A leopard skin rug for my home tiki bar — this is a tough search!

What’s a home tiki bar without a little bit of leopard skin (faux, of course) included? Yes, even though leopards did not prowl Oceanic locations, leopard skin upholstery became associated with tiki decor in the 1940s and 1950s. For example, very famously, Elvis’ Jungle Room is full of animal-print covered Witco furniture of leopard. Leopard print was always the most popular tiki choice, though. Before I start showing you upholstery options for the sectional that will go into my Mahalo Lounge, it’s important to get grounded: I plan to have the main sitting area defined on a big leopard skin rug. So far, I have found two suitable options, although I’m still looking, because I’m not 100% satisfied these are “the best” I can do.

Above: The rug will anchor:

  • The new wedge- (rounded corner) shaped sectional — upholstery TBD.
  • Two vintage Barcelona chairs upholstered in medium-dark caramel brown leather.
  • A cherry Baker side table from the 1960s.
  • A clear glass coffee table with black wrought iron legs — one of the first pieces I ever bought at a yard sale (in 1987) and which has been with me through six apartments or houses!

You’ve already seen the draperies — they need to coordinate with the rug as well.

Looking for a leopard print rug online

Leopard print inspiration from vintage Witco — see this story

Of course, the first thing that I did was to jump online to find a made-to-order leopard print rug that I liked. No luck: Many designs had bold edging, which I did not want. Others had iffy reviews, ala “they shed” or “the spots are much larger in real life than in the photos online” — and I did not want to order a large rug only to have to pay a large postage bill to return it. Finally, as you can see in my room layout two photos up, I think I’ll need a 10′ x 13′ rug. No one makes that size as a standard offering.

Find a wall-to-wall carpet — and bind it into an area rug

So then … I went looking for wall-to-wall carpet that I could have bound, to my custom size, into an area rug.

Golly, it was also tough to find examples of leopard print carpeting online. I think there may be too many companies, and maybe their keywords aren’t optimized or something.

But, based on a tip from a reader (ack, I can’t find the email to thank him — I think it was a him), I found a Karastan design that seemed possible… Then, I looked for a nearby dealer. That sent me on a trip to American Rug in Holyoke, Mass. I brought my fabric along — and as you can see from my photo shoot above, there were plenty of options to play with. I could also see: A leopard print area rug is going to look fantastic with the draperies! Hmmmm…. maybe I should do leopard print upholstery on my sectional, instead of on a rug????

In my fun hour at American Rug,we pulled out all these boards, and I eyeballed them versus the drapery fabric. I was looking for color and for scale. I wanted the leopard spots to be black, and I wanted a creamy or golden field. The scales that were too smaller/tighter did not appeal to me as much as the larger-scale designs; what with the size of the furniture sitting on the carpet and also the scale of the graphics on the draperies. I wanted to see those leopard spots!

The Masland Leopard in Big Cat

I came home with three sample boards, and two of them are finalists, shown above:

  • Astro quickly showed his preference for the Kane Kaplani in the Nimble Lynx design, which was softer. I like this design because of all the gold in the field — it ties nicely to the gold in the draperies and the natural red oak floor. Downsides: (1) the repeat is not as large as the other choice; (2) it’s some sort of petrochem fiber [seriously, what the heck is “Eurolon”], although on that you could argue it likely cleans up easily. Tiki parties can get messy. Finally (3), it’s about 30% less expensive than the next option…
  • Masland Carpet’s “Leopard” in the “Big Cat” colorway. This one is 100% wool, which we like the idea of. Downside: The field is more ivory than gold; the repeat is larger; as I recall, the spots are not as defiantly black; and, it’s more expensive – although not prohibitively so.

Oh: Above you can get a sense of how my new sectional will be positioned. We have a vintage sectional downstairs — and we hauled it upstairs to play with to ensure our idea for a sectional in the tiki space will work. It does. We will be having a new sectional made mimicking the dimensions of this vintage design.

Now I welcome your opinions!:

Which design should I go for:
The bold gold-and-black polyester from Kane?
Or the less edgey but real wool from Masland?
Or: Can anyone find me more options?

Next up: Choosing sectional upholstery that will look good with the rug and the draperies.

Categoriestiki and bars
  1. Peter says:

    I see what others were talking about in previous comments regarding the differences in background colors in leopard print. While it makes for a more authentic looking animal pelt design, one’s eye does tend to focus on the light versus dark areas and not the leopard spots themselves.

    In the estate sale photos at the link you shared, Pam, the lighter areas of the carpet actually look worn away compared to the darker sections. I know that’s not the case, but it does play tricks on the brain.

    My wall-to-wall leopard print carpet has a solid background with a not-so-obvious repeating pattern of spots.

  2. KeyPal says:

    I like the middle choice – it really works with the drapes and would look great with pops of gold with lighting and decor! I think the “classic” gold/cream leopard print competes with the drapes too much. Just my opinion. Love all your Retro Renovation posts!!!!

  3. linoleummy says:

    Yes, the Kaplani! Or the estate sale carpet! I agree the gold is better with your drapes & the spots are a perfect scale. Now show us the sectional upholstery! I just cant wait to see your hanging lamps back in “the wild”.

  4. J D Log says:

    Go Leopard skin my indoor bar is fake tiger skin looks great. Peggy from Married With Children can’t be wrong

  5. If you’re going to do leopard on the floor, Astro definitely has the right idea. Woof, woof!

    Wow, you and I are on similar decorating tracks! My house is a c.1955 “midcentury modest” with all-original features, and I’ve used that exact fabric from Diamondhead for a wall panel on the living room “TV wall,” behind a teak media cabinet and next to a wonderful little lamp (painted camel hide base from India and custom-made rust-and-cream ’50s shade). Though I have no leopard in that room, I have to say that this fabric goes BEAUTIFULLY with a variety of animal prints, not just leopard. My living room drapes are a bold cream-and-black zebra print (not pinch-pleated, unfortunately, but a nice ready-made pair w/grommet top from Pier 1), and the overall look is incredible.

    I also bought two of the ready-made pillows in that fabric; these co-exist well with the toast-and-black TIGER striped pillows on the sofa, which is solid sage green. Yes, tiger works, too! And two animal prints CAN be in the same room together. In fact, I hang around the house in a plush leopard-print robe.

    I call this decorating style not tiki but “Midcentury Rainforest.” We have 13 pet parrots and cockatoos (mostly rescued); some species are South/Central American, some African, some Australian, etc. So excuse the pun when I say decorating is my “pet” project. A green-cheeked conure — named “Tiki” — has her home right next to the TV cabinet, her cage almost bursting with toys made of coconut shells and brightly colored fibers. Behind her, there’s an original indoor brick planter and, behind that, some sage/black palm-tree-printed wallpaper. Big manzanita-wood perches for the birds to hang out on simply add to the tropical look.

    Parrot motifs are everywhere. One thing I collect that would be great in your tiki lounge: Miller chalkware parrots! I also have a full “aquarium” wall (two walls, actually) of pink and white chalkware fish in my original pink-tile bathroom.

    Doing this is so fun. Whenever I think I’m getting too preoccupied with it, I’ll just remember how obsessed you are with your project and realize I’m (maybe) not QUITE as crazy as you.


  6. Hunter Hampton says:

    Hi Pam,

    Funny thing about choosing, you agonize for a long time when finally decide and it looks great. Me, I would look at a photo of a leopard and choose the rug that looks closest to real leopard skin.

  7. MJ says:

    Watching this with interest. One note: a wool carpet is likely to be nibbled on by moths. They are working on my Bokhara now. Trying to vacuum often enough to discourage them. Am opeto other suggestions. (Now i know why old orientals/persians. etc are so thin and have little to no wool on them).

  8. missbike says:

    I’ve been through a few huge olefin animal print rugs, I buy cheap ones off Ebay. The current leopard is 12 x 12 and I’m very happy with it; the gold and black are warm in a room with red walls. It’s different than your theme, but I like the gold. It’ fine on the floor, I remember gold rugs and curtains in the period. Barely.

    Also have a monster 14 x 16 in the living room is black Zebra on cream. It shows a ton of dirt! It’s spectacular with three pink Xmas trees, and the whole point of the cheap olefin (totally polyester) and is that spots scrub out. I have dogs and cocktails etc. And muddy people wandering through. I’ve rolled up that rug and dragged it out to use the pressure washer on it in the driveway before.

    I’ve also been on a tight budget, but in a room for drinks and late nights polyester may deserve some consideration cause it’ll clean easily when wool needs to be sent out. You want a nicer rug than these, my go to heck post Katrina statement, but wool is great on the toes but synthetic is easier to get a Bloody Mary out of.

    I can’t tell the scale on the spots, but actual leopard color is period and I think works really well.

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