9 Tips for a Chic, Pet-Friendly Home
A lot of stylish people are letting their houses go to the dogs and the cats and the birds — without sacrificing style or comfort. Instead of banishing their furry friends to the yard, many pet owners are decorating and remodeling their living spaces with their pets' needs in mind, turning pet-friendly decorating into a full-blown trend.
"You can have a beautiful house and a pet, too," says Julia Szabo, pet columnist for the New York Post and author of Animal House Style: Designing A Home To Share With Your Pets (www.animalstylehouse.com).
"The key is choosing the right materials and accommodating your animals' needs." Julia, who shares her digs with a dozen rescued dogs and cats, says an animal-friendly house is more comfortable for humans, too. "If a house doesn't work with dogs, it won't work with children or guests, either."
1. Vacuum regularly.
Even if you match your chaise to your Siamese so perfectly the hairballs are barely visible, vacuum kitty's hair off the furniture at least twice a week. You may need to vacuum daily when your pet is shedding.
Pet hair has an odor, and it contains an oil that will attract dirt to the fabric on which it sits. She suggests you invest in a Dyson DC14 Animal, an upright vacuum named for its miraculous ability to suck up animal hair. It costs around $550, but Julia says you'll wonder how you ever lived without it when you see the horrifying amounts of dirt and hair the Dyson picks up from your floors and furniture.
2. Bathe and groom your pet often.
Keeping your dog or cat clean will help your house stay cleaner, longer. Trimmed nails won't scratch floors or upholstery. Regularly brushing and bathing removes loose hair before it ends up on your floor, your bed, your throw pillows, your curtains. Furniture and rugs will last longer if they don't need to be washed as often. Think of it this way: It's easier to clean your dog than your upholstery, and it's usually more fun.
3. Use stain-resistant fabrics.
Forget silk, chintz or the pet-hair magnet known as velvet. Discover the joys of Crypton, a nearly indestructible, synthetic fabric that's resistant to stains, smells, bacteria and muddy paws.
William Wegman, the artist known for his Weimaraner photos, has designed a line of Crypton fabrics aimed at pet-obsessed style mavens that includes sturdy suedes and twills with names like Polka Dog and Material Dog. It's available in upholstery shops, from many furniture manufacturers and interior designers; you can find it online at www.cryptonfabric.com.
Leather is a good choice, easy to clean and durable. Most grades of leather will suffer only scratches from Fido or Fluffy's claws, but hey, the scratches add patina. If you see a sad irony in buying a sofa made from an animal for your animal, try pleather. It's cruelty-free, relatively inexpensive and has a timeless appeal.
Then there's Ultrasuede, a machine-washable microfiber that feels as smooth and seductive as real suede. "I can't say enough good things about Ultrasuede," Julia Szabo says. She has covered her 1950s Heywood-Wakefield sofa and chairs in Ultrasuede and even had a couple of pet beds made of it. "It's beautiful, and it always stays cool and comfortable no matter the climate. That's important for your and your animal's comfort."
4. Put washable fabrics on your bed.
If your dog or cat sleeps with you there will be accidents. "Cats barf a lot," Julia Szabo says. "Deal with it." Protect your mattress from the inevitable by covering it with a thick pad. Use cotton bedsheets, preferably in a medium color or a pattern that can hide the pet hair and stains between washings. For bedspreads, duvet covers work well because you can take them off and wash them regularly. Delicate-looking matelasse coverlets are surprisingly durable; their tight quilting resists pet toenail snags and repeated washings.
5. Skip wall-to-wall carpet.
Carpet absorbs odors, traps pet hair and soaks up inevitable pet-related stains like a sponge. "I try to steer pet owners away from carpet," says Chicago interior designer Nan Ruvel, who designs animal-friendly interiors for clients and lives with three cats. "It's difficult to keep clean. It's a bad idea."
If you must have carpet, she says, choose a low pile. "It's easier to clean if there's an accident." And avoid continuous loop carpet because a pet toenail can unravel it by catching a single woven loop.
6. Choose hard surface floors.
Bare floors are the way to go, but bare doesn't have to be boring. Painted concrete is lovely and durable, as are terrazzo and brick. Hardwood floors are simple to mop or vacuum and add a warm glow to a room, but keep in mind that large dogs can scratch wood.
The best floor is ceramic tile, because it's easy to clean and resistant to any stain an animal can dish out. Tile is toenail-proof, it makes a room look sleek and elegant, and it gives furry animals a cool place to nap during hot weather. Porous materials like marble or other natural stones aren't as pet-proof as other hard surfaces, since acids present in pet spit-up can stain them, even if they're sealed, designer Nan Ruvel says.
7. Set up an animal room near an entry.
"It's important to consider your pet's lifestyle when you establish the layout of your house," Nan Ruvel says. "If your dog goes outside, make sure he can come back in through an area that's super-impervious." She just finished a project in which she converted a breakfast room into a mudroom for a client's two dogs. "She wanted a place where she could get dirt off them before they came in the house," she says. To do this, she put porcelain tile on the walls and floor of the breakfast room, which opened onto the backyard. She replaced the table with a banquette upholstered in stain-resistant fabric and equipped with under-the-seat storage for leashes and food. Nan also installed built-in shelves on the walls where the client could keep towels used to wipe the dirt off the dogs when they came inside from the yard.
8. Give your pet tidy, attractive treats and toys.
Dogs adore pig's ears and rawhide bones, but Julia Szabo says they're a bad idea. "They're hideous, they're smelly and they're as bad for your pet as they are for your floor," she says, pointing out they're coated in nitrates and leave greasy stains on floors and furniture.
It's important to give your dog something to chew on, or he might go after a chair leg. Julia suggests rubber toys like the Kong or the Super-Tuff Rhino. For cats, Szabo recommends Everyday Studio's Cat Tree (www.everydaystudio.com), a scratching post/climbing tree combo that hangs on the wall. It's a chic, geometrically shaped concoction of colored metal and cardboard that offers a stylish alternative to homely, carpet-covered scratching posts and plywood climbing trees. "It's like a work of art for your pet; it's beautiful and it's functional," she says. Another option that will allow your cat to get out his inner panther, stylishly: shelves for him to perch on. Julia sells "Tiger Branches," a set of wooden demilune shelves that attach to the wall. (Visit www.animalhousestyle.com for prices and ordering information.)
9. Match colors to your pet's fur.
Your pet can be a source of inspiration when choosing colors for your room. Paint a concrete floor the same shade of gray as your cat. Cover your sofa in a honey microfiber that matches your golden retriever. This isn't just an aesthetic shout-out to your pet; it's also a practical choice because the hair they leave behind won't be as visible. "Put a white floor in a house with a black Lab, you're going to have black tumbleweeds everywhere," says Nan Ruvel.
Julia Szabo tells of a New York artist who painted a room in his Manhattan digs a brilliant shade of green inspired by his Amazon parrot. "It reminds the parrot of his ancestral home in the jungle. The wall is gorgeous, and it makes the bird much happier," she says. Painting walls white is a bad idea aesthetically and practically, she says. "Let's face it; a white wall goes gray in a minute around dogs." This forces you to be more creative and daring when choosing colors, Julia says. "Pets present you with the opportunity to really work with color."