It felt like the obvious thing to do for any loved one under my roof, four-legged or not. In fact, it seemed so natural that I began to wonder what other kinds of dedicated pet spaces animal lovers might have made for their pets. If I, with my limited funds and square footage, had devoted a room — albeit a very small one — to my furry friends, what kinds of over-the-top spaces were animal enthusiasts with larger budgets creating for their pets?
With a little research, I discovered such efforts could range from a living room wall transformed into a cat jungle gym to an entire studio apartment dedicated to a family of pets, including three parrots, a feral cat and a 35-year-old tortoise. Many animal lovers in New York and beyond, it seems, think nothing of the cost involved in creating a special space for their pets — even when that sort of customization might cut into the profits when it comes time to sell their homes.
Hunt Slonem, an artist celebrated for his whimsical paintings of animals (particularly bunnies), carved 1,200 square feet out of his 30,000-square-foot studio in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for his bird family.
Mr. Slonem has kept birds as pets for most of his life, and he currently has about 60 of them, all rescues, including a 75-year-old macaw called Sebastian and a cockatoo named Clyde that follows him everywhere.
The space he has devoted to the birds features dozens of suspended cages, often left open so the birds can fly free, and tile imported from Nicaragua that Mr. Slonem said helps to “define the space and stylishly conceal the droppings.”
Inside this indoor avian community, Mr. Slonem’s birds are free to talk, spat and mate — some for life, as they see fit. The space is so open and accommodating that many of the more social birds, including a close-knit clique of Amazon parrots, make regular house calls to each other’s cages. Feeding the birds, which takes up to five hours a day, requires the full-time services of a professional bird minder who has worked for Mr. Slonem for 35 years and who serves them a fresh salad of leafy greens, melons, bananas, grapes and tofu.
In Mr. Slonem’s latest book, “Birds,” he describes them as his muses and confidantes. He regularly paints among them, and whenever he is within earshot of the aviary, he said, the birds begin to chant his name in unison. “They’re as smart as three-year-olds,” Mr. Slonem said. “And they have huge personalities. They’re my dear friends, a relief from the humdrum of life.”
While Mr. Slonem shares his sprawling studio with the birds, he hasn’t given up any of his own living space. But other New Yorkers have.
In New York by Gehry building in Manhattan, Lucy Swift Weber’s 10-year-old Yorkie, Chauncey, is recovering from cancer. When things got particularly rough last year, Ms. Weber decided to convert the guest bedroom in her two-bedroom apartment into Chauncey’s room, to “give him the space to heal.”
Along with an en-suite bathroom — good for quick water refills and easy cleanup — the dog’s bedroom has a set of customized pet stairs, a plush floor-pillow lounge and a six-foot-tall headboard that Ms. Weber upholstered in a fabric she designed herself. “It’s become this warm, comfortable world where Chauncey can relax and rehabilitate,” Ms. Weber said. “I tried to make the room both calming and cheerful enough that he would want to spend time there, and it worked. He’s in there all of the time by choice.”
But even once he is in better health, Ms. Weber said, Chauncey will continue to have a room of his own; she and her boyfriend just moved into a larger, three-bedroom apartment on another floor of the same building, so that her boyfriend’s college-age sons won’t have to sleep in Chauncey’s room when they visit.
Caroline Stern, who owns three condos on the same floor of her building on Central Park West, went a step further and dedicated an entire 650-square-foot studio to her pets, where they can sleep and roam free when they’re not with her.
Next door to Ms. Stern’s apartment, the pet condo is home to three parrots — Apricot, Sinbad and Roxanne (a Moluccan cockatoo that serves as an emotional support animal) — a feral cat named Butch and an Russian tortoise named Alberta.
To accommodate these animals, Ms. Stern filled the condo with hand-built oversized aviaries, towering bird trees and an ultraviolet-lighted reptile area with a special water bath for Alberta. “Birds are loud,” Ms. Stern said. “It’s comforting to have a soothing place to put them when I can’t deal with the screaming.”
Ms. Stern’s neighbors are more than aware of her pet condo, but for the most part, she said, they are more charmed than perturbed. “It’s an animal-friendly building,” she said. “People stop by to visit; they know they’re lucky pets.”
Such devotion raises an obvious question: When designing extravagant spaces for pets, is property value even worth taking into consideration? As adorable as some of these animal rooms are, they often come at a hefty real estate cost.
“Whether it’s for a person or a parrot, customizing a property always makes it more difficult to sell,” said Ryan Serhant, of Nest Seeker’s Serhant Team. “An animal-dedicated space makes it even more challenging, because they often leave behind lingering smells and damaged surfaces that scare prospective buyers into thinking they’d have to renovate.”
There are, however, less expensive and less intrusive ways to create inviting pet habitats.
In Penfield, N.Y., Jill Sanders sacrificed a single wall in her 15-foot-wide living room to accommodate Nadia, a one-year-old Siberian cat she has been fostering for the last seven months and plans to adopt. Three months ago, when Mrs. Sanders decided to bring home two puppies, she knew she would have to get creative to keep Nadia comfortable. So she called on Mike Wilson and Megan Hanneman, founders of Catastrophic Creations, to devise a dedicated space for Nadia along the living room wall, where the cat could play and escape from the dogs when necessary.
More than 10 feet tall and five feet off the ground, the cat playground is composed of several floating sisal post steps, scratching posts, landing shelves, canvas hammocks and a rope bridge. “Everyone that sees it is blown away by its design-savviness,” Mrs. Sanders said. “I just wanted to give her something that brought her as much joy as she brings our family.”
And in Chicago, Guita Griffiths enlisted the help of Shelley Johnstone, of Shelley Johnstone Design, to create a practical but comforting place for Margaux, her 70-pound yellow Labrador retriever, in her 110-square-foot mudroom.
“Margaux’s a big dog,” Mrs. Griffiths said. “We needed a space to keep her when guests came over, where she wouldn’t feel trapped or anxious.” The result is a 5-by-8-foot space devoted entirely to the 3-year-old dog.
Along with luxuries like heated marble floors, an overstuffed dog bed and canine-printed wallpaper, the room has a spacious sink for Margaux’s baths, storage for her leashes and toys, and a Dutch door, so she can be shut inside without feeling claustrophobic.
And why not?
As Mrs. Griffiths said, “Margaux is just like any other member of our family.”