The ancient Egyptians were the first to put cats on a pedestal. Not a lot has changed since 3100 BC!
Nowadays, the pedestals are baroque cat trees, floating shelves and perches, and interior walls featuring lofted bridges and walkways, crafted from myriad combinations of fabrics, ropes, and wood that would have dazzled Frank Crow, the inventor of the original cat tree.
Cats in the UK had already spent a few decades as a pampered pet and show animal by the 1940s. In the United States however, domestic cats had yet to become the household pet we know and love.
The invention of the ‘cat tree’ in the late 1960s as a type of cat-specific furniture caused a sea change in the types of play and comfort items available for cats.
However, it was in the 1940s, two decades before Crow patented his new cat tree, that the first real advancement in the aesthetics and ease of cat ownership came along with the invention of clay cat litter, a product which allowed cat lovers to keep their pets indoors exclusively for the first time.
The Dawn of Kitty Litter and the Indoor Cat
Bedding and litter boxes for cats prior to the late 1940s were simple, as cats weren’t typically kept inside of a home. Many domestic cats lived as barn and alley cats, or were kept indoors during the day and put outside at night.
When it was necessary to keep a cat exclusively indoors, their owner used ashes, dirt, or sand as cat litter–not the most hygienic or mess-free of materials.
This changed in January 1947, when a frustrated cat owner asked her neighbor, inventor and entrepreneur Ed Lowe, for some sand to use for her cat’s litter. She explained that her sand pile outside was frozen and that she’d tried to use ashes, but her kitty was tracking them all over the house.
Ed offered her something else–a mixture of clay minerals called Fuller’s Earth, which has the capability to absorb its weight in liquid. His neighbor found that the clay worked better than the ashes and sand she’d been using and Ed was inspired.
In late 1947, he decided to package and sell his clay formulation to pet stores, under the name Kitty Litter. The clay cat litter was a success, and in 1964, his company created Tidy Cat brand litter.
With the advent of a cat litter that was inexpensive, easy to use, and cleaner than sand or ashes, cats began to move indoors and enjoy a level of pampering that would continue to grow along with the burgeoning pet care industry.
The 1st Cat Tree On the Road to Modern Cat Furniture
The pet care craze started to boom in the 1950s and by the late 1960s, the US pet food and supply industry was industriously supported by small manufacturers, family-owned distributors, and mom-and-pop pet stores, in addition to the first national pet store franchises.
However, it wasn’t all bread and roses at home with the kitties and their caregivers. Dogs had eons of domestication behind them and knew how to behave indoors.
Cats were new to the indoor pet scene and acted accordingly. The tiny carnivores clawed furniture and wrecked carpets. They peed on couches and shredded curtains. They bit and scratched and yowled at night.
Modern cat care as we know it didn’t exist yet and much of the information on dealing with feline behavior, nutrition, and discipline in the 50s and 60s was ineffective at least and detrimentally harmful at worst (i.e. surgically declawing a cat to prevent damage to furniture).
But, the mode of thought around meeting the needs of the animals we were beginning to keep in our homes as pets was changing.
When Frank Crow patented the first cat tree in 1969, it was with hopes that this new cat ‘furniture’ would “provide a clawing surface of maximum appeal to a cat”, “provide a climbing structure of high appeal and good exercising facility”, and finally “provide a facility for playing, feeding and sleeping”.
Crow’s patented cat tree featured comfy, carpeted perches, inclines, and boxes where cats could hide and survey their domain. His cat trees were a hit.
Cat owners were realizing the benefits of offering their cat toys and furniture beneficial for its health and wellness, in order to reduce behavioral and territorial issues and keep destruction of fabrics and furniture to a minimum.
Cats across the United States would leap into the 1970s and climb and observe from on high, finally able to Be A Cat with total abandon, from the tops of their new cat trees.
Modern Cat Furniture Designs and the Aesthetics of Comfort
The first commercially available cat trees were rudimentary and simple, compared to today’s diverse and unique cat furniture and enrichment offerings.
Over the decades, as new materials and modes of construction and manufacturing of cat furniture became available, the diversity of enrichment and comfort items for cats has exploded from a simple cat tree to modern cat furniture that is both aesthetic and functional.
Cat furniture and environmental enrichment trends include:
- Complex multi-level, multi-material trees and scratching posts
- Finely-crafted wooden end tables and similar pieces that hide litter boxes
- Custom indoor cat houses and condos
- Shelves and perches on walls and windowsills
- Walkways and bridges along the tops of walls
- Holes at the tops of walls allowing movement from room to room via walkway
- Hiding spots and tunnels built into human furniture (chairs, sofas, etc)
Cat furniture for resting, exercise, scratching, and keeping litter boxes and pet supplies hidden from view is available in designs as diverse as retro 1950s styles, cartoon and comic humor, and future chic aesthetics.
Materials for cat furniture have also come along way from Frank Crow’s first cat tree design of wood and fabrics. Modern cat trees and furniture are made from different classes of carpeting, various types of rope including sisal and hemp, and wooden materials from particle board to handcrafted, premium wood constructions.
Custom pet furniture also features unusual fabrics like:
- faux suede
- synthetic polyester, rayon, nylon or acrylic
Cat owners also have more options for obtaining the exact look and style of cat furniture they want to use to accentuate and decorate their home. Exploring DIY websites like Etsy reveals an entire world of custom cat furniture designs, in all manner of naturally antimicrobial fabrics and eco-friendly materials.
Watch the video below from The Cat Butler to learn more about modern cat furniture for your home!
Stylish Humans and Happy Cats
From uber chic penthouse options to minimalist, tiny home choices, there are modern cat furniture designs to please both felines and their humans.
The urge to pamper and love on our cats has blended with our need for individual human expression, with both affecting our choices about and approaches to comfort and aesthetics in our home for ourselves and for the care and support of our indoor pets.
It’s a delightful, ongoing cultural shift towards a more enlightened, supportive mode of thinking about the care and stewardship of the animal companions we keep and love.