News Item | PAWS Chicago

Gone to the Dogs

by Elaine Markoutsas | Nov 01, 2011

Creating a Pet-Friendly Pad

Every now and then, modernist catalog-retailer Design Within Reach dishes tongue-in-cheek pearls of wisdom. To wit: 

“A home is only for show. A home should never be cluttered. If shoes, socks, cups, newspapers, toys, jackets or family photos ever find their way into public view, remove them immediately, or better yet, just throw them away. Never allow children or pets in a home, for they are messy and sometimes emit unwanted odors.” 

In spite of such apparent flaws, of course, we do love our children and our pets. And therein lies a real design challenge with a lot of common ground: how to furnish stylishly but practically, with materials that won’t wilt from pouncing with dirty hands, feet and paws. 

“Durability and cleanability go hand in hand,” says Dallas designer Abbe Fenimore. She ought to know. She has two pups, a Brittany spaniel and German shorthaired pointer, whom she admits are “on everything.” She’s usually armed with a sticky tape roll for shedding dog hair. 

Many of Fenimore’s clients also have dogs, and she has talked them down from chewed-up plastic in favor of stainless steel or ceramic bowls and sung the praises of indoor and outdoor rugs and fabrics. 

Designed mostly with the outdoors in mind, performance fabrics such as Sunbrella and the to-the-trade Perennials repel stains, sun, mildew and mold, properties that are welcome in high-traffic areas inside the home, especially since color, style, patterns and textures have been significantly upgraded in recent years. 

West Coast-based designer Joe Ruggiero designs for Sunbrella but was a huge fan well before its extensive fashionable offerings, which include velvet, damask and even chenille looks in eye-popping lime, orange and cobalt blue. 

“We use it on everything,” says Ruggiero, “drapery, bed drapery, top of the bed. Table skirts. It is easy-care, heavy-wear. Twenty-five years ago, my wife, Barbara, and I were raising three active children. We used Sunbrella before they developed upholstery grade – it was a stiff canvas. She’d throw it in the wash with a cup of bleach, which actually softened it.” 

Even throws have been designed with pets in mind. Another performance fabric manufacturer, Crypton, sells throws it calls “throvers,” which it says “looks like a blanket and works like a tarp.” The 48-by-54-inch pieces, available in a range of fun patterns and colors, are stain-, moisture- and odorresistant, easy to spot-clean, machine washable and sell for $149. 

Some of the rug options are amazing, with a wide range of decorative patterns and textures, such as the hand-hooked and felt signatures of Liora Manne for Trans-Ocean. And the eco-friendly modular FLOR allows you to create your own design with square tiles. 

In addition, some rug manufacturers, including Mohawk, incorporate SmartStrand, a polymer fiber produced from corn sugar that allows the toughest stains like mustard, red wine and cherry Kool-Aid to be removed with warm water and a mild detergent. 

Keeping a home tidy also is a challenge with pets: Where to put leashes, collars, food, treats, toys? Creative solutions abound: Think handsome decorative hooks, great-looking containers – baskets, buckets, fabric-covered bins, just like those catchalls for kids stuff. 

“I bought some baskets at T.J. Maxx,” says Fenimore, who sells an eclectic furnishings line through her website, Studio Ten 25, and offers online design consultation as well. She is known for her sharp eye, color sense and keen ability to mix high-end and bargain materials for a pulled-together stylish look. For pet food storage, the designer repurposed tall containers for wrapping paper. “It fits a bag and a half of food, and sits in a little nook out of the way.” 

Even kitchen manufacturers are addressing pet needs with ideas that include storing food (in pullout hampers or containers that usually hold trash), feeding stations (with pullouts housing bowls contained in the toe kick), built-in dividers in drawers for treats, leashes, collars and medication, as well as places to stretch out under an island or next to cubbies at the base of mudroom cabinetry. 

At Dream Home, a semi-annual show house held at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, one of the most talked about features was in a kitchen designed by Shawna Dillon for Snaidero. Next to a breakfront, just a couple of feet up from the floor, was a sleek faucet, handy to fill a water bowl beneath. 

Pet-friendly decor actually has become a specialty for some interior designers. Considering that we will spend $50 billion on 78 million pets this year, according to the American Pet Products Association, and that some folks will splurge for fancy beds (up to $900) and carriers (Ralph Lauren sells a crocodile bag for $18,000), it’s not surprising.

“Our pets are full members of the family,” say designers at the Floridabased Lap of Luxury Custom Home Interiors on its website, 

Suzanne Lasky of S Interior Design in Scottsdale, Ariz., says she assesses a home from the pets’ perspective as part of her Pawprint Design Services. “Pets couldn’t care less what color the walls are, but they really appreciate a den-like space,” says Lasky. 

To be sure, creative cozy niches for pets are springing up as serious furniture. A pair of elegant consoles designed by Montgomery, Ala., architect Bobby McAlpine pampers pooches in directoire style. A handsomely scaled console, available in several finishes, has an open shelf beneath, fitted with a tufted cushion for a regal stretch. 

DenHaus puts it in perspective: “My dog, my best friend, shares my life and my space. Designer dog crates give us both comfort and joy.” Their business was launched out of distaste for ugly dog crates. Their double-duty end tables have ventilated doors that allow doggies to camp within. From traditional classic lines in wood, to streamlined Fiberglas “dens,” suit a range of house styles. 

And while some pets may be very well behaved, accidents can happen. “You can’t have 500 silk pillows on your sofa,” says Fenimore. “You do have to establish boundaries. Our dogs know they aren’t allowed to chew. 

“I tell clients, ‘You know what? We have dogs. We’re not going to live in a magazine. Make your home work for you and your pets. We entertain about 30 or 40 people at Thanksgiving, and when they come into our living room with the fireplace going, they say, ‘It’s so comfortable.’"