Interior designers go back to nature

Birds, butterflies and mammoths are running amok across our interiors. Clare Dwyer Hogg reports on why we're bewitched by animal magic
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The Independent Online

Tord Boontje didn't start it exactly, but he has had quite a lot to do with setting us off on wanting to bring nature back into our homes. Not real nature – the muddy kind that Wellington boots splash around in – but the magical mystical fairy-tale kind that helps urban dwellers in little boxes remember there's more out there than concrete. Boontje's laser-cut metal Garland lightshade created for Habitat in 2003, which you can twist into shapes using the trailing flower tendrils, is ubiquitous now.

And his Until Dawn Curtain (pedlars.co.uk, £57.50), one for dreamers, is made up of interlinked flowers and animals, allowing light to cast shadows on your room more akin to those in a forest than suburbia.

Animals in interiors are nothing new – think of the hunting portraits ever popular with the rural set, and those legions of mugs that depict every kind of dog breed. But that's very different from what's happening now. What you'll find in the shops is something more playful. If it's not the plates by Concetta Gallo that hold illustrations of wild horses galloping around chairs (the introduction of untamed animals into a domestic setting makes the prosaic startling), then it's a tongue-in-cheek look at the animals we're more than happy to have in our home. The independent designer Sharon Bishop has recently produced a range of dinner plates called The Danger Series (hiddenartshop. com, £29.31 per plate) that is intended to discombobulate, with huge animals overshadowing tiny humans. As well as tales of the unexpected – a mammoth creeping up on a girl doing yoga, say – the natural order of things is disrupted, too, especially when a massive pet dog looms over miniature humans cycling furiously away.

But designers are dreamers, imaginers of a world where functionality and aesthetics combine, and so perhaps this steady stream of animals and the outside world traipsing on to our curtains and cushions and dinner plates is more than a trend. We probably need to remember that our sterile little buildings are plonked on real earth and stone that once supported mammoths – and that we're still just a stone's throw from birds and trees and cats and dogs and the odd worm. It's nice to have a way to intertwine the two, to have something of the outside world in our indoor bubbles. If you don't want to step too far into the wild, Cath Kidston's floral prints interspersed with cowboys on horses, or birds and shooting stars, are for the nostalgic interior where nothing seems too fraught with danger. Similarly, Caravan, the wonderfully eclectic shop in east London (www.caravanstyle.com), stocks the Roses and Butterflies rug (£1,780) with an owl resting on roses alongside butterflies and ladybirds, which is more about an enchanted kind of nature than anything too terrifying. Yet its ornamental crow, £22.50, is a different matter: no compromises to cuteness there. Crows may seem an unlikely theme, but the bird crops up again in the Ligne Roset range, where it is transformed into something elegant, gracing one of the brand's tall ceramic vases.

Perhaps we like to turn the wild into something otherworldly; Jonathan Adler, the skilled American ceramicist, is feted on this side of the water for doing just that. His animal creations – elephant money boxes, bird bowls, lion ornaments – all have an eccentricity about them; they come from nature, and they're recognisable, but maybe not exactly as we remember. And this makes sense: we're not adverse to a bit of gold dust, nice colours and patterns, but in this uncertain world, you know where you stand with nature. A lion will try to eat you; a dog will bark; rabbits hop; owls come out at night and hoot. And if all those images are sitting around the house, it's reassuring that the bubble of domesticity isn't completely ignoring the world outside. Plus, lions don't bite when they're on vases – we hope.

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