Sona Merlin has seen a lot during her 21 years in Asheville real estate. But one house in the Peach Knob Meadows neighborhood near Town Mountain Road stands out above the rest due to a bathroom.
Why? It included a miniature shower built for a dog. “They used nicer tile than my home shower has!” Merlin, a broker for Appalachian Realty Associates, recalls with a laugh.
Yet as a dog mom herself, she understands the desire to simplify bathing muddy pups. And as a broker, Merlin continues, “it warms my heart” when buyers have their beloved pets in mind when house hunting.
Dog-sized showers aren’t a common amenity in Asheville homes. But they exemplify the home design trend of pet architecture — cheekily called “barkitecture” — that incorporates practical enhancements for furry family members.
Although there isn’t solid local data about the popularity of barkitecture, Asheville real estate agents anecdotally say they’ve seen such amenities on the rise. Homebuyers are as serious about making their home a good fit for a pet as they would be about making it a good fit for children, Merlin says.
‘Luxury dog rooms’
According to a global analysis of search data for Pinterest, a visual-based social media site, searches for the phrase “luxury dog room” increased 115% from October 2019 to September 2021. Searches for “luxury cat room” and “catify your home” also increased by three and four times, respectively, during that period.
A scroll through Pinterest searching for “luxury dog rooms” shows a miniature Murphy bed that pulls out of the wall to become a dog bed, as well as dog showers like the one Merlin described. Molly de Mattos, a broker for The Matt & Molly Team at Keller Williams Realty in Asheville, says she’s seen several local homes with more modest dog bathing stations. One memorable example, she recalls, was a tiled, 3-foot tall shower with a handheld shower head built inside a garage.
De Mattos also says she’s seen pet door flaps on sliding glass doors at homes several times, which she attributes to the number of Western North Carolina abodes with mountain views. Dog beds built into cabinets or under a kitchen island are another common barkitecture feature. Merlin has seen dog beds built underneath a flight of stairs, Harry Potter-style. And de Mattos laughs while describing one dog-sized bunk bed she saw: It had a large dog bed underneath and a small bed on top — for a chihuahua, of course.
Cats are also enjoying pet architecture features, most notably patios for cats, or “catios.” A catio can be as simple as a “very well-enforced, screened-in patio,” de Mattos says. Such a space may not seem particularly special for someone who has indoor-only cats, but it allows felines to enjoy the outdoors without putting backyard wildlife at risk.
Merlin tells Xpress about selling a house to a woman in Kenilworth who constructed a catio “bigger than my bathroom.” She estimates the homeowner spent about $1,200 on screening in her patio.
On the more elaborate end, de Mattos has seen a catio decked out as what she calls “the Taj Ma-kitty-hal,” featuring cat trees built out of the walls and television sets for the cats. “They had a TV out there playing birds,” she says. “Not the movie ‘The Birds,’ but footage of birds flying around.”
Laila Johnston, donor relations coordinator for the Asheville Humane Society, says the animal rescue has a longtime supporter “who has a massive custom catio and also turned her wine room into a custom cat bathroom and feeding area, so each cat has their own cubby for getting their food.”
Meanwhile, on the more practical end, de Mattos describes what she calls “really discreet cat box rooms,” with litter boxes tucked into the wall.
Burden or asset?
Barkitecture may sound frivolous to the petless, but for those with animals, a home with amenities for pets can be an advantage. “Some people see a swimming pool, and they go, ‘Yes!’” de Mattos offers as a comparison. “And some people see a swimming pool, and they go, ‘No!’ It’s completely buyer-dependent.”
De Mattos says she hasn’t seen barkitecture in homes built prior to 2010 in WNC, suggesting the trend, such as it exists locally, is newer. Amenities like on-site dog parks are also increasingly being designed into area apartment complexes. She cites The Retreat at Weaverville, an apartment complex built in 2021 that includes a communal dog bathing station as an amenity.
Yet despite the trend’s rising popularity, de Mattos adds, homeowning pet lovers seeking to sell their properties might consider simplifying or removing barkitecture features to appeal to more buyers. “I would advise [homeowners] to do what’s going to make their home enjoyable for them and their pets, but do something that won’t be a burden to undo — which can help with their resellability in the long term,” she says.
She recalls a seller showing off carpet-lined, custom-built shelves called “cat crawlers,” which let kitties explore the walls. De Mattos recommended the seller remove the cat crawlers before putting the home on the market, lest it turn off a potential buyer.
On the fence
Many pet lovers may only fantasize about their dream dog decor unless a casting director for a home makeover show comes calling. However, there are some options that are more affordable and realistic — and as de Mattos suggests, aren’t difficult to disassemble.
Inspiration might come from local spaces where someone else has done the barkitecture work. Wagbar, a dog playground/park and bar in Weaverville, has an outdoor dog bathing station for use by guests. Owner Kendal Kulp explains that the tub is an old stainless-steel photo developing tray with legs welded on, hooked up to the plumbing in Wagbar’s restrooms.
Wagbar has several shade sails attached to its concession area and a small gazebo for humans and dogs to sit under, Kulp says. The bar also landscaped with tumble-safe mulch typically used on playgrounds because it doesn’t cause splinters, create mud puddles or retain that memorable dog urine scent, he explains.
Both Kulp and Sophie Silcox of Down Dog AVL, a yoga studio with a dog-friendly bar attached, tout a double-gates system as crucial safety features for their establishments. Explains Silcox, “You come in the front door and you can shut the door behind you and then there’s another gate, so the dogs that are in the facility already can’t go and escape through the door when it opens.”
Back on the homefront, many buyers want a fenced-in backyard for dogs, real estate agents tell Xpress. Merlin has seen fencing with windows or eye holes at a dog’s eye level, which are installed for dogs who bark at sounds and smells they can’t see behind the fence. “It really is smart,” she laughs.
Kulp from Wagbar says his brother installed a bubble window in his home fence. But Wagbar uses hog wire fencing, which allows dogs to look through and is also known for its durability, he says.
Yet amid the customized, animal-focused design making its way into local homes, Johnston from Asheville Humane Society doesn’t want pet parents to lose sight of what their fur babies really need. “While I know our animals love their amenities, the most important things they need are love, patience and attention,” she says. “Our love will always be their favorite, even over bunk beds of their very own.”