Sunday, August 24, 2008

It's Our Cats' House

Nate and Jen of Milwaukee Back House recently asked if there were pictures of some of the kitty-friendly features we'd designed into the addition.

We were inspired in no small part by The Cats' House. Alas, their website has been pretty slim for a while now, but you may be able to find a copy of their book at your local bookstore.

The loft that we can use, too, is one of the obvious features, with a sisal rope-covered ladder to make it easier for the cats to climb leading to it. They love to use the ladder to climb to the upper window to look out in the morning when the blinds are closed (since the picture was taken, I've added a little shelf from the ladder over to the window to make it safer and easier for them) as well as the loft. You can see the loft in the plans and 3D renderings here. There are a couple of less obvious features we all like, too, like the double-pane windows, extra insulation, passive solar heating and the radiant heating in the bathroom (though they'd probably prefer we left that on 24/7, and put it all over the house.)

If you look carefully in the plans, you'll notice that the new bathroom was going to be at the same level as original house, which would mean another loft above it. I ended up changing it to make the bathroom at the same level as the new bedroom, i.e., +2 feet from the original house. That made the loft above it only 2' high, so not really useful for us. (Though the part that's inside the closet makes a great place to store our camping gear, which needs a clean, dry place, but not necessarily frequent access.) But I still built the loft, and included the planned window for light and ventilation. And since the cats are considerably shorter than us, the limited height was no big deal for them. So I built a walkway between the two lofts, just for them. Using a design I saw described at The Cats' House, I routed out a groove in the top, and put a small piece of carpeting in. The groove means that you can't see the ragged edge of the carpeting, except a small section on the end (with more careful routing, that could have been avoided.)

They sometimes look out the window to see who's coming up the path, though they know they can get a better look at us coming down from the carport from the window in Katarina's office. But again inspired by The Cats' House, as well as by a design feature common in convents(!), I added a peephole from the loft out into the front hall (the one place in the addition with a 12' ceiling; the bedroom is 10'.) Rosie is our token extrovert in the household, so she's more likely to run down and greet who ever comes in. But when appropriately bribed with food, she'll look out the peephole, too. Star, being older, wiser, and considerably wussier ("Wuss in Boots"), has used the peephole in earnest a number of times. She has looked out with fear upon the marauding horde known as my nephew Jimmy. Eventually the hole will be covered with something more decorative, maybe the outline of a cat's paw, or like in The Cats' House, the outline of a cat's head.

And for any of you linguaphiles out there, Katarina and I both remember there being a word or phrase that describes this feature in a convent. It was designed to let nuns look out and see visitors without being seen themselves. While both our cats are chaste (and when Jimmy is around, chased), neither of them is very nun-like except Star's black-and-white clothing. But neither of us can remember what the word or phrase is. Anybody out there know? It's like the age-old question: how do you look up a word in the dictionary if you don't know how to spell it?


NV said...

Awesome! Toby would love this.

Nate and Jen said...

Thanks! We really appreciate you taking the time to explain a bit more. We'll definitely think of something to work into our house, and let you know when we do.

Eliz. said...

According to the historian/archivist (coincidentally, she's also a nun) at the library where I work, the window in the door of a convent was called the "turn". Apparently, the windows often operated like a lazy Susan, so that things could be passed through the door from either side, without direct contact.

Gene said...

While I don't doubt her nun-ness, I haven't been able to find any corroborating evidence for it being 'turn'. It's not listed amongst the 100+ definitions for turn.

It may have been 'cloister grill', but I'm not 100% sure. I'll have to ask Morris. Evan Morris, not Morris the cat.

Eliz. said...

I couldn't find any other substantiating data, either. But I try not to disagree with the nuns -- they founded the college so I see it as an issue of job security. ;-)

I also came across something in Italian church architecture called a gelosie (or jalousie), which sounds like a louvered screen or window cover, and seemed to be used in church sanctuaries.

I'm now very interested in what the appropriate term turns out to be -- librarians are a bit obsessive about finding answers.

Gene said...

I don't know about the Italian church variety, but Katarina lived in an apartment in Palo Alto some years back that we referred to as the "house of jalousies. The upper part of the walls was all glass jalousies, which was great for letting light and breezes in. Which was not so great in winter time, as it let lots of breezes in, and the apartment was freezing in winter time.

Sandy said...

I've seen that cat painting somewhere before! Loved the photo of the kitty sitting in that upper window.

Gene said...

The poster is of a painting by Théophile Steinlen. It is appropriately titled "Les Chats". We got it in part because it looks a lot like Star, and our late and beloved calico, Jazmin.