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Book Review: Animal House Style

By: Virginia Wells

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Most people think of a home with pets as a kind of animal house, conjuring images of spectacular mess. But according to Julia Szabo, just because you have two dogs and three cats – or even miniature horses or a ferret – your house doesn't have to look it. Animal House Style: Designing a Home to Share With Your Pets is the book for the pet owner who doesn't want the apartment décor to be decided by the family yellow lab. It presents stylish, realistic design ideas for living with pets, but it is all about making it elegant as well as pet-friendly – no shredded curtains or plastic dog bowls here. It shows you how you can let the dog into the den and the cat onto the couch – as long as you own a Pet Hair Pick-up® (Helmac Products).

With an introduction by Martha C. Armstrong, vice president for Companion Animals and Equine Protection of The Humane Society of the United States, and a foreword by Mary Tyler Moore, actress and animal advocate, the book sends a message to anyone who lives with an animal companion that it is possible to provide a comfortable home for pets while maintaining an attractive environment for the human members of the family.

And Armstrong feels even more strongly that the book is about another kind of interior: the interior of the heart. The people and animals in this book share more than living space. The relationships provide comfort that goes beyond the touch of lush fabrics and the beauty of fine furnishings – theirs are deep loving bonds that last for life. This is the real message, and it reinforces the message of the HSUS: Pets are for life, in every sense of the term.

Written in a fresh witty style, the book includes advice from all kinds of pet owners on how to select high-performance furnishings for maximum human, canine, feline and other animal comfort without sacrificing good taste. In fact, the furnishings often have their own "pedigrees" and include Jean Prouvé; decorative floor tiles from France; a George Smith kilm-covered chair; and Frette linens. You'll also find a designer vase of dogwood and curly willow branches tied with blue seal dog bisquits; rugs that match the colors of the pets; a ferret lazing in a Crate & Barrel butterfly chair; and a cat sipping from a Wedgwood cat bowl designed by Nick Munro.

But let's face it. In an age of gourmet dog food and designer litter boxes, why not provide high fashion furnishings to make your pet look good? After all, it's just as easy to clean up an antique Persian rug as any other kind of rug.

And speaking of cleaning up, Szabo offers practical information from cleaning products to odor elimination to good animal hygiene. For example, did you know that dust bunnies are magnetically attracted to shed hair and form "tumbleweeds" that are easily swept up and tossed in the trash? And what designer book do you know of that offers information about which tools to use for cleaning, what kinds of paint to apply, and what fabrics are best for upholstery.

The book crosses over into pet care territory, too, offering proper shampoos to use for bathing; the importance of providing finicky cats with water that doesn't taste like plastic; and keeping avocado and rhubarb away from your bird. In the section on bathrooms, Szabo suggests enjoying quality time with your pet by taking a toy your pet can play with while you soak in the tub.

The bottom line here is that whether you can afford designer furnishings or you prefer less expensive furnishings, comfort and looks don't have to take a back seat to your pets. This chic, trend-conscious book is sure to inspire pet lovers across the country to make every animal house a beautiful house.

As Mary Tyler Moore sums up, "If you love animals, you'll love this book."


Animal House Style: Designing a Home to Share With Your Pets by Julia Szabo. Foreword by Mary Tyler Moore. Bulfinch Press New York.

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