”Design Unleashed’ Spotlights Pet Design

By Kitchen & Bath Design News

New York, NY — Staying on top of up-and-coming design trends is critical for any kitchen and bath design professional. But when you’re not only a top designer, but also in charge of programming for the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s busy Manhattan chapter, you need to know what’s coming down the pike, trends wise – and you also need to be able to package it in a way that will get designers excited.

That was the challenge for Chris Prince as she began planning for a recent chapter event. Prince, president of New York City-based About Design and former owner of Simon’s Hardware & Bath in NYC, is the v.p. of programs for the Manhattan Chapter of the NKBA. She’s been seeing an uptick in requests for pet-friendly design – indeed, a recent NKBA survey showed that more than half of the association’s members had received specific requests for designs to accommodate a pet’s needs, with another 35% expecting to see more such requests in the coming year.

But the challenge was to create a program that would show kitchen and bath designers how they could use this trend to expand their value to clients. Prince explains, “I have tried to bring a new energy and focus on programming, with more of a ‘thinking outside the box’ approach. And I thought the idea of adapting interiors for people’s pets – the ‘other child’ – was timely and worthy of a program. There was a natural synergy in partnering with Bideawee to bring dogs for adoption – that part of the program really had my heart.”

After a conversation with designer and pet lover Dave Burcher, CKD, of New York City’s In-House Kitchen, she knew she had found her speaker. Add in the aforementioned partnership with Bideawee that brought several adoptable dogs to the event, a collection of pet-related raffles (including an $800 designer dog bed, a Grohe shower perfect for pet bathing, a basket of all natural grooming products from Pura Naturals Pet and more), California wine with dog and cat labels on the bottles (the sale of which helped to support animal rescue) and dinner served in “doggie bags” with an attached bone keychain, and the theme came together. The event, dubbed “Design Unleashed: Adapting Interiors for People and their Pets” and underwritten by Wood-Mode, quickly became standing room only.

According to Burcher, the changing role that pets play in our lives is what’s currently driving the trend toward design that accommodates pets as well as people. He explains, “I think the overarching idea is how do we, as consumers, view the animals we live with? We’ve begun to see them as members of the family and, as a result, we’re integrating them more into our daily lives, and our homes. And that colors our design. They’re family, and we’re designing for family, and I think that trend will continue to grow.”

Just as a designer may make a space more comfortable for aging family members by including easy-grasp handles, better lighting, fashionable grab bars or wheelchair-accessible walkways, or address children’s needs by providing a child-height refrigerator drawer, they can also address pet needs by incorporating niches for pet beds, storage for pet food, toys, leashes and accessories, fabrics and furniture that hold up well to paws and claws, or a bathing/grooming area to simplify pet clean up.

And, in many cases, they can do this using their existing skills and existing products, merely adapting these to work for the pet’s specific needs, he says.

As Burcher points out, “When we talk about designing spaces to accommodate these needs, what we have to realize is that we’re already doing these things – we’re just not thinking about them this way. There’s no difference between doing this for people and pets. So why not make ourselves more valuable in the market to homeowners who have pets and want their homes to be comfortable for them, too?”

He believes this can be done with everything from pet-friendly flooring and easy-care fabrics and materials to re-imagined storage spaces, built-in sleeping niches and feeding areas, bathing/grooming areas designed to be accessible to pets and even pet-friendly exercise areas.

Dogs, in particular, are “pack animals,” which means they like to be with their family. But cats, too, often like to “hang out” with their people. So how do you create spaces for them to relax near the family, without getting in the way?

As Burcher notes, “Our pets want to be with us and we want to be with them, so we have to look at where the activities happen in the home and where we can craft that space for the animals. The kitchen is typically the biggest gathering space in the home and we spend the most time there, so that’s a natural fit.”

However, the need varies depending on whether one is accommodating a 100-lb. golden retriever, a 10-lb. cat or a couple of 15-lb. Yorkies. If it’s practical, Burcher recommends “creating a low shelf out of cabinetry or creating a crate-style space out of cabinetry” that keeps the pet nearby, but out of the main traffic flow. Window perches can also provide a quiet spot for a cat to sunbathe or a small dog to relax and watch the world go by.

Color coordinated dog beds can also be integrated into an entryway or alcove in the kitchen, or an adjoining room that looks into the kitchen.

Of course, sometimes, a pet needs to be confined to a specific area for safety reasons. While furniture-style crates provide one stylish option, Burcher points to a kitchen remodel he completed where elegant hideaway gates became part of the design, making it easy to confine a pet as needed or keep them out during cooking or dining (see photos, above right).

Bathing or grooming areas are also seeing increased interest among pet owners, according to Burcher, who notes, “These spaces are being integrated naturally into the laundry room or mud room, as these rooms are usually off the rear or side of the house where people are bringing the dog in or out. I think there’s also a real trend with luxury home builders offering these as an option for homes they’re building.”

And, as pet ownership continues to grow in apartments and upscale city dwellings, he sees “builders creating spaces where all of the tenants can use a shared grooming/bathing space in the building for their pets.”

Once again, adaptation of existing products makes these spaces a natural fit for the talents of design professionals accustomed to creating bathing and showering spaces. He explains, “There are so many choices – both modern and traditional – with handshowers and pull-out faucets, tile shower basins, fiberglass or cast iron shower pans. And you adapt it to the need. So maybe you raise that a foot or two off the floor, provide little steps for the dog to climb up, lower the shower doors so that you can reach over them – in short, you go with products and design ideas you’re already using, you just change the size to fit.”

Wood-Mode recently launched a ‘Pet Parlor’ concept space, which incorporates everything from a built-in pet fountain with faucet system, custom hideaway dog dish drawer with adjacent food storage bins, integrated lockers for leashes, collars and accessories, extra-large sink for bathing/grooming and island with integrated doors and cabinets.

And Burcher expects other manufacturers to jump in on this trend in the future. However, he believes that, with the level of customization today, designers can easily repurpose existing products to meet pet needs in the home, noting that doing so gives designers a competitive edge in marketing to the growing demographic of pet lovers.

Just as people require storage for their “stuff” – whether food, cookware, bathing supplies or electronics – pets, too, come with their own collection of “stuff.” For a dog, that might mean finding space for a dog bed, toys, food, leashes, poop bags and medicine, while a cat will also need a private space for a litter box and scooper, and fish will need a fish tank plus space for food, water additives, etc.

Many times, existing storage products can be easily adapted to pet supplies. For instance, Burch notes, “Pull-outs originally designed for trash or recycling (which have a large capacity and can hold a lot of weight) are being repurposed for pet food; it’s a really natural fit for that. Likewise, bread bin inserts with stainless steel pieces are really well adapted for this as well.”

Cabinets can include interior fittings perfect for hanging leashes or storing pet supplies, he notes. Likewise, cabinet drawers can accommodate pet food and water dishes that can be pulled out during meal time, and tucked away when not needed. Furniture pieces can accommodate everything from aquariums to shelving that doubles as cat perches.

Additionally, evolving pet care trends can also impact pet-friendly design trends. For instance, the growing movement toward home cooking or raw feeding pets might drive the need for additional refrigerator space, or perhaps a secondary point-of-use refrigerator drawer to be used exclusively for pet food.

Some pet owners even look to incorporate exercise areas for their pets – everything from wider walkways to facilitate play to shelves for cats to climb or even side-by-side human and dog treadmills. As Burcher notes, “The way we think about our own bodies and exercise and health needs is being integrated with our needs for our pets. That might mean adapting a space into an exercise room so they can exercise together. As a health conscious person myself, seeing how we can integrate our health needs with our pets is really interesting to me.”

He also suggests that designers looking to accommodate pet needs consider how pets move around a space, the same as they would with humans. For instance, he notes, “Cats have very specific ways of moving through spaces that impact design. They need multiple points of entry and exit from a room, and offering that creates more harmonious spaces.”

Even pet issues can provide clues that help with the design process. He explains, “Often, when pets engage in destructive behavior, they’re really saying, ‘I’m frustrated because my needs aren’t being met.’ Their negative behavior can define our positive design results. As designers, we need to solve problems, and if we listen to our pets, the negative things they’re doing can really tell us the solutions that they’re looking for in the space.”

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