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DKCat is a California-based company run by Dani Kilmer. DKCat's focus is eco-friendly yet modern cat towers and scratchers. Mad About Pets was lucky enough to score an exclusive interview with Ms. Kilmer, and learn more about her incredible company DKCat and how it all got started:

-How did you get into designing pet furniture?

I worked as an interior designer before starting DK Cat just over a year ago, and one of my favorite parts of that job was designing the details for custom casework and built-in furniture. (photo left: Dani Kilmer) I also enjoyed restoring old furniture in my spare time. So when we added cat #3 to the household and desperately needed a better cat tree, I naturally decided I would design and build one for myself. I started by overhauling an old cat tree I had purchased at a pet store years before -- replacing the shaggy dusty carpet with a better quality one, adding wood trim edges and re-roping the shredded sisal. It turned out okay, but still had some inherent clumsy design flaws, in my opinion, as well as crude connection details.

I then started working on prototypes for a new and improved cat tree that eventually became the “Platform C.” I gave them to friends and family, and it got great feedback from cat and human testers alike. I was looking for a career shift at the time anyway, and the slowing economy eventually provided the opportunity to take the leap and start a new business.

-What is your design background?

I studied interior design at the University of Missouri in Columbia, then moved to San Francisco and worked for 12 years at three different architecture firms on a variety of healthcare and academic projects. I got a lot of design education on the job because the bar was really high, and I faced such a variety of design challenges designing for sick people and students. I also actually come from a long line of Mennonites who were very inventive yet practical, and that sense of simplicity and authenticity was instilled in me and definitely influences my design tendencies. I am also always taking design-related classes like photography, painting, woodworking, and have been studying Visual Arts at the University of California - Berkeley’s Extension for the past two years to further my appreciation and practice of art and design.

-How do you choose which materials to make your products from?

I choose materials that are natural and/or eco-friendly, first and foremost. I often rely on what I learned about sustainable materials when I was working as a LEED accredited interior designer. I knew from experience that two of the primary materials used in making cat furniture, carpet and plywood, both are indoor air polluters and can be toxic (and ugly!). So those were the first two things I set out to improve. I knew about Interface Flor’s high quality carpet tile, which is better for indoor air quality and uses recycled materials, and I found a formaldehyde-free plywood made from bamboo. I also am lucky to have access to multiple green building salvage yards in the Bay Area, where I gather reclaimed wood studs for the scratching posts instead of buying new ones, which means fewer trees are cut down. They get completely covered in sisal, so it doesn’t matter if they are not brand new. The sisal and wood trim are both new materials, but completely natural. I only use non-toxic wood glue and water-based stains and finishes. Other than the “green” criteria, I look for things with textural qualities that make interesting combinations with the other materials.

-What is the manufacturing process like for your furniture?

I currently make everything myself, with some help from my husband for the heavy lifting. I work out of a small workshop attached to the house (aka the garage). The process involves a combination of pre-cutting certain components in advance, such as the plywood structures and wood posts. After that, each product is made to order. I start by making the perch(es), which involves attaching the wood trim to the bamboo plywood, then staining and/or finishing the wood trim. When those are finished, the posts get attached, then wrapped in two widths of sisal rope (for enhanced texture and improved durability). Finally, additional perches are attached (depending on the product) and the carpet tiles are inserted. The process includes a variety of steps, each rewarding in its own way -- cutting wood is loud, dirty and empowering, while carefully painting on the wood finishes is quiet, calming and almost Zen-like.

-What is your favorite piece of pet furniture you've designed?

It is hard to decide which is my favorite! It is probably the one the cats like the best, which is the real goal in making them, and that would have to be the “Platform T,” as I have dubbed it. It is a custom taller version of the 26-inch high “Platform C.” (photo left) It is five feet tall and has four perches in addition to the base. All of the perches are anchored to a large central sisal post, and that post is exposed on one side to allow them to actually shimmy up the full height of the tree. It lives next to the sliding glass door, where the views of birds and squirrels are the best. All three of the cats can fit at once to watch the outdoors or play together. I have been working on developing this design for DK Cat as well, but unfortunately have run into some roadblocks when it comes to shipping. It is also a little big to manage in my small workshop by myself. I have started working on a four-foot high version though, which I anticipate will be easier to ship. Hopefully you will see it on dkcat.com sometime this year!

Up next...Mad About Pets' review of the DKcat Perch!

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