24 Jan 2023
Previously published by MICHELLE SLATALLA
AT A DINNER recently, my friends were ticking off their home-décor-related New Year’s resolutions. I was feeling pretty smug. After all, I’ve spent years repainting, reupholstering, rearranging and refinancing my house to make it comfortable.
Later that night as I was lying in bed, my little papillon Pigeon gently pawed at me. Then with his adorable, black dog lips he gave me a quick kiss on my nose. This is one of our many, many sick bedtime routines, but I love him so much. So I crawled out from under the covers to help him make his evening bone selection.
Suddenly, I saw my bedroom through a stranger’s eyes—someone who perhaps doesn’t love Meester Smeedge-Smeedge or Larry (my other papillon) as much as I do.
Specifically, in the corner of the room, next to a beautiful forest-green mohair sofa where I sometimes work, was a squalid, dank, metal dog crate which no dog has slept in ever. Inside it was a bigger pile of bones than you’d find in Dr. Lecter’s backyard. It also contained a dozen, greying, chewed-up chew toys, including the disemboweled remnants of a squeaky stuffed squirrel. Splayed on top of the crate—where no dog could ever reach—was, inexplicably, a pet mattress (fleece, unused).
The whole scene looked disgusting.
Then I started to notice other pet-related décor problems in my house. An assortment of water bowls and food bowls had transformed the kitchen into an obstacle course of spilled kibble. A dozen tiny rubber balls created a tripping hazard in the living room. A tangle of leashes hung like nooses in the foyer to welcome guests to our home.
“I can’t pinpoint exactly when this happened, but somehow my dogs have become my decorators,” I complained to Peter Scott, chief executive of the American Pet Products Association in Stamford, Conn.
“Don’t worry, you’re not the only one living like this,” said Mr. Scott, pointing out that 70% of U.S.
households own pets, a figure that has been increasing steadily since 1988, when his trade group began surveying pet owners annually.
Over those 35 years, pet owners’ relationships with their animals also have evolved. Nowadays, animals are likely to be treated like full-fledged family members, Mr. Scott said: “It’s the humanization of pets. We’re seeing more young people who may not be ready for a kid, but they are ready to come home after work and take care of a dog or a cat.”
Along with more pets come greater decorating challenges. Last year, in fact, pet owners spent nearly $100 million on toys for dogs and cats, Mr. Scott said.
“That’s a lot of slobbery rubber balls to litter living room floors across America,” I said.
“Yeah, I’m tripping over them everywhere at my house,” admitted Mr. Scott, who it turns out has an adorable mini goldendoodle named Tucker.
What’s the solution? “We’ve started having conversations about whether we should be doing educational programs for architects and designers about how to create seamless, pet-friendly environments that go beyond having a doggie door,” Mr. Scott said.
Actually, many design professionals already are coming up with innovative solutions for clients who have pets.
Dog-washing stations in mudrooms, pullout drawers for food bowls in kitchens and “dog caves” built into nooks under staircases are becoming common, said Laura Sockrider, a designer at Martha O’Hara Interiors in Austin, Texas.
For a client who has two beagles, Ms. Sockrider recently designed a foyer that can be closed off with a waist-high pocket door—“it’s like a disappearing metal dog gate,” she said—to prevent the dogs from rushing the front door when visitors arrive.
“Another thing I like to do in an entryway is accessorise a console table with boxes and bins that have lids,” she said. “Your dog’s super-duper-slobbered ball might not be the first thing you want to see when you come in the front door, so it’s good to have a place to stash toys and leashes.”
Andrew Hill, co-founder and an architectural designer at Studio for Architecture & Collaboration in Toronto, recently designed a built-in dog nook—complete with a peaked roof like a traditional backyard doghouse—to take advantage of an awkward space in an L-shaped kitchen-cabinet unit. “This kind of design is very functional because otherwise that dog’s bed would have been thrown in the corner of the room, and that would have been unfortunate in such a small space,” he said.
“Catification” is always an emerging design trend. “Cat owners also are doing some cool things, like putting in kitchen shelves at heights that create levels for cats to climb,” said Molly Sumridge, an assistant professor of anthrozoology at Carroll College in Helena, Mont. “Having high spaces to hang out in is something cats intrinsically need as a species and it’s also a design that works well for humans—it keeps cats off the counters.”
This reminded me why I am not a cat person.
So, getting back to Pigeon—as I type, he is sleeping next to his bone collection, with one paw pressing against my foot as if a nap overtook him when he was in the process of giving me a nudge.
“He’s so cute, I wish you could see him,” I said to Prof. Maggie O’Haire, an associate dean of veterinary medicine at the University of Arizona. “But it would have been great if I thought of all these clever design ideas when I was remodelling my house a decade ago. Then I could have hidden all physical evidence of him and Larry in my house.”
“But is the mess really a problem? After all, pets themselves are almost a design element in a house,” Prof. O’Haire said. She pointed out that studies show that seeing your pet—or even your pet’s stuff—can improve your mood. “The sight of your dog resting on a chair can change your emotions,” she said.
Similarly, the sight of a dog crate “is like seeing a crib for a baby—it can bring back memories of when you first brought home that pet,” Prof. O’Haire said.
“Oh, yes, he was eight weeks old, and so little and fluffy, with huge ears,” I said, making a note to email her a photo after we got off the phone.
“On the other hand, people like to have some sense of order in their homes,” she said, steering me back on topic. The idea was to take back control. “So maybe you could get a basket for the toys,” she said.
“And bones,” I reminded her.
At that, Pigeon (whose English isn’t perfect), jumped up and brought me one of his squeaky balls.
“Sorry, got to go,” I said, and hung up.