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Artful Living | Barkitecture Trend

Photography by Hiroshi Yoda

Teddy Lower lives like a king. At the youthful age of three, he has his own swanky suite with a custom bed, a digital fireplace and an uncanny portrait hanging on the wall. The best part of all? This lucky boy isn’t even human; he’s a golden retriever. Teddy’s lavish lifestyle encapsulates the so-called barkitecture trend — the concept of designing your home with your pets in mind — that has quickly become the cat’s meow.

Despite its name, barkitecture isn’t just for pups. It describes any space that undergoes an animal-friendly upgrade, from surprisingly chic cat climbing walls to unexpectedly extravagant guinea pig habitats. Done right, it’s tastefully sumptuous and aesthetically pleasing. Sure, it could be considered over the top, but it’s all relative. After all, who deserves the royal treatment more than our precious pooches?

Spoiling our four-legged friends isn’t new, but treating them to fancy homewares is. HGTV star and interior designer Taniya Nayak traces the trend’s explosion to an uptick in pet adoptions during the pandemic, when millions of people added animal companions to their households. Couple that with our newfound appreciation of work-from-home culture, and you’ve got a recipe for canine-oriented change.

But Nayak was ahead of the curve. When she welcomed her English bulldog, Flynn, into her life six years ago, he took over the house with his “adorably grumpy disposition.” Intent on ensuring her abode didn’t look like a hot mess, the design expert opted for unique pet accessories that complemented her refined style. Case in point: The pup eats exclusively from a Le Creuset doggy dish.

Today, this philosophy has officially entered the mainstream consciousness. Our pooches are snoozing in white sherpa beds, while our kitties ascend climbing trees that resemble art sculptures. We proud pet parents, in turn, are snapping pics and sharing them on social media. The proof is in the numbers: Pinterest cites an impressive 115% increase in searches for “barkitecture” from 2020, while interest in “catifying” our homes has grown fourfold.

Artful Living | Barkitecture Trend

Photography provided by Jason Wu

Top brands and designers are coming in hot to meet the demand. Jason Wu recently collaborated with direct-to-consumer retailer Cat Person on a “haute cat-ure(get it?) collection of feline essentials that was an instant hit. “Cats are kind of like my best friends,” says the famed fashion designer. “I wanted to design accessories and care items that a human being would want to use.” Similarly, animal lovers can’t get enough of brands like British furniture company MADE, which offers pet-sized replicas of its best-selling sofas. That’s right — you and Fluffy can recline on matching settees if you’re so inclined.

Those in need of some interiors inspiration can simply look to the stars. Paris Hilton recently had a doggy-sized replica of her massive manse built for her famed pups, replete with heating and designer furniture, to the tune of $300,000. Lady Gaga, meanwhile, treats her très chic French bulldogs to Versace linens. Actress Priyanka Chopra and crooner Nick Jonas’ Chihuahua, Diana, likes to lounge on a mini sofa that looks straight out of a Victorian estate.

The phenomenon even got the reality TV treatment with Barkitecture, which had an eight-episode stint on streamer Quibi in 2020. The show followed contractor (and former Bachelorette contestant) Tyler Cameron and interior designer Delia Kenza as they created ostentatious dog digs for celebrity clientele. Actress Rumer Willis’ pooch, Dolores, got a custom Airstream-esque trailer. Singer Teyana Taylor’s two hounds were treated to a stylish shed complete with a chandelier and custom portraits. And Real Housewives star Kyle Richards’ pack of pups now enjoys a mini version of her $8-million California estate.

But barkitecture isn’t just about the flash — in fact, most of the time, it’s downright functional. Take, for example, the at-home dog wash. Not to be confused with the oversize stainless steel tub you’ve no doubt seen at the vet clinic, this elevated element is the canine equivalent of the steam showers and deep soaking tubs we humans lust after for ourselves.

Tastemaker and Gather at Home author Monika Hibbs’ custom-tiled dog bath has become a statement feature in her house. But when she was building it in 2020, inspiration was hard to come by. “There were maybe two photos I could dig up,” she recalls. These days, her design is Pinterest famous. But does this fixture actually see any action? An emphatic yes. It’s so practical, Hibbs gushes, that it gets used multiple times a day, especially because it serves double duty as a foot bath for the whole family.

Artful Living | Barkitecture Trend

Photography by Monika Hibbs

Another hot barkitecture element? Fabulous feeding stations, as expertly executed by Orange County–based firm Blackband Design. The team’s 2017 project has garnered attention from Better Homes & Gardens along with countless interiors enthusiasts. And it’s easy to see why: It’s built into a recessed section of the kitchen island and composed of Calacatta Eccellente marble to match the countertops and backsplash.

“We took the idea even further with a pot filler for easy water bowl refills,” explains interior designer Rachel Azzolina. On top of that, the height and size of the bowls meet the unique specs of the owners’ two golden retrievers, fondly dubbed daughters. “Our clients dream big for their families,” she reasons.

Since then, Azzolina and team have fielded barkitecture requests galore. Whether creating a catio or a doggy dream house, their goal is to “mimic and flow” with their clients’ established style. We humans care a lot about that sort of thing — but do animals? Probably not, say the pros. But although plush furnishings aren’t necessarily high up on our pets’ list of prerogatives (or so we think), functional renovations can certainly make their lives better.

Consider catification, the fast track to feline happiness. Renowned cat behavior and wellness expert Jackson Galaxy, who hosts the Animal Planet hit show My Cat From Hell, coined the term back in 2013. It’s all about devising a stimulating environment for Princess that doesn’t “wreck your aesthetic,” he explains. His cat superhighway concept lets felines navigate a room without touching the ground. Why? “Because they need vertical spaces,” he notes. Not only does this ease cats’ tendency toward territorial aggression, but it also lends itself to some seriously innovative design projects.

Contractor Peter Cohen is a catification king. Galaxy (a friend of his) describes his space as “unparalleled” in its feline-forward amenities. And he’s right: Cohen’s Santa Barbara abode puts Teddy Lower’s tricked-out bedroom to shame. With catification touches galore — superhighways, cocoons, scratching posts and the like — the home is the ultimate feline sanctuary.

So what’s the case for canines? Galaxy, who has three dogs of his own, says that their “territorial needs are less than cats’” because — in animal expert speak — they “already own the joint.” He goes on to explain that “most of what you can do to enrich a dog’s life is outside,” like going on daily strolls through the neighborhood.

Artful Living | Barkitecture Trend

Photography provided by Architecture for Dogs

That’s not to say you can’t get creative or that your pooch won’t enjoy some special accommodations. Just look at Architecture for Dogs, a brand conceived by Japanese graphic designer Kenya Hara. The team comprises renowned architects and designers who create high-quality furnishings and accessories geared toward unique breed characteristics and behaviors.

Yes, their creations look like high-level artwork, but it’s all grounded in insight. To wit: There’s a sloping play station for dachshunds, who famously have difficulty climbing due to their super short legs. A mirrored structure is primed for poodle reflection gazing, as the breed is thought to have remarkable self-awareness. Every good girl and boy deserves a custom creation this good — no species left behind.

As it becomes de rigueur for pet parents to devise luxe lodgings for their furry friends, chances are your hamster or lizard will have their time in the spotlight, too. And our favorite brands will no doubt be there to capitalize on the craze. There’s big money in it, after all. The pet industry rakes in serious bank year after year — north of $100 billion and growing, per Morgan Stanley.

When it comes to over-the-top digs for our dogs, it’s hard to say if this trend is truly for our benefit or theirs. But really, does it matter? We can all agree that design elements that let us pamper our precious pets are an easy way to up the feel-good vibes of any home. Thanks to the barkitecture craze, the idea of being sent to the doghouse these days is no longer a viable threat — but instead a welcome invitation. 

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.

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