Whether you consider yourself an outdoorsy person or not, humans have a desire to connect with the natural world. We are drawn to the flora and fauna that resides outside, and we find ways to bring nature into our homes through windows, outdoor living spaces, and motifs — like botanical and bug patterns. Incorporating nature into our residences is as ancient as humanity itself.
Whether you’ve given it much thought up to this point, we are each drawn to a specific botanical or bug pattern. Personally, I love mushrooms. Fungi are beautiful yet creepy, and for some reason, they just make me happy. (Lucky for me, mushroom patterns are also a 70s trend that’s making its way back in style!) Some designers and homeowners take bug and botanical motifs beyond printed patterns. I have a designer friend who gained notoriety in the New York Times for designing a two-story entry hall clad floor to ceiling with actual bugs — dead and secured to the walls with pins like a scientific study. It was somewhat jarring but completely stunning. Botanical and bug patterns like ferns, ivies, butterflies, and beetles have been popular for decades, becoming classic staples of the design world.
Botanicals and bugs make their way into our home designs just like they make their way into our daily lives. However, a dragonfly print textile is much more welcomed than a housefly! In this Interior Design Glossary entry, I review the definition, history, and benefits of botanical and bug patterns in home design. Plus, I share why botanical and bug prints are trending again.
What are Botanical and Bug Patterns?
Botanical and bug patterns draw from the organic forms of flora and fauna. They are applied in repeating or free-flowing patterns to various home goods, including textiles, artwork, wallpapers, etc. Popular botanical motifs include flowers, vines, leaves, and mushrooms. Popular bug motifs include dragonflies, bees, butterflies, and beetles. Patterns can range from literal to impressionistic interpretations. While botanical and bug motifs lean more traditional and have deep roots in the Art Nouveau movement, contemporary pattern variations are available.
A Brief History of Botanical and Bug Patterns in Interior Design
Since ancient times, botanicals and bugs have made their way into our homes (literally and through artistic representation). Artforms include paintings, textiles, sculptures, carvings, and jewelry. In fact, one of the oldest discoveries of insect art is a 14,000-year-old engraving of a cricket found in a cave in southern France! As civilizations developed, the fascination and incorporation of botanicals and bugs only grew. The Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations included insects and plants, like beetles and reeds, on sacred artifacts. The Greeks furthered the practice and used illustrations to scientifically depict and identify plant species. Centuries later, these creatures still seem to be our muses.
While many design periods incorporate botanical and bug motifs, none embraced the organic form quite like the Art Nouveau movement. Art Nouveau design started in Britain in the late 1800s and quickly became popular across Europe before moving to other parts of the world. It was a direct response against industrialization by artists and designers who chose to embrace the organic forms found in nature. The style is characterized by asymmetrical and curved lines, a combination of dynamic materials, and the heavy use of botanical and bug patterns. Insects and plants made their way onto stained glass, moldings, lighting, and jewelry. 1970s trends took a page from Art Nouveau and brought back organic patterns, especially mushrooms, for a groovy interpretation of the organic look. Today, botanical and bug prints are trending once again. (Although, one could argue that they never went out of style over the last few thousand years.)
Types of Botanical and Bug Patterns
Botanical and bug patterns can be hyper-realistic in their betrayal. In some cases, an interior design plan may even use scientific drawings as art pieces.
Impressionist botanical and bug patterns don’t portray a specific plant or insect but rather draw inspiration from their organic forms to create a whole new design.
Many traditional botanical and bug patterns repeat in a highly structured pattern, creating a contrast between the organic form of the subject and the rigid nature of the application.
Freeform and Mural
Freeform botanical and bug patterns take a cue from the organic form of the subject and may appear random. In some cases, botanical and bug motifs may take on the form of a scenic mural.
Benefits of Using Botanical and Bug Patterns in the Home
Connections to Nature
Botanical and bug patterns provide connections to nature in the home, improving our moods and creating a more peaceful environment. Applying these motifs in rooms that are somewhat closed off to the outside is especially effective for bringing the natural world inside.
Ties to Specific Design Styles
Interior design styles, including Art Nouveau and Victorian, are tied to botanical and bug patterns. So, they need to be incorporated into the design to achieve the look. When working in a specific historical style, it is good to work with an interior designer who knows the history of the interior design era you are trying to emulate.
Reflections on Organic Beauty
Interior design affects our mood, and incorporating the beauty of the natural world inside our homes can help brighten our day. After all, botanical and bug patterns remind us of the natural beauty all around us. I know I feel a little bit happier whenever I see a mushroom motif!
Ways to Incorporate Botanical and Bug Patterns in Home Design
Wallpaper is a beautiful and classic way to incorporate botanical and bug patterns in the home. Wallpaper companies throughout history have created prints inspired by flora and fauna. Morris & Co. wallpapers are exceptionally well known for their luxurious naturalistic style, creating subtle stylized depictions of nature with expert artistry.
Textiles are easier to change out if you are experimenting with botanical and bug patterns for the first time. Laura Ashley is a classic example of floral patterns (which I personally love as a child of the 80s.) Jeanette Farrier also produces lovely textiles rooted in natural designs.
Botanicals and bugs are muses not only for interior designers but also for artists. Hanging art is an effective way to bring in flora and fauna motifs. There are various mediums to choose from, including insect and floral decoupage, photos by artists like Karl Blossfeldt, and even illustrations from scientific journals.
Cement tiles, a feature of Moroccan design that has become quite popular, often employ sun and botanical patterns. Often, these patterns are much more impressionistic and can carry through the organic form of botanicals more subtly.
Are Botanical and Bug Patterns Trending Again?
Botanical and bug patterns have been trending for the past 14,000 years or so, and I only see them rising in popularity. Current design trends seem to embrace more natural elements, possibly because we seek to form a stronger connection to our natural roots in the age of technology and distractions. We see a move away from stark white neutral and an embrace of color and pattern in styles like 70s revival and cottagecore.
I believe comfort is the biggest interior design trend. We tend to find comfort in what’s familiar, even if it’s a bug.
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Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.