Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Classy kitty

With high-end pet furniture, owners can meet their cats' needs in a way that matches their decor

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OAKLAND, Calif. -- When Jade Lenzo was getting ready to bring home her kitten, Bella, for the first time, she set about preparing the place for the little ragdoll cat. Lenzo already had the essentials, but top on her list was a scratching post.

"I began my search with a few thoughts in mind," she says. "It had to look good in our modern home, be well made with quality materials, be safe for cats and be reasonably priced."

What should have been a simple task brought nothing but disappointment. She found nothing in the stores she visited, Lenzo says, but cheap and tacky stuff "made out of carpet that was secured with staples." Certainly nothing that fit the sleek lines and soft curves of her decor.

Lenzo, who lives outside of Perth, Australia, turned to the Internet and eventually found exactly what she was looking for at a Fremont, Calif.-based company called Five Pet Place.

The company, founded by Michael Ostrofsky, was created to appeal to clients just like Lenzo -- people who love their pets but also their decor, who don't want to see a plastic litter box in the bathroom or a garishly coloured carpet-clad scratching post.

While Ostrofsky has found a niche, he is by no means alone. According to research by the American Pet Products Association, about 62 per cent of households in the United States own a pet; that's roughly 377 million dogs, cats, birds, fish, reptiles, horses and other animals. Back in 1994, we spent $17 billion on our animal friends. In 2012, it was more than $52 billion.

Pets and the stuff we buy for them have become such a huge market that, according to the association, big-name retailers -- including Old Navy, Paul Mitchell and Harley Davidson -- are branching out to add pet products to their traditional lines.

It is now fairly easy to find fancy clothing, jeweled collars and leather-accented carriers with built-in iPad pouches. But the furniture -- the everyday items that fill conspicuous spots in our homes -- is another story. And some people aren't willing to settle any longer.

Style was definitely on the mind of Sue Kindregan when she bought a Five Pet Place scratching post for her kitten, LouLou, an indoor-only cat. "I didn't want an eyesore," she says.

The colour matches her traditional furniture, and the pieces look as if they had been custom-made to match the woodwork in her house in Boston, she says. "We recently ordered the litter tray in all white, and honestly, it blends in perfectly in our master bath. And it doesn't look like a litter box."

Ostrofsky, who founded in 2004, recognized the need for fashionable pet furniture through his own experience.

At the time, he was married and moving into a brand-new home. He and his wife had two cats, but the population quickly grew to five as they kept adding strays. The couple had worked and saved for the house; when they moved, they bought all new furnishings. The cats' scratching posts and litter boxes stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. Unable to find something that would suit the coffered ceilings, crown moulding and wainscotting of his Union City, Calif., home, Ostrofsky worked with his father to build his own. He researched his own cats' behaviour and designed models that they preferred, but it was the enthusiastic response and requests from friends and guests that tipped off Ostrofsky that he was onto something.

Five Pet Place features scratching posts, food dishes, litter boxes and beds that can best be described as elegantly appointed. Ostrofsky says that, beyond their decorative beauty, they are made to last, with materials that won't harm the cat or pollute the indoor environment.

While Five Pet Place is primarily for cats, other companies are filling the void for dogs.

The Company Store, primarily known for its luxurious human bedding, is now offering fine linens, pillows and four-poster beds for your favourite canine. A company spokesman says it "wanted to extend the same comfort, quality and design we're known for to the four-legged friends of our families."

The line of cosy dog comforters and accessories is continually updated to co-ordinate with an assortment of bedding and decor for the entire home. So if you love the linens on your bed, Fido can have a co-ordinating ensemble.

Companies such as Soft Surroundings, which has launched a new line called the Retreat Collection, offer plush mattresses and wicker beds.

Robin Sheldon, its founder and president, says, "We are invested in creating lush, beautiful bedding for our customers to create their own soft surroundings. With the introduction of Retreat, our home furnishings catalogue, it seemed only natural to include a comfy place to relax for our four-legged best friends. The wonderful response we've received has resulted in a new collection of French-inspired pet beds, which will be introduced in the September Retreat."

The salute to home decor does not come cheap, which may be the one sticking point for companies. But owners are accustomed to paying dearly for almost anything for their pets. Those who market the pedigree products point out that, yes, the items are costly, but they likely will last much longer than the more cheaply made versions.

Cost wasn't an issue for Lenzo, who benefits from the strength of the Australian dollar over the American. Ostrofsky's prices were reasonable to her, she says, and the quality made them well worth it.

It's the style that gets customers through the door, Ostrofsky says, but if it doesn't function properly, they won't be back. There's also another factor that influences shopping for high-end pet furniture: How does the pet like it?

Lenzo says she is proud to have Bella's cat furnishings in plain view, and she gets lots of compliments from friends and family.

"But most importantly," she says, "Bella loves them."

-- The Oakland Tribune

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2013 C6

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