By Leslie Mann, SPECIAL TO THE TRIBUNE
Attention home builders: Sixty-two percent of households have at least one pet, according to the American Pet Products Association. Half of them consider their pets “just as much a part of the family” as others in the household, according to a 2009 Roper poll. So including pet-friendly home features makes sense. “My dogs are my partners, so when we talked to our builder about what we wanted in our house, they were a big consideration,” says Jennifer Voss, who hired Orren Pickell Designers & Builders in Lincolnshire to build her Hinsdale house in 2007.
Leslye Sandberg says she made sure her architect, Kevin Kazimer of South Barrington, knew she was “animal-nutty” before he designed the gut-rehab of her 1940s Barrington house. Her house must not only withstand her 180-pound Irish wolfhound, Roric, and three black cats, she told him, but also the wolfhound parties she hosts. Sandberg’s needs began with the house plan itself, she says. “We had to have a ranch because wolfhounds get arthritic when they’re older and have trouble with stairs,” she says. For Voss, a doggie shower for her Labradors, Tex and Gus, was a priority. Four to five times a week, the labs obey her “shower up” command before heading out to their duties as Delta Society-registered dog therapists at libraries and nursing homes. “Most of our buyers with dogs want dog showers or tubs with hand-held sprayers, usually in the garage or laundry room,” says Jeff Eichorn from Pickell. Oakbrook Terrace-based homebuilder Anthony Cesario uses his favorite line of extra-deep laundry tubs for dog tubs. He installs them floor-level or waist-high, depending on the size of the dog, then adds a tile surround. Another popular dog amenity, say the builders, is the Dutch door. “When I have a party, the dogs can go into their beds in the laundry room, but still hear everyone because the top part is open,” explains Voss.
The No. 1 request from cat owners, says Eichorn, is extra-deep windowsills so the cats can watch the world go by. “We made one with a stone sill, so it didn’t get scratched up,” he says. Sandberg specified double-hung windows because they accommodate the cat perches she makes from wood and sheepskin. And, she asked her architect to make sure he left enough room between the refrigerator and upper cabinet for her very social cat, Slink, to oversee kitchen activities.
Forget the man cave: Lake Forest homeowner Ann Hernandez asked her architect, Anthony Perry in Libertyville, to build a cat cave under the stairway, adjacent to the lower-level sitting room. Perry used a tree from the property to fashion a floor-to-ceiling, built-in cat tree. “He goes in there when he wants to be by himself,” says Hernandez of her cat, Boof, who enters through his cat door. South Barrington-based builder Evan Harris has built litterbox cabinets in laundry rooms. “I include a low-volume fan that stays on,” he explains. “It doesn’t make much noise, and keeps the air flowing outside.”
Fish fanciers look to companies including Aquarium Professionals Group in Evanston to equip their homes. When Decature Tounsel built his Skokie house in 2009, a coral reef aquarium was his must-have. The result: a 260-gallon tank on his first floor, with the plumbing and equipment in a basement “fish room.” An extra beam reinforces the floor under the tank. While his clownfish and anemone fish frolic among the coral, exhaust fans carry the humidity and heat that the tank generates upward, though the walls and out the roof. Cabinetry surrounding the tank has marine varnish to avoid peeling.
Some new-home products are more pet-friendly than others, say the builders. Eichorn likes distressed wooden floors. “They are already worn, so toenail scratches don’t show,” he says. Color variations in the wood make pet hair less visible, he adds. The floor of a Mettawa homeowner’s “dog room,” designed by Pickell, is tiled for maximum defense from scratches and muddy footprints. Owners of drooly dog breeds, especially, should consider wall paint with high gloss, suggests Eichorn. “Very easy to wipe off.” Sandberg recommends a screen/storm door with a portion that slides up and down to suit the height of the pet.
Nancy Peterson from the Humane Society of the United States suggests buying vertical instead of horizontal blinds for minimal damage by climbing pets. A built-in window seat is great, she adds, because it doubles as pet-toy storage and a perfect pet portal. “It’s like pet TV,” she says. In multifamily developments, dog devotees look for clean and accessible areas for their dogs to do their business and socialize with other dogs. “At our old condo, we had to walk down the street to even find a grassy spot,” says Chelsea Maki, who bought a Lakeshore East condominium in Chicago in 2007. “Now, we walk 100 yards to our own, six-acre dog park that’s shaded and has a fountain where the dogs play.” The development has dogs aplenty, says Maki, who has a Siberian husky named Brody and a Scottish terrier named Duncan. Management keeps a list of doggie services, including a mobile groomer who comes weekly.
Dog people who play together stay together, says Kristy Brown, who bought a townhouse in 2008 at Cornelia Court in Chicago to suit her beagle-pug mix named Brutus and her English bulldog, Lucille. “We have our own gated park, where all the dogs play together safely,” says Brown. “Our neighbors are great ‘dog people.’ We dog-sit for each other. It took us a long time to find this place and we plan to stay.”
Copyright 2009 Chicago Tribune Company