Decorating & Design

April 5, 2018

Tommy Smythe Shares Two Classic Prints That Deliver Timeless Style

Designer Tommy Smythe dishes on two classic decorator prints. 

In the world of textiles, we’re either drawn to timeless classics or to what is invariably a new interpretation of a classic. In other words, it’s rare to encounter something entirely new. And when designing our own interior Edens, we often gravitate toward fabrics derived from patterns in nature. Of all the patterns depicting flora and fauna, tree of life and leopard are perhaps the most iconic.

When Europeans voyaged to India and Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries, they returned home with beautiful and rare textiles and crafts. That’s how the tree
of life pattern came to grace parlors from London to Los Angeles, and how leopard made its way into our living rooms.

We adore these exotic, essential patterns because we all aspire to a life less ordinary. We want our interior views to have both animal magnetism and an earthy abundance. So leap like a leopard for the low-slung, fruited branch of the tree of life — grab a yard or two of one of these iconic fabrics and make it your own!

Tree Of Life

tree of life

If the image of the tree of life looks familiar, it’s because a version of it has been adopted by nearly every ancient religion and culture the world has ever known. The tree of life is universal; it’s evocative of the mysteries of creation. When rendered as a textile pattern on linen or cotton or wool, it also makes dynamite drapes! Because this fanciful motif moves and inspires us, we’ve created countless versions of the pattern.


Patterned animal hides have been used in dwellings since humans set up camp in caves; leopard print, specifically, has made an appearance in virtually every era. Whether you’re a devotee of Deco, a true traditionalist or even a mid-mod Mad Man, leopard always looks luxe. Ironically, this spotted pattern is the safest of all bold decorating moves. Confused? Try to think of another busy pattern that is simultaneously so classic that it’s nearly a neutral. Spread across a sofa, down a staircase or on an accent piece, leopard print will always make you seem like a stylish risk-taker (whether it’s true or not).

Author: Tommy Smythe

Philippe Garcia from Pierre Frey: Inspiring Interiors: A French Tradition of Luxury by Serge Gleizes, edited by Caroline Levesque, Abrams, 2015 (bedroom); Michael Partenio from Elements of Style: Designing A Home & A Life by Erin Gates, Simon & Schuster, 2014 (staircase)


House & Home October 2017