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Do Your Cats Ever “Customize” Your Furniture?

Cats teach us, primarily by using their claws on the decor, not to get too attached to our stuff.

Lauren Oster  |  Apr 23rd 2015


“Okay,” said the Apple Store guy, “you’re all set! You’ll get an email when we’re ready for you to come pick up your replacement laptop cable.”

“Phew,” I said. “Thank goodness you had one in stock.”

“Maybe you could, heh heh, coat this one with some chili oil so your cat doesn’t eat it?”

Oh, Apple Store Guy. If only it were that simple. 

“He likes the taste of chili oil,” I sighed.

An extended silence at the other end of the phone line. “Well … good luck!”

Matty and his electronic victim in happier times.

Matty and his electronic victim in happier times.

You could say the apartment my husband and I share reflects our combined tastes: the elegant cherry wall unit he found at a sample sale is full of my books, the space-age Lucite shelves I bought online are stacked with his beloved records, and our walls are covered with photos and paintings we’ve picked out together. That’s only half the story, though: After a decade of trial and error, our collection of stuff is also the product of rather a lot of input from our cats.

What sort of sofa might be considered too boring to scratch? (Answer: a sectional covered with microfiber so tightly woven that it’s hard for them to sink their claws into the fabric.) Which plants might prove unpopular at a feline salad bar? (Answer: mean-looking barrel cacti with spines so long that short snouts can’t nose past them for a bite.) What does a little Siamese cat love more than chewing on a MacBook Pro’s power cord? (Answer: Trick question, it’s his favorite thing in the world. Might as well give up on that one.)

Our two cats don’t seem to suffer from separation anxiety or pica (that is, compulsively eating inedible things — Matty’s love affair with the laptop power cord notwithstanding); they just have their own ways of interacting with the apartment we share. A few years ago, I found a Donna Wilson pouf I’d been eyeing for years on extra-super-cannot-be-ignored-ultra-clearance at a local design store; we needed some extra seating, and I ignored the little voice in my head that whispered about how our cat Steve was going to adore its fancy hand-woven wool fabric.

Don't even try sitting on Steve's fancy tuffet. It's his and his alone.

Don’t even try sitting on Steve’s fancy tuffet. It’s his and his alone.

Surprise: I brought it home and he decided it was much more exciting than either his scratching post or his cat tree (two things he claws with gusto). I tried redirecting his attention with toys, which failed miserably. I tried covering the pouf with a blanket, which worked but seemed to defeat the purpose of buying a good-looking piece of furniture in the first place. After a week or so of attempted mind games with a creature whose primary hobby is tearing apart cardboard boxes while sitting in them, I decided to let Steve do his thing with the pouf and trim off the bits of yarn he liberated as best I could. I don’t intend to try to resell it; why should it matter if the pattern is a bit more, er, abstract than its maker intended it to be?

We've agreed that the chairs by the window are for birdwatching rather than clawing.

We’ve agreed that the chairs by the window are for birdwatching rather than clawing.

Letting Steve and Matty have their way with that piece (and with the leather chairs I wrote about a few months ago) feels like a reasonable concession; they can do what they like to that furniture, and they seem to leave the rest of it alone. The stately old Scandinavian chairs we’ve stationed under our living room windows are cat favorites as well, but the guys are content to perch on the seats to watch seagulls wheel by over the river. A fine compromise.

 Wall unit? Cat tree? Stop, you're both right.

Wall unit? Cat tree? Stop, you’re both right.

That wall unit Joe found is also a big hit, which means that its shelves are covered with Sanskrit etchings from little feline toenails — but how could I shoo the cats out of it? It’s wonderful to come home and find them asleep between my old Paris Reviews. “I love cats,” Jean Cocteau once said, “because I enjoy my home, and little by little, they become its visible soul.” I’d turn that around: I enjoy my home because little by little, it’s become the visible soul of the cats I love.

Baby Steve on a snow day.

Baby Steve on a snow day.

I took a picture of Steve on those Scandinavian chairs a week after we adopted him. I can’t look at the rungs across the back without thinking of how he climbed them like a ladder to watch the snow fall. I imagine I always will.

Does your home have feline decorators? Tell us about your cats-versus-stuff adventures in the comments.

More by Lauren Oster:

Learn more about cat behavior on Catster:

About the author: Lauren Oster is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She and her husband share an apartment on the Lower East Side with Steve and Matty, two Siamese-ish cats. She doesn’t leave home without a book or two, a handful of plastic animals, Icelandic licorice mints, and her camera. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.