Design & Style
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The Bear Necessities of Rustic Décor

From furniture to architecture to décor, whimsical bruins make themselves at home

By Fran Sigurdsson
Published: February 1, 2005
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A detail from the fireplace surround.
Photo by Pratt & Larson
If you go down to the woods today, you won’t find any bears playing hide and seek. But just open a cabin or cottage door and don’t be surprised if there they are! – bears of all shapes and sizes, gadding about as if they owned the place.
    
Look! There’s a cub perched on the mantel! And there’s another (hold onto your hat!) scaling the hall tree. Why, that bunch is scampering around the room in a game of  “frieze” tag.
   
Ever since the first caveman painted his walls, bears have loomed large in rustic décor. Bearskin rugs and blankets warmed our pioneer forebears. And what hunting lodge would be complete without a mounted bear?
   
Increasingly, bears have made the leap from taxidermy to furniture – and even to architectural elements in the cabin. So if you’re redecorating yours, join in the fun. Extend the welcome mat to well-behaved bruins like the ones pictured here. Here are some ideas to help unleash your inner bear.

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How far can a person go who’s enamored with bears? There’s really no limit, as shown by this fireplace surround decorated in Pratt & Larson tiles topped off by bear statuettes on the mantel.
Photo by Pratt & Larson
Bears in the Wood
   
Bear furniture was the rage in the Adirondack great camps of the rich and famous at the turn of the century, according to Craig Gilborn, author of “Adirondack Furniture and the Rustic Tradition.” Black Forest bears adorned tables, chairs, settees, mirrors, humidors, whip stands and other Gilded Age essentials for wilderness living.
   
The Black Forest Bear pieces, made of linden wood, were named for the Bavarian region and were actually carved in Switzerland by generations of the Trauffer family into the 1950s. Older pieces fetch thousands at auction.
   
Contemporary bears infuse a cabin, cottage or camp retreat with wilderness spirit and a touch of whimsy. But necessity has spawned a variety of artistic approaches.
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This bear seems to be saying, “Bears, bears, bears – What’s all the fuss?”
Photo by Ralph Kylloe, as featured in his book, “Cabins & Camps”
For example, hefty chainsaw-art bears bearing welcome signs or mailboxes introduce the theme before you even cross the threshold. These sentinels can look right at home on the front porch of a log home.
   
Then there are places where a more subtle approach is needed. Wood shutters with cutout images of bears are a nice touch for a cottage exterior.
   
A bas-relief bear carved on the front door or on a screen door establishes cabin owners as members of the bear “clan.” Relief-carved bears can also decorate chests or cabinets in any room.

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A cub nestled comfortably on the mantel sets the right relaxed tone for a living room.
Photo by StairMeister Log Works of Boulder, Colo., www.logstairs.info
Since bears have an affinity for climbing, stairways – especially newel posts – are a favorite hangout. Bears also can be sculpted into posts, or chiseled into the beams they support. The trusses and rafters of an open ceiling make a great playground for adventurous cubs.
  
 “People ask for bears at least 80 percent of the time,” says Oregon artisan Paul Stark, who carves wildlife sculptures in mountain resort homes across the country. One of Stark’s creations features bears climbing a 17-foot “tree” – actually one of the outside support columns of a cabin near Yosemite. Another substitutes bears sleeping on branches for angle braces on a timber frame entryway.  

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Enter carefully. You never know what’s behind a whimsical door such as this. The bears were painted by Allen Ransome.
Photo by Brad Simmons/designer Toad Hall
Fabricating Bears
   
Bears can even bring upholstery to life.
   
Brand name furniture manufacturers are targeting cabin owners with lodge-style collections featuring wildlife art. (Check out the seating from Marshfield, www.marshfieldfurniture.com.)
   
For great camp furniture, bear-motif fabric can provide slipcovers. Or it can be made into draperies or valances to dress windows. Tightly woven fabric can also be backed and used as a wall covering.  
   
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Bears cavorting in the bathroom? Why not! This bear mural was painted by Allen Ransome for a retreat in upstate New York.
Photo by Brad Simmons/designer Toad Hall
Bears in the Paint
   
Like wood, paint has infinite possibilities for bear fanciers. Murals that wrap a dining room, say, can
depict bears as part of the local landscape. Or just stencil a few bear tracks across the mudroom floor – maybe up the walls, too.
   
Search through paint swatches for the earth tones derived from natural clays and ores; these colors are
perfect for parading bears around interior walls, floors or furniture.
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The land of bears can be a magical place, as conveyed in this photo. A hand-crafted bench is supported by two laughing bears, while a birch bark and twig frame showcases the ever-popular art print, “The Bear Dance.”
Photo by Everett Short
Nineteenth century artist William Beard intended his dancing bears to depict the conservative bears of Wall Street celebrating a good business day. But feel free to overlook the satire if you hang a print or
wallpaper border of Beard’s charming bears, and speculate instead on whether bears really do party when nobody’s watching.
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Husband and wife team Jerry and Jessica Farrell, of Once Upon a Forest, collaborate on rustic furniture which features Jessica’s paintings.
Photo by Ralph Kylloe
Bears are no strangers to Jerry and Jessica Farrell of Once Upon a Forest, builders of high-end rustic furniture in the Adirondack tradition. Self-taught contemporary artist Jessica often embellishes the rustic furniture made by husband Jerry with bears. Her folk art creations look like you could reach out and pat them – a result of painting in thousands of hairs in different colors.
   
Jerry’s latest tall case clock features a twig mosaic bear, a bear beadwork design and a bear painting. The clock sold immediately at the Adirondack Museum’s annual Rustic Furniture Fair last September in Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y. “Bears are popular,” says Jerry. “People have always related to bears because they’re kind of human.”

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This art glass window, named “The Adirondack Bear,” is designed to hang in front of a window but can also be customized to replace an existing pane. Photo courtesy Meyda Tiffany.
Photo by Meyda Tiffany
Bears Everywhere – Metal & Glass
   
Silhouetted wrought iron or copper bears delight in romping around chandeliers. Exterior or interior sconces, stair and balcony railings, chairs, tables and fireplace screens are other options for close encounters of the bear kind. Bears can also materialize as pulls for kitchen or bathroom cabinets, door latches, switchplates and drapery hardware.
   
Combine bears, metal and art glass for stunning light fixtures. Meyda Tiffany’s Old Forge Collection,
for example, incorporates amber mica or colorful art glass with solid steel forged into chandeliers, ceiling
pendants, sconces and wall-mounted lanterns – all with bear designs.
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This antique Black Forest hall tree keeps busy holding hats while bear cubs busy themselves with mischief under mother’s watchful eye.
Photo by Ralph Kylloe
Stained or etched glass is a beautiful way to keep a bear in permanent range. Meyda’s new Adirondack bear stained glass panels measuring 25x30 inches are designed to hang in front of a window; each also can be customized to replace an existing pane. If your front entry has sidelights and a transom, consider using art glass here to capture bears through color and imagery.
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These Pratt & Larson bas-relief tiles show bears mingling with their forest friends.
Photo by Pratt & Larson
Let the Bears In – One Tile at a Time
   
Many bears love water, so don’t be surprised if they surface in the cabin kitchen or bath – in ceramic form, that is. The bear is the top seller of Pratt & Larson’s many animal wall tiles, according to marketing director Leigh Odell. “It lends itself to that whole woodsy theme,” she says.
 
Pratt & Larson’s 6x18-inch panels (each consists of three 6x6 tiles of bears and trees, with bears facing left or right) make a great fireplace surround. The 8x12-inch woodland bear panel makes a great centerpiece for the fireplace, or works well as a focal point behind the stovetop.With the company’s 4x8-inch bas-relief tiles, you can have bears running around a kitchen backsplash or as a border in the bathroom.
   
And here’s hoping those are the only bears that end up inside your cabin. But that’s a different story.
    
Frances Sigurdsson, frequent contributor to Cabin Life, has numerous bears gadding about her Adirondack home.

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