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The True Story Behind Scalamandré's Iconic Zebras Wallpaper

history of scalamandré's zebra wallpaper - green wallpaper by staircase

Design: Tyler Karu, Photo: Erin Little, Graphics: MyDomaine

Trends come and go, but some design elements remain iconic. From subway tile to shiplap, there's a rich history behind your favorite décor ideas. Ever wonder how wishbone chairs started popping up in every dining room? Or want to know more about terrazzo tile? In our new series, we'll dig into our favorite design-world icons and uncover the surprising (and sometimes strange) history behind them.

Though you may not be familiar with the name, Scalamandré, chances are, you're definitely familiar with their stunning prints. The luxury design house is famous for their wallcoverings, creating beautiful and timeless patterns in styles ranging from art deco-inspired to traditional toile. Their most famous design, immortalized in the 2001 Wes Anderson film, The Royal Tenenbaums, is bright, bold, and immediately recognizable: the Zebras Wallpaper. First created in the 1940’s for New York's Gino of Capri restaurant, this inimitable design has remained a hallmark of the Scalamandré brand.

"The Zebras design is bold, graphic, and without excess detail, which makes it timeless and allows it to span across a wider assortment of styles," Faith Stoveld, marketing manager for Scalamandré, tells MyDomaine. "The design is also a part of history and portrays a sort of in-the-know factor that is shared among the people that know of Scalamandré, Gino’s, or The Royal Tenenbaums, and have it installed in their home."

The Zebras design is bold, graphic, and without excess detail, which makes it timeless and allows it to span across a wider assortment of styles.

From the inception of the brand to its legacy today, here's everything you need to know to become a Scalamandré insider.

Where It All Began

scalamandré zebras wallcovering - green pattern in house

Design: Tyler Karu, Photo: Erin Little Photo

Like so many influential design stories, the origin of the House of Scalamandré begins in Italy. Franco Scalamandré emigrated from Naples in 1923, fleeing from the early days of the Mussolini regime. After finding work at the Westinghouse Electric Company due to his engineering background, Scalamandré eventually landed at The Sealy School of Interior Design in Paterson, New Jersey, teaching architectural design. Through this position, Scalamandré was able to import Italian fabrics for his various design projects and finally produced his first silk print in 1926. Just a few years later, Scalmandré married Flora Baranzelli, a fellow Italian designer and they started Scalamandré Silks in Paterson in 1929.

His business took off from there, aided by the growing preservation movement of the 1920s, which aimed to save and preserve historic architecture. One of his most high-profile clients, the esteemed publisher William Randolph Hearst, hired him to weave seven yards of fabric to match a blue brocatelle for his estate. In the Scalamandré lore, Hearst initally thought the fabric looked much too new. Scalamandré took the fabric back home, re-dyed it, and laid it on the roof overnight where it unexpectedly snowed, leaving the fabric with the perfect vintage aesthetic. Hearst called it "the best reproduction that anyone had ever seen."

From there, Scalamandré grew its reputation as a premier textiles firm as well as its clientele, restoring draperies for Monticello in the 1950s and redesigning the White House's public staterooms under the Kennedy administration. Though the design house has had great success, the story of their most famous iteration begins in the 1940s.

The Design of the Zebras Wallcovering

history of scalamandré zebras wallpaper - red wallpaper install in gino's restaurant

Courtesy of Scalamandré

The Zebras wallpaper was first created in the 1940s for Gino of Capri restaurant, or "Gino's" if you were one of the Upper East Side locals who frequented the haunt. Contrary to popular belief, the original design was created by Scalamandré's friend Valentino, not Scalamandré himself.

"Without having visual proof, it is said that Valentino created the design to represent a safari that his friend, Gino had wanted to go on but was never able to cross off his list," Stoveld says. "The design was placed over vibrant colors to hide future sauce stains when dining in the restaurant."

When the restaurant was badly damaged from a fire in the 1970's, Scalamandré's wife Flora stepped in to restore the pattern, and her free-handed design is now known world over as the iconic Zebras print. From becoming an emblem of Gino's to appearances in popular culture like Mighty Aphrodite and The Royal Tenanbaums, the design has seen a rise outside of the design industry.

"The Zebras wallpaper was loved by all those that frequented the Gino of Capri restaurant, however what is known today as our iconic design was Flora Scalamandré’s free-handed version that became most popular and celebrated when installed back into the restaurant, reconnecting the restaurant's patrons with nostalgic memories," Stoveld explains.

More times than not, you glance through the magazine pages of someone’s home being featured and can spot the beloved Zebras.

Though Flora's design was meant to be true to the original, there was a small mishap during production.

"The screen maker accidentally left out a stripe in the Zebras motif when creating the screens," Stoveld explains. "Instead of waiting, Gino wanted the wallpaper to be installed as soon as possible and didn’t mind that the stripe was missing. The missing stripe detail became a part of the design’s history, and Zebras was an instant hit!"

The Zebras Wallcovering Today

scalamandré zebra wallpaper

Design: Garrow K Designs; Photo: JRG Photo

All these years later, it isn't difficult to stumble upon the Zebras pattern in the wild. Though the pattern was originally made in a bold red, today you can find the design in 11 other colorways and produced as indoor or outdoor fabric, or even in vinyl and grasscloth wallcoverings.

A popular choice for powder rooms, children's rooms, and living rooms, this iconic design shows no signs of waning public adoration.

"More times than not, you glance through the magazine pages of someone’s home being featured and can spot the beloved Zebras," Stoveld says. "We find the most joy when we are able to unexpectedly spot the prancing Zebras installed in a home, as we know it means that someone loved the design enough to incorporate it into their lives every day and that is an honor!" 

Article Sources
MyDomaine uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Rise to Power of Benito Mussolini.” Encyclopædia Britannica

  2. "The Story of Scalamandré: An American Tradition." Scalamandré.

  3. "Preservation Movement." Dictionary of American History.