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  • Daniel Umscheid

Barking Up the Right Tree: How Dogs Are Driving Design

The old saying goes, “Every dog has its day,” and for Kansas City's four-legged friends, that day is Aug. 14 when Bar K opens its doors in Kansas City’s Berkley Riverfront.

The dog park, restaurant and bar is the first of its kind in the region. And with more than 9,000 followers on Facebook and more than 2,700 followers on Instagram, Bar K makes it clear there’s a market for dog-friendly design in Kansas City.

We’re not surprised: Studies have shown that dog ownership provides both mental and physical benefits to humans. Dogs provide social support to calm stress, fear and anxiety, decrease risks of asthma—even lower blood pressure. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports more than 43 million households include dogs (about 36.5 percent), and 35 percent of all pet owners are Millennials, who are driving the apartment trend.

Simply put, more people are looking for dog-friendly spaces to live, work and play, and developers, builders and architects are starting to take notice.

Dog Design in Multi-family Projects

Building owners and developers are increasingly working to capture this audience in their projects by providing pet-friendly amenities. Whether in the urban core or suburbs, our clients are recognizing the need to accommodate pets in their projects, lest they lose out on business to another complex down the road.

Most of these projects include a green area for dog owners, and many include basic amenities such as bags and trash cans for convenience. Others go the extra mile to fence in the dog run so pets have an off-leash area to play and socialize.

But the socializing isn’t just for dogs. More and more designers are asked by clients to create spaces that naturally promote human interaction. We work to include benches or low walls and shade in these projects to encourage residents to stay in these spaces longer with their furry friends.

The Great Indoors

Dog-friendly design, however, isn’t limited to the outdoors. Many of our projects include indoor grooming spaces with wall mounted shampoo dispensers, hair dryers and brushes as an amenity for residents. In apartment complexes with few bath tubs, this can be a major selling point. The trend has gained enough traction, in fact, that manufacturers are starting to make pet grooming stations for easier installation. The rooms we’ve designed include epoxy paint on the walls and sealed concrete floors so the entire room can be washed down easily.

While we’ve seen some dog-friendly elements incorporated into commercial projects, the increase of dog parks and dog clubs make it clear that there’s an opportunity for public spaces and commercial projects to integrate design that bridges the connection between owner and dog. We recently had the opportunity to work on such a project when we led the design of Bar K.

Home, Sweet, Forever Home

Bar K’s new digs tout a two-acre, off-leash dog park, complete with agility courses, splash pads and yard games. The physical structure was crafted from industrial shipping containers, creatively stacked to house the full-service restaurant and bar, coffee bar, grooming station, and meeting spaces. The result is a culmination of unique spaces that create opportunities and encourage both human and canine interaction.

The project started as a small dog park and compact bar but expanded once the owners fetched a larger spot. The location that was identified is nestled beneath the Heart of America Bridge that connects Kansas City to North Kansas City, breathing new life into this unused space and providing a partial shelter from the sun, rain and snow, and making it an ideal year-round location for canines and humans alike.

One of the biggest challenges we faced was finding ways to make the restaurant, bar and coffee shop pet-friendly while still working within the city’s health code ordinances. Although dogs won’t be allowed inside the restaurant, they will be permitted on the deck while on leash to join their owners for a bite or a beer. We designed walk-up counters around the perimeter of the building where patrons can grab a drink without leaving their canine friends behind.

I know Bar K will be a rousing success. After all, 44 percent of Millennials view their dogs as a segue into parenthood, and it's time to begin capitalizing on this trend. Whether you’re including a low water spout on the front of a retail space to accommodate canine companions or you’re providing a fenced-in courtyard, there are small ways you can implement dog-friendly design in your next project. There’s a need for pet design in our communities because at the end of the day, dogs are no longer just man’s best friend—they’re part of the family.

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