Real Estate Notes

Thinking about buying a townhouse in Mill Hill a decade or so ago, we

went to an open house. The real estate agent in charge, wearing a

black knit dress, had been sitting down at the dining room table

awaiting potential buyers. When the poor woman stood up, it became

clear that there were pets – white, furry pets – in residence,

although they had been whisked away for the day.

We didn’t have the heart to tell her, but walking away, the realtor

sported the markings of a dalmation. The chair in which she had been

sitting was covered in a fabric that collected fur – and released it

onto the hind quarters of any human who perched there.

Decorating when there are pets in the house involves looking at every

surface as a potential target. Every chair, every wall, every screen,

every bed, and every piece of moulding is fair game for four-footed

family members.

You don’t look for the fabric that will look best on your dining room

chairs, you look for the fabric that absolutely will not show fur –

perhaps something in beagle tan and black. Then, realizing that

although it will not show fur, it will still dispense fur, you toss

the chairs and buy an attractive set with caned seats. Little fur

adheres, but the family cat finds the new chairs perfect for claw

sharpening exercises.

Far from enjoying the thought of the little drama that would play out

when the real estate agent, after getting a good look at herself in a

full-length mirror, lit into the homeowners, we sympathized. Deeply.

Through the years, we have tossed any number of sofas, rugs, chairs,

and wall-coverings that have been disrespected by cats and dogs. It

started with the grasscloth that covered the walls in one of our first

homes. It was gorgeous, but within a month a duet of ecstatic kittens,

using it as a climbing wall, had reduced it to an unsightly tangle of

hanging strings.

The details of the demise of the chairs and sofas are too graphic for

a family newspaper, but suffice it to say that everything from

completely unplanned stomach upsets to acts of pre-meditated revenge

of the vilest sort were involved.

After nearly four decades of being owned by pets, we are are a little

smarter. Yes, they have the edge, but we’re giving them far less

ammunition, for we have learned a thing or two about pet decorating.

There is surprisingly little written about the subject. In fact, back

in the days when I was working as a freelance writer, I pitched many,

many magazines on the subject and found no interest at all. But the

home decorating boom, combined with a growing pet pampering trend, may

be changing that. HGTV now has a pet decorating program, Doggone

Design, which is airing on Sunday, November 19. The program, which

takes a look at exotic pet-habitats inside homes, looks like fun, but

isn’t much help to the average homeowner. HGTV’s website,, however, has an excellent section of tips for anyone who

is trying to get one step ahead of his in-house quadruped home


Some of the tips are things long-time pet owners have already figured

out. Wall-to-wall carpet is no good, for example, the website states.

It traps odors, it collects fur, if it’s looped, the pet’s claws will

snag it, and when the inevitable accidents occur, it is impossible to

get the carpets completely clean. We’re onboard with this one. After

years of optimistically installing carpet, we have given up, and have

only a little left – just on the staircase and in the upstairs hall,

and that is slated to go soon. We’ll go with hardwood, but tile or a

really tough vinyl would be even better. (Think about it, what’s on

your vet’s floor?)

HGTV doesn’t weigh in on fabric, but, after trying every texture and

many print combinations (solid is never a good idea), we gave up

several years ago, and went with leather. There is a debate on this

strategy. Salespeople in some furniture stores warned us against it

for use in a pet household, saying that claws would soon puncture and

ruin leather. That hasn’t been the case. A nap venue for a golden

retreiver and a six-pack of alley cats, the leather couch has held up

perfectly, as has its matching chair. They aren’t all that stylish, in

part because they were a test set, but after three years they look

vastly more presentable than did any of the fabric sofas our cats

enjoyed eviscerating through the years.

HGTV suggests matching fabrics to the pet’s fur. This is better than

buying white rugs and ottomans for the lair of black labs and matching

kittens, but, in our experience, is not a good long-term strategy.

Households with one pet tend to attract others, for one thing. Making

sure that the new arrivals blend perfectly with the rugs, curtains,

and upholstered pieces is a daunting task.

One excellent HGTV tip involves paint choice, something we never

thought of, even as we scrubbed white patches into pale blue walls in

an attempt to erase mud smears. "Don’t use flat finish paint," the

website warns, explaining that "a basset hound can sling drool across

a room and onto a wall with a shake of his head, and a parrot can

fling all sorts of goo out of his cage." When these emissions hit flat

paint, its color is a goner. Rub hard enough to clean up the mess, and

the wall needs to be repainted. HGTV suggests satin paint, which

cleans up much better, for pet households.

It’s common sense, but animal lovers, perhaps an optimistic lot by

nature, often don’t think in terms of this HGTV advice: "Don’t

decorate with breakable items," "use stain resistant fabrics," and

"put washable fabrics on your bed."

Ignore these tips at your peril – and expense. It’s probably better to

surrender early in the game. Plans to confine Fido and Fluffy to the

family room, already torn apart by the kids, rarely pans out. There

will be a thunder storm; it will be a dark and stormy night; and a

triumphant, muddy, sharp-clawed puppy or kitten will win its way into

the living room, bedroom, and dining room. And you, just a weak-willed

human, will never find the heart to evict it.

It will be time for pet decorating.

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