Critter comforts: Why animals are so common in home decor

Animal motifs, like this sugar bowl with a bird, took off in part because they were a simple thing for budding designers to latch onto, suggests a local interior designer.

Ilyssa Brickman's cookie jar is shaped like an owl. Her sugar bowl is topped with a small bird. And she's had her eye on a pillow adorned with a large image of a stylized fox. Brickman, 25, is an animal lover, though she's not necessarily an owl person or a bird person or even a fox person. But for some reason, when it's come to home decor, the 25-year-old manager at Anthropologie gravitates toward an animal motif — a colorful, stylized, somewhat whimsical animal motif, at that.

She likes that it's cute, it's fun, it's a bit unexpected and it's comfortable.

“It makes you think of maybe your grandma's house,” she said.

Apparently, Grandma was ahead of her time.

“A nature-enthused home aesthetic has become a huge trend this spring,” said Ralph Snyder, vice president of home design and trend for Kohl's Department Stores.

Animals, particularly the adorable woodland variety, are especially big, he said.

At Kohl's and elsewhere, they're on tea towels and aprons, on canisters and soap dishes, on pillows, picture frames, sheets and lamps. At Anthropologie, where Brickman has picked up several of her animal home accents, you can purchase gold-edged measuring cups shaped like hedgehogs, wall hooks fashioned to look like foxes and bunnies, a door stop shaped like an owl and a tape dispenser shaped like a squirrel, among other animal options. Its sister store for the slightly younger crowd, Urban Outfitters, sells rabbit-shaped jewelry holders and hedgehog, fox and squirrel night lights.

Online, Etsy sellers peddle vintage brass and ceramic figurines shaped like deer, as well as decorated versions of actual antlers and mounted deer heads. Other online retailers, such as Cardboard Safari, provide synthetic versions of deer mounts. In fact, mounts — real, cardboard and even plastic — have become ubiquitous on home decor blogs, where they're prominently displayed, presumably by nonhunters, in living rooms and dining rooms.

Ilyssa Brickman, a manager at Anthropologie and self-proclaimed animal lover, is drawn to animals in her home decor.

“They're like this upscale staple of decoration,” said Kelsey Riewer, owner of Paperdoll Vintage Boutique in Benson. She has several deer mounts — both real and cardboard — in her bright, homey shop, some for sale and some not. One — a skull and antlers that her handyman found and then painted and adorned with decorative birds — draws comments from shoppers all the time.

“I've had a lot of people ask if it was for sale, but I just love it too much,” she said.

Woodland animal decor has been around for the better part of a decade, said Jessica McKay, founder and principal designer at Birdhouse Interior Design, an Omaha interior design firm.

She first noticed the trend on blogs such as Design Sponge in the mid-2000s. Initially, stylized animals, deer mounts and whimsical animal wallpaper were fairly high-brow, inaccessible to the average consumer (or to the nonhunter), she said.

But they've trickled down — first to mid-price retailers such as Anthropologie, and then to almost everywhere. Target, for example, currently carries owl bookends, figurines shaped like gazelles and zebras, and several styles of bird-adorned pillows.

In addition to popularizing animal decor, interior design blogs popularized home decor, period, McKay said.

She theorizes that animal motifs took off in part because they were a simple thing for budding designers to latch onto.

“It's a concrete thing that people can understand,” she said. “Where you might not be able to understand how to put all of your fabrics together or all of your colors, that's something you know.”

Whatever the reason for the sudden fox/owl/deer/bird craze, it's has become so widespread that some stores now are dedicated entirely to the trend. Among those is Hunter Gatherer in Lincoln, which Tobias Burnham, 31, opened in August.

Burnham has collected bones, skulls, antlers and taxidermy since he was a child, and his home is full of the stuff. His favorite personal pieces include a small stuffed toad and a larger stuffed crane, which had belonged to a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where Burnham is pursuing a degree in environmental studies. After the professor left, no one wanted the bird, and it made its way to Burnham.

“It's beautiful,” he said. “It's like a museum piece.”

Brickman has a beloved collection of foxes, owls and other woodland creatures in her Omaha home.

Eventually, Burnham accumulated more than he could display in his home, which frequently drew compliments from friends and visitors. Hence, his store was born.

Burnham stocks Hunter Gatherer with taxidermy and pinned insects he picks up at thrift stores, antique stores and estate sales, as well as skulls and skeletons he finds himself. Several uncles who are avid hunters have offered him antlers and unwanted mounts.

The young and trendy purchase the items, along with science nerds, he said.

“I think it definitely takes a certain kind of person,” he said.

Burnham has a theory about why the decor is so popular — people want a tangible reminder of the natural world.

“We live in urban areas,” he said. “We don't have a lot of connection to nature.”

Pinned insects or a small skull provide that, he said.

The same can't be said about Brickman's collection. She loves it for an entirely different reason.

Her owl cookie jar and bird-topped sugar bowl make her home just a bit more inviting, she said, a bit more fun.

“It's not a sophisticated trend,” she said, “but it makes you smile.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1052,

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