Fred Albert, a design writer who compiled a colorful collection of doghouses into a book titled Barkitecture, includes photographs of some of the oldest known doghouses in the book’s introduction. Among them is one made of wood with silk upholstery that belonged to Marie Antoinette, who kept a small Spaniel at Versailles during the late 1700s.
The earliest surviving doghouses in the United States date to nearly a century later. A Gothic revival style is displayed on the grounds at Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home in the Hudson Valley of New York, and an extraordinarily detailed Gothic Revival doghouse built around 1880 to match the fanciful main home is part of an estate in Bangor, Maine.
The rise of backyard doghouses was probably the result of the changing values of dog owners. According to Mark Derr, author of A Dog’s History of America, the end of World War II signaled a shift in how we saw dogs and their value.
“The prevalence of doghouses comes with the rise of purebreds,” he said. “Before World War II, less than 20 percent of dogs were purebred (compared to 50 percent now). Returning veterans wanted the right kind of house, the right car, the right dog, because it was a sign they’d made it. It was an enormous change.”
One of those soldiers returning from Europe began drawing a floppy-eared character who conducted aerial dogfights from atop his doghouse. Charles Schulz’s Snoopy—along with the rest of the Peanuts gang—made his newspaper debut in 1950, and started a groundswell of puppy love. At the height of its popularity, the comic strip had an estimated daily readership of 350 million.
“Back in Peanuts’ heyday, the 1960s, everybody wanted to own a Beagle like Snoopy—and a doghouse to go along with [him],” says Barkitecture’s Albert. Mass media had discovered the dog.
Television shows, movies and even magazines joined the feeding-bowl frenzy. In 1954, the Saturday Evening Post ran a cover illustration depicting a man measuring his dog in preparation for building a doghouse. This reportedly prompted numerous readers to write in with their own doghouse-building advice. An extensive essay on doghouses was photographed by legendary photographer Nina Leen for Life, and ran on several pages of the magazine in 1956.
Those who aspired to build their own pup pad had plenty of help. Magazines like Field & Stream and Mechanix Illustrated ran plans for bigger, better or easier doghouses almost continuously for 30 years. If you had the urge to build a doghouse with a door that grew with Fido, a triple-decker doghouse or even a space-age dog shelter, all you had to do was thumb through the latest issue for plans and step-by-step instructions.
By the affluent 1980s, doghouse design took a sharp turn toward style. After a parody of Vogue magazine—Dogue—featured a photographic tour of lavishly appointed doghouses, architects were called upon to design doggie digs for competition and charity fundraisers. The first, held in Atlanta in 1988, was a hit. By 1990, the prestigious Cooper-Hewitt in New York City hosted its high-profile exhibition, which sparked even more copycats … er … dogs. Soon, cities all over the country were showing off the creativity and wit of local designers, many of whom found designing for canine clients a refreshing romp.
In early 2000, the city of St. Paul announced plans to honor Charles Schulz by placing 100 sculptures of Charlie Brown in various locations around the city. Since then, they’ve also included artists’ renditions of Snoopy, Lucy and Linus. This summer, it was doghouses. As part of “Doghouse Days of Summer,” nearly 100 decorated doghouses were displayed everywhere from the shopping mecca Mall of America (okay, it’s not technically in St. Paul, but close enough) to riverfront boulevards. This fall, the city is auctioning off the pieces.
Since the city publishes a map marking the locations of all the sculptures, I won’t have any problem finding doghouses this time. I think I just might pack some Cheerios and take Bailey to see them.