A house that’s for the dogs

Pooch palaces that make four-legged friends right at home

Ever thought of designing a living room for your Gucci-pampered puppy? How about a second-level perch or shin-level views for the plus-one member of the family?

"What I don’t understand is why all homes are not built with the ‘whole’ family in mind," said David Beart, who runs the online magazine Professor’s House and is planning to build a $1 million pet-friendly house from the ground up in Calgary, Canada.

Still in the preplanning stages, David Beart’s pet-friendly home in Canada will feature pet-accessible entrances and doorways and low-volatile-organic-compound-containing paints, among other interior and exterior features, he said.

Kobe, Japan-based Fauna Plus Design (www.fauna.jp) makes dogs an explicit part of their home design. The firm’s dog-friendly design approach is about aesthetics as much as it is practicalities, said an assistant to Keiji Hirose, lead architect at Fauna Plus Design. "One day (Keiji Hirose) realized that it’s a challenge for many pet owners to keep their homes beautiful, so he started to design houses based on animal behavior," said the assistant.

The award-winning "Papillon dogs home," in Kakogawa, Japan, by Fauna Plus Design. Image/Fauna Plus Design

Part of the dog-friendly home design perspective at Fauna Plus Design, said the assistant, deals with trying to maximize limited space.

For example, the firm designed a remodel of a small Osaka home to fit a large Labrador retriever by placing a children’s playroom on top of an indoor kennel. The design also placed windows that provided sightlines from the kennel into the living room and kitchen of the home.

A home renovation in Osaka, Japan, by Fauna Plus Design, is designed to assist a Laborador retriever transition from living outdoors to living inside. Image/Fauna Plus Design

For another project in Yokohama, Fauna Plus Design placed a waterproof indoor kennel for two dachshund dogs below a mezzanine study room.

In a remodeled Kobe, Japan, apartment, the firm installed a special ventilation system to facilitate hair removal and odor-absorbing materials in a cabinet-turned-kennel for a basset hound.

The "Basset hound house," by Fauna Plus Design, features right-sized accommodations for a short-legged dog. Image/Fauna Plus Design

Another Japanese designer, FORM/Kouichi Kimura Architects, drafted a dog-centered design (see Works No. 13) that recently spent time on the Internet merry-go-round. The home features an under-house dog space, accessed from the backyard by a sliding glass door, with windows that peek into the interior of the home.

A dog-friendly home by FORM/Kouichi Kimura Architects features a separate, low entrance for four-footed friends and an outdoor dog shower. Images: FORM/Kouichi Kimura Architects.

There’s no doubt that dogs are on Americans’ minds — just under half of American households have a dog, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) — however, home designers in America are behind the dog-friendly design curve.

Michael Kimsal, a North Carolina-based Web developer, has been searching for pet-friendly house plans since 2006, but has yet to find any, which he said was shocking.

"A big issue for my wife and I," said Kimsal, "is that we want to have a private area for our dogs to be in the house, and we haven’t found any plans that specifically address this."

Regardless of an apparent high demand, dog-friendly home designs that go beyond post-design add-ons like doggy doors, resilient flooring and fabrics remain a fringe idea in the U.S. for architects and builders, if not homeowners.

It’s not that Americans are afraid to blow the lid of the dog accessory bin: The APPA estimates that Americans spent more than $50 billion on their pets in 2011.

"In my 30 years in the architectural business, I’ve never heard of a pet-friendly home design," said Joel Davis, owner of Architectural Designs, an American company that offers a reference of more than 21,000 home plans to prospective homebuilders.

Real estate agents in the U.S. cater to the pet-loving crowd through the Pet Realty Network. Jane Miller, a Realtor in Charleston, S.C., who is a member of the network, recalls a multilevel home she sold that had an unused elevator shaft, which the new owners spent a lot of money to restore to allow their old basset hound, past stair-climbing age, to move easily upstairs and down.

Other Realtors who belong to the Pet Realty Network, like Valerie Crowell, in Walnut Creek, Calif., mentioned homes with modified entryways to accommodate dirty dogs. "One house had a mudroom off the kitchen with a drain in the middle and a tiled-in dog wash," she said. "It was very cool."

Though these are exceptions.

Both Miller and Crowell, pet-friendly real estate agents, said they knew of no other remarkably dog-friendly homes. Same with a dozen other pet-focused real estate agents contacted for this story. Most mentioned fenced-in yards and parks access as the extent of their dog-friendly Realtor service.

Dog owners will ultimately decide if it’s finally time to surpass some of the fringe accessories — like faux parts for a neutered friend — and to take the hipster scarves, diamond-encrusted collars and ultramodern dog manses to their full-blown conclusion: a home design that fully incorporates that furry, four-legged member of the family.

"Roof Dog Run House," a planned project by Fauna Plus Design in Japan, is designed with a dog walk that leads to the home’s roof. The family’s three beagles, who also serve as guard dogs, will be able to scan the surrounding area from the rooftop. Image/Fauna Plus Design

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