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7:17 PM   April 25, 2015
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Special Product Focus: Useful Stylings

Thoughtful design is evident in newest cat-furniture offerings.
By Kathleen M. Mangan

Photo courtesy of Brinsea products Inc.

The latest cat furniture designs are inspired by cat behavior and exercise needs, as well as owner aesthetics. They might resemble a piece of fine furniture or be made of eco-friendly materials. They save space for urban dwellers, and have parts that can be cleaned or replaced for longevity. These well-conceived design aesthetics give retailers plenty of options to offer cat owners, appealing to their cats’ needs and their homes’ decor.

Consider Pet Tree Houses, launched in February. Joe DelRocco, a custom home builder in Lake Mary, Fla., wanted to bring a more realistic outdoor experience indoors for his four cats.

“Our cats are strays and rescues, and they always want to go out,” DelRocco said.

The product line features real trees with silk leaves, plus built-in platforms, boxes and scoops between the limbs. There are eight tree house sizes, ranging from four to eight feet tall; each tree house is unique. 

Photo courtesy of Akemi Tanaka

“The cats love it. There are often multiple cats playing in the tree at once. The type of tree used maintains flexibility, so it moves and acts like a real tree, and it creates audible stimulation,” he added.

Designer Cat Furniture
Akemi Tanaka, a New York-based industrial/furniture designer, turned her talents to cat furniture when she couldn’t find a product that met her design aesthetic.

“I wanted something cool for my cats that blended with my furniture designs and environment,” Tanaka said. She designed Curve, an elegant, wall-mounted pet bed with a slim design, partially concealed brackets, fine wood finishes and sophisticated fabrics. In her own apartment, she has four Curves on a wall so her cats can jump from one to the next.

Photo courtesy of The Refined Feline

Tanaka showed the Curve prototype with her collection at a major furniture show and got excellent feedback. The recently launched product is available on design and pet websites so far.

“The public is so much more educated on design,” Tanaka said. “I think there will be more designers launching pet products in the future.”

The new KatKabin model, “DezRez,” short for Desirable Residence, was introduced in January by Brinsea Products of Titusville, Fla. This outdoor cat house has a stylized cat design with ears sticking up at the top ends. Pascale Deffieux, vice president, said that functionality is important—noting that KatKabin is made of materials that won’t fade or crack in extreme weather, is elevated off the ground and has a removable flap door, interior cushion and winter liner.

However, she emphasizes that design is playing a bigger role in the purchase decision.

“We get a great response to the design,” she said, adding that customers are asking for a similar indoor model.

Fine Furniture Approach

Photo courtesy of Imperial Cat

Terri Grow, owner of PetSage in Alexandria, Va., expects to see more fine furniture-oriented products, with quality wood and scratching features. She points to the Lotus Cat Tower made by The Refined Feline in Englewood, N.J. This Zen-like curved tower is made of wood with a honey, birch, mahogany or espresso finish, and replaceable Berber carpet and sisal pads. Likewise, Cat Livin’ in Los Angeles offers the Wedge, a two-panel scratcher made of U.S. plantation-grown maple or walnut wood with sisal insets.

There are also new products designed to save space for urban dwellers. Tanaka said one of the key benefits of Curve is that it requires no floor space. The Refined Feline offers the wall-mounted, two-tiered Cat Clouds Cat Shelf, and is introducing the Contemporary Cat Tower that tucks into the corner of a room. The Climber, offered by Cat Livin’, is a set of carpet-covered steps mounted on the back of a door.

User-friendliness is enhancing the longevity of cat furniture and owner convenience. A number of manufacturers are making cushion covers removable and washable, and carpet sections replaceable. Cushions on the Cat Clouds Cat Shelf have a magnetic bottom, while platform carpets on the Pet Tree House are tabbed with fabric fasteners. The silk foliage is also replaceable.

Units Go Multi-Functional

Photo Courtesy of Modern Cat Designs

Innovative designs with multi-functional elements are the current rage in cat furniture.

“Cats should be active; they need to be challenged,” Grow said. “Some of the best products combine tunnels, beds, scoops, platforms, houses, scratchers and toys to encourage more activity.”

Some companies take custom orders to meet specific needs, like closer platforms for senior cats. Wade’s Cat Tree Shoppe in Philadelphia offers 45 models up to seven feet tall to suit cat preferences. Owner Wade Batterton noted that tall trees appeal to cats that like the tops of refrigerators; platforms at window height appeal to cats that like windowsills; tunnels appeal to cats that like to hide in boxes or bags; round cat beds are for cats that curl up; and scoops are for cats that stretch out.

Batterton said one of the most important design considerations is avoiding the cat-stuck-up-a-tree syndrome.

“The tree components must be placed so cats are comfortable coming back down,” he said.

In addition to an appealing and safe design, cat furniture placement is important for cat use. Batterton suggested that retailers recommend to owners that they put the cat furniture in rooms where families spend the most time and in locations where cats can watch the action.

Consumers are also looking for eco-friendly materials in cat furniture, Grow said. She gets questions on screws and nails, glue, types of carpet and recycled content. The trees used in Pet Tree Houses are grown on a sustainable Florida plantation. Cat Livin’ uses certified renewable wood that is formaldehyde-free.

Eco-Friendly Appeal

Photo Courtesy of PetSage

Imperial Cat of Morrilton, Ark., reported it has some of the most environmentally friendly furniture on the market. The Scratch N Shapes are made of solid corrugated cardboard in more than 60 different sizes and shapes, including animal, car and couch designs. They’re made with 30-percent recycled material, soy ink and sugar glue, and they are completely recyclable. Introduced this year are Fins-and-Feathers and Peacock Pyramid, both with cut-outs for 360-degree scratching surfaces. Kristie Hamilton, sales and marketing director, said consumers have been putting pet safety first since the pet-food recalls.

Kim Hammond, DVM, owner of For Pets Sake in Baltimore, Md., said he used to carry a variety of cat furniture but dropped it when the recession hit.

“To be profitable, you have to keep debt down, turn over inventory, and sell 70 percent of stock at full price,” Hammond said. “The big ticket items just aren’t selling in this market.”

However, Batterton said that the best selling units among his 45 models are the six- and seven-foot cat trees.

“More people are keeping their cats indoors and want to provide some interest for them,” he said. “Plus, more people have three and four cats, so they need a bigger tree.”

Grow said cat furniture sales are strong in her store, including the elaborate $450 cat trees. Part of her sales success is due to her store cats that demonstrate how much they like the cat trees.

“Sometimes all three cats are in the tree by the front door,” she said.

If the trees are on the floor too long, she discounts them and they are quickly sold. However, the real secret is educating customers on the benefits of cat trees, she stressed.

“A cat tree can eliminate furniture scratching,” Grow said. “But it’s also important for the health of cats and the hierarchy within the household. The stretching and jumping develops shoulder muscles and muscle tone, and the variety encourages activity and mental stimulation. Cat fights are reduced when the cat hierarchy is understood.

“I think people are buying smarter,” Grow added. “They’re looking for a long-term investment purchase. And the bottom line is that it’s easier to replace a cat tree than a sofa.” <HOME>

Kathleen M. Mangan is an award-winning writer living in Hagerstown, Maryland. She has been writing about the pet industry and dog health for nearly a decade. Her articles on a variety of topics have appeared in more than 65 publications. 

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