It seems like puppies are everywhere.
Pet adoptions during the coronavirus pandemic have seriously taken off, with pet rescue groups and breeders across the country reporting demand like never before. Humane Canada, for one, reported an adoption and fostering increase of up to 60 per cent across Canada during the height of the pandemic.
In my own home, I welcomed Bunky, a miniature longhaired dachshund, in August. In normal times, many aspects of your lifestyle change when you welcome an animal into your house. But being home with him around the clock through various stages of lockdown has made me reassess the look and function of my space to ensure everybody feels more comfortable. For the furnishing-focused, taking the time to reconcile a desire for an impeccable interior with a little bundle of mayhem isn’t easy.
Nike Onile, the principal designer at Ode, a multi-disciplinary studio in Toronto, doesn’t have a dog but has worked with many clients who do, and admits that during the pandemic she has given serious thought to taking the plunge into pet parenthood. “When it comes to pets in homes, it all comes down to intentionality,” Onile says. “You have to make sure that the pieces that you’re bringing into your home have intention and make you feel great.” When it comes to smaller spaces, everything is visible, she says, so you want to make sure that the things you bring in for the pet are cohesive with existing furniture. “You don’t want a dog bed to become this thing that needs to be tucked away.”
American design author Susanna Salk owns three rescue dogs. She recently spent time in Britain compiling her second book about dogs and the decorators who love them, At Home in the English Countryside: Designers and Their Dogs. What Salk discovered profiling notable room-arrangers including Anouska Hempel and Veere Grenney was a “wonderful casualness that the Brits always do so well,” she says. She observed a kind of organic co-habitation, free of fuss or concerns that a dog owner can’t have nice things. “There was never a worry whether it was a chair owned by Marie Antoinette or the most beautiful garden,” she says. “There was no fastidiousness.”
Salk often recommends a decor trick she picked up from the home of revered decorator and dog lover Bunny Williams: faux fur throws. “She has them on her sofas and beds and I did the same immediately after seeing that she did that,” she says. On top of being easily washable, they add layers to a sofa and look great at the end of a bed. Since dogs love to sleep on them, they also may guide your pooch away from more precious perches.
Onile says that for basics such as bowls and food containers, she never uses pet specific products, but instead opts for a vintage dish or bowl that she knows her client will love, “I get things that look great that people want in their home, and repurpose them for a pet,” she says. Since speaking with Onile, I’ve repurposed a blue and white Chinese porcelain planter found at a flea market as a receptacle for Bunky’s plush farm animals and teething bones and a similar vessel to conceal the treats I’m using to train my food obsessed dachshund.
In the design world, I found a kindred spirit in dog-dad and decorator Alex Papachristidis, who pampers his 18-year-old Yorkshire terrier, Teddy, as much as his well-heeled human clients. “I’ve always loved dog beds, but we made them for Teddy and he had no interest,” he says from his country home in Bridgehampton, N.Y. “He’s a ratter, so Teddy liked to sleep literally on the top cushion on the back of the sofa where he could see everything.” It’s important to consider the different character traits and instincts of your breed and observe your dog’s habits before completely reimagining a room.
Papachristidis has advice for dog owners like me in possession of a pooch prone to back issues. “Ages ago, in an antique store, I found Billy Baldwin’s bed steps and I bought them,” he says. Papachristidis now makes his own version of these upholstered steps, once owned by the decor legend, and puts them in his homes to help canine residents mount tall mattresses and sofas. “The ones I have in the city are gilded with leopard fabric and the ones in the country are in chalky white” he says. If you can’t find similar steps, a footstool or child-scaled chair can also function for the same purpose. “Teddy knows how to hop onto them and then hop onto the sofa or bed,” he says. “With little stools, it’s not one big jump.”
While some new pet owners may feel overwhelmed by adapting their space to their furry roommate, I’ve come to realize that there’s joy to be found in making changes to a space with a dog in mind. When you really get to know your pet and overlook the inevitable paw prints and puppy patina, you’ll discover things that work for the both of you, objects that serve your pet and bring beauty to your shared space. As Onile puts it, "If you feel good about your space, your dog will feel that.”
Pamper your pet’s space with these design additions
Aviva Designs dog bed, $120 at Dogfather & Co.
Gluckstein Home faux fur throw, $169.99 at Hudson’s Bay.
19th Century mahogany steps, $795 at The Antique Warehouse.
Midcentury sterling silver bowl with glass liner, $2,475 at Maison Nurita.
Antique Japanese Imari porcelain bowl, $35 through etsy.com/ca/shop/Dantage.
At Home in the English Countryside: Designers and their Dogs by Susanna Salk, $67.50 at bookstores and online.