Meet Peter Cohen, the Ultimate Cat Man, The Cat’s Meow of Designer Homes & Lucky Cats. UPDATE May 2020. Since our interview, his cat family has grown from 18 to 27 cats. Peter has become a staunch advocate for FIP awareness and launched Zen By Cat His spectacular home designed for the ultimate in feline environmental enrichment has inspired millions of cat lovers since.
Scroll down for our Q. & A. with Peter Cohen but first a visual teaser.
The importance of a healthy and stimulating environment for cats is gaining momentum. Peter Cohen, a contractor from the Santa Barbara area in California has taken kitty home remodeling or feline interior design to a whole new level. Initially inspired in the ’90’s by Bob Walker’s book The Cats’ HouseCohen has tweaked and tinkered an ordinary 3000 sq. ft. tract home over the years to an extraordinary kitty heaven while subscribing to the famous Mark Twain quote: One cat leads to another. Gradually, Cohen went from a dog person to a 100% devoted cat man adopting one rescue cat after another. His current clowder includes 18 very lucky cats.
The home is warm and inviting with every room designed with cats in mind. There are stairs and ramps, kitty highways and hideaways all harmoniously designed to meet at the corner of form and function. It’s an ongoing labor of love to create a marriage of design and feline practicality. Often cat lovers stick ugly kitty condos and other cat paraphernalia in hodgepodge but I see cat people like Cohen at the vanguard of showing how we can live with cats happily and beautifully.
Not everyone can afford to custom design their ultimate cat home but neither can most people who pick up House Beautiful or Architectural Digest. They’re meant to inspire and stimulate the creative process, to begin to explore what little things we can change. It might be the color of a wall with a bracket shelves at different height or moving existing furniture to create a vantage lookout point by a window. Cat lovers are deepening their bond with their feline companions and it’s time to consider what a cat would enjoy in their home. As I always say: happy cat = happy life.
As someone with a design background (yes, my first career was in interior design) I’m passionate about all aspects of design and jumped at the chance to interview Peter Cohen. Each question and answer left me with a dozen more. Consider this Q & A scratching the surface or taking the first step up the staircase to design kitty heaven.
Q & A with Peter Cohen and Layla Morgan Wilde
LMW: Why did you name your home Nekko?
PC: We chose the name Nekko (pronounced Ne- Ko) because nekko is the
word for cat in Japanese and I used to live there. It’s also the name of one of the cats.
LMW: Why do think the Japanese are so crazy about cats?
I lived in Tokyo for 5 years. The Japanese love cute and cats are cute. They are also easier to keep in their small homes than dogs (especially large ones).
LMW: Can you list the names, descriptions of all your 18 cats? Apparently there’s a food theme, right?
1) Kuro (means black in Japanese) is our only black cat. She is 16 years old and doing great.
2) Seven of Nine (from star trek) is one of our older cats at 13 and does not have much time left on this planet. The doctors think she has some type of cancer but cannot find any specific one. She is always hungry but lost most of her weight. She is on meds and gets special food. But she is still happy and loves to sit on my chest. She is a mutt (as are all our rescued cats) but looks like a Russian Blue.
3) Nui Gurumi goes by Nui (her name means toy animal). She is also Russian Blue and one of the older cats at 13. She is diabetic and gets insulin shots twice a day. Since she started the shots she is in great health.
4) Waffle is another Russian Blue mutt who is also about twelve. She is on meds for overactive thyroid but is doing well.
5) Coconut is only about ten but is on meds for overactive thyroid and cannot keep any weight on. She is a Siamese mutt and although very thin, still happy.
6) Wasabi is a Russian Blue mutt and is thirteen-years-old. She too has trouble keeping weight on but seems stable and happy now.
7) Coffee Bean is a Siamese mutt who is 7-years-old. She has a bent tail (that’s why we took her) and was adopted from a shelter in San Diego I think.
8) Donut is also a Siamese mutt about the same age as coffee bean and was adopted from same shelter at the same time.
9) Chocolate is a Siamese mutt adopted from a shelter up north I think. She is 7.
10) Cheesecake is chocolate’s sister. We have only one pair of sisters in all of the 18 cats.
11) Crumple is a gray/white mixed cat that is about three-years-old. She is a very sweet cat but like to pick on some of the other cats so we keep her segregated in one of the bedrooms with two other cats she gets along with.
12) Rumple is a Russian Blue mutt who lives with Crumple. She is very shy but not bullied by Crumple.
13) Butter is a white Siamese mutt who also lives with Crumple and Rumple. She is the sweetest cat we have. LOVES to be held. She is two-years-old.
14) Secret is a white Siamese mutt. Her name came from the fact that we did not want to admit to our friends/family we got another one.
15) Cookie is a Russian Blue mutt a little over five-years-old. I admit she is my favorite cat (I know we are not supposed to have favorites). I adopted her from a pet store at one of those events they hold to place animals. She was in a cage by herself not being offered for adoption. She had been traumatized by some deviant human and would attack anyone who tried to pet her. It took me three months to get her to come out from under the bed. Also lots of scratches.She is 8-years-old. But over the years she grew to trust myself and my partner and she lives in our bedroom. She is free to leave through the cat walks and sometimes ventures throughout the house. But mostly she stays in our room.
We found large bumps on her two weeks ago and long story short, she had major surgery to remove all her mammary glands on her left side. We had been told it was 99% sure malignant cancer. The vet said it was just too much to remove all at once. BUT we got great news in that the tumors are all benign. The vet said he never saw anything like that in an adult cat. She gets her stitches out this week and then will have the second surgery to remove the right side in 3 weeks. Then she should live a long happy life.
16) Nutter is a Siamese mutt two years old.
17) Poppyseed is a white Siamese mutt 11-years-old. She had a near death experience as a kitten when I put what I thought was a break-away collar on her. It was not and she somehow managed to tighten it so much she almost strangled to death. By the time I realized how tight it was we had to take her to the vet to have the collar cut off. From that day forward we do not use collars of any kind.
18) Nekko is our oldest living cat at 17-years-of-age. She is still doing great.
LMW: Do you have a system or “roll call” to keep tabs on their well being?
PC:We just try to bring 2 or 3 to the vet for check ups each month, in addition to any that we see need medical attention.
LMW: How did you reduce stress levels during the noisy construction?
I am a general contractor and am often doing work on my house. For the most part they have become used to it, although during a couple large remodels they did get stressed and we had lots of pee in the house. The cat walk construction seems to entertain them as they often stand on them even as the carpenters are still building them.
LMW: What are the favorite or most frequented ‘cat areas’ vs regular areas?
PC: The cats live and have access throughout the house. The only areas we have taught them (for the most part) to keep off of are kitchen counters and dining room table.
LMW: Do any cats sleep with you or your partner?
PC: LOL yes. Cookie and Poppyseed and Secret always sleep in our bed. Nutter sleeps on a cat bed next to our bed. Some of the others will sometimes sleep on our bed or in our room too.
LMW: What behavioral changes have you noticed after the kitty remodel?
PC: We have been building catwalks since 1995 so all the cats have grown up with them.
LMW: Any current behavioral issues with litter box use?
PC: We have to constantly adapt to the cats. When old age makes a cat start to not use the litter boxes, we will restrict that cat to a smaller part of the house. We shrink their world down until they can use the litter box in that space. We have added the ability to close off any of the rooms and do so as needed.
LMW: What kind of litter do you use?
PC: We use Worlds Best Cat Litter.
LMW: Dare I ask: if you had to make a Sophie’s Choice and pick your two favorite cats, could you?
PC: I love all my cats but yes, I have favorites. Cookie is my favorite (see above). A second one is harder to say. I guess honestly Mojo was my other favorite cat until we had to put her to sleep because of mouth cancer in 2005. We did treat her with chemo for 5 months and she did enjoy those extra times.
LMW: Do the cats have access outdoors in garden or catio?
PC: The cats do not have any access to the outdoors at this time. They do have perches and benches near skylights and windows. I have thought about building an outdoor area but fear of aggressive raccoons (we have lots) and the idea of fleas has deterred me so far.
LMW: Do you celebrate cat birthdays or gotcha days?
We do not. We just celebrate our cats every day by loving them and enjoying their love back
LMW: What advice would you give to someone wanting to create an environmentally stimulating area for cats on a budget?
PC: I think any shelf that a cat can get to safely is all they care about. I am a builder so I built really nice looking cat shelves but that is not necessary for the cats.
LMW: Any regrets or what you’d do different next time? Will there be a next time?
PC: I do not plan to move but never stop upgrading /improving the catwalk system. We currently have one project under construction and two on the drawing boards. We also have added more litter boxes where we can vent them to the outside. Keeping cat odor out is a never ending quest.
LMW: There have always been famous cat men, often in the arts but why do think cat men today are considered hip, hot and just plain nice regardless of their gender preference?
PC: I had no idea there were so many cat lovers in the world. The pictures of my house have been on my company web page for years and never generated a peep. No idea, except animal rights seems to finally gaining some acceptance. Cats are also easier than dogs (more independent).I just think that any human who treats animals as well as people would be a good person, and the opposite is true too. If a human can be cruel to an animal, I would not want to be near that human.