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Living with Dogs

In the earliest photo of Bunny we’ve seen, she sits atop a subtly spotted pony at the age of four. Blonde wisps of hair poke out through her cap on either side of pinch-worthy cheeks. The blur of onlookers visible in the background doesn’t seem to instill any anxiety in her. Rather, feet securely in the stirrups and hands loosely gripping the reins, her facial expression is one of determination; her seriousness softened by the fact that she’s donning a pair of perked bunny ears.

Knowing that Bunny grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia in the near-constant company of cows, chickens, horses, and beagles (the latter two which her father bred and showed), her comfort around animals from a young age doesn’t come as much of a surprise. More surprising perhaps, given this environment, is her longstanding fondness for canines that are not traditionally show-worthy: “When there was a litter of puppies, I would immediately fall in love with the runt. I’ve always had this thing about the homely dog, or the dog with funny ears.”

Bunny with Brewster, a Norfolk Terrier, in September 1990.

For many, having their own pet can seem like a pipe dream, as it once was for Bunny. When she first arrived in New York and began working at Parish-Hadley, she put her desire to get a dog on hold since there wasn’t enough time to take care of one. Fast-forward more than two decades, and as Bunny left to start her own firm in 1988, she also welcomed a Norfolk Terrier named Brewster into her life. Since then, she’s become an advocate of Petfinder.com, a website that allows you to search for animals that are up for adoption.

While the proverbial “dog days of summer” may be behind us, and the season officially came to a close yesterday, we’re looking forward to a weekend of celebrating canines of all breeds. This Saturday, September 25th, the Little Guild animal shelter in Cornwall, Connecticut will host its annual Great Country Mutt Show fundraiser, a Westminster-style dog show open to all. Dogs can enter to compete in categories like, “Most Unidentifiable Mix” and “Dog That Looks Most Like Its Owner.” (Bunny will be entering her terrier-mix Annabelle in this one – “We have the same hair.”)  If you’d like to attend or register your dog, you can learn more here. Tomorrow, Bunny will host a number of guests at her house for a benefit to raise more funds for the shelter. 

An elaborate example: A Dog Kennel made for Marie Antoinette by Claude I Sené circa 1775-80. Constructed of gilded beech and pine, covered in velvet and lined with striped blue and beige silk. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As Bunny’s two rescue mutts, Annabelle and Bebe, practice for the show, we’re reminded that it’s high time for a dedicated dog appreciation post. Not to mention, as a result of the time we’ve all spent in lockdown, people are welcoming dogs into their lives at a higher rate than previously. Below we’ve compiled Bunny’s best advice on how to live stylishly with your pooches, sprinkled with cues from characters who’ve historically demonstrated how to do so with ease. We hope you’ll enjoy it, whether you’ve already welcomed pets into your life, or you’re still awaiting just the right moment to do so.

“I think everybody should get a dog. It’ll make their houses look much better and much more lived-in, and it’ll make them much nicer people.”

If you’ve ever seen a photo of Valentino with his Pug entourage in tow, or someone walking  a flock of flouncy-furred doodles down a city sidewalk with panache, you understand that one doesn’t have to sacrifice style to have pets.

Bebe (left) and Annabelle (right) on a throw-draped sofa on the screened porch.

Bunny and her husband John Rosselli, who shares her love of animals, give their dogs the run of the house. If you plan to do the same, she recommends keeping an assortment of throws to wrap around the cushions of a chair or sofa. Block-printed Indian quilts, like the ones recently introduced to Bunny Williams Home, are great for this. Not only do they protect upholstery, but they also can be easily removed and cleaned.

“They’re a huge part of our life. My husband John loves them and I can’t imagine not having a dog. I’m always a little suspicious of somebody who doesn’t like dogs.”

If you’d rather your pets stay off the furniture, try using excess upholstery fabric to create a cover for a dog bed. Think of it as a comfortable piece of furniture for your four-legged friends.

The entryway in Bunny’s apartment. Photo by Reid Rolls. 

One of the many joys of having a dog is the excitement with which they greet you every time you return home. Bunny likes to keep a dog bed near the door from which she comes and goes. In the entry of her New York apartment, an antique dog bed with a leopard cushion is positioned under the front hall table. A similar one lives underneath a large table in her barn in the country. 

If you have a mudroom, consider carving out space there. Pens with plush dog beds can be built under a counter. A storage area, whether it be a drawer, basket, or hooks by the door, can be dedicated to leashes and collars so you’re not continually searching for them. Hang them neatly on a special rack by the door, drop them in an old umbrella stand, or round them up and tuck them into a basket. Make sure you have a short hose and towels by the door so you can rinse off muddy paws and dry them.

Bebe taking a snooze in Bunny’s kitchen. A faux leopard throw covers the leather upholstery.

Another strategic spot for a dog bed: the rooms you spend the most time in, whether it be the kitchen or a family room. Faux leopard throws, or leopard beds by Wally Bed, are a long-time favorite of Bunny’s. “Animal prints look good in almost any setting and the cover comes right off so you can throw it in the washing machine,” she advises.

Marco, another rescue, relaxing on a bed by Bunny’s pool house. 

You can also plop cushions into woven rush baskets.

Annabelle enjoying a seagrass rug.

As far as flooring, some fibers are best avoided, but advances in performance materials make it easy to find attractive alternatives. Bunny warns against using sisal carpeting, which is absorbent and will hold stains. Seagrass is a natural alternative that is more forgiving.

Annabelle and Bebe modeling on a Dash & Albert rug Bunny designed in collaboration with Annie Selke.

The best options are indoor/outdoor P.E.T. rugs, which are made of eco-friendly, man-made fibers that make them washable and scrubbable. Bunny has designed a number of pleasant-underfoot P.E.T. rugs for Dash & Albert, Annie Selke’s line of rugs named, appropriately, after her two dogs. 

Of course, dogs have to eat and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t dine out of something visually pleasing. Flat bottomed Chinese bowls work well for food and water, or you can often buy an old tureen that’s missing its lid very inexpensively. Since the bowl will most often be seen from above, look for ones with pleasing patterns on the bottom of the bowl. Put them near doors where you come and go.

The Duchess of Windsor’s bedroom. Photo by Fritz von der Schulenburg/Interior Archive

And then there’s the question of how to express your love for your pets through your decor. There are really no rules when it comes to this, and one can’t help but think of Mario Buatta’s wall of Cavalier King Charles portraits or The Duchess of Windsor’s plethora of Pug pillows without smiling.

In the barn, portraits of Bunny and John’s dogs hang on either side of the fireplace. Photo by Tim Street-Porter.

Alongside canine-centric objects collected over time, personality-capturing portraits of Bunny and John’s dogs over the years can be found in rooms throughout their house and apartment.

Comical Dogs, an oil painting by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer from 1836. From the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Dogs have long been a favorite subject. Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, an English artist who became popular for his animal subjects, had a unique ability to humanize the dogs he painted, which led to great success with collectors and the Victorian public.

Photo by Tim Street-Porter.

Old dog portraits hang in Bunny and John’s library. A large bronze dog sculpture rests on the coffee table.

An outdoor tent set up for the Little Guild benefit Bunny and John hosted a few years ago. 

Anyone who has followed Bunny’s journey restoring her country house will know that her predisposition for the imperfect extends far beyond her pick of the litter. In all of her interiors, pursuit of perfection is traded for seeking out furniture and objects with character, and for creating an environment that is comfortable and livable. Hers is a home never complete without the company of a few furry friends, which begs the question: Who needs perfect, when you can have pets?

Posted to Events & Entertaining on September 23, 2021

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