12 Tips for Pet-Friendly Decorating
Don't let your house go to the dogs and the cats. Follow these tips and you can keep your floors, walls and furniture looking great.
Pet experts — Julia Szabo, columnist for the New York Post and author of Animal House Style: Designing a Home to Share With Your Pets (www.animalhousestyle.com), and Chicago interior designer Nan Ruvel, who designs pet-friendly interiors for her clients — share tips on pet-friendly decorating.
"The key is choosing the right materials and accommodating your animals' needs," says author Julia Szabo, who shares her digs with a dozen rescued dogs and cats. She 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."
Don't buy expensive rugs
Yes, you can use rugs. The trick is to buy inexpensive ones. Unlike carpet, rugs can be picked up and cleaned or thrown out. Sisal or seagrass mats are a good choice, says Julia, because they provide an elegant, neutral backdrop that will go with any decor. They're durable enough to withstand pet traffic, and they're cheap enough to toss when they get grungy. If disposable rugs strike you as an expensive way to keep your house chic, consider that it's cheaper to toss that $99 sisal rug than it is to pay for the skin problems your Newfoundland mix will develop when you put her in the yard in July.
Got an incredible heirloom Persian rug you absolutely cannot live without? Treat it as art and hang it on the wall, where your dog or cat can't reach it.
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.
Or try modular carpet tiles. "They're great," says Julia. "If a dog pees or a cat vomits, you can pull up the dirty tile and replace it with a new one. It's much cheaper than replacing an entire rug."
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, makes a room look sleek and elegant and 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.
Don't decorate with breakable knickknacks
Fragile items and animals don't mix. One bat of a dog's tail or swat of a cat's paw will send your collection of Will-George flamingo figurines skittering across the room like bowling pins. "If you must collect something, collect cast-iron doorstops," Julia Szabo says. "Put them where your dog won't trip over them. They look great in a room, and your pets can't hurt them."
Nan Ruvel suggests displaying fragile valuables in a china cabinet with glass-panel doors. "That way you can see them, but your pet can't break them," she says.
Instead, spend your decorating dollars on framed prints, photos and paintings, Julia says. "Art hangs on the walls, out of reach of your pets."
Match carpet and upholstery to fur color
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."
Set up an animal area 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.
Give your pet tidy, attractive treats and toys
Dogs adore pigs 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, she 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.)
Use semigloss wall paint
Even if your pet goes to the groomer regularly, he or she will still leave smudges on walls and door jambs. A basset hound can sling drool across a room and onto a wall with a shake of his head, and a parrot can fling all sorts of goo out of his cage and onto the wall.
Flat-finish paint is nearly impossible to clean; try to wipe off a dirty spot and some of the paint comes off as well, leaving an unsightly mark that must be repainted. Semigloss is the easiest to wipe down, but its sheen will call attention to every ding and irregularity in your walls. Satin or eggshell finishes are more elegant and as easy to clean as glossier paint.
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 and 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."
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 bed sheets, 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.
Even if you match your chaise to your Siamese so perfectly that 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. 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.
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, throw pillows and 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.