The Vancouver Sun

Thursday, September 7, 2006
Hotel for pampered canines has clients in the lap of luxury Lodgings | Whatever you do, don’t call the Rex Dog Hotel + Spa a Kennel
By: Derrick Penner
Trying to define “what would Fido want” was the unusual challenge facing design gurus at the Vancouver-based SmartDesign Group with one of their latest commissions.

SmartDesign, which crafted the look and feel of the chic Vancouver eatery Lift Bar and Grill and the Capers’ Community Market at Cambie and 16th, was tapped by a new client to help them create comfortable temporary lodgings for dogs.

Don’t call it a kennel, however. For pampered urban pooches, Barrie and Karen Balshaw wanted something better –to be called Rex Dog Hotel + Spa, now under construction at 760 Terminal Ave.

“Kennels are good for some dogs,” Barrie Balshaw said in an interview. “But nowadays, dogs are on the couch, they’re in bed with mom and dad. So they’re not used to the kennel atmosphere.”

In other words, they have the run of the house, just like any other family member, and the Balshaw have long wanted to re-create that comfort for the clients of their Doghouse dog daycare who are constantly asking them where they can board their pets while away on vacations.

Jon Sunderland, a partner at SmartDesign, can sympathize. The owner of two Yorkshire terriers, J.J. and Murphy, Sunderland struggles with that very question himself.

The answer is to create something very much like a boutique hotel in the old warehouse space the Balshaws have leased.

For owners, The Rex will have an aesthetically appealing entrance-way with soft suede seating, reclaimed wood flooring, pendulum lighting and art-work on the walls that wouldn’t be out of place in Yaletown.

And for Fido, there are no kennel cages. Instead, The Balshaws had SmartDesign create “suites” with raised beds, wood-paneled backs and glass fronts so K-9 guests can see what’s going on around them.

Also for the owners, a web-cam system, so they can check and see how their dogs are doing.

Sunderland said the Balshaws were excellent clients to work for and helped the designers channel Fido’s needs into the amenities: Indoor and outdoor play areas, a water park, group areas so dogs can be lodged with appropriate neighbors (no puppies with very old dogs, no really small dogs with very big dogs).

“[The Balshaws] understand all the personalities of all these dogs and can articulate them, almost with personification,” Sunderland said. “They know how dogs react to these situations. Everything they’re going to do will help calm the animals in that environment.”

“Calming” is the term that Balshaw uses. He added that among the amenities will be television sets for the dogs and satellite radio so caretakers can pipe soft classical music in at night.

Of course, the environment forced some different material choices on designers: Antibacterial rubber flooring that can be washed down, and rugged fabrics that can withstand the biting and clawing to be expected from four-legged guests.

SmartDesign’s smart designs will be unique, but won’t come cheap. Sunderland said it will cost $750,000 to build the Rex concept within the space that the Balshaws have leased.
Balshaw said Doghouse’s existing dog daycare clientele is a broad mix, from people “with silly money” to those who really stretch their budgets to make sure their animals are comfortable and well looked after.

Balshaw assessed that Rex’s “room rate” will be in the $60 per night range, which he said isn’t too far off of the more usual rate of $40 per night charged by other kennels.
He also hopes clients will be sold on the convenience factor of Rex being closer to home, and the added touches of offering pick -up and drop-off service as well as customized care while pets are guests.