Animal House - The goods in design for a safe, beautiful home . . . for the Pet Set

JoAnn Rouza, who has owned JoAnn Rouza Interiors for over 10 years, gave Spot the rundown on the best materials for homes with pets. “In a real home, function is number one,” says Rouza. As a pet owner and animal lover, she knows what the issues are. “There’s the shedding, there’s the mud, there’s the water dripping. Those are all things I consider when I'm making recommendations for upholstery, flooring, even pet beds.”

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Floor It

It’s what pets walk on, and occasionally it’s what they soil. While there are some tradeoffs with looks and function, there are a few choices that offer both good looks and clean-ability. Linoleum has been around for more than 150 years — likely because it’s one of the most durable, cleanable surfaces. What began as a patented mixture of linseed oil, cork dust and wood “flour” has long protected battleship decks and hospital corridors. 

But linoleum has moved beyond the institutional. Premium stuff, like Forbo’s Marmoleum and Armstrong’s Marmorette, offer traditional durability in a wide variety of colorful patterns for modern homes. Because it’s made from both renewable resources and recycled content it can be “green” without being green.

Carpet is often the default for flooring, yet “it will hold the hair and it takes a little more to clean,” cautions Rouza. There are some steps pet owners can take to make life with carpet easier. Mid-tone colors are your best bet, with the more pattern the better. The lighter the carpet, the easier it is to notice stains and hair. “Make sure that your carpet is treated.” Rouza adds. “It usually comes treated, and can be refreshed either by a professional or for do-it-yourselfers you can buy carpet protector at a hardware store.”

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Another option is carpet tile, though Rouza only recommends them for casual rooms or more modern decor. “Those are kind of cool because you can wash them and they are also replaceable,” she says. “It’s a little different look, a little funkier.”

Homeowners love wood floors, but they are slippery for dogs and can damage easily. Thankfully, there are products that offer the beauty of wood without the headaches. “Pre-stained wood flooring is sealed with many, many layers of protective coating,” says Rouza, “it holds up well and looks beautiful.”

There’s also Kährs flooring, which interlocks like laminate but offers sealed layers of wood that can be sanded and re-finished if needed. Also known for their toughness, laminate floors can be noisy, Rouza warns. For natural wood floors that are still pet-friendly, bamboo wins points with Rouza for its durability. Cork, though a softer wood, can recover from small scratches because of its natural oils.

A perfect companion for carpet, hardwood or tile, “rugs are a great thing to have,” says Rouza. Whether it’s highly patterned Persian or even contemporary geometric-patterned rugs, their usefulness knows no bounds. Like carpet, rugs with a busy pattern hide stains better than solid colors. Specifically, look for rugs made from 100% wool. “They are easier to clean because of the natural oils,” Rouza says.

To do their job, rugs need to be placed strategically. Rouza keeps an indoor/outdoor mat inside the back door. Just large enough for her dog to hit with two strides on its way in, it does a great job cutting down tracked-in dirt.

Climbing the Walls

Pets can’t see as many colors as their humans, but the trade-off is that they are much more sensitive to smells. It’s a fact we olfactory-challenged humans sometimes forget, but even after the fresh-paint smell is gone, paints still emit chemicals into the air. Because the fumes stay closer to the ground, “pets and kids are more susceptible to the fumes from paints,” Rouza explains. She recommends choosing a low- or no-volatile organic compound (VOC) line.

Because dogs love to do a little decorating of their own with the mud and dirt they collect on their coats, owners want to chose something that can wash well. This usually means a higher-gloss paint, like satin or semi-gloss. “If you’re going to do your baseboards, use the highest-gloss paint,” says Rouza. “It has the hardest finish so it stands up to everyday wear and tear.”

For decorators who want the look of matte paint but the pet-friendly wash-ability of glossy, Rouza recommends Benjamin Moore’s Aura washable matte line. Benjamin Moore also makes the Aura Bath and Spa line that, with its easy wash-ability and mildew resistant coating, is perfect for the Northwest.

Fiber of the Fabric

When it comes to upholstery, a cotton slipcover is the option that’s by far easiest to clean.  However, if you want the good looks of a traditionally upholstered living room set, the best fabric is chenille, according to Rouza. This versatile fabric comes in many different colors and patterns, and even the slightest pattern helps hide stains and imperfections. Durable and easy to clean, chenille can attract pet hair, Rouza warns. “But it depends on the type of chenille,” she continues. “Generally you want to get as tight of a weave as possible. When you look at it, it’s not big loops and big stitches.” Also, an open, loose weave can snag on paws and claws.

Leather upholstery doesn’t attract pet hair like fabrics, and if it’s good-quality leather, stained all the way through, it won’t show minor scratches. For those who want the clean-ability of leather without the price, there’s microfiber, a man-made suede-like material that can be cleaned with just soap and water.

Cotton, chenille, leather or microfiber, the busier the pattern the easier it is for the upholstery to disguise stains and blemishes.

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Cats Know Where It’s At

Cats are notoriously hard on fabrics, blinds, and just about anything that hangs, dangles, or feels like it should be scratched. They are also notoriously hard to predict. Rouza has an interesting approach to their capricious preference: a scratch test.

When it comes time to pick a fabric, bring home several swatch samples or carpet remnants. Leave them in a place where your cat is likely to feel the need to do a little claw sharpening. For the house, choose the fabric or carpet that isn’t up to your cat's high sharpening standards. But also order some of the “winning” material and turn it into a designated scratching accessory.

Cats also like to play with precariously balanced items. Sometimes that’s their favorite mouse. Sometimes that’s their parents’ priceless heirloom. Rouza’s secret trick is museum putty. With a strategically placed dab of putty, dislodging heirlooms becomes a chore, and a prowling feline will usually find something easier to play with.

The other issue for cats is their litter box. It’s always better, for human aesthetics and bashful felines, to have the litter box tucked away in a closet or utility room. As a designer, Rouza mentioned Tidy Cats Breeze litter box — which uses litter for solid waste and a pad for urine — as an example of how far technology has come in reducing the smells and inconvenience of traditional litter boxes.

JoAnn Rouza hopes that with these tips, pet parents can realize that having pets doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice design. As she puts it, “I focus on real-world design. I want to make sure the home stays looking good even with pets.”


Jake Faris is a freelance writer who's worn many different hats, including a hardhat and the 8-point hat of a police officer. Jake and his wife Charity live with their three cats and four dogs in Beaverton. The whole pack moved to Portland from Wenatchee, Washington, years ago. Now a dedicated Oregonian, Jake finds new reasons to love his adopted state very day. Contact him here.