Pet Perfect Homes: It's All in the De-Tails

Pet parents seek creative design solutions to accommodate four-legged family members.

Photos by laura petrilla and chuck beard


As veterinarians, Sherwood and Shawna Johnson know how to keep animals healthy and happy. As pet parents, they also know how to help them feel right at home.

When designing their home on Lake MacLeod in Pine Township, the couple (Sherwood practices at Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Ohio Township and Shawna practices at Twinbrook Animal Clinic in Valencia) considered the needs and personalities of their animals and included special accommodations. They created an enclosed area with synthetic grass where dogs can enjoy mud-free playtime outside and overhead ledges between interior rooms with pass-throughs that are perfect for cats, as well as built-in fish tanks.

These updates “can really improve their quality of life and change how they behave,” Sherwood Johnson says. “When cats can see over everything, it makes them more comfortable. For dogs, it’s important for them to have an area that is theirs.”

The Johnsons and their home are part of a larger trend emerging nationwide, says Dara Foster, pet stylist, contributor to NBC’s “Today” and other TV shows and founder of The move toward more pet-friendly home design is linked to a cultural shift occurring over the last few years, she says.

“We used to call ourselves ‘pet owners.’ Now, it’s ‘pet parents,’” Foster says. “It’s a full-on lifestyle. We treat them like children.”

In addition to their three human kids — Connor, 13; Koven, 10; and Sylla, 4 — the Johnsons also live with Noodle, 6, a beagle/Labrador retriever/miniature pinscher mix; Ogie, 5, a Rottweiler mix; and Spook, their 21-year-old cat.

In their home, they incorporated a mudroom with grooming tubs for the dogs.

They also got creative when considering litter-box placement by including several enclosed areas in closets and cabinets where dogs can’t fit.

As the housing market responds to an increased demand, more builders are offering similar a la carte add-ons, such as in-home grooming stations, hidden food-storage areas and custom dog houses, Foster says.

Catherine Davin, of Davin Interiors in Mt. Lebanon, says catering design choices to a pet’s individual needs and habits is key. If an animal likes to keep an eye on the neighborhood, Davin suggests creating a bench in front of a large window and covering it with a slipcover that can be removed easily for cleaning or when company is present. Slipcovers also can be added to the backs of sofas — popular perching spots for many pets. Designer dog beds can work with a home’s decor rather than serving as an eyesore.

Heavy-duty, stain-resistant and breathable fabrics work best in homes with pets, Davin says. As a dog owner herself, she suggests avoiding corduroy or tweed, which will attract fur. She also warns that leather is likely to be scratched, which will result in a distressed look. Companies such as Crypton, a fabric brand, offer stylish yet durable fabric options for the home, she says.

“They’re nice enough that you can do your whole sofa in them, yet they’re really cleanable,” Davin says.

Sewickley-based interior designer and dog owner Liz Murphy says nearly all of her clients have pets, and their most common concern is keeping feeding areas out of sight while maintaining accessibility. To do so, she suggests creating a toe-kick drawer under the kitchen cabinets, complete with a feeding station.

“It’s an unobtrusive way to accommodate them rather than having the dish on display when it’s not being used,” Murphy says.

Another common request among pet owners is a space dedicated to bathing, whether it’s a utility tub with a handheld shower attachment in the mudroom area or an entire room with a tile floor and infinity drain.

“Not everybody brings their pets to the groomer,” she says. 

Designer Lauren Piasecki’s Great Danes, Jackie, 2, and Stevie, 9 months, have room to run in her enclosed backyard in Morningside.

Lauren Piasecki, a partner with Black Cherry Design in Lawrenceville, also knows firsthand the importance of considering animals’ needs, particularly when it comes to larger pets. She is the owner of two Great Danes: Jackie, 2, and Stevie, 9 months. 

When Piasecki renovated her home in Morningside in 2014, she opted for a hard hickory floor sturdy enough to tolerate the weight of her pets (130 pounds for Jackie, 75 and growing for Stevie).

“That’s something we talk to clients about — some hardwoods are softer and can’t take the use and abuse,” she says. “A wood with lots of knots can get beat up and not show it.”

Much of the process of designing a home with pets in mind comes down to common sense, Piasecki says. After her partner, Stan Adamik, advised Dr. Stan and Mariann Geyer of Fox Chapel on updating their kitchen, the Geyers opted for a sleek, modern design with easy-to-clean surfaces. The Geyers have three four-legged kids: a Newfoundland named Tess, 10, and two Bullmastiffs, Tinkerbell, 5, and Petey, 2. Their stainless-steel appliances and white Italian cabinets can be wiped down with ease.

Maintaining a home’s design aesthetic while accommodating large pets comes down to balance, Mariann Geyer says.

“You can’t live in a museum, but you can’t live in a kennel either,” she says. “When people open their hearts to any kind of a pet, they must open their home as well. If you want the pet to adapt to you, that won’t be a very happy place. You have to make room for them.”

As the trend of catering to pets through home design continues to grow, Foster expects even more creative options to emerge.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she says. “It’s just getting bigger and more lavish by the minute.”  

Rachel Weaver LaBar is a longtime Pittsburgh-area journalist who’s written about everything from school board meetings to Broadway performers. She was born and raised in the South Hills, studied at Point Park University and lives in Pleasant Hills with her husband and their daughter.


Categories: HOME + Design