I thought it would be fun to kick off the week with a new Design Discussion post. Today’s very controversial design topic (eek!)? Taxidermy. This one was actually a reader request that I was nervous to write about, but obliged. If you’re new around here, my Design Discussion series covers interior and home topics that people have strong feelings toward: styling with books, countertop space, stacked laundry units, nude art, rugs in the bathroom… you name it. I enjoy chatting about all sorts of design topics. It’s pretty fascinating and enlightening to hear unique perspectives, and learn about everyone’s preferences. I also enjoy sharing my personal opinion, background, and design philosophy surrounding some of these touchy subjects. Now- before we dive in, this topic is probably one that could elicit strong opinions, but I trust we can all be respectful of our differences and interior preferences. Let’s be sure to keep it friendly! I know I don’t have to say that to 99.9% of my friends here, but just as a precaution, consider that my reminder to keep things friendly. Let’s do it… click through!
Taxidermy… I’ve found people either like incorporating it into their homes, or hate it and are totally against it. However, most of these topics are love / hate, so that’s no surprise! The only taxidermy you’ve seen in my house is my vintage European antler mount in our formal living room, which I actually get a ton of questions about. I’m guessing my philosophy on taxidermy isn’t the popular opinion, but I’d still love to share my background, past, and design reasoning.
If you’ve been reading for awhile now, you already know I come from a small rural town, grew up on a small farm, and I’m guessing you’ve figured out by now- I eat all sorts of things, including meat (based on the recipes I share). I was a 10 year 4-H member, and always had to auction my livestock on the last day of the county fair- which is honestly an experience I absolutely loved (being in 4-H, not the auction). Anyway, I learned the tough lesson early on, that our animals were kind of like pets- we treated them well, we loved on them, we took amazing care of them, but they were also our livelihood… meaning they’d eventually go to market. I think that actually created a healthy understanding of food and sustainability for me. I value livestock that is treated well, love supporting small farmers, and care about quality when it comes to our food. Anyway, I’m thankful for my experience as a farm kid and teenager, and I could definitely see Emmett and myself having a little farm of our own someday (probably just for fun though with pets or horses). So how does food and farm life relate to taxidermy?
I also come from a family of hunters, who hunted as a food resource. Taxidermy was always very normal to me, so much so- that I didn’t even realize it was controversial until going off to design school. My family always fully used the animals that provided for us. I remember eating and trying all sorts of things that ended up on the dinner table as a kid- deer / venison, elk, rabbit, wild turkey, quail, squirrel, etc. To this day, Emmett’s mom sends us a cooler filled with venison, processed by his uncle, for Christmas each year. When I would come home from college, my dad would always send us back with a few pounds of elk from the freezer. I also remember my family sharing our deep freezer of meat with friends & neighbors, and those who needed extra food. I actually think our local food pantry accepted wild game. In high school, we even had to take a “Hunters Education & Safety” class. Emmett & I were actually in that class together, where we learned about safety, population control from our local conservation officers, and the importance of hunting in a humane, responsible way. All of that to say- it was a BIG part of the community we grew up in, and the majority of the people in our small town had taxidermy in their homes because of it.
Now that you know a little bit about my upbringing, let’s talk taxidermy in design. I really do think taxidermy is a beautiful and historic art form, although it’s not something I automatically think or seek to buy. When I’m designing a room, it isn’t like other accessories, where I think, “Oh!! I can’t forget to add an antler mount to this space!” like I would artwork or a lamp. I like the taxidermy I already own (a few vintage antler finds and my Dad’s collection). If I were to see something cool while thrift shopping (like European mounted antlers), I’d probably grab them, if they fit my space… but again- it’s not something I actively search for. I have a shelf in my prop closet devoted to the taxidermy I inherited from my Dad after he passed, that is really special and eventually I’ll find a place for in our home. Those feel sentimental, nostalgic, and are special to me.
In terms of design, taxidermy in interior spaces has a long standing history. When I lived in Europe and did more traveling abroad, I noticed a lot of taxidermy… in estates and homes I toured, while vintage shopping, and in museums. It seems to live in more traditional environments with a very classical aesthetic. When I used to be apart of ASID (American Society of Interior Design), we would have monthly meetings and one chapter meeting was a field trip to a club filled with vintage taxidermy. We discussed the history behind it, how designers have used it over the years, and why people either love or hate it. It was honestly an interesting meeting.
If you’re curious what a few other designers (including Ken Fulk) think about taxidermy, check out this article. Jonathan Adler states that he wishes taxidermy would go away for good, in this article. Some of my friends have gently approached the subject as well. Nicole, from Making it Lovely, thrifted a peacock and wrote about it in this post. My friend Gwen, of the Makerista, posted a zebra she thrifted and quickly took down her stories shortly after sharing (which honestly made me nervous to share this post). Summer Thornton wrote a blog post titled, Taxidermy- Love or Loathe? and you can read that here. The Wall Street Journal has even covered this topic! There are a zillion opinions.
I could definitely see how taxidermy could be unsettling- and it even is for me (someone who grew up with it) in certain situations. I can also understand why some enjoy thrifting or adding taxidermy to their homes. In regards to my own opinion… I don’t mind taxidermy, and I do like the look of tastefully done taxidermy in certain vignettes. I’m not opposed to vintage or ethically sourced pieces if they work well in a space. I will say- I’m fully against trophy hunting, poaching, and instances where animals are obtained illegally for decor (or other purposes). We have friends & family members who hunt responsibly to fill their freezers to support their family or community, and sometimes have (usually antlers or the rack from deer or elk) mounted. We also have friends & family who would never bring taxidermy in their home- new or vintage. We love them all the same. Please know there is zero judgement coming from me on this topic! You know what I always say… do what YOU love in YOUR home. Ready for the poll?
I’ll share one last (kind of unrelated) taxidermy story with you… when I was studying fine art in Italy, my drawing class spent a few days sketching at the La Specola museum, which houses incredible taxidermy (go check it out). I was in the bird room drawing a pair of owls, I finished my sketch, flew home to the states a couple months later, and Emmett decided to get a tattoo of my owl sketch on his arm. I thought that was absolutely crazy because we weren’t married (or even engaged) at that point. I thought, “Oh yikes… if we ever call it quits, he is going to have to live with my owl sketch on his arm forever!” Haha! That seemed like a big commitment. All of that to say, technically Emmett has a taxidermy tattoo, which sounds very strange when you say it out loud. I’ll drop a visual below…
If you’re looking for more Design Discussion topics to chat about, I’ll link them below…
- Hardwoods in the Kitchen
- Nude Art
- Countertop Space
- Color Blocking
- TV Over the Fireplace
- Stacked vs Side-by-Side Laundry Units
- Furniture Arranged Against a Wall
- Shelf Styling with Books
- Wool Rugs in the Bathroom
If you don’t like taxidermy, how do you feel about insect specimens- moths, butterflies, or beetles pinned in a frame? How do you feel about horn, bone inlay, antlers, leather, sheepskin rugs, fur, feathers, etc? What about faux taxidermy? These days the resin reproductions look just like the real thing! There are so many different types of taxidermy or using animals in one way or another, as its deeply rooted in culture and design (it dates back to the Egyptians!), and obviously is a very complex subject. What are your thoughts? We’re definitely seeing the traditional and grand millennial styles quickly gaining popularity, and it makes me wonder if we’ll begin to see more classical taxidermy in the coming year. I’m not sure! I can say, you’ll see a couple of my Dad’s taxidermy pieces in our house eventually (spoiler alert- I didn’t take any of the larger pieces… my brothers have those). If you are into taxidermy, I’ll drop some vintage finds below. Let’s do an easier topic next time, ok? Hah! Ideas for the next Design Discussion are welcome!