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Designing with Pets in Mind

There are many things to consider when designing, decorating or purchasing new furnishings for your home. When you add pets to the equation, it gets even more complicated. It’s a common misconception that if you have a pet or multiple pets, you just can’t have a nicely decorated home. With 35+ years of interior design experience, I firmly believe this to be false! I have had dogs and cats my entire life. I presently have three dogs, specifically Brittanys. Yes, they shed. Yes, they are allowed in the house. Yes, they are allowed on “most” of the furniture and beds. They have always been allowed—and always will be as a major part of our household’s daily life.

Most people that visit our home find it to be well appointed and aesthetically pleasing, regardless of our three high-energy dogs who have free run of the entire home. My design partner Bethany, who shares the same love for dogs, and I decided we should create a guide to assist those who want a well-designed home that is also pet friendly. Many of these same principles can be applied to living with kids (and husbands) too, ha!

Things to consider when designing for a home with pets:

Will they have free run of the house?

This will have a great impact on your flooring selections. Any areas where pets, especially dogs, are free to roam, flooring needs to be adequate to hold up to their activity level. Hard surface floors, especially on the main floor are most desirable. The point of entry is the primary concern. Most dogs and cats want to go in and out, in and out and then back in so they can start all over again! Constantly!! This is really hard near any threshold they frequent, and especially during inclement weather.

Consider these options:

  1. Having a pet-specific room upon entry is ideal. That room should have an area with a dog wash (Google that to see options), a place to wipe and/or groom your dog even if you take them to a professional groomer. At minimum, nails should be trimmed once per week and footpads inspected for minor cuts.

  2. A specific place for the pet to sleep is also helpful. A bed or a crate will do unless your pet will have free run of your home and sleeps with you.

  3. Can you incorporate a pet-specific room? Flooring is again a primary consideration here when co-habiting with pets—which brings us back to the point of entry. Whether it is a back door, front door, garage door or pet-specific door/room, that flooring needs to be impervious! Natural stone is a favorite choice. Other options are ceramic or porcelain tiles. Wood, bamboo, cork or anything porous will not hold up to constant paws going in and out, especially with wet or damp paws. .

  4. Where does your pet have his/her meals? If you cannot provide a specific room or ideal flooring where you pet eats, then we highly recommend using a rubberized matt with a LIP that will contain spilled water and food from sloppy eaters.

Will your pet be allowed on the furniture and/or bedding?

All three of our dogs are allowed on “most” furniture and our beds. We have a beautiful Hickory Chair sofa and a Baker Milling Road bed—quality pieces. So how do we keep it nice? First, select fabrics that are durable, lots of double rubs, 30K or ideally more. Usually a blend of natural and synthetic fibers to give you both a nice hand plus pleasing physical appearance, and the durability necessary.

We personally do not recommend leather where pets are allowed on furniture. It will show scratches even if you are diligent about trimming nails or your cat is declawed -they still have back nails, and I know firsthand they have ruined leather.

NOTE to Labrador Retriever owners: We HIGHLY recommend you invest in a well-made cover for your furniture. Any pet with a straight, thick, short hair coat, their hairs are like little needles and will imbed themselves into your fabrics. It is virtually impossible to remove the shedding unless you pluck each hair one by one! I’m telling you this is not fun!

Also, we recommend avoiding loosely woven fabrics such as heavy chenille. Toenails will easily snag and make a mess. Tightly woven fabrics, including tightly woven chenille, are best.

Then, if you really want to keep your furniture pristine, investing in a well-made and attractive cover works very well in preserving the life of your fabrics. This can be a ready-made cover. Orvis makes quality covers specifically for pets. They have a rubber backing to keep them from slipping and sliding off. If you really want a custom look, order additional yardage of your upholstery fabric and have covers made to match your upholstery, making them almost disappear. Either of these cover ideas can be easily removed in seconds if company is coming over, or drops by unexpectedly.

What type of bedding should I use with my pets?

When choosing bedding to accommodate your furry companions, selecting machine washable covers for points of contact is a must. We all know “THAT” noise that wakes you from a sound sleep and gets you on your feet in a nanosecond. Dogs and cats NEVER make it to the bathroom when they are sick, so washable blankets or coverlets are a must! If you can’t live without a beautiful silk duvet, then make sure you remove it each and every night. Also, avoid blankets that are knitted or loosely woven. Cat and dog nails can destroy them in one night. Tightly woven quilts (not antiques) and matte lasse coverlets are ideal, washable and attractive options when sharing your bed with your feline or canine companions.

What to consider when selecting carpets:

The first rule of thumb is to avoid anything with a thick or high pile. Carpet is a magnet for dirt and odors. With or without pets, we always recommend low and tightly-woven carpet and rugs. With pets, avoid any carpet that has larger loops. Small, tight loops are fine. We have a small, tight loop carpet on our stairs and upper hall and it has held up perfectly to three dogs racing up and down multiple times per day. (Keep in mind smooth or hard surface stair treads are hazardous to our elderly pets, especially larger dogs.) DO NOT do white carpet with any kind of pet! You will NOT get a stain from bile (or worse, diarrhea) completely out of white carpet. I don’t care what the guarantee is or who your carpet cleaner is. A ghost will always haunt you. Dark carpets are challenging as well. They will obviously show hair, and worse, you may not detect an accident for several days and then it will be harder to remove—and doing so can remove a tad of its color. Neutral tones in a good quality nylon with a stain shield is the best option with pets. Regardless from which end the accident arrives, neutral toned nylon carpet will give you your best shot at removal and not leave a tell tail sign.

Other unique challenges to consider:

Is your pet a window watcher, does he/she like to seek higher ground for the optimal view? Our dogs are sporting dogs, so they like to hunt or watch anything with feathers or fur. Therefore, for the best view in the house, they perch themselves on the back of our sofas. To address this requires thoughtful design that will prevent that awful dilapidated cushion look. My personal pet peeve! (Pun intended.) From experience, I tend to avoid loose cushion backed sofas. I am a bit OCD and I know this, so no need to agitate my neurosis. Instead, find a semi-attached back, a tufted or padded back that is comfortable, attractive and will accommodate your pets’ habits—allowing you to live harmoniously with them.

We hope these considerations provide some helpful information for those of you that cherish furry companions like we do. Happy dog, happy cat, happy life!


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