Over the past couple of years, shagreen has been popping up as a covering for accent pieces, furniture treatments, and even reimagined as wall covering, but what exactly is it?

Shagreen is a unique leather like material, often with a pebbled texture, traditionally dyed a pale green, that in years past was honed from the skin of sharks or rays. In modern life, almost all shagreen is faux shagreen. Fortunately, master craftsmen have perfected the process that recreates the look of the authentic version to an almost imperceptible degree of difference.

Shagreen boasts a long history:

  • The first recorded use of shagreen dates back to the ancient Chinese Han Dynasty. At the time, it was used to offer better grip on weaponry, a purely utilitarian purpose.
  • European royalty in the 18th century was enamored with shagreen. It is rumored that Louis XV’s most well known mistress ordered many items made with this exotic covering, as it had such a luxurious reputation.
  • Shagreen was popular again in the art-deco era of the 1920s and 1930s in an attempt to capture the rich opulence of the French tradition.
  • When the 1970s reimagined the art-deco style, shagreen was hot once again.

The modern iteration of shagreen keeps in mind the desires of the contemporary homeowner – choosing faux shagreen over the authentic version and offering it in a wide array of colors.

While brighter colors are certainly possible, the general trend in shagreen tends toward neutral tones and cool hues. It adds distinctive texture to pieces with modern lines and looks particularly stunning when paired with metal. In addition to its beauty, shagreen is a durable and tough covering with a high degree of water resistance.

Shagreen’s embossed and exotic surface offers striking visual and textural interest in any space. The technique of wrapping furnishings with shagreen creates a slightly softer edge, relaxing the look, leaning toward understated elegance.