Because pets can be such an important part of life for some of
our clients, they are a worthy topic for a design column. As you
read this statement, you are probably smiling remembering an
unusual situation regarding a client’s dog, cat, bird or other pet
from your own experience.
One that comes to mind for me is of a client whose entire kitchen
was planned around a doggie door that led out to an outdoor run. A
corner sink cabinet was customized to include the dog’s door, which
was cut through the back of the cabinet and the exterior wall
behind it. The area had to be heavily insulated to avoid freezing
pipes in Connecticut winters, and the doggie passage had to be
sectioned off with a panel to keep the rest of the undersink area
clean. The result was that this clever dog could open the cabinet
door and pass through the cabinet and out to the run.
This kitchen is easy for me to remember, as the designer was my
dear friend and teacher, Lorey Cavanaugh, and the client was me or
my 65-pound boxer, Caesar. This was the kitchen that not only
launched our friendship, but was my entry into training for this
In addition, the designers in my office have worked with clients
who have had a variety of pet-related needs, and a few of those
stories are the subject of this column.
While measuring the height and length of Fido might not be
necessary when planning the design, assuming the size of the dog or
other pet based on its breed might not be accurate. Rather, meeting
the pet face to face will help you categorize him as small, medium
or large. In addition, measure the living environment of the pet
its bed, aquarium, cage or whatever.
A discussion about the number of pets and their eating habits is
also part of the design program. Determine where food and water
dishes are kept and take note of their size and configuration with
a quick sketch. How often does the homeowner shop for pet food?
What type of storage does the food require? What additional
vitamins, medicines or grooming aids must be stored, and where?
Take note of the size of the food containers and where they are
stored. Are larger or bulk food containers kept outside of the
kitchen? Is water, heat or refrigeration required for food
preparation or storage?
In addition, the pets’ “habits” should be discussed. If a litter
box is used, where is it stored? Is the pet allowed or exercised
outside? If so, is there a pet door planned for pet access to the
A pet could easily live in the home longer than a client’s human
children. Cats live an average of 14 to 17 years, rabbits 7 to 12,
and parrots anywhere from 40 to 100 years, so space planning for a
pet’s eating, grooming, playing or exercising, and sleeping is
critical and should not be an afterthought.
Does the homeowner want the pet’s food containers hidden behind
cabinetry doors or left out and easily accessible? The use of
cabinetry accessories such as pull-out drawers, a pocket door or
lift-up door can be used to conceal a dog’s food dishes. A raised
toekick below a raised oven or dishwasher allows a place for a
pet’s dishes to be recessed when not in use.
We recently worked with a client who had an attractive dog gate
made that was designed to be permanently installed. It was meant to
keep her dog in the kitchen and out of the formal living area of
the home, which featured hardwood floors.
Depending on the pet’s size, a floor-mounted utility sink basin
or shower near the dog’s entry into the house is a great concept to
include in a design, because it allows for regular grooming or
washing paws on a rainy and muddy day. A hand-spray with a 72″ hose
would be the perfect accessory here.
One of our more customized designs included the transformation
of an old garage into a dog’s room for a client’s numerous prize
show dogs. This area features a raised bathtub placed at a
comfortable height for bathing the dogs, a separate washer and
dryer for the dogs’ bedding, a walk-in closet for grooming tables
and transportation cages, three exterior dog-runs with motorized
doors, and a bunk room, full bathroom and refrigerator for the
visiting trainers and the dogs’ food and other dietary needs. A
charcoal gray ceramic tile floor and laminate cabinets and counters
were selected for their easy maintenance qualities.
Currently, we are working with a client who had planned to have
a traditional desk in a kitchen, but is instead utilizing it as the
dog’s area, with the open knee space planned to fit the dog’s bed.
For another client, we simply increased the walk aisle on the back
side of the island to allow for flexibility in the placement of her
small dogs’ beds.
Indoor Air Quality
Along with the joys of pet ownership come the side effects of
potential odor and allergy problems. Flooring and finish materials,
as well as products and systems that clean the air, can help
improve indoor quality.
Typical pet allergens that need to be dealt with are skin
flakes, or dander, as well as urine or protein from saliva. For
those who are allergic, pet exposure can cause sneezing, wheezing,
inflammation to eyes or nose, shortness of breath or asthma
While hair and fur are not typically a problem, they can collect
pollen, dust and mold. Bird feathers and droppings from birds and
other caged animals can be allergens, as well. Furthermore,
droppings can be a source of bacteria, dust, fungi and mold.
And while fish are ideal for allergy sufferers because “they
don’t have hair, fur or dander, or an excrement that creates
allergic problems,” according to www.allergybegone.com, large
aquariums can add to the humidity in a room, which can contribute
to mold and dust mites.
There are products available such as odor neutralizers, laundry
detergents, carpet and upholstery sprays or powders, and shampoos
and lotions that can neutralize and remove pet allergens. In
addition, room air cleaners or air purifiers are useful in
controlling airborne particle matter such as animal dander. In
general, they act by recirculating the air in a room through a
collector such as a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arresting) or
electrostatic filter or ionizer. These are available as
free-standing appliances that can be activated in the space most
often occupied by the pet.
However, air currents from forced air heating and air
conditioning tend to spread allergens through the house, so a
whole-house system is more effective.
While smooth and non-porous surface materials are often selected
to minimize collection of dust and dander, as well as for ease of
maintenance, surprisingly, carpet may be a better choice for a
client with hair and dander sensitivities. The carpet traps
pollutants until vacuumed up, whereas on a non-porous surface such
as wood or tile, the pollutant can recirculate into the air from
the draft created by simply walking on the surface.
In terms of floor care, a University of California at Davis
study found participants with documented hypersensitivity had
improved “quality of life” when they used a central vacuum system
compared to their own conventional vacuum. This might be worth
sharing with your clients.