Kristen Bell's Doggie Decorator Talks Pet-Friendly Design

Juliet Farmer
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Kari Whitman

Kari Whitman, Interior Designer

When I adopted a dog a few years ago, I thought to myself, There goes my yard and my furniture!

Not so, according to luxury and high-end interior designer to the stars (and their pets) Kari Whitman, owner of Kari Whitman Interiors LLC.

I was addicted to Designer to the Stars: Kari Whitman on WE TV a few years ago, and especially the episode in which Whitman helped Kristen Bell whip her backyard into doggie-friendly shape (Bell rescued dogs Lola and Mr. Shakes, aka “Shakey,” from shelters, and Sadie post-Hurricane Katrina). 

Read on for a Q&A with Whitman, including interior design tips and what she did to make Kristen Bell's home hip and dog-friendly.

Before we move on to the Q&A with Kari, here's a clip from the show featuring Kristen Bell's house:

What did you do to make Kristen Bell's home perfect for her and her dogs?
I created an outdoor oasis for Kristen Bell. I wanted a space that was both functional and beautiful for hanging out with her pets. A raised water and food station makes it easier for older and disabled dogs to eat and drink. I also created a hot- and cold-water doggie bath and used this amazing Moroccan tile in wonderful shades of blue, mixing solid and patterned tiles.

Kristen Bell backyard Kari Whitman designThe steps and cut-out “door” make it easy for her pups to get in and out of the tub without having to be lifted.

Kristen Bell backyard Kari Whitman designThe deck, or what I like to call the “hang-out area,” was outfitted with custom Greener Pup dog beds [Kari's line of stylish dog and cat beds made from 100 percent recycled plastic; 100 percent of profits benefits her animal rescue Ace of Hearts]. I covered them with Sunbrella outdoor fabrics to match her furniture and umbrella. And if her pups feel like cuddling up next to her on the furniture, the upholstery is very pet-friendly. The deck itself was constructed out of Trex, which is a great wood alternative, made of recycled plastic and wood fibers. It will never warp, rot, or splinter, so your pup’s little paws will be safe.  

Kristen Bell backyard Kari Whitman design

I always use ForeverLawn in place of grass in the yard. This eco-friendly synthetic grass is a fantastic alternative and I use it at clients’ houses as much as possible. It’s made with recycled materials, eliminates pesticides and fertilizers, saves water, improves air quality, prevents erosion -- what more could you ask for? Plus, it looks amazingly realistic and really holds up to wear and tear from pets at play.

Kristen Bell backyard Kari Whitman designI had custom doggie “waterbeds” made as well. These beds really keep dogs cool on hot days, and the canopies protect them from the sun and heat. By elevating the beds, dogs are also more protected from bugs and critters.

Kristen Bell backyard Kari Whitman designWhat other celebrity pet project details can you share?
Jessica Alba wanted to surprise her parents with a new kitchen. They love their dogs and I wanted to design a space that would be conducive for them to hang out in the kitchen but not be underfoot. I actually had custom bunk beds built and their portraits painted on the wall above them. In Jessica’s own home, I actually created a “doggie den” filled almost wall to wall with custom Greener Pup beds.   

What types of materials did/do you prefer for these projects and why?
My celebrity clients love pampering their pets, but they also demand high-style. So I’ve found great pet-friendly fabrics for upholstering and protecting furniture. My favorites are Crypton and Ultra-Suede, which are chic and durable. Crypton is stain-, water-, and bacteria-resistant, and easy to clean. UltraSuede is machine-washable and incredibly resilient. I also use a lot of pleather in my designs. There are so many beautiful pleather options available now, which are both elegant and cruelty-free. You can’t scratch or stain it, and you can literally wipe it clean with a sponge. Unlike other “pet-proof” fabrics, which can be so tacky, these three options are super-stylish.  

I use washable paint with a Satin Finish instead of Flat which will resist marks and keep your walls looking fresh and clean for longer. Look for low- or no-VOC paints to protect your pups from toxins!

Your pets spend a lot of the time on the floor -- would you rather have them lying on polyurethane and chemically treated flooring, or organic rugs and eco-friendly bamboo and palm wood floors? It’s really important to consider your pet when choosing furnishing and floorings. For hardwood floors, I love Bamboo Flooring Hawaii -- it’s beautiful and eco-friendly. Beech, Bamboo, and Recycled Teak are also more scratch resistant than other varieties of wood.  

How can homeowners on tight budgets implement some of your pet-friendly design ideas?
You can make doggie doormats out of carpet remnants from your local carpet store. Most will either give them away for free, or sell them inexpensively. Have fun with colors and patterns that you can swap out depending on the season, the room, or your mood. After you’ve chosen your carpet remnant, you can also opt to bind the sides with a fun trim for only around $30 to $70. (Or just leave the remnant as is!)  

Find a unique storage bin for your dog’s toys like a large basket or a vintage crate to keep from losing your pet’s favorites and to keep order in your house. It will make for quick and easy cleanup, preventing toys from always being underfoot!  

I love snuggling up with my dogs in bed or while watching TV, so to protect my furniture (and dog-loving clients’ furniture), I incorporate lots of throws in colors and patterns that complement the décor of every room. Dogs gravitate toward fuzzy things, so they’re perfect for protecting furniture. I often make reversible throws simply by stitching together UltraSuede or pleather on one side, and faux fur on the other. They’re virtually indestructible and I love swapping them out for different seasons, different rooms, and different moods.  
 
What's a favorite pet product for the home that you recommend over and over?
Mrs. Meyer’s for everything! Your animals are affected by the cleaning products you choose, so always keep them, and their proximity to the floor, in mind.  

How many pets do you currently have (breed, age, name, etc.)?
Madison is 9 and she’s an American Bulldog/Dalmatian mix. Lucy is 10 and she’s a Pointer/Pit mix. They’re both rescue dogs and I don’t leave home without them!

Kari WhitmanWhat have you done to your own home design-wise with your pets in mind?
I live in a 2,800-square-foot townhouse above Sunset. I don’t have a yard, but I do have a huge tree outside my bedroom window. I’ve made it into a squirrel sanctuary so Madi and Lucy can have their “matinee” of squirrel watching. It started with “Chester” the squirrel and I’d always leave nuts for him in a dish. Then the babies came and I installed a house for them made out of recycled tires. Now it’s literally a squirrel haven -- I probably spend $100 a month on nuts! Upstairs I added a 500-square-foot deck and added an area with synthetic grass and lots of comfy dog beds. My dogs love to lounge in the sun out there, or hang out when I’m entertaining.  It feels like they have a yard in the middle of the city.

Anything other tips?
Dogs are also pack animals and need to be with their alpha leader, so it’s essential to create cozy spaces in which they can hang out with you, without having to worry about ruining the upholstery, floors, or furniture. This absolutely does not mean that you can’t have beautiful things in your home -- you just need to incorporate pet-friendly elements like fabrics, paint, and flooring that will be conducive to hanging out with your four-legged family members. If you must have some rooms that are off-limits to your pets, just balance this out with comfy spaces for cuddling. 

Is your home decor pet friendly? Tell us about it.


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