Nancy Arbuckle's holiday decorating has, politely speaking, gone to the dogs. At this world-class dog breeder's 25-acre home in Zionsville, Indiana, Nancy judges every decorating choice by two nonnegotiable criteria: It has to be personal and dog-friendly.
Here's how she decorated her great-room, pictured at left:
-- A flea-market bin makes a cozy dog bed -- with a cushion inside.
-- Christmas-color show ribbons create unique holiday decor. (Nancy has a huge stash of championship blue ribbons, but they didn't fit the scheme.)
-- Two trophy bowls display pinecones and red ball ornaments, safely out of reach on the mantel.
-- Dog-theme stockings hang from the mantel.
Nancy built and outfitted her rustic three-bedroom farmhouse on Retriever Lane. (Yes, that's her official address.) Among her dog-friendly decisions:
-- Continuous hickory floors imbue her home with a mellow backdrop; this hardwood also resists scratching from paws.
-- Vintage wood furniture came with old dings and chips; it won't show new abuse.
-- Windowed doors in every first-floor room offer views, convenience and freedom for both Nancy and her large family of prize-winning pooches.
In the dining area at left, red sleigh bells and simple vases of flowers decorate the English pine table. The dog statue commemorates a prize-winning Lab in England, an ancestor of Nancy's dogs.
"When I'm picking out material, I'm thinking, 'What's the dog hair going to look like on that?' " Nancy says.
In her guest room at left, Nancy's Labrador puppies settle down, oblivious to holiday festivities -- or Nancy's decorating techniques:
-- A durable, patterned area rug camouflages dog hair and offers a soft landing spot.
-- Smooth, tightly woven, washable fabrics, including quilts on the bed and slipcovers on sofas and chairs elsewhere in the house, handle pet hair better than many other materials. Avoid fabrics or carpeting with thick pile or looped weaves, like velvet, textural knits or shag and berber carpeting, which will attract and trap pet hair and odors.
-- An above-the-bed shelf provides a puppy-safe display for an oil painting, one of Nancy's many works. This portrait portrays Teddy, her Labrador who won Best of Breed at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club dog show in 2000.
This cozy seating area off the kitchen features more of Nancy's paintings -- leaning on shelves so she can change them out easily -- and pet-proof decor:
-- Chairs or sofas in sturdy leather make for easy cleaning. (Another good choice for furniture: synthetic outdoor fabrics, designed to withstand abuse from Mother Nature. New weatherproof options look and feel just like indoor fabric.)
-- Lamp and appliance cords tuck behind tight-to-the-wall furniture so pets can't chew them. Also consider sconces and wall lighting with hidden cords.
-- Accent pillows and tabletop accessories showcase your pet passion in a fun way.
The bright front entry is dominated by Nancy's portrait of her beloved horse, Roxanne. Pet-friendly touches:
-- Stained or painted wood wainscoting is more washable and durable than drywall. (It's a great idea for families with small kids, too.)
-- Windows engage pets in views of the outside. A conveniently placed seat allows smaller pets to hop up for a peek.
Dogs are welcome on the warm wood floors and patterned rugs of Nancy's open-to-the-great-room kitchen, which boasts a farmhouse-style sink, painted wood cabinets and butcher-block counters.
The kitchen island gets a vintage touch from traditional saddle-seat counter stools and salvaged corbels Nancy bought at a flea market for $5 each.
Pet-friendly tip: Design a cabinet in your kitchen or utility room that easily accommodates bulky pet food bags.
A plaque on the mantel announces Nancy's puppy love. A flower wreath, fresh evergreens, pinecones and red ornaments provide brilliant holiday color and texture.
The rustic bench on the front porch holds blankets and other gear Nancy needs for daily trips out to her barn.
Dr. Louise Murray of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals offers these holiday tips for pet lovers:
-- Skip curling ribbon and tinsel. These long, stringy decorations can be deadly to pets if swallowed.
-- Smooch under fake mistletoe. The real stuff (along with holly) is toxic to dogs.
-- Skip poinsettias or display them high; though not fatal, they can cause stomach upset.
The hand-carved sign over Nancy's front porch greets guests with the declaration "Plein air and cold noses," a nod to her dual love of painting in the open air and raising dogs. Both are reflected throughout her Indiana home.
"Whatever your passion is ... put it in your house," Nancy says. "Those little things help make it more 'you.' "
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® November/December 2009.)