From Bauhaus to Bow-Wows
The most indispensable member of a design studio may have a tail and four paws
Laura Fisher Kaiser -- Interior Design, 10/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Every day at 5 o'clock, a founding member of Academy Studios in Novato, California, breaks into his "joie de vivre dance." Holding his butt low to the ground, Sully spins wildly in anticipation of the end of the workday. No mere office eccentric, Sully fills a role that's equal parts muse and merry prankster, and for that he is rewarded handsomely with chew toys and belly rubs. Nice work if you can get it, but you can't—unless you happen to have a tail and four paws.
Sully is a yellow Labrador retriever, one of the many dogs whose daily presence is indispensable to architecture and design firms, where an informal office culture belies a vein-popping intensity best relieved by hurling a slobbery tennis ball across the room as a furry, panting pal gives chase.
"It's so easy to get locked into a 10-hour day, focused on a deadline," says Dean Weldon, president and CEO of Academy, which designs and fabricates museum exhibitions. "It's the dog who enforces the coffee and meal breaks. He gives you a reality check, a larger perspective of the world."
Nessie Gogo of Meyer Davis Studio in New York.
Designers have always doted on their dogs. Aldo Rossi's beloved miniature bull terrier made frequent cameos in his sketches and notebooks. The Italian writer-designer-polymath Curzio Malaparte kept his dachshund, Zita, tucked in his coat, reverse papoose style. And when Le Corbusier's schnauzer, Pinceau, died, the enigmatic architect bound one of his favorite books, Don Quixote, in the pooch's hide, giving new meaning to the term "dog-eared" copy.
A tad macabre, but don't underestimate the connection between creativity and canines. Several firms have even started featuring these esteemed colleagues on their Web sites. On Buchanan Architects's site, a head shot and bio of office mascot Mamie, a Jack Russell-rat terrier puppy, can be found alongside those of the Dallas firm's eight architects. According to the team page of Boston-based Hacin + Associates's site, Oscar, a miniature schnauzer, "Feels most at home when surrounded by clean, modern design." And at Flux Design in Milwaukee, a golden retriever—also named Oscar—is given the cryptic title of "security" on their Web site. Although, says president Jeremy Shamrowicz, "If someone were to actually break in here, he'd just want to play catch with them."
Not that the arf-itects don't earn their keep. Scarpa and Ledoux, long-haired dachshunds who spend their days at the Chicago architectural offices of Doyle & Associates, have turned up as props in project photographs. And Meyer Davis Studio's mascot, a miniature dachshund named Nessie Gogo, has a talent for picking samples. When she finds one she likes, she grabs it in her mouth and runs around. "You'll be like, where's that carpet sample? And then you'll find it chewed up in a corner," says coprincipal Gray Davis, who adds that Nessie's greatest attribute is looking good—typically perched atop a cowhide pillow on a Thomas O'Brien chair.
Whether intentional or not, architects have a penchant for canine color schemes in fashionable palettes. Michael Graves's blond Labrador retriever Sara (who died recently) was a shade that closely matched the parchment-color walls of his Tuscan-style villa in Princeton, New Jersey. Adds Hacin + Associates principal David Hacin, "I can't tell you how many times we've been picking colors for fabrics and the client has said, 'I want something exactly the color of Oscar—Oscar Gray.'"
Bingo, late of the Architecture Studio, Denver.
Interior designer Harry Schnaper once had a client request a sofa the hue of the "beautiful brown toenails" of Birdy, his vizsla. Birdy is something of a celebrity around New York's D&D Building, where she loves to gallop along the carpeted halls and greet everyone like a visiting dignitary. "She takes the tension out of a sticky situation, which in decorating is often," says Schnaper, president of his eponymous firm. Birdy's gun-dog "strike-a-pose" DNA makes her prone to vogueing, a decided asset in this business. "She makes a great decorative accessory," he admits.
Besides having the right look, a design dog must "have confidence and walk with some bearing," insists Karen Buchanan of Buchanan Architects. She adds that some knowledge of technology wouldn't hurt. Mamie has been known to spring onto desks and speed dial clients who can be heard on the speaker phone saying, "Hello? HELLO?"
But short of going Cujo in cubicle land, there's little a dog can do to get pink-slipped. Take Mamie's predecessor, Buster, a Chihuahua-miniature pinscher mix. During Buster's heyday as top dog, principal Russell Buchanan had a late morning meeting with a consultant, a renowned partier who arrived looking disheveled. As they took their seats in the conference room, Buchanan was overwhelmed by what he thought was a criminal case of hangover halitosis. Leaning back farther and farther to escape the smell, he noticed something under the table that made him freeze: a fragrant deposit, courtesy of the office mascot.