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Material Desire: Shagreen

Shagreen - Taylor Howes bespoke detail

There are few things more fascinating to me than discovering new materials, or spotting beautiful materials combined in a way I’ve never seen before.

So, it makes perfect sense for me to dedicate a new section on the blog to exactly that – my material desire.



I’ve recently spotted various items, from side tables to jewellery boxes, that I’ve fallen in love with – and been intrigued by the unusual, rough-textured appearance.

I’ve since discovered this is shagreen, a course leather that has been used in interiors and the home for centuries.

Shagreen and chrome table

Dating back to China in the 2nd Century AC, traditional shagreen was made of raw, un-tanned cowhide and was used to create swords, bows and daggers – its course texture providing adequate grip.

Shagreen detailIn the 17th and 18th centuries, manufacturing evolved to the use of shark and stingray skin.

A popular material with the French aristocracy, shagreen became synonymous with decadence, luxury and exoticism.

RH Modern shagreen and brushed brass table

The Art Deco era saw a later resurgence of the material, with craftsman producing everything from tables to luggage and perfume bottles from this unusual leather.

Decorpad shagreen art deco table

Forwood Design shagreen and brass tray

Much of the beautiful shagreen furniture today combines the glamour of Art Deco with the sleekness of modern finishes.

And, importantly, a lot of what is produced is faux shagreen – ticking the ethical boxes in what is otherwise a very controversial material.

SHH shagreen and chrome bespoke detail

Made Goods shagreen and brass stool

I’m in serious love with the contrast of rough, exotic textured-leather, with sleek gleaming, brass.

My biggest challenge will be reigning in my choice of shagreen pieces and avoiding a very easily-done OTT living space.

Restoration Hardware RH Modern shagreen furniture

Imagery courtesy of Taylor Howes / OKA / RH Modern / Decorpad / Forwood Design / SHH / Made Goods / RH Modern

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