Growing up I didn’t really have pets. Sure, I had a bevy of goldfish over the years that my sister or I won at our elementary school’s carnival (some of them, thanks to my dad, surprisingly lived for years) and I had my sweet hamster, but never a cat or dog. We once came thisclose to owning a dog — a wheaten terrier, I believe — but it never came to be.
When Sam and I started living together, eventually his and his former roommate’s cat, Leo, moved in with us. I’ve now been a “real” pet owner for over five years and sometimes it still surprises me! Since we moved into our current place, Leo often sleeps on my side of the bed for some portion of the evening. Since I’m the first to rise most days, he usually hangs out with me while I work. (And he is often in my face while I’m getting my morning started.) He absolutely loves laying on soft things. Our couch is quite soft, so much to my dismay spends most of the day hanging out on it getting his beautiful while fur over everything. We have a little cat bed which has shown little to no interest in. Quite understandably, though. It’s this round and flat little bad that I’m sure isn’t quite that comfortable.
The beds by Black Cat Dog Designs — now those are another story. Heck, they look so comfortable I would lay on them. These amazing furniture-quality pet beds are handcrafted in upstate New York by Bev Levreault and her team. (Fun fact, she is the second Bev I’ve interviewed on my blog!) She is here today to share about her handmade business, and if you are a pet-owner, you will be sure to want to check out her work!
Tell us a little bit about your work and how you got started with it.
I noticed that our dog Lacey’s floor-cushion style dog bed seemed to be damp all the time (especially on the bottom), so I googled and found this to be a common problem, especially in older houses. Without proper air flow between the floor and cushion, the combination of a dog’s body heat and the floor’s cooler temperature creates condensation. The solution, to me, seemed to be a dog bed that would have some type of elevated and ventilated form. When I went to try to find such a bed, I only found a hammock style, which was nice but not cushiony, or very over-the-top bling models painted funky or using all kinds of metals, feathers, and Swarovski crystals…I think you get the picture. Definitely not Lacey’s (or our) style 🙂 Nothing looked like real furniture.
Since I work in the furniture industry, I’m surrounded by beautiful wood, furniture and, more importantly, lots of very talented people. So I decided to try to design something myself. With lots of suggestions from some gifted craftspeople, I started sketching and tried constructing an elevated frame, using native hardwoods for good strength…and dovetail joinery for solid construction…and nice details. Then I and added a ventilated plywood bottom to keep the cushion nice and dry.
Then came the cushion. Several dog-owning upholsterers suggested a channeled cushion design to keep the cushioning in place and stop it from “bottoming-out” – being flat in the middle of the cushion. I stuffed with recycled chopped foam, and the result was a dense, but comfy cushion. Then I covered with a loose, indoor/outdoor fabric zippered cushion for easy wash ‘n’ wear.
Prototype #1 was born…and immediately put to work. I gave it to a friend who had lots of small dogs…it took them less than 5 minutes to pile onto it and snooze. Good sign. Then I brought it home to our crew, and Lacey loved it…as well as every single cat in the house…and another friend’s dog who came to visit. Over a period of a couple of months, made some tweaks, and then started selling!
What’s the story behind your business’ name?
Very simple…we’re surrounded by black cats…and our neighbors’ goofy black dog, Duke. He always hangs out with us – he’s a real character. And, no, we did not go looking for all those cats. We’re in a very rural setting, so stray cats always seem to show up. We take them to the local spay/neuter clinic (we’re on a first-name basis there), fix them up, and eventually find most of them good homes. Unfortunately, no one seems to want to adopt the black ones, so they usually end up with us. So, when we needed a suitable business name, I looked out, saw Duke, the cats, and it popped into my head – Black Cat Dog Designs. Pretty basic 🙂
What do you like most about having your own creative business?
It’s very energizing. Whether it’s a custom order, or working on a new design, or even just solving production challenges, or inventing different ways to do things, creative juices are always bubbling. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but well worth it, and lots of fun. I’m now exploring using the compact router for not only hand-lettering, but as a design tool and playing with different depths using the plunge.
What do you find most challenging?
Since the business is so young, it’s really challenging to make connections with our potential audience. Solid wood pet beds are not something that every person needs or wants, so it takes a fair amount of networking and research to reach those folks who might want our products. We’ve got booths at some upcoming CNY regional dog festivals/events, a website (with marketplace) and have an active social media presence, so that’s a good base. That’s where the research comes in. I’ve been reading about everything from pet industry news to canine sleep research to growing dog-friendly real estate markets – all significantly relating to pets in one way or another – so we can narrow our focus to particular audiences for on-line advertising. It just takes time…and a plan.
What inspires you to create?
It’s usually because I get antsy if I have too much down time:-) And everything starts to bubble, and I just have to do something with it. The other inspiration is nature – we have 150 acres, so Lacey (our rescue dog) and I are in there exploring every day…hiking, snowshoeing, x-c skiing, running…and sometimes just wandering off trails, or following animal tracks. Different species of trees, plants, flowers all have interesting and dynamic textures and characteristics so it’s really hard NOT to be inspired! Often, I come back super-pumped and have so many ideas I can’t write or draw them fast enough – my workbooks are burning up when that happens!
What do you think motivates others to buy handmade?
For a personal connection. I think, culturally, our fascination with manufactured goods has waned and we’re seeking to reach back to times when people either made what they needed themselves or personally knew the person who made it for them. To know that person actually crafted an item…touched it, cut it out, assembled, designed it, packaged it…is very attractive to a growing number of consumers out there. In some cases, some folks are looking for truly one-of-a-kind items, and this is the only avenue for achieving that goal.
What is your favorite handmade item you have bought or received?
I’m torn between two…the first being my stepson’s large portrait of our dog, Zeke. Will was about 12 years old at the time, and did the color drawing all on his own for my birthday present – I got it framed and it still hangs in my workroom at the house. The second is a souvenir I got from a Wales trip – “Emily” is a beautifully handsculpted duck (with lots of personality) made from layers of laminated native wood species – she oversees our kitchen and “rules the roost”.
When you are not working on your business what do you like to do with your time?
I love to be outdoors and be active – snowshoe/x-c ski in the winter, hiking and gardening in the summer. I love to putter at our place. We’ve got a couple of big barns, so there’s always something to do – and they usually have nesting Barn Swallows, so I enjoy watching them while I’m working.
Basically, I’m always making something. I believe that I’m hardwired to do that. My mother was just like that…always had a project in the works – I’d come home from school, and my bedroom could be a different color 🙂 She loved to paint, sew, cook and do all kinds of home decor projects – a wonderfully creative lady.
What is something people might not know about you?
That I like potato chips – for some reason, when folks hear I am a vegetarian, they assume I don’t eat junk food… 🙂
What is one piece of advice you would offer to others with their own creative business?
Enjoy the process, enjoy the people, and be open to new experiences and challenges…when you don’t get the results you expected, don’t let that get you down – learn from those experiences and figure out how to do things differently. But make sure you have fun doing it!
Thanks for being on my blog, Bev, and be sure to check out Black Cat Dog Designs!