Derek Walker had never built a pet playhouse before.
Mr. Walker, a carpenter in Nashville, usually builds custom cabinets, but when Kelly Ladwig, a local realtor, asked him to build a playhouse for her three cats and two dogs, he was intrigued. He was to reside in Mrs. Ladwig’s recently built custom house, where the animals, which she calls “the furry five”, would have a bedroom of their own.
Mr. Walker’s design for the 8-by-9-foot playhouse reflected details found in the real house, such as sliding barn doors and railings that match the home’s stairwell. There is also a balcony that Mrs. Ladwig and her wife, Suzie Stolarz, refer to as the “catio”, which was intentionally placed on the side of the playhouse closest to the bedroom window. “If the cats wanted to lie on the catio and sunbathe, they could,” Walker said.
Pricing varies for Mr. Walker’s custom projects, but this particular one cost around $12,000. (Mr. Walker himself has an Irish doodle, but the 45-pound dog is too big for his own playhouse, he said.)
“These are our children,” said Ladwig, 52, adding that she and his wife consider them “just like anyone else who builds a house.”
“The benefit of building a custom home is that you can do whatever you want,” he said. “So we built things that worked for the way we live.”
In addition to the playhouse, other pet-focused features Ms. Ladwig and Ms. Stolarz had installed include a dog shower, built-in litter boxes in the laundry room, and a water station in the kitchen.
Americans have long had an affinity for their pets and a willingness to spend money on them (see: barkuterie boards and luxury pet hotels), and that inclination only increased during the pandemic, when there was also an increase in the pet ownership. A biennial survey released by the American Pet Products Association in June 2021 showed that 35 percent of respondents said they spent more on pet supplies, including food, wellness-related products, and other pet care items. in the previous 12 months than in the previous year. .
The evolution from a mere pet to a four-legged family member began in the 1970s, said Andrea Laurent-Simpson, a research assistant professor of sociology at Southern Methodist University and author of the book “Just Like Family: How Companion Animals Joined the Household”..”
There have been changes in family dynamics in the United States, such as women becoming more financially independent, resulting in children becoming less of a focus, and families becoming smaller, resulting in women pets will play a bigger role in them, he said. What Laurent-Simpson calls “multispecies families” arose along with non-traditional families.
“I think it’s just a generational thing that we’ll only see an increase,” Laurent-Simpson said. Baby boomers have evolved to think of their pets as family members since they’ve become empty nesters, he said, but it’s the younger generations (millennials and older Gen-Zers) who are leaning fully into the idea. of dogs when they were children. Some are even avoiding children for dogs altogether.
For some pet owners, pet design is a confluence of making the home more functional while pampering pups. Mel Bean, an interior designer in Tulsa, Okla., recalled designing built-in dog crates in the master bedroom for a client’s two Westies.
“They sleep in the room with them every night,” Bean said. “So this gave them a designated space.” Working with the room’s limited square footage, he designed a pantry-style closet with the boxes built into the bottom. They are painted white like the surrounding cabinets and have a wire mesh door with latches selected to match the aesthetics of the home.
“It’s so much more beautiful than the dog bed lying on the floor and it provided them with lots of useful storage,” Ms. Bean added.
That project was in 2013. But since the pandemic, designing for dogs has become standard for Ms. Bean’s firm. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a single new construction that doesn’t have a dog area like that,” she said.
One home he’s currently working on has French bulldogs, who are “notoriously messy eaters,” he said, so clients asked him to design a kennel-like structure for dogs outside the master bedroom. The kennel has a dog door that opens from the outside and leads directly into the dog shower, as well as built-in crates and its own dedicated fridge and freezer drawers for your raw food.
The area also includes a dishwasher drawer dedicated exclusively to dog bowls, which customers wanted for sanitary reasons. “The room is fresh and beautiful, but you can also wash and mop the whole room,” said Ms. Bean.
Christine Messier, an attorney in Sarasota, completed the kitchen renovation about a month ago in her 1,744-square-foot home. Part of that redesign included a feeding station for her two small dogs of hers, Bella and Beau, to keep food and water bowls off the floor.
“This all happened right when I was pregnant, so I think it was a little bit of guilt for it being my first babies and also needing something special,” said Messier, 33.
The feeding station is an alcove at the end of the island that contains the dogs’ food and water bowls. The backsplash is white quartz to match the countertops, and there is a pot filler, or, in this case, a bowl filler. The contractor ran the water through that pipe and connected it to a three-stage water filter. If the dogs drool, the bottom of the station tilts forward so water runs out of the cabinets.
Sometimes, however, the feature is largely a side effect of pet owners’ desire to create a more dedicated space in their homes for their animals.
A dog shower and feeding station, Ladwig said, can help with reselling because other people will probably find it useful. “Do we really need to have a dog door through a steel door? Probably not,” she said. But: “It makes life easier.”