Cat Rescue Makeover
Welcome to my big Cattery makeover post. Get a cup of coffee, sit down on a comfortable but not too comfortable chair, tell your boss you are busy for the next hour because we are about to get into it.
I said yes to this project IMMEDIATELY. Charlie was only 3 months old, I was in the throws of the Airbnb SXSW project and I only had the wonderful Ginny to help and even she was spread way too thin. But when the opportunity of doing a free makeover for a cattery in New York came upon my desk I was nodding my head vigorously before the words ‘yes, please!!!’ could come out of my mouth. You know how little kids nod their heads kinda violently and unrhymthically when they really want something? Well, that’s how this was. As a massive cat (and general animal lover) it just seemed like A. such a good cause, and B. such a good challenge.
Sidenote: this post is extremely timely as our beloved cat Bearcat (yes, the black one that has graced hundreds of s) got out and ran away saturday night. We searched all over for her on Sunday and every time I thought about finishing the draft of this post I started bawling and knew that I wasn’t going to be able to. But good news!!!!! The Pasadena Humane Society had picked her up based on an anonymous neighbors call. It’s amazing how one phone call can change it from being one of the worst days of your life to one of the best. As we picked her up I was extra happy that I got to write about this project this week. Animal shelters do a lot considering their resources. So thank you, Pasadena Humane Society and thank you .
1. The cattery is in New York (Soho). It is a no-kill dog and cat rescue that is run by some pretty amazing people. Like all animal rescues its resources are limited and it supports itself mainly on donation and fundraisers. Sure, it costs to adopt a kitten but not that much considering how much they already have done to that kitten (shots, caring, raising it til its old enough to leave, etc). These are good people and while I support any pet no matter how it was procured, I think adopting from a rescue is undeniably a very good thing.
2. The makeover was sponsored by . Was I in the market for a litter sponsor? Nope. But they were basically helping me give Animal Haven a free makeover and that is a good cause, just plain and simple. Which I think is very smart marketing and PR. Not to mention that Arm & Hammer also made a large in-kind donation of cat litter to the shelter which as us cat people know is something that we are all constantly in need of when housing a lot of cats. It was a win-win-win situation!
3. Why I did it: I love cats, sure, but this isn’t really for the cats – well, kinda. The cats don’t necessarily care if they are in a white cage versus a black cage, but the experience of the potential adopter might change their outcome and the fate of these cats. I think that someone looking to adopt, who knows for sure that they want one will probably adopt no matter what. But a potential pet owner on the fence might be turned off if they don’t like their experience. Now the downstairs of animal haven is awesome and the whole space is clean, certainly, but I figured that if this cattery space was a bit happier and brighter that potential adopters might stay longer, get to know a cat more and then take that kitty home. Besides, the people who work there need to have a happy/bright space to hang out in so this would double as their hang out space.
OK, here is the before:
It’s hard to tell what it looked like. But basically it was pretty crowded with cages (that were too large, they were dog cages) and built-ins that were full of things they didn’t need, a kitchen that was from the 70’s in a bad way, and just no real decor or design to it. They weren’t spending their time on Hunters Alley or Chairish, looking for beautiful things they could bring into the space. Nay, they were busy tending to the needs of cats and making adopters feel comfortable adopting.
What they needed:
1. New cages for cats. 15 of them – 12 near each other and 3 separate for any cats that might have ring worm (which sounds disgusting but it’s just athletes foot).
2. A “Kitty Cabana”, this was a large human-sized cage (they already had this) where a potential adopter could get inside with the cat and engage, play, cuddle and generally convince each other that they were made for each other.
3. A new kitchen. They don’t do any cooking here but they need storage and a sink to wash the bowls.
4. A sliding door separating the cattery from the doggery. They had this screen before but, if a cat got out of someones arms (they actually don’t run around in the space, only the cabana) and ran into the hallway where a dog was, then that could be devastating. You can kinda see the separation here, after some demo.
Which brings me to the brick walls and flooring. Well, lets back up.
When I first started the project I was slammed like Bill Murray’s character in “What About Bob” where on the surface I was crazy happy and loony because I had a baby and was brimming with weird hormones, but underneath I was going insane because I was so busy. So I called upa New York based designer that project managed the house of the year a couple of years ago, to project manage this one. She had JUST had a baby too, but she wanted to do the project and we started having weird 7am phone calls while feeding our kids.
She went to the space, took photos and then we had call after call staring at these photos trying to decide what to do. At first I wanted to do something really bright and clean by white washing the brick and replacing the flooring – like this:
It’s probably because I was designing my house which was really white/bright and full of pops of color so that was on my brain.
I knew I wanted to bring in animal themed (cat or bird) wallpaper on those blank walls because, well, why not add some whimsy to that cattery.
At first I pitched the idea of painting all the brick white because nothing freshens up a space more than white, right? But then a couple of weeks into the project I was in New York on a different project and got to stop by the space to see for myself and saw that painting that brick white would be a HUGE mistake. You can see below that it shared the wall and floor with the rest of the second floor so if we had changed it would have been a jarring difference. And I’m all about a big transformation but not if it compromises the overall space and flow. It would be like having one room in your super traditional tudor house styled like 80’s minimalist – it just looks weird and kinda try-hard. Besides that brick was super pretty and old and downstairs they had a lot of rustic elements so it worked as an overall theme.
So then I decided to edit that board, which was cute, but it needed to be more inline with what they had downstairs and I needed to take into consideration the age and character of the building. I also wanted to bring in orange since its Arm & Hammer’s color and I wanted to give them a shout out for funding this whole project.
So things changed a bit and It looked WAY more appropriate for the space. So then we started playing with layouts to figure out the cage situation:
That drawing may not mean a lot to a lot of people but I, myself, love to look at these renderings these days – especially when designing from a far It was so good to have a sense of where everything was going to go. Of course things changed, as they always do but having this guideline was really helpful.
After we had the general design plan we started demo, like so:
Out came all the cages (stored in another space with the kitties in them) and out came the kitchen (definitely NOT stored) and the gross builtins.
Then our painter painted the ceiling and all the duct/electrical work. You can’t tell how messed up it is in the before photos but it was dingy and needed a serious refresh (we used Benjamin Moore super white in semi-gloss). Having the built-in demo’d out and the ceiling painted already made it wildly better. We replaced the industrial lights with these globe lights which were just more graphic/fun and provided less harsh lights for everyone. (I know that we all love a bare bulb but that stuff is not nice to look at).
In came the cages, and they were FAAAAAAANNNCCCY. Like put them on the cover of fancy cat kinda fancy. Having white cages made such a difference because black cages just feel more prison-y, they do, and white feel more like an angels holding zone …
The kitchen got demo’d out and we started building the ikea kitchen – we chose to do ikea because its simply the cheapest option and we were on a budget. The only part of the walls we painted were the weird brick/stone wall – it was different from the rest of the space and we felt could use a refresher.
The sliding doors got installed. They were on a rail and slots on the ground. This way even if a cat got out of the cabana (again, they don’t let them loose in the room) there would be no risk of running into the hallway.
All that was left was wallpapering and generally making it look awesome … and I didn’t really think it was there yet. Designing from a far is hard, especially for someone like me because I’m not a computer designer. So while everything was coming along, it just didn’t feel awesome or really that noteworthy … yet. So I remembered an email I got from someone about potentially collaborating on the blog and I found her () email and reached out. Basically she is one of these visual artists that can kinda just make anything. She worked for Anthropologie in their displays section for a long time and just knows how to do amazing visual installations – and that is what this cattery needed. If the cats were allowed to cruise around the space I would have done a crazy installation on the wall of cat scratching ledges or trees or something just really dope. But they don’t. Regardless there were too many boxes and hard lines and there needed to be something really sculptural and organic in there. At first I thought about a big tree, but that would look amazing for the shoot but potentially could cause them more stress as they would actually need to care for it. Plus that would need to be craned in most likely which sounded like a logistical nightmare. Oh and I couldn’t find any in NYC a week out. So I pitched the tree idea to Kathryn and said, ‘could you do something that feels like a tree but is maybe a bit rustic?’ and BOOM. She killed it.
Here’s the team on day one of the installation (we had 3 days to style and add all the finishing touches).
Thats me, Isabella, Will and Katheryn. Isabella is the incredible designer that project managed this project. Will worked with me on the Cup of Jo makeover and he was awesome so when I was thinking about who was in New York that would be good at all things installation, Will came to mind immediately. (He’s also a designer for and I highly recommend him). And Kathryn is the visual artist who drove up from North Carolina. I didn’t have anyone from LA come because of budgets and the fact that I needed people familiar with New York. Although I think next time I’ll bring them too because it was such a fun project that I’d want them involved.
Anyway, here, my friends is the finished space:
The layout changes, as it always does, and we were able to make SOOOO much more room. In fact on the last day of the install I realized there was this HUGE space in the middle that just seemed so wasted. I asked them again if they needed furniture or a place to sit and they said no, again, but the I said ‘where do you eat your lunch?’ and they said ‘eh, sometimes on the stairs leading up to the exit’ and I said, if there was somewhere to sit, chill and eat would you use it? and they were like, well yeah …
Plus it gives potential adopters even more areas to hang out while they are shopping and getting to know the cats.
Katheryn’s tree installation totally killed it. It brought in the rustic wood from downstairs and added a lot of warmth to a room full of cages. It’s just so sculptural and organic and softened all the cages. And she put it up in two days. TWO. So fast. So good. Here’s what the wall looked like when we started:
So first she built the frame out of plywood and adhered it to the wall with brackets and fancy screws. Then she went crazy with the pallett wood and just slowly (well, not slowly) created the tree shape with all the branches.
And then we felt like we needed more color so she just quickly washed some of the remaining pallets and layered on the brighter teal. I really, really love how it turned out.
Then on the opposite side of the room we wanted to bring in the same idea so it looked cohesive and intentional and not just a random wooden tree in the space. So we decided to add a piece above the kitchen.
And then we needed to put a pop of color up there, obviously, so we made these huge yarn balls because cats love to bat around yarn balls. We made these from huge christmas balls from the flower market and just wrapped and wrapped and wrapped them with yarn and glue. It was kinda painstaking actually. But they do help flank the ‘Meow’.
Lets talk wallpaper – we looked and looked and looked for the right wallpaper. I wanted it to be ‘cat’ without being ‘kid’ or ‘granny’ which is kinda hard. At the same time the brick on the other side of the room is really heavy so it couldn’t be anything too twee or delicate or it would be off-balance. So when I found this paper I was psyched. The blue looked good with the brick (not a lot of colors look awesome with brick) and it was graphic and felt modern, while still being playful. I love it. (Check out all of her – they are SERIOUSLY amazing and strike the perfect balance of playful and sophistication).
For the backsplash we decided to continue the wallpaper and just do clear acrylic over it, secured with screws and caulk.
Alright, on to the cages: you know I had to design the inside as if it was a room … naturally. Previously they had towels on the bottom that would get super messy and mismatching beds, so I brought in these bath mats (the rug) that stayed in place but were also washable. Boom. And you might notice a wallpapered shelf … ok, now this was OBVIOUSLY not necessary but it’s just so cute. We had extra wallpaper so we had it laminated the same size as that shelf and lined the shelf. We stuck it down but I’m pretty sure it’s probably already gone. It probably wasn’t the most practical thing ever, but sometimes you just need to satisfy your inner designer by doing something impractical but totally cute.
I also made those cat ‘chandelier’s, too, which lasted about an hour because the cats did in fact love them and then destroyed them – as one does with anyone one loves too hard. Apparently they didn’t understand that I had made them all by hand:
Look. It made me happy to see/make and it made them happy for the hour that they spent destroying it. Its the little things, folks.
Inside the larger cages I bought some cat trees that were white or natural fiber – to tie in with the rustic wood and to warm up the space. The chair is from CB2 and it was good because we needed a round shape to offset all the squares happening, it needed to be graphic because the cages are so busy, but we didn’t want any upholstery so this white round wipeable chair was perfect.
Lets talk sliding door:
The door was just wood and when we got there it was already painted white per my request. But it just looked so clinical (sorry, I don’t have any pics). So we decided we desperately needed a pattern behind there. We needed something straight and simple because a. it was going to compete with the wallpaper pattern which has a lot of curves and movement, and b. it was going to be behind cages that were really busy and c. it needed to be something that we could do in a day – we didn’t have the luxury of time on our side to do some sort of mural of cats chasing butterflies. So we chose a diagonal stripe instead of a simple horizontal or vertical one because it just seemed more interesting. I actually didn’t know it was going to end up looking like a chevron until afterwards, which is hilarious. Its like, of course its going to be a chevron but in my mind it was just alternating diagonal stripes in different directions. HA!!
And here’s the finished product:
If you notice that the handle is on the wrong side of the door then good eye, and I had them change it afterwards – it’s just strange where the contractor decided to put it and we didn’t have time to change before the shoot. I like how the doors turned out – graphic, fun and yet fairly simple.
Now the people who work there and potential buyers can hang out in the space – eat lunch, debate kitty names and just generally feel more comfortable while making that decision.
It was such an interesting project to work on. The client was so happy and grateful and spending the week amongst these kitties certainly was not miserable. They have a really fast turnover rate so it’s not like they’ve been there for months or years, and they have tons of volunteers that come in to pet/play with them all day so these cats are happy kitties (ready for an even happier home).
Lots of thanks are needed:
First off, thank you for funding the project and making it happen. They deserve more than a schpeal on their litter, but let me give you a quick one – The Clump & Seal litter has a 7 day odor free home guarantee. We used it in the cattery and while we were only there three days, I did not smell a thing. We even did a smell test with a sardine in a small Tupperware container of the litter and you couldn’t smell the sardine which previously WREAKED. So I think it must work 🙂
Thank you to for really just giving free reign. They were so great to work with and just generally wonderful people.
Thank youfor helping me design and for keeping the project going. If you guys are looking for a designer in New York, she is a good one.
Thank you for your beautiful installation. You were clutch and you killed it.
Thank you Will Saks for helping me install and helping me obsess on all the details whilst shopping.
All photos by the lovely (a great interiors photographer in New York – I highly suggest you hire him).
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