I’m sitting here with Cricket on my lap, my boyfriend’s cat who’s “on loan” for a few days, since I volunteered to cat sit while he’s out of town. It’s been a few years since I had a kitty of my own in the house, my beloved old Standard Poodle Fennel
died last fall, and I’m still hunting for my next puppy, so I’ve been completely petless for a little while now – for the first time in 18 years. It’s really weird. Although I live about half time with Cricket and her daddy, it’s really not the same as having one of my own, in my own home all the time. So, while I really miss my guy, I’m really enjoying having Cricket here, and as I deal with the fur and litter box, I’m reminded of all of the fun – and the hassles – of pet ownership – including the implications for interior design.
Anyone who has ever had a pet knows that they pose a challenge to having and maintaining a beautiful home, even when they’re very well trained. Accidents and messes are just a part of life with an animal in the house, which includes vomiting, tracking dirt in, and anything from occasional incontinence to outright bad behavior making them soil anywhere they want, as well as other issues such as cats scratching the furniture, climbing the drapes, etc. The soiling issues also get worse as the pet ages, or if it develops health problems.
People often ask me how they can still have a nice home when they share it with pets, so here are some thoughts.
No matter what materials you choose for your home, your first line of defense is obviously to make sure that Fido or Garfield are well-trained so that they do their business where they are supposed to, and use scratching posts, climbing towers designed for the purpose, and their own chewtoys instead of the furniture and drapes to exercise their natural instincts to chew, climb, and scratch. Keeping the critters off of the furniture altogether will help preserve it, but for most people these days, that’s not an option, and you still have to deal with the floors anyways.
Regular bathing and grooming of your pet will also keep it clean and prevent shedding, which will help immensely with maintaining the cleanliness of your home.
The “common wisdom” about flooring when you have pets is to use a hard surface like tile or wood. Others such as concrete or stone are also options. With all except wood, if the mess really gets bad, you could literally just hose the floors down if you wanted to. If you do choose hard surfacing, make sure you properly seal most of these materials and keep them sealed, so as to minimize stains, which are hardest to deal with on wood. Porcelain tile is impervious to stains, which makes it the ideal solution in pet homes, followed by ceramic tile, but you’ll still need to periodically seal the grout on either one. Stone and wood are very porous and will soak up stains, as will concrete, so maintaining good sealing will help a lot although it will not completely prevent damage from pet accidents. Make sure you select non-slip finishes on tile or stone. Plastic laminate flooring like Pergo is also an option.
The problem with hard flooring like these things is it tends to be slippery, especially if pets are elderly or have long nails, it’s cold underfoot unless you install radiant heating in the floor, it can be hard on bad knees and backs of both people and critters, and it can result in a lot of echoing in the space if there’s not enough other soft surfaces to absorb noise.
What about carpet?
People often think they shouldn’t have carpet if they have pets, but nothing could be further from the truth. For one thing, carpet is much more comfortable for pets to lay on (as well as for people to walk barefoot on!) and offers them better traction, particularly when they are elderly and having more trouble moving, which increases both their safety and your own, so I would definitely not rule it out completely.
To make it work, you’ve got a variety of options. The first thing to realize is that you are either going to have to have carpeting cleaned professionally on a regular basis, invest in a steam cleaner for your home, and/or be able to throw the rugs in the washing machine. You can either have wall-to-wall carpet or area rugs, but the main thing to avoid is looped pile like berbers, because it will snag like crazy with critter nails trekking across it regularly, and stick with low pile choices. If you choose area rugs, make sure they are either rubber-backed or that you lay them with a nonskid pad beneath them for safety purposes.
Cotton rag rugs or throw rugs can be easily tossed in the washer if they are small, while other types will need to be cleaned by other means.
Wool is naturally more stain-resistant than most other fibers, and cleans easily, plus it’s environmentally friendly, extremely durable, provides great insulation, and is also naturally fire resistant, so it’s got a lot of benefits over other fibers – plus it just plain feels great. With the price of oil so high these days, it’s also now much more competitive cost-wise with materials such as nylon which used to be a lot less expensive. Most people don’t realize that it’s actually easier to clean and will release stains more readily than nylon and other synthetics, but it’s true, which is why every carpet cleaner I’ve ever met chooses it for their own homes over the synthetics.
You could also go with carpet that is solution dyed, which has the advantage of being cleanable with a mild bleach solution without damaging it. Most solution dyed carpets are commercial products, but there is still a wide range of options that would look great in a home. This is a much less green option, and doesn’t have the same luxuriant feel of a good wool carpet, but for some people, the convenience will outweigh the other factors, and so it’s definitely worth considering.
Another option is carpet tile, the most readily available of which is the stylish Flor tiles that you can lay yourself, and which come in a wide variety of colors and patterns so you can create your own look very easily. If one gets stained and you can’t get it clean, you just pick it up and replace it with a new one – no fuss, no muss. Be sure to purchase a few extra to have on hand for these eventualities.
WHAT TO DO WITH WALLS
If you choose paint, make sure it’s a high quality, easily cleanable product like Pratt & Lambert or C2. Higher gloss finishes like eggshell and even semigloss, which is more usually used only on woodwork and trim, will be easier to clean than flat paint, but you’ll need to be sure the walls are in pristeen condition because these finishes will show every flaw.
Wallpaper can be an excellent choice, too – if it’s washable and scrubbable, like the elegant Brunschwig et Fils wallcovering shown below. The variegated crackle-painted design will hide anything the cat kicks up from the litter box and is easily cleanable while still looking gorgeous.
WHAT COLORS SHOULD I USE?
Choosing the right colors for both flooring and upholstery will help hide dirt and hair. A color that matches your pet’s coloring may be a good choice, but patterns will hide a lot of sins regardless of coloration, so they will offer you many more design options regardless of the colors of your critters. Stick to more subtle patterns and variegated colors for carpeting, as they will give you more fabric options, and will look solid overall while still offering the dirt-hiding protection of the pattern.
The floral fabric shown above on my office sofa with Cricket perched on it is perfect for pets, despite the light color. The background has a subtle variegated pattern that even hides small amounts of darker fur surprisingly well.
WHAT KIND OF FURNITURE AND FABRICS ARE BEST?
What’s the best kind of furniture and upholstery to have? The answer is whatever you like and are comfortable with – with a few caveats.
Hard surfaces such as wood are harder to damage than upholstery, but most people aren’t going to want to sit on a solid wood sofa or curl up in a wood chair to watch TV or read, so get whatever you like and select fabrics that will resist damage.
The best fabric options are slick and smooth-surfaced, such as leather, faux leather, acrylic or polyester blends, and silk, as fur will slide right off of these, and sturdy, more matte-like fabrics with a very tight weave like heavy linen or cotton duck. Silk is much more easily damaged than more sturdy fabrics, as well as a lot more costly, so it’s probably not going to be the number one choice for most people who have pets. There are some amazing faux leathers on the market that you cannot tell from the real thing (and can even be used outdoors), and there are also real leathers that are made for the health care environment that come already treated to be impervious to moisture and bacteria that would be ideal for pet homes as well.
Surprisingly enough, ultrasuede is one of the very best materials of all for pet homes, but it’s an environmental catastrophe to manufacture and dispose of, easily one of the worst choices you could possibly make from a green perspective, so it’s not one that I usually recommend since there are so many other greener options that will work well and be every bit as beautiful.
Newer high tech fabrics like Crypton and Xorel are now available for residential use, too, have stain and moisture resistance built right into the fiber so it will never come off or need to be refreshed. These are environmentally friendly and also resist bacterial growth, and are very easy to clean. Unfortunately, they sometimes tend to have a somewhat institutional feel (think hotel bedspreads), but they’re definitely still worth considering, since some of them really are quite lovely.
Look outside, too – nowadays, outdoor fabrics that are already moisture and stain resistant like Sunbrella come in an astonishing array of colors and patterns that are perfectly suited for indoor use as well, and are now indistinguishable in quality and hand.
The tight weave and slick surface are particularly important if you have cats, as these materials are a lot harder to dig claws into, and they will not puncture as easily as loose weaves no matter what critter walks on them.
Slipcovers of something like cotton duck or a polyester blend can be thrown in the washing machine (be sure to preshrink the fabric before making up!), so you could keep your furniture covered for every day use and then remove it to show off your good upholstery when you have company. There’s an excellent article on what to look for in purchasing a slipcover, and how to wash them, at Posh Living.
With almost any fabric, you can also apply stain-resistant and moisture resistant coatings and backings to help it clean up more easily and to protect the actual furniture from the inevitable, whether using slipcovers or not. There is a wide range of options here, they cost extra to apply, and they are not all terribly environmentally friendly, but they will definitely save you money in the long run.
Stay away from these
Fabrics to avoid include things like velvets, chenilles, microsuede, denim, and wool, as these fibers hang on to fur and dirt like crazy as fabrics and will even act like magnets to literally pull loose fur right off your furkid.
On the bed
For bedding, also think cleanability, and select duvets and coverlets that can ideally be machine washed. Consider buying two sets so that you always have a clean one on hand, particularly if you have to dry clean whatever you get.
WHAT ABOUT THE LITTER BOX?
Ah, yes, the nasty that nobody really likes to deal with. That’s easy – hide it inside one of the increasingly widely available commercial pieces of combination furniture, design one yourself, or have your interior designer design one for you to suite your particular decor. Make sure the design makes it easy to get the box out so that you can clean it regularly, and that the interior of the hidey-hole is also easily cleanable. If your cat will tolerate this and it’s convenient enough for you, just put the box completely out of the way like in the basement, providing a pet door for the kitty to use to access it.
WHY ARE THE FOOD DISHES AND BED ALWAYS IN THE WAY, AND WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
Why indeed? Because few people, including interior designers, think to plan a place to put them, so they are usually afterthoughts that don’t fit well anywhere.
If you are remodeling your kitchen, have a niche designed in for the food dishes and a section of cabinetry dedicated to pet food (and toy!) storage, or utilize the same technique anywhere else in the house. Make sure there’s enough headspace, though – and plenty of ventilation. You could even build in a crate or spot for a pet bed somewhere in the cabinetry, build it into a piece of furniture (like the cat litter pan boxes above), or find a nook somewhere else in the house that will fit your pal, or even hide the crate a number of different ways, so that you can keep your friend close at hand yet out of the way. The ideas below should get you started.