From the April/May 2021 Issue  

Zebras on Parade

Writer Ren Miller

Stripes take center stage in this iconic wallpaper design

LEFT | The original hand-screened Zebras pattern by Scalamandré features the whimsy of leaping zebras in sophisticated color schemes. Shown in Masai Red. RIGHT | Through a collaboration with Scalamandré, The Inside, a popular e-commerce home furnishings retailer, offers the same design in a peel-and-stick, digitally printed version of the wallpaper in four colors similar to the originals. Shown in Coral.

Who knew that zebras leaping across richly colored wallpaper would capture the hearts of so many people? Whimsical animal themes are often relegated to children’s rooms. But the sophisticated contrast of the zebra’s black and silvery white stripes has elevated it to the highest echelons of fashion and home décor.

One of the African animal’s biggest statements was in the small but seriously popular Gino of Capri restaurant in New York City. The Lexington Avenue landmark opened in 1945 and quickly became the “in” place for some of the brightest lights in the entertainment world. They came to see and be seen and to bask in the personal attention of one of the owners and restaurant namesake Gino Circiello. Frequent guests included singers Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, opera megastar Renata Tebaldi, actor Gregory Peck, writer Gay Talese and television host Ed Sullivan. Many of them had their photos snapped against the restaurant’s signature wallpaper—nothing other than leaping zebras. In fact, the restaurant became known as “the place with the zebras” as much as “Gino’s.”

In the 1970s, fire heavily damaged the restaurant. The wallpaper had to be replaced, and patrons made it clear they wouldn’t settle for anything but zebras. The original source was no longer in operation, so the owners contacted Scalamandré, the New York City-based fabric and wallpaper powerhouse that was making a name for itself with historic commissions.

Owners Franco and Flora Scalamandré agreed to the request, and Flora hand-drew a design that became the now iconic Zebras pattern. The whimsical pattern features a repeat of two black and silvery-white zebras, one large and one small (some people consider them to be mother and child), with black arrows playfully flying in the background. The Zebras design was available originally in Masai Red, Serengeti Green, Zanzibar Gold and Safari Brown.

In addition to the multitude of celebrities photographed in front of the Masai Red version in Gino’s (which closed in 2010), you may have seen it in Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite (1995) or Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). Sharp-eyed readers of Design NJ may recall the pattern (in blue) as one gracing a laundry room in a home designed by Felicia Layne in “Southern Belle in Cape May” in our August/September 2019 issue, beginning on page 92.

The Zebras pattern remains popular with the design community. In fact, after Louis Renzo acquired Scalamandré in 2009, he expanded the pattern. It’s now available in more colors, indoor and outdoor fabrics, and vinyl and grass-cloth wallpaper. In September, a peel-and-stick version of the wallpaper was introduced through Scalamandré’s collaboration with The Inside, an e-commerce home furnishings retailer. The advantages of the peel-and-stick version: it is easy to install, reposition and remove; costs less because it’s printed digitally rather than by hand screening like the original; and is made with eco-friendly, water-based adhesive and Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper. It costs $69 per roll (144 by 18 inches) and comes in four colors similar to the originals: Coral, Yellow, Emerald and Slate.,