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Style Pet-ential

Is your house a bit too fang shui? These pet-friendly design ideas just may be the cat's meow.

All Animals magazine, September/October 2013

Illustration by Jingyao Guo/For the HSUS

by Arna Cohen

If I had to label my home’s decor, it wouldn’t be Victorian, French provincial, art deco, country cottage, or any other term you’d find in a design magazine. No. The best description would be a variation on eclectic—specifically, feline-inspired desperation with accents of clean freak husband.

In our house, three cats dictate the style. They love our furniture so much we ought to call it furred-niture. I’m pretty laissez-faire about the shedding, but my husband starts to twitch when he spies a single hair on a seat cushion. So in the name of love and compromise, every piece of upholstery is covered with throws and cat beds to accommodate his need for furless surfaces.

Of course, not everyone likes that look. For pet owners who want a more elevated environment, there’s a thriving design industry and the guidance of experts like Julia Szabo, author of Animal House Style and Pretty Pet-Friendly.

It’s a myth that having pets precludes having nice things, says Szabo. “It’s just a matter of thinking it through … [and] being a little more flexible in our tastes.” And accepting that, no matter what, there will be accidents and something will get broken. Call it the price of love.

Szabo advises thinking of our pets as live-in designers. “They vote with their feet,” she says. “You’ll know what’s practical, what’s functional, what’s high-performance, and what wasn’t such a good choice.

Let me tell you what my cats have taught me. Monster’s claws of approval on the nubby fabric of a midcentury modern chair showed me that it needs to be re-covered in something less appealing to kitties. Diva’s pooping on the vintage Turkish rug told me that she needed a vet visit and that the rug would do better as a wall hanging. Lessons learned.

My husband learned a lesson as well. Shortly after purchasing sleek, contemporary office furniture to replace the beat-up student desk from his bachelor days, he found the desktop covered with deep, indelible scratches. Monster had voted with his feet, all right. The desk was refinished, and my spouse now remembers to shut the door to his study.

Illustration by Jingyao Guo/For The HSUS

I admit it hurts a little when damage happens, but when these creatures lay their heads on my leg and purr, all is forgiven. Think of it this way, Szabo advises: “There are no scientific studies showing that a pristine, gorgeous mahogany desk lowers your blood pressure … and lengthens your life. But a dog or a cat will do that!”

So far, I figure my husband and I have added about 100 years to our life spans. That is, if he doesn’t keel over the next time he finds a hairball on the chaise longue.

Pawlor tricks

Animal House.

When it comes to choosing a style, anything goes, says New York City–based designer Julia Szabo, though she warns that antiques and exposed wooden legs are asking for trouble. Szabo prefers a contemporary or transitional style sans fringe, buttons, and other details that beg to be chewed. If you love a traditional look, incorporate it with lamps, knickknacks, and ornately framed mirrors and paintings.

Tough as Nails.

Avoid fuzzy or textured fabrics—they trap hairs and flash the welcome sign to cat claws—as well as fragile fabrics such as velvet or silk. Smooth textiles and microfibers are comfortable, easy to clean, and less appealing as scratching posts. Because Szabo’s pets sleep with her, she had a mattress cover made out of Crypton, a heavy-duty, moisture-resistant fabric that comes in a range of colors.

Home furnishings targeted to pet owners are also becoming more common. Interior designer Amy McCawley of Denver, Colo., wanted a home “that didn’t have dog fur, slobber, cat-scratched sofas, or the dreaded dog smell lingering about.” So she used her own home as a laboratory to create a line of pet-friendly furniture, featured on thelivablehomestore.com.

Color Me Beautiful.

While prints and stripes can work well to hide fur, solid colors are timeless. Add color or pattern with pillows and window treatments, which can easily be changed if they get damaged or become passé. Pet hair is more visible on very light and very dark colors, which is why many designers recommend beiges, grays, taupes, or other neutrals. But if your heart is set on a bolder hue, just accept that you’ll be doing more lint-rolling and vacuuming.

Ruff Housing.

It’s difficult to completely remove stains and odors from carpet—a good reason to steer clear of wall-to-wall carpeting. Removable carpet tiles can be a good alternative, and many designers recommend durable, easy-to-clean flooring such as tile or hardwoods that don’t scratch easily. Area rugs made of stain-resistant fiber can add interest (and provide traction for pets who are unsteady on slick surfaces)

Yours, Mine, and Ours.

To cut down on the time your pet spends on your furniture, make sure he has his own special lounging spot. These days you can find plenty of dog and cat furniture that doesn’t scream pet store, including sculptural scratching posts, Louis XIV doggy divans, and end tables that double as dens. You can also have pet furniture custom-made to match the decor.

Starting from Scratch.

If you’re constructing or remodeling a house, consider incorporating built-in niches for your pet, such as a space in the den for a dog bed or a kitchen island with a recessed area for food and water bowls. A mudroom with a tub will allow you to clean off dirty paws before they pitter-patter around the house. Portland, Ore.-based designer Colleen Paige has even turned closets into litter box enclosures with exhaust fans and cat doors.

Fresh Perspective.

The Internet is full of ideas and products, but putting it all together can be mystifying for anyone lacking the design gene. That’s when it pays to hire an interior designer who specializes in pet-friendly habitats. There are people who “know what they need but don’t know how to implement it,” says Paige, who has created layouts for cats, dogs, ferrets, and rabbits.

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