Not Your Average Dog House

Real Estate

People love their pets. While fresh-cooked pet food and high-tech squeaky toys are gaining notice, designers and experts say in the age of COVID-19 and with more time at home, a growing segment of the nation’s animal lovers are building for the love of a pet.

Johnathan Lower, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices C. Dan Joyner, Realtors in South Carolina, is one example. Lower went from a standard TikTok user to an internet sensation after creating a special room for Teddy, his 2-year-old Golden Retriever.

Lower created a façade near one of the closets in his South Carolina home with an opening for Teddy and posted the story and videos on TikTok. Within weeks Lower had 100,000 followers with lots of questions.

After selling his old home and moving to a Piedmont, S.C., five-bedroom contemporary in October 2020, Lower decided to turn a storage area under the stairs into a unique space for Teddy and share the new project and his progress with the world.

Today, Lower, who is also known as @thehomeprojectguy on TikTok, has almost 3 million followers.

The idea for Teddy’s House wasn’t new to Lower. “I was showing a house in a really nice luxury lake area. And the sellers had created a playhouse for their daughters in the closet space beneath the stairs. But I don’t have any kids. So, I thought it would be neat to do something like that for Teddy,” Lower explains.

Lower started working on Teddy’s House in February 2021. The result is something even Snoop Dogg could appreciate with a raised built-in dog bed with sliding drawers for Teddy’s toys, a flat-screen TV and a digital fireplace. Teddy’s portrait hangs above the fireplace. And the exterior façade is flagstone.

“I soundproofed the walls so that if there were ever fireworks going off or a bad thunderstorm or he just needed to get away, Teddy could go in his house. It turned out to be a great idea. During the Fourth of July, when everybody was setting off fireworks, Teddy was inside his house and safe,” Lower says.

He spent about $4,500 and two weeks to complete the project.

So does Teddy watch TV? “He doesn’t watch the TV, but when I’m working or gone, I’ll turn it on. I think the sound calms him,” Lower says.

Teddy is chill, but the media buzz around Lower’s pet project has been hot.

“The dog house has been wildly popular. There’s one video on TikTok that has almost four million views,” he says.

Lower is not alone in his desire to create space for a pet family member.

According to the 2021 to 2022 American Pet Products Assn. National Pet Owners Survey, 70 percent of U.S. households (more than 90 million) own some type of pet. Moreover, 14 percent of respondents got a new pet during the pandemic. U.S. pet owner shopping hit $103 billion for the first time in 2020 and is estimated to exceed $109 billion in 2021.

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., co-author with Jessica Pierce of “Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible” (2019) and “A Dog’s World: Imagining the Lives of Dogs in a World Without Humans(2021), says, “Pets want comfort and safety. Dogs like pillows in the corner because they love the feeling of their backs against a wall.”

Mudrooms or even a simple doggy washing station with hot and cold water inside or out can ease the transition for families dealing with muddy paws after a bike ride, walk or the aftermath of a 2 a.m. skunk spraying.

Berkoff says consider pets when remodeling, especially if they’ve lived in the house for a long time. “Animals don’t get a vote, but the pet will have specific patterns; so look at how your dog lives and likes to live when working through any design changes. Also, think twice before you swap out that smelly old dog pillow, blanket or carpet for something new. Your dog doesn’t care if something’s too purple or stylish or smells, and you could be throwing out one of your dog’s favorite things,” he says.

Los Angeles interior designer Shannon Ggem learned that lesson the hard way when remodeling her Malibou Lake home.

“I bought a really cute, colorful outdoor rug that I couldn’t wait to put on my deck. I rolled it out and the dogs [Onion and Foots] weren’t near me, which is odd because usually they are right next to me. I found them on the trash pile, still trying to fit on that old piece of green artificial turf that we’ve been using as a rug on the deck. I caved, rolled up the new rug and brought the turf carpet back,” she says.

Ggem also made pet-friendly changes in her 10-foot by 10-foot kitchen. Fed up with tripping over water bowls and lugging 15-pound bags of food, she created a built-in food drawer to accommodate dry food and added a countertop faucet and plumbed water station above the feeding bowls. She recommends floor tiles or slab for anyone working with a pet water station.

“Adding a pet-food drawer doesn’t change the architecture of the cabinetry, and it’s functional for anyone,” she explains.

Ggem took a bag of dog food to the cabinet maker to size the cabinet drawer. All in, she says the kitchen cabinet and fixtures cost about $1,500.

Gems cat Mayonnaise eats on the table in one of the bedrooms purchased explicitly for the feline. Ggem says as cats usually need to be fed on something high with a dog and cat household, factor that into any planning.

With furnishings, Ggem says look to performance fabrics like Crypton and Sunbrella. “They make sense now in a residential setting,” she adds.

Also, waterproof anything that’s going to get wet. Ggem, who has tested various materials and fabrics over the years, says, “It truly does matter.”

Ggem got Sunbrella cushions for her deck so the dogs can lounge on outdoor furniture that is easily cleaned. She also installed a hanging bed for dog snuggling and reading.

Her living room features a built-in bench under a window for pets, family and guest.

No matter how you remodel for pet family, Ggem says enjoy the process, have fun, and minimize any conflicts by outfitting spaces that will perform for the entire household. Also, she says, design for the lifespan of your pets – from young to old – and the long-term value of your home.

Catherine Holliss, director of interior design at Sander Architects in Los Angeles, says pets are clients, too.

“We have a society where we value our pets and make them part of the family. They bring so much into our lives, so it makes sense to acknowledge their needs when designing an animal-friendly space. Every client has a different story. The design becomes a manifestation of that story. And when they have a beloved dog, it makes sense to include them in the story. I love it. It’s personal. Pets influence architecture and have become part of our practice. We now ask questions about pets with every client. Post-COVID, almost everybody has a dog or a cat,” Holliss says.

Questions include: Does the pet shed? Are they elderly? What is the routine for feeding and washing them? And where do they sleep?

When designing, think about picking up unused space; put a Dutch door in the lower portion of a closet for a pet bed and use the upper part for linens. Moreover, look for ways to repurpose wasted space. New York apartment dwellers, who often put litter boxes in bathrooms, and anyone fed up with the feeling of cat litter stuck to the bottom of their feet can look to Ikea, Wayfair, and others for simple and affordable design hacks crafted to hide litter boxes and minimize litter trails.

“Almost all of these animal design choices just take good planning,” Holliss explains.

So, what about costs? “The cost can be nothing. In the same way that you put in a cabinet, where you’re going to put in your garbage, you add a cabinet where you store your dog food, right? Adding an outdoor shower or a shower hose in your bathroom or outside is simply the cost of that particular object. When you’re going to do a furniture hack, it’s the cost of the furniture. I talk about this all the time because we have a very eco-friendly practice, and people always think designing is so expensive, but 90 percent of it is about using your brain and planning ahead. If you do that, pet designs don’t have to cost a lot,” she adds.

Ggem says don’t let perfection stop you from taking on that litterbox hack project.

“If people are going to undertake a project that they could do now to make their life more enjoyable for their pets and with their pets, go ahead and get moving. Rather than wait for the perfect version or moment to present itself, just get started,” she adds, “because our pet’s lives aren’t forever; their lives are shorter than ours. And they’re so wonderful to enjoy.”

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