Sunday, August 06, 2006

Globe and Mail : Pets are the new 'design opportunities'

It took Toronto couple Matthew Ceasar and Stephen Pasholzuk eight months to settle on their new daughter, Tokyo. "We searched breeders through Canada, then had to go to the U.S.," Ceasar says. Their bouncing bundle was born with a darling harlequin mask of black and brown on her little creamy white body, and a little dot on her head they cheekily refer to as a third eye.

Tokyo the Chihuahua fits right into their high-design lives. "We're finicky about what we put in our house," says Ceasar, who works at Kiosk, Toronto's modern-furniture hot spot. "What we buy for our dog has to blend in." Tokyo's bed is a charcoal grey ultrasuede, to match their furniture.

"Matthew feng shui's our house to death," says Pasholzuk, who comes home to re-energized arrangements daily. "But the best thing to greet me is Tokyo, lying splayed out on 'her' Persian rug."

Doggie accessories have gone far beyond the Paris Hilton living brooch cliché: Gucci collars and Burberry coats are so yesterday, darling. As owners move past conspicuous logo consumption, so too shall our dogs get duded up in high design style.

"In your loft, you have very little space. Everything has to count," says Paul Ryu, a graphic designer who opened Timmie Doggie Outfitters on Queen Street West in Toronto last month. The boutique caters to people like himself -- young, hip design snobs with butt-sniffing dependents. "Dog accessories have moved from everyday necessities" -- a dog's got to sleep, and he's got to chew -- "to design opportunities. Industrial designers are getting in on the act."

Boutiques such as Zoomies in New York and George in San Francisco lead the way, providing precious objets de dog. Websites like are offering stuff such as the Bau Dog House, a moulded plastic orb by Italian superstar Denis Santichiara, and the Magis Dog House ($350), a brightly coloured plastic pod on stilts by furniture designer Michael Young.

Some of the more "intellectual" fashion designers are getting into the game: Todd Oldham is doing doggie beds and pillows, and Isaac Mizrahi is doing pet accessories for the new, design-happy pet aisles of the Target department store chain. There is a Danish collective giving cat houses a new sleek look (Fluffy gets a wood finish on her outside walls and chrome legs; see the

Canadians are hot on the trend too. Designer Karim Rashid has done the Yum bowl and Dog Bone, a sleek chew toy. Toronto's Concrete Design is drafting prints for the Doggie Day Bed. And the Toronto-designed Haus line ( is a mega-hit. Architect Katrina Herrndorf designed the crate-style metal house that doubles as a coffee table in 2002; the company now makes them in two sizes (they retail at about $425 and $545) and ships them to more than 100 boutiques in North America.

Crate training [which teaches puppies to sleep through the night] is the way to train your pet these days," Herrndorf says.

"The crate needs to be not only functional, but to fit in with the decor in your home. This way, the pet can stay with you, rather than be shut away in the laundry room because his crate is ugly."

The high-design-for-pets movement has its own chroniclers. Vancouver-based Modern Dog magazine has shopping pages filled with paraphernalia such as a Japanese-style dog bowl nestled in a wrought-iron stand or nifty GPS devices that strap on like poochy fanny packs.

"As we saw people demand higher-quality food for their dogs, so too they are now looking for all the elements of good design," says Cameron Woo, publisher of Bark magazine, based in Berkeley, Calif. "It has to look good, yes, but it also has to have high functionality."

After all, he says, the international pet market is on track to ring in $38-billion in sales this year (that's bigger than the children's toy and candy industries combined).

"Industrial designers in the outdoor-gear sector and the baby sector are thinking out of the box and are translating their successes to the pet market," Woo says. "Think about it: They are already playing with innovative materials, looking for durability, flexibility."

Take the doggy jogging stroller. There is a Jeep-branded model -- complete with cellphone pocket and a "parent tray" -- for little dogs, whose legs get pooped on long outings. It's ergonomically designed and suitable for rugged terrain (it is a Jeep, after all).

There's another dog-child parallel, with the vogue for ultraexclusive micro labels. At Toronto's Dogs in the City boutique, Nick Cheng offers Japanese duds for dogs -- school uniforms (how fetishy is that?), hoodies, tennis dresses, Hawaiian shirts and even wedding dresses for owners who have, face it, certifiably lost the plot.

He also carries a line of pet toiletries from France (the cologne can hit $4,000 a bottle, though the Canadian market isn't ready for that, he reckons; his fragrance selections range from $46 to $100). "Dog owners want their precious pets to have something unique. Something the other dogs don't have."

So what style of dog goes with all this high design? A small one. Says Connie Wilson, editor-in-chief and publisher of Modern Dog: "Our living spaces are becoming smaller, and for city life, we see breeds like Chihuahuas, Yorkies [there is one on the magazine's current cover, with its owner, actress Gabrielle Muller] and Maltese growing popular, as well as mini-daschunds.

"And when you add travel to the lifestyle mix" -- the young and the lofty like to jet about -- "small is the way to go. You can take your dog onboard in a little carrier."

Today's new high-design mutts are too posh for walkies, thanks.


Jon said...

Hello there Timmy et al-

Just wanted to hip you to our dog blog

Also thanks for posting the Globe article.



Anonymous said...

Great post. I was going to write something similar. Will check this blog more often I think.