Tasteful Taxidermy: Yes, You Can Decorate With Dead Animals

The golden rule does not apply to humans and animals, especially when it comes to the art of taxidermy. For centuries, stuffed animals were generally found only in game lodges and log cabins, but there has been a noticeable resurgence in taxidermy décor as more people seek to reconnect with nature. Today, dead animals, whether specimens (exact replicas) or trophies (prized parts, such as the head or horns), can be found in suburban townhouses and high-rise city apartments.

The trend is popular with everyone, from extremists like the millionaire who recently donated his 400-piece collection to a Virginia museum to those who simply want a single mount or small curio cabinet in their study. While there are others, too, who want to preserve their pets, these how-to tips pertain to non-domesticated animals.

Aim to Underwhelm – It sounds counterintuitive, but the trick to working with taxidermy is to make sure it isn’t the room’s focal point. So says Simeone Deary, the interior design firm responsible for decorating one of the most luxurious dude ranches in the country, the exclusive Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming. Instead, Deary recommends using pieces to accentuate the view, the furniture or the functionality of the space.

Obey the Rule of Scale – Deary’s designers pay very close attention to scale. In Brush Creek’s multistory open-layout dining room, large game mounts, including bull elk and buffalo, hang well with the height. But in a much smaller man cave, guests feel more welcome and comfortable among size-appropriate mounts like stuffed waterfowl and bearskin rugs that add a warm depth to the space.

Be an Informed Buyer – Although many people decorate with wild animals they’ve harvested themselves, others need to purchase pieces. George Dante, founder of Wildlife Preservations, has almost 30 years of experience in the industry and stresses the importance of dealing with a reputable supplier. “Be sure it’s an established business that is well informed of the laws pertaining to buying and selling wildlife,” he says. “Many laws are very complicated and vary from state to state as well as federal. Breaking them can come with extremely high penalties.” It’s also wise to ask a lot of questions about the item’s condition — especially its age. Pieces from before the 1930s may have traces of toxic materials like arsenic and mercury that were used for preservation and as insecticides. (That’s right, a dead animal can still contain insect eggs or larva!)

Work with Odd Numbers – Interior designer Kecia Clarke,  author of Design to Inspire, likes to hang in threes. But don’t waste your time trying to achieve perfect balance, because all wild animals are different and symmetry isn’t possible. Since the eye is drawn to bigger things, Clarke recommends mounting the largest trophy in the middle. When you hang the biggest piece between smaller pieces, peripheral vision ensures they’ll all be seen.

Don’t Do Dining Rooms, Kitchens and Bedrooms – Most people don’t like to take a bite of salad and then look up and make eye contact with something dead, Clarke says. So dining rooms and kitchens are off-limits. She also isn’t a fan of having an extra head or two in the bedroom, since making love ­– or even sleeping – isn’t easy if you feel you’re being watched. Besides, the point of having trophies is often to tell how you got them, so they should be displayed in a more social environment, like a living room.

Lighting – Taxidermy typically implies stuffing or mounting dead animals so they resemble their living selves, but some of the best ways to incorporate the taxidermy trend is through lighting — an essential component for every room. While an entire deer, or even just its head, can be overwhelming or confronting, antler chandeliers can be inviting and impressive. For a textured lampshade, use an animal skin – but keep it stylish, and use only the unmaimed sections.

Take Proper Care – Taxidermy should be cared for as any other artifact or piece of art, Dante says. Most pieces require just a gentle feather-dusting every few months, but an older piece or one that was improperly stored may shed more often and require vacuuming. Always groom in the direction that the hair grows. When in doubt, hire a professional. To maintain luster and prevent fading, make sure you invest in sturdy mounting hardware and display your pieces at room temperature with low humidity and limited light exposure.

Go Faux or Vegan – New York City-based interior designer William Jude isn’t a fan of traditional taxidermy, but he has noticed the trend becoming prevalent in residences and commercial venues. As an alternative to working with dead animals, Jude likes to find faux, also known as vegan, pieces crafted from materials like ceramics, paper and wood. Such pieces can be found everywhere, from big box stores like Target and Ikea to higher end home décor stores like Mecox and Williams-Sonoma Home.