I can remember entering my in-laws den in Virginia nearly 20 years ago, and I was aghast at the many antlers that hung in the den walls. Of course, I was informed with great pride from my father-in-law that this was only some of the ones that his wife would allow him to hang from his lifelong hunting in the woods. He then proceeded to tell me there were many more in his garage and I could take as many as I wanted for any of my decorating projects. I politely changed the subject to the old car that had not seen the light of day in several decades. Whew ... saved by my quick thinking from that one.
As we visited other relatives, I saw some antlers, but scarier were the heads of deer and other animals from the wilderness. Some were on mounts on the wall. Others, such as small birds (they might have been quail) and a ferocious looking cat, were encased in a glass container much like an aquarium but without the water. I wondered almost out loud how they could even sleep in a house full of dead animals. Where did decorating trend begin and why?
Taxidermy, it seems, originated in England and France during the early 19th century, and by the 1880s, the fad came to the United States. During the Victorian era, it was commonplace for those with affluence to commemorate a particularly good outing or catch by preserving such creatures using embalming techniques that included sawdust, rags and the use of arsenic for preservation. As crazy as it seems, even royal pets were guaranteed afterlife and were embalmed to be placed near their favorite resting place in the royal residences.
Of course, down south, in places such as Florida, New Orleans, Texas and California, who hasn't seen sailfish, tarpon and even alligators on the wall of a lanai or your favorite seafood restaurant? In today's world, I believe taxidermy almost always inappropriate, except for in museums or other places where the study of animals is conducted. Animal rights aside, bringing nature into the decorating realm has been happening for centuries. Once upon a time, animal pelts were hung from walls for thermal insulation. Later, pelts were used to cover furniture for their long-lasting quality. Leather is still used today for furniture and even automobile seating for its durable and supple nature.
Animal lovers and evolved hunters can still bring the outdoors in. In most home decor stores, you can now find decor inspired by taxidermy, manufactured from wood, paper, ceramics, acrylic and even glass. Area rugs, carpet and fabrics are available in all sorts of animal prints and patterns to replace the poaching of animal skins.
One final word of advice when decorating with real or faux taxidermy: steer away from certain rooms. Who really wants to eat or anything else when being stared at by a dead animal? Keep away from placing mounts in dining rooms, kitchens and, while we're at it, bathrooms and bedrooms, too. Follow my advice toward tasteful taxidermy and you'll avoid scaring your visitors.
Joseph Pubillones is the owner of Joseph Pubillones Interiors, an award-winning interior design firm based in Palm Beach, Florida. His website is www.josephpubillones.com. To find out more about Joseph Pubillones and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.