When a backyard dog house or modest cat condo just won’t do, Los Angeles designer Antonio Ballatore transforms homeowners’ residences into elaborate pet playgrounds.
Ballatore, who stars on Animal Planet’s “Animal Cribs,” breaks down walls, uproots backyards and renovates basements to build 20-foot-high kitty climbing walls, doggy spas and even an underground pet grotto.
The show launched in November with a zoo-worthy lineup: snakes, hedgehogs, birds, fish, ferrets, and even cats and dogs all got designer digs. With a nod to today’s pet-centric culture, Ballatore’s Bohemian-chic designs embrace pets as family members.
We reached Ballatore in his Fashion District loft.
How do you meld human and animal design while keeping it functional and chic?
I get to know the owners’ design style and their pet’s personality. A young couple had 20 exotic species in their basement — cages piled on top of cages. We went for a cave style with rock formations, natural habitats for each species, plus a little jam space, stylized too with band gear.
Customization of furniture or entire rooms is essential in pet-friendly design. How can homeowners pull this off?
You can incorporate something, and not just some big cat scratch post in the middle of the living room. We did a Dr. Seuss-inspired cat tree with faux white fur. For a family with ferrets, we took an old china hutch, gutted it and turned it into a cool hangout with hammocks, a water bottle and a litter box.
Cats must be harder to design for than dogs.
Cats are definitely more difficult to design for. Sometimes cats are hard to read, and you’ll build this crazy elaborate thing and they look at you, like, what is this?
Do you use pet-safe paint?
We blasted that cat tree with a nontoxic paint. You have to do your research with whatever animal you have, what they need for their habitat. We did a bird sanctuary, and you would think you could put any kind of wood in there. Some birds, you can’t have cedar around because it’s toxic.
What’s the most important design change homeowners can make for their pets?
Pets can turn into couch potatoes, and they need stimulation. Cats need to be climbing around; they need to go up high. They like to perch and look over their whole setup. The family with ferrets wanted them to be more a part of the family, so we ran tunnels throughout the house.
Pets can have physical and psychological problems. How do you address those?
We accommodate. For a blind dog, we did a Japanese garden with different textures — grass, pebbles, rocks, wood — and scents and sounds like chimes and bells, so he could map out the space in his head.
Have any of your clients peed on your designs?
Yeah, it’s a compliment, you know! For any kind of animal habitat, you do want to make it easy to clean and maintain.
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