FOR MANY ski-home owners, displaying game native to a region affirms man’s long hard climb up the food chain. “In the West, elk, antelope and deer are plentiful,” said Santa Fe, N.M., designer Jet Zarkadas. “There is an honor, if you are a meat eater, in killing your own game.”
To others, stuffed animals non-paradoxically celebrate wildlife. Billings, Mont., designer Jeremiah Young decorates with taxidermy such as buffalo, moose and even a white peacock to “bring nature into a home and preserve the beauty of animals in places where the natural world is revered.”
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Nicky Dobree arrays mountain lodges with well-executed taxidermy as the equal of art. The London decorator hung the head of an oryx—a straight-horned antelope whose pale fur is inflected with stark, dark markings—on a stone wall in a Saas-Fee, Switzerland, ski chalet to “draw attention to what might have been a neglected part of the room” and highlight its impressive scale. Similarly, Boston interior designer Laurie Gorelick believes such creatures, even in death, enliven a space by adding an “organic, 3D element to a vertical plane.”
Ms. Dobree confines immortalized beasts to living spaces rather than bedrooms. “As with a portrait painting,” she warns, “the eyes of good taxidermy will follow you around the room.”
Ethical taxidermists counter the controversy of the Victorian-era discipline by acquiring animals that have died naturally or as part of legitimate husbandry. Online vintage retailer Chairish offers a 1960s rug made from the striped hide of a Burchell zebra, a species legally farmed for human consumption, for $2,880.
Once, exotic or dead animals were shorthand for wealth, said Charleston, S.C., taxidermist Becca Barnet. In taxidermy, she said, you still find “a residual nod to luxury.”
CRITICS ARE eager for taxidermy to die of natural causes. “In the last 10 years, it became cringingly ubiquitous, an international symbol of hipster glam,” said New York potter and designer Jonathan Adler. “Opening an artisanal-cocktail den? Hang a bison on the wall and toss a jaunty hat on its horn. It’s a depressing ode to animal cruelty.”
Other design pros concur, dubbing taxidermy morbid and uncouth, adding that clients—smart-home surveillance notwithstanding—dislike the idea of being watched.
“We were once asked to work out an amicable solution between a husband and wife as to where his deer trophies would go,” said Dallas decorator Jean Liu. “Everyone finally agreed to have them in the TV room, where the wife spent little time and didn’t see them as often.”
Another solution? Replace your conquest with a cruelty-free alternative. For a Bend, Ore., mountain-style home, Portland interior designer Max Humphrey commissioned five buck heads—foam busts outfitted with real antlers—from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, artist Chase Halland and covered them in Pendleton wool fabrics. The quintet hang as a focal point in the foyer, symbolizing a sort of cease-fire.
makers to specialty shops, retailers run wild with tasteful takes on the craft, ranging from the whimsical—a felted wool elephant head hand-stitched in organic lamb’s wool ($168, serenaandlily.com)—to the pop-art punchy, such as a polyresin 8-point stag in stark white or sea foam green ($110, whitefauxtaxidermy.com).
“A dead giraffe presiding above the mantle is deeply upsetting,” said Mr. Adler. “But a giant brass giraffe sculpture by [artist] Sergio Bustamante is nirvana.”
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