If you’re a pet owner and a design lover, you know that the two traits don’t often go hand in hand. A stroll through the local pet store is filled with neon colors, cheap looking materials, and truth be told, things you’d want to hide out of sight before snapping a photo of your space or welcoming guests into your home. While progress has been made in the dog industry with stylish beds, leashes, and toys, our feline friends have been somewhat left in the dust. (Images of tacky cat trees and fake mice are coming to mind…)
No worries, cat lovers: Tuft + Paw to the rescue. Founder Jackson Cunningham says it best: “At Tuft + Paw, nothing makes us happier than seeing a well-loved cat. For us, that means providing them with the best possible environment- one that also protects and enhances the beauty of our world. Our cats love comfort, and we love ethically made, modern designs.” As cat owners (we’re looking at you #roxannedolores and #leonardfrancis), we were thrilled to discover this company and sat down with Jackson to learn more:
Tell us a bit about the company. What inspired you to create Tuft + Paw? I started Tuft + Paw a few months after my girlfriend and I visited South America. We saw a ton of homeless cats being treated like pests on the streets and we knew we wanted our next business to be something that could give back to the homeless cat community. Over 1M cats are euthanized each year in the US alone. A few months later, we adopted our own cat Samuel J Peppers and when we went shopping for cat furniture we were appalled at the options. Normally we shop at West Elm or Article for our own human furniture, so to throw in some plush carpet cat tree was a wake up call. It seemed like the perfect opportunity.
What is the design process like when creating for a cat? Could you walk us through a “start to finish” process for one of the products? We’re trying to reinvent cat furniture. That means the design process is more than just making a prettier version of something. We start with asking questions like “What makes cats happy?” or “Why do cats scratch?” and it leads us to question the way things are done. For example, why are scratching posts always a vertical beam? Why not have a pyramid scratching post? So we imagine and mockup some concepts with prerequisites: a cat must love this, it must look beautiful, ideally easy to ship by packing up small and lightweight, and any other factors that will delight customers. Then we’ll build some rough models of the concept and take them to shelters to see how cats interact with them. If it passes the cat test, we’ll make a polished prototype and take it to manufacturing with small adjustments along the way.
The designs are quite modern and really sophisticated, not something you usually see in a pet store. Where do you get inspiration?
Again, we’re just trying to reimagine cat furniture. We’re lucky because we’re not trying to be the cheapest option, so it gives us the luxury of being able to think creatively without trying to nickle and dime the designs. We follow some prominent furniture blogs to make sure we’re in line with current trends and we’ll make sure our pieces are current with popular design themes.
What is the “testing phase’ like? (Picturing a room full of cute kittens…)
Haha, yeah – the testing phase is fun. We’ll basically take the product to a local cat shelter or cat cafe and observe cats interacting (or not interacting) with it. Sometimes we’ll know right away if a product is a hit, and other times it’s a struggle to get cats to use it at which point we know we’ll need to take it back to the drawing board so we can iterate and re-test it.
How do you strike the balance of things humans will want in their homes, but cats will want to use?
Luckily cats are pretty flexible in terms of the furniture they’ll use. Most humans know this because cats already use their furniture (i.e. scratching our rugs, perching on kitchen counter). Our two main requirements are: will a cat enjoy using this and will a human find it beautiful. Cats love hiding, spying, perching, and climbing. So you want to make furniture that accommodates that while using sophisticated design and avoiding traditionally cheap materials like plush carpet or cardboard scratching surfaces.
You’ve taken something notoriously ‘ugly’ — the cat tree — and made it something that design-lovers will want on display. What are some of the elements you knew to first change to make it more aesthetically pleasing?
Most cat trees are atrocious and the main culprit is the materials used. The cat furniture industry has been lazy over the last 30 years and has neglected to change anything. They use the cheapest materials possible so they can maximize profits. We knew we needed to change the materials and avoid using plush carpet and cardboard. Even with those two small changes you could transform an ugly cat tree into something beautiful. It’s like how chef’s talk about how it’s impossible to make good food without good ingredients – the best chefs will spend the most time sourcing quality ingredients. We need to source quality materials.