All Creatures Great and Small: Designing with Less Expected Pets in Mind

When pets come up, the conversation tends to focus on cats and dogs. But design lovers are just as varied in their taste in pets as in decor: rabbits, hamsters, birds, fish, lizards, chinchillas--the possibilities for pet options go on and on. We've talked about the kinds of concessions necessary for cat and dog owners, but what about those we make for our animal friends that aren't of the feline or canine variety?

It's perhaps easy to think about how a pet can fit into your life, but it's somewhat more difficult to think about how you (and your home) can fit into your pet's. Especially when dealing with exotic pets, it's necessary to think about how to make your needs and your pet's coincide. There's a fine balance to be struck between creating a suitable habitat for your creature and keeping your own habitat lovely and livable.

Design

It's no secret that a number of cages are unsightly. Caged or enclosed animals have a number of needs that don't involve interesting materials or curving lines. And a number of pet suppliers have not kept design at the forefront of their mind when creating their wares.

One solution to an ugly cage is, obviously, to place it out of the way. My friend kept her rabbits' hutch in the laundry room (the animals were given free range to roam about elsewhere if supervised), and my sugar gliders lived in a large bird cage in a spacious closet. If you take this tack, though, you must make sure that you are keeping the animal's needs in mind as well. For instance, gliders are nocturnal, so in general, the darkness of the closet suited them better than the bedroom itself would (thanks to a flood of streetlight that would come in at night), and on my end, I was thankful that the noise of their play was muted at 3 a.m.

For those who want to keep their pets on display, an attractive solution can be trickier. Barbara from Hodge: Podge recently raised the issue of trying to find an affordable way to display a snake habitat, and after contemplating several options with different measurements, she settled on an IKEA Hemnes bookcase (Image 2).

Function

Keeping a cage area clean can be a real pain, so when designing around a pet's area, it's best to keep in mind that there will be rogue paper bedding and bits of food. Because of the food splatters of my eager, climbing eaters, I had to paint the walls with a finish that was easy to wipe down. One should also make sure that a cage is not too near any furniture or textiles that one doesn't want damaged.

Ensure that your pet has adequate space, and make sure that you had adequate storage space for all the requisite supplies. A large bag of shredded paper bedding takes up quite a bit of shelf space, I quickly learned.

Affordability

It's certainly possible, as demonstrated by the number of beautiful aquariums out there, to integrate pets into decor in an aesthetically pleasing way, but if you don't want to spend a ton of money on a custom-designed piece, it can be difficult to find an attractive but affordable way to design around an aquarium, terrarium, or cage. Kris Selner devised a clever and attractive chinchilla cage using Elfa shelving and a melamine base (Image 3).And Martina on IKEA Hackers made a habitat for her hamsters using an IKEA Expedit (Image 4).

If you have a furry or scaly friend, what what problems have you encountered with adapting your home to adequately become theirs? And do you have any clever solutions for the rest of us?

(Images: 1. Jamielee, 2. Hodge:Podge , 3. Kris Selner, 4. IKEA Hackers)

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Carolyn is a lover of all things colorful and quirky. She grew up in Texas and settled in Chicago by way of L.A., England and Paris. Currently, she is a professor at Illinois Institute of Technology.