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Creature Comforts: Decorating with Pets in Mind

Living with furry friends doesn’t mean you have to skimp on style. Here’s how to keep your cool when pets share your space.

Neutral textiles are a good match for this light-toned pup.

It's an age-old pet owners’ dilemma: How do you follow your design dreams without letting your house go to the dogs (so to speak)? “You don’t have to abandon your sense of style; just tweak it,” says designer Julia Szabo, author of Pretty Pet-Friendly: Easy Ways to Keep Spot’s Digs Stylish & Spotless (Wiley). “When we make thoughtful, informed decorating decisions that are also pet-friendly, we end up with a home that’s cozier and more livable.”


Consider the Color Scheme

Many pet owners accept stray fur and stains as part of daily living. But simply changing the color of your sofa (or wherever your pet is allowed to perch) can help mask those things and more. Most pets have fur in a neutral shade, says Szabo, and medium tones such as khaki or gray are the best options for masking their shedding. Lighter tones and darker shades are best reserved for pets with fur in those colors. Small-scale patterns can also help camouflage fur and stains, whereas wide patterns (thick stripes or chevrons, for instance) can magnify spots, especially in a high-contrast colorway like black and white, says Szabo.


Find the Right Fabric

Szabo recommends avoiding delicate, loosely woven, or nubby fabrics like chenille and tweed, which can be chewed, clawed, and snagged. “Cats like anything with a coarse or textured surface—something they can really sink their claws into,” says Nancy Peterson, cat programs manager for the Humane Society of the United States.


Materials like microsuede and tightly woven fabrics such as denim are more durable. Performance (or “engineered”) fabrics are some of the toughest options on the market. Popular brands include Crypton, which comes in a variety of finishes, including faux suede and twill; and Sunbrella, an indoor-outdoor fabric available in a wide range of colors and patterns. Leather is also a rugged, easy-to-clean choice. However, “some power-chewer dogs might be tempted to chomp through it because it smells so inviting, like a giant shoe or belt,” says Szabo. “It’s also prone to scratches.”


Choose Rugs Wisely

While bare floors are the easiest to maintain, adding interest (and comfort) underfoot can still be accomplished. Low-pile rugs are easier to maintain than high-pile ones, and less tempting for dogs that like to dig and cats that like to claw the fibers. Modular carpet tiles, such as those from Flor, are easy and inexpensive to replace (you can switch out one or two as needed). Generally speaking, “wall-to-wall broadloom carpeting is virtually impossible to clean,” says Szabo, “and the padding underneath is like a giant sponge.” As for area rugs, those made of polypropylene (aka indoor-outdoor rugs) are incredibly durable and a cinch to clean. They come in many stylish options, too— meaning you and your mud-trekking pets can live in blissful harmony.

Calm and Collected

It seems instinctive to place your pet’s nook in the entryway, but there may be better places to keep that kind of instant clutter at bay—where your pet will be happier, too.


“Look at your home from your pet’s perspective,” says Szabo. Your dog or cat might well prefer to hang out in your home office (say, that square niche under your desk, just right for a dog or cat bed) or a sunny spot in the living room. You might even add personality by painting the area its own color, says Szabo. For cats, you could hang a stylish climbing tree or perch on a wall, using hardware that suits your decorating scheme.


Also, as every owner knows, pets come with lots of stuff: Corral toys and other gear in eye-catching baskets and bins (the same ones that are marketed for kids’ toys), and mount decorative hooks by the door for leashes and coats.