Two to gentle effect–and the end result is much more pared-back and painterly than one might expect.

How to choose the right fabric

Once you've decided whether or not to use it - and then where or not to use it - you need to figure out which fabric is right for the job at hand. In Pandora Sykes' London house, she chose Le Manach’s ‘Guépard Cambridge’ for the curtains in her sitting room, despite people's best efforts to warn her off it. ‘I knew if I had a really good leopard print, it would work,' she says. As she makes plain: the right fabric is key.

Take Luke's previously mentioned bedroom carpet, for instance - chosen for its ‘particularly good elegant yellowy beige background’ - which lends itself well to the blues and greens on their walls. It works well because it was sensitively chosen. 'I don't like leopard print when it's too orange,' he notes.

For those living with people and partners completely revolted by leopard print, House & Garden's decoration editor Ruth Sleightholme recommends looking at more ‘abstract’ takes on the print too. ‘There’s the realistic leopard print, but there are also the abstract versions that reference the shapes in a less true or definitive way. Because they're deconstructed, they don't look so literal. They're useful because they don't have all the same connotations as a more traditional leopard print has.'

Alternatively, there are different colour ways to opt for. ‘At one of my London projects we incorporated a beautiful pale blue leopard print by Nina Campbell for a bed base creating a really quite serene effect,’ advises Natalia.

When to stop

Perhaps Luke has it best with his rather simple formula: 'I think moderation is good, and I'm usually not about moderation. A sofa in leopard, or a carpet: heaven. But not in the same room.'

*We thought it pertinent to note that not all of the House & Garden team are on board with leopard print.

Original article appeared on House & Garden UK