ISSUE 14  |  Warm Minimalism

Remodeling 101: How to Build a Dog-Friendly House

April 10, 2014 11:00 AM

BY Margot Guralnick

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Enrique had only been with us a few days when we blithely left him home alone for a few hours. The shredded curtain and broken windowpane that we returned to clued us in that our rescued 15-pound mutt wasn’t yet feeling acclimated. Dogs need to feel at home, too, we realized.

I’m happy to report that four years later, Enrique is leading a good life and hasn’t done any further damage–and, though you might find it hard to believe, we feel we ended up with the world’s sweetest pet. But like a toddler-proofed house, our rooms show signs that someone with four legs has the run of the place.

Hard to believe that not so long ago, dogs lived in doghouses. Now that they’ve been fully welcomed indoors, it only makes sense to incorporate our pets’ needs into the design plans. As Ben Bischoff of Made Architects LLC wisely points out, “You don’t want to have to shoehorn a big dog bed or metal crate into a finished room. If you’re constructing or remodeling, you should design and build places for your pet’s things to go.”

Towards that end, here are eight key things to take into consideration when setting up a quarters for man and beast:

1. A Convenient Way In and Out

The practicality of a dog door depends, of course, on where you live and the size of your dog. But having a built-in dog door is a great boon for both dog and owner. Have a look at Amanda Pays and Corbin Bernsens’ dog door tucked into a corner of their laundry room.

Above: A charming dog door by KUU, an architectural design firm based in Singapore and Tokyo.

2. A Place to Keep Leashes and Towels at the Ready

A mud room is a luxury high on dog owners’ wish lists, but any entry equipped with hooks and storage will work–as long as it can be tread upon by dirty paws and spritzed with wet fur. Think twice before adding hand-blocked wallpaper, as we did, in our entry. What you need is a resilient staging area where your dog can be cleaned and dried before being unleashed into the rest of the house.

Above: Oliver Freundlich designed a tiled open coat closet for a Brooklyn couple with a dog named Cash. A leash is at the ready on cast-iron hooks, and dog towels, toys, and treats can be stowed in the yellow cabinet by Cappellini. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.

3. Resilient Flooring

“In a pet residence, the floor is the first and most important consideration. Pets spend a lot of time on the floor; it’s our pets’ eminent domain,” writes dog design authority Julia Szabo in her book Pretty Pet-Friendly: Easy Ways to Keep Spot’s Digs Stylish and Spotless. Easy to clean, non-porous surfaces are ideal, she advises. Concrete and tiles work well, as do hardwood and bamboo floors (but be warned that dogs with scratchy paws are likely to leave their mark on soft woods.) Radiant heat flooring is a boon all around–energy efficient and a dog favorite. Carpeting is not recommended: it’s too hard to keep clean; but if you insist, Szabo recommends Flor carpet tiles–they’re removable and washable. Also consider Bolon, woven vinyl matting from Sweden that’s easy to clean and indestructible; I use it in my front hall to save our hardwood floor from all the snow and rain that gets tracked in.


Above: A polished concrete floor with radiant heat works extremely well for a couple who live in a converted Upstate New York barn with two giant Rottweilers. See more of the barn here as well as on pages 198 to 203 of the Remodelista Book. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.

4. A Feeding Area

Too often dog bowls are left out in the open waiting to be knocked over. When designing a kitchen (or mud room or laundry room), build in a convenient place for the food and water bowl to live. It will become one of your greatest daily satisfactions.

Above: To be filed under genius idea: a dog-feeding station on a platform with inset stainless-steel bowls and built-in water faucet, a design by Chicago architect Mike Shively of Morgante Wilson Architects, LTD.

Above: Similarly, Oliver Freundlich created a dog bowl nook in a kitchen island, and painted it Christian Louboutin red. It’s in the same Brooklyn duplex pictured above–tour the whole apartment at Architecture as Alchemy.

Above: A drawer under a window seat holds a feeding station in a design by TerraCotta Properties of Atlanta.

5. A Place to Stow the Kibble

Bags of dog food are unwieldy, not to mention unattractive and prone to attracting vermin. Having a built-in, air-tight bin is ideal. An old-fashioned metal garbage can also works well (see Amanda Pays’ laundry room).  

Above: A beadboard pull-out conveniently holds a covered container for storing dry dog food. Photo via Decor Pad.

6. A Place to Wash Up

A laundry sink works well as a dog bath for small- and medium-sized animals–and means you don’t have to bend over a low bathtub. Bonus: It’s easier to clean up a sink than a bathtub. Alternatively, consider installing a dog shower with a handheld nozzle–these work well in tiled niches in mud rooms and laundry rooms. 

Above: Bethany Obrecht, co-owner of dog accessories company Found My Animal and rescue dog advocate, equipped her Brooklyn brownstone kitchen with an antique farmhouse double sink, purchased on eBay and sized right for Claude, her mutt, and Henri, her Chihuahua.  Photograph from Found My Animal.

Above: Another luxury–the outdoor shower; this one is conveniently positioned alongside a dog door in a project by Phil Kean Design Group of Winter Park, Florida.

7. Pet-Proofed Furniture

Dogs don’t need to be allowed on the furniture, of course, but who can resist lounging on the sofa with a furry companion? It’s wise to protect the comfiest seats in the house by slipcovering them in washable fabrics. Alternatively, cotton painter’s drop cloths are a fast, affordable strategy–see our post Canvas Drop Cloths as Instant Decor. Our London editor, Christine, tucks a washable duvet onto her couch to dog proof it, and LA interior designer Michaela Scherrer drapes her living room furniture in claw-proof, spongeable white leather. If you’re thinking of reupholstering, Julia Szabo recommends Crypton, a stain-resistant (low VOC and no formaldehyde) fabric sold by the yard (some patterns are designed by William Wegman). And for an especially dog-friendly house, consider building a spot especially for your pets, such as a window seat or top-of-the-stairs lookout.

Above: A homemade window seat built over a radiator serves as a toasty hangout and mailman watch in the London home of the owners of pet accessories company Bone & Rag. The window seat is made of painted MDF with turned legs and air holes, and has a dark blue velvet cushion that’s hardwearing and, yes, washable. Photograph from Bone & Rag.

8. A Comfy Spot to Nap

Dogs need a place to retreat to where they can sleep soundly–”somewhere quiet and comfy but close to the action and free from draughts,” specifies Jeremy Cooper of Bone & Rag (makers of nice-looking denim dog beds). The hitch is that dog beds and crates hog a lot of space. Instead of allowing them to clutter your rooms, consider creating cozy built-in niches under shelves, islands, and stairs. 

Above: Jean-Pierre, the resident French bulldog at Vancouver’s Old Faithful Shop, has a bed built into a custom-made wooden counter. Photograph from Old Faithful Shop.

Cat fans, stay tuned for our tips on how to create a feline-friendly house. Looking for pet accessories and toys? Check out our gift guides for the Dog Lover and Feline Fanatic. And for the ultimate dog-friendly house, see Only in Japan: An Architect-Designed House That Doubles as a Dog Salon. Worried about pets who eat houseplants? Read Gardenista’s report: Will a “Poisonous” Plant Really Kill Your Pet?