Responding to Japan’s love of pets, several architects have established a new, niche trend within their industry: pet-friendly home design.
With the world’s lowest birth rate — an estimated 7.3 births for every 1,000 people — Japan is home to many young couples who choose pets in lieu of children. Additionally, many older couples in Japan revere dogs and cats.
"For people who have pets, they’re like family," said Akira Koyama, the owner and representative director of Tokyo-based Key Operation Inc., an architecture firm.
And there is a market for pet-focused design, said Koyama, who designed a residence dubbed "House Taishido," or "Cat House."
Located in a densely populated urban district west of Tokyo, the three-story, 30-square-meter home features stepping-stone-like shelves that allow the home’s feline resident to navigate vertically into and out of the main living room via small openings.
The small openings in the wall lead to other rooms on the first floor.
The cat can also access the second floor of the unit by walking up the shelves and slipping through a slot that functions as a cat-only portal. Freeing up the unit’s staircase from cat traffic allows the space to double as a home library, with bookcases and space for reading.
According to Koyama, the house was not initially designed to be a "cat house," and those features took shape later in the design stages.
"It wasn’t too expensive (to add the cat features), and was quite fun," he said, adding that the home’s design focused on creating a space with rooms of different heights and sizes connected by doorless transitions and windows.
This initial design concept inadvertently made for excellent cat mobility.
While the cat-friendly features implemented by Key Operations weren’t conceived during initial design, another Tokyo-based firm designs homes specifically with pets in mind.
Fauna Plus DeSIGN and its director, Keiji Hirose, are known for designing a custom home for 16 cats.
The heart of the home features a cat-climbing tree that serves as a spiral staircase leading up to a catwalk on the second floor of the unit, according to a website detailing that project.
The catwalk forms a zigzag design and can also be accessed via steps that protrude from the wall, similar to House Taishido’s shelves. Several of the steps are next to small holes in the walls that lead to other rooms.
One of the home’s most unique features is an enclosed, see-through cat tunnel at floor level in the den, which stretches around the room. The homeowners’ audio equipment, records and entertainment center are atop the tunnel.
From the tunnel, cats can access a cats-only "playroom" space at the corner of one window in the master bedroom.
Other cat-friendly features of that home include:
- a cat-accessible loft that features skylights and windows;
- a multistage cube of shelves with cat beds; and
- a floor-to-ceiling scratching post column, wrapped in hemp rope.
According to Fauna Plus DeSIGN estimates, the cost to design a two-story, detached wooden home built to cat specifications ranges from 3.2 million yen (about $42,000 in U.S. dollars) for a 20-square-meter space (about 215 square feet) — on up to 13 percent of the total construction costs for a space measuring more than 50 square meters (about 538 square feet), the company reports.
If 16 cats weren’t enough, the residence also houses five dogs, which are separated from the cats via a glass door. To house the dogs and allow them outside access, Fauna designed a rooftop garden.
The firm is experienced with dog-focused projects, too, as its two most recent projects involved the design of an indoor waterproof kennel for the home of two dachshunds and the remodel of an apartment that houses a basset hound.
Features of a dog-friendly home typically include proper ventilation to eliminate hair shed; odor absorbent materials; and a dog shower or toilet.
"For dogs it’s … more difficult (than designing a home for cats)," Koyama said, adding that special attention must be given to materials used for the floors and stairs.
The cost to design a two-story wooden home to dog specifications can range from 3 million yen (about $39,000 in U.S. dollars) for a 20-square-meter space (about 215 square feet) up to 12 percent of total construction costs for a space exceeding 50 square meters (about 538 square feet).
Fauna isn’t the only company to corner the dog-friendly niche, as major Japanese homebuilder Asahi Kasei Homes provides homes with dog-specific features, such as showers that can accommodate a dog weighing up to 100 kilograms (about 220 pounds).
Other dog-friendly home features include: dog-level peepholes in garden walls, pet-door installations in each room, outdoor courtyards in dense urban housing areas, and scratch-resistant flooring.
Cat- and dog-friendly home design, while gaining momentum in Japan, is not isolated to that island nation.
"I’ve never had anyone ask me specifically about a house design (related to pets)," said Jane Miller, who markets herself as "Charleston’s Pet Friendly Realtor" at Carolina One Real Estate. However, some clients with pets do desire amenities like fenced-in yards and resilient flooring.
After a sale, pet-loving homeowners may choose to add such pet features as a dog-only shower or a kennel run, Miller said.
"I do think there’s a market," she said, for homes designed with pets in mind, "(at the) very high-end level. But the average person wouldn’t pay extras for design features," she said.
A cat navigates feline-friendly shelving in "House Taishido." Photo courtesy of Key Operation Inc.
Exterior photo of "House Taishido," a Tokyo home designed with cat-friendly features. Photo courtesy of Key Operation Inc.
Artistic rendering of House Taishido. Image courtesy of Key Operation Inc.
"Cats’ House," a house for 16 cats (below). Photos courtesy of Fauna Plus DeSIGN.
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Erik Pisor is a freelance writer in California.