Pet lovers take home cues from four-legged friends

Fur and furniture come together in a design approach that makes space for the needs of dogs and cats with innovative touches and products

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 September, 2014, 1:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 September, 2014, 1:03am

Hong Kong famously has some of the world's most pampered pets, but how many of us would consult them about the design of the home we share?

Well, we should - and it's not unusual, according to Rosina Maria Arquati, who works as an animal communicator. Dogs and cats are individuals, too, and, just like humans, have their preferences, asserts the British expatriate, a long-time Hong Kong resident. "If a client comes to me and is revamping their home, I always ask the resident cats, or dogs, what they want," Arquati said.

So, what do they want? Because animals are individuals, Arquati says, there are no common themes. In general, though, a climbing wall is a considerate addition for an indoor cat, while some dogs like to sleep with their human - if not actually on the bed, at least in the same room.

Virginia Jackson, an Australian town planner, has spent a decade researching apartment living for pets, and her advice is to consider the 3D environment. "Cats like to get up high and look at the outside world," said Jackson, founding partner of Melbourne-based firm Harlock Jackson. "Climbing opportunities can be incorporated into the design of built-in furniture, around doorways, or by making a windowsill wide enough for them to sit on." Also give them spots that are quiet and warm - cats look for opportunities to be isolated, said Jackson.

The priority for dogs is to maximise space, and minimise visual stimuli - such as a view of people passing by - which makes them bark.

Designer Caroline Ma, of Jason Caroline Design, says practicality must be factored into any interior where pets are present. Obviously, forget white sofas - darker-coloured or patterned upholstery is more forgiving, and can be compensated by lighter walls and ceilings. Choosing furniture fabrics with a subtle sheen, such as velvet, will also help to lighten up the scheme.

Even house-trained animals have accidents, so carpet is impractical, and wood absorbs urine, which is acidic and "very damaging". When it comes to hard flooring, marble is more porous than granite, especially the lighter colours. For a pet-loving couple keen on the luxury look of wood, Jason Caroline Design chose timber-patterned tiles from BSC Colour Living. The matt-finish tiles come as planks in three widths.

At the same Island South home, the interior theme coordinates with the blue roan coat of the owners' cocker spaniel. "We bought a silk rug from Fort Street Studio in grey sheen with a hint of blue, and a sofa from Flexform with the same sheen as the fur," Ma said. Dining chairs were reupholstered in matching velveteen. The generally accepted assertion that cats need hidey-holes, while dogs like to snuggle, is inspiring a new breed of pet-friendly furniture designers.

Hong Kong and mainland-based architect Ruan Hao, founding partner of LYCS Architecture, created his CATable especially for cats to sleep in and explore. The architectural timber table features a clean surface on top for human activities, and crannies and tunnels in the space below for their feline friends.

Hao, who designed the table for Milan Design Week 2014, was one of 20 Chinese designers selected to exhibit. The CATable is hand-crafted from a single piece of wood, cut in half, carved, and reassembled. It's a limited-edition piece - only 10 are made each month - and in the next month or so should be available for purchase online via the LYCS website.

Dog-lover and PolyU design graduate Angel Chow Ka-yi created the PoochFam collection in three parts: a coffee table with pine wood top and detachable cotton mat underneath where furry friends can curl up and stay close by; a motion-activated floor lamp and a stool with string attached to encourage human-animal interaction through play. Chow sells her products through www.buymedesign.com.

According to designers in the US - a market trend bellwether for Hong Kong - householders are increasingly considering their pets' needs when building or remodelling: even to the extent of demanding canine-only showers and tubs.

Space-constrained Hongkongers may never go quite that far, but Arquati says it's not uncommon for people in our city to take their dogs and cats along when inspecting a potential new flat. Indeed, it's a practice she encourages, and one that she says most landlords and agents will accommodate if the building allows pets. She likens this to a routine fung shui check.

"Let your pet run free in the flat, and if they sit down after exploring, then it will be ok," Arquati advises. "If they go to the front door and start scratching, I wouldn't touch it."