“It is my personal philosophy that cats always love to look down on us,” says Bob Walker.
You could easily mistake his statement for a playful, role-reversing metaphor; a cute pun. Then Walker tells you that in his house that sentiment is taken quite literally. Along with his wife, Frances Mooney, and their family of thirteen cats, Walker has turned their San Diego home into a well-orchestrated, 1500 square-foot pun of flipped circumstance that has quickly become one of America’s most intriguing homes since Graceland.
In 1987 Walker and Mooney, co-proprietors of a run-out-of-the-home framing business, began a mass renovation of their house in a quest to cater to the quickly growing gaggle of cats they had been accruing. The project started out to be simple: wall dividers, scratching walls, etc. However, their enthusiasm got the best of them. In almost no time their home was transformed into a virtual feline funhouse: a $10,000 project featuring 140 feet of rainbow-colored, maze-like suspension beams sketched like crayons across the ceilings, streams of spiraling staircases, designer cubby holes that lead into more designer cubby holes, and various monuments to the ergonomics of whiskered living. Some gadgets in the house are pure fun-rooms peppered with running ramps and playpens-while others serve the needs of the ailing, like an elaborate series of steps which the couple built specifically for their oldest cat, “Benjamin Bunny,” whose arthritis unfortunately limits his playtime.
“We wanted to make the house fit the cats’ needs,” says Walker matter-of-factly, like it was the only reasonable choice. Considering that by the end of their project the number of “companions” they had taken in grew from four to thirteen, it probably was.
Walker and Mooney have made many forays into the world of feline design, one of which is a Baywatch-esque mosaic called “Life is a Beach” that the couple built as a gift for the National Cat Protection Society (a miniature lifeguard set of high-chairs and buoys where kitties can play David Hasslehoff). But it was the 1996 publication of their first book, The Cats’ House – a colorfully intimate look into twists and turns of their own personal home – that drew scads of unexpected attention. “We had an open house when the book first hit the stands,” says Walker, “and I thought maybe a few people would show. Family, good friends. I think the final tally for that first day was around two-thousand.”
The popularity of The Cats’ House has spawned a few copycat designers (forgive the pun) from far away locations like Mexico City, and has attracted documentary filmmakers from various spots around the globe (Italy, Germany, Japan, etc.). But here in the States, it’s been award-winning filmmaker Chris Smith’s attention that has been generating the most buzz recently for Walker and Mooney’s unique home. The couple and their companions are featured in June’s Home Movie (Smith’s follow-up to 1999’s critically praised American Movie), a strange and fun look into the lives of five homeowners who boldly defy convention.
“They were nonplussed,” is how Walker explains their cats’ reaction when Smith’s twenty-five-member film documentary crew camped out in their home for two days – boom mikes, catering tables and all. One reason for the cats’ nonchalant reaction could be that they were busy living in a house meticulously built in their own image. Another could be that they’re simply used to the attention.
Bob Walker and Frances Mooney have written seven follow-ups to The Cats’ House. The latest, Cats Are Purr-fect, was published by Andrews McMeel in 2002. Their home is also featured on their website (www.cat.tv).
– Mike Scalise