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Our Laguna: It was a dog-eat-dog competition

If you think Laguna has some architectural gems, wait until you see the gems created by some of Laguna’s top architects and their contractors who competed for “Best of Show” in the inaugural Project Pet House fundraiser.

The team of Morris Skenderian and Don McKeehan were the top dogs, according to a panel of judges that included Mayor Toni Iseman, City Manager John Pietig, Laguna Art Museum Director Bolton Colburn and Laguna Board of Realtors President Nancy Pooley.

But the real judges will be the bidders on the houses. Six dog houses and one “Cattage” are up for auction. The proceeds will be added to the pot raised at the 15th annual Chili Cook-off and Pet Parade, presented by the Laguna Board of Realtors & Affiliates on Sept. 11.

The houses were unveiled — literally — last week at Tivoli Too.


The competition was keen.

“There will be an appeal if there are any violations of setbacks (distance required from property lines) or height limits,” Skenderian warned before the judging.

In response, competing architect Marshall Ininns demanded to know the whereabouts of Larry Nokes, an attorney who frequently represents clients in appeals to the City Council.

City Zoning Administrator Liane Schuller was at the unveiling, just in case.


The pet houses were judged for design, functionality, creativity and craftsmanship.

Skenderian’s sleek penthouse design was constructed of finished wood, stainless steel and a porthole window in the top story, on a raised deck with a covered space for food and water dishes. He called it the “Bow House,” a play on the Bauhaus design aesthetic.

Second-place honors went to Ininns and his architect son, Matthew, and contractor Ken Fischbeck. Their entry was a whimsical cottage, with white-framed windows, cedar siding, a balcony, a peaked shake-shingle roof and double front doors inviting your pet to come in and relax.

The design was inspired by the Witch’s House in North Laguna, the younger Ininns said.

Architects and builders Donna Ballard and Kacey Zantos dubbed their third-place finisher “Bowhaus.”

The modern, octagonal, steel-framed structure featured a “green” roof, a closet for doggie equipment, a “medicine cabinet” with wheat grass, a toy box and a “kitchen” for bowls of water and food.

The lone accommodation for cats entered in the competition won the hearts of the folks at the unveiling and was voted “People’s Choice Winner.”

Designed by former Design Review Board member Leslie LeBon and built by Tom Simpson, the “Cattage” could serve as a model for a Laguna charmer. It featured catnip growing in window boxes, a cat weather vane, a feather toy on the front porch — yes, a porch, not a deck — scratching post columns and signs that read “Dogs have masters, cats have staff” and “What part of meow don’t you understand?” Inside was a soft bed for lazy felines.


Architect Anders Lasater and contractor Al Oligino came up with “A dog’s house for a dog’s life.” A partially shaded, comfortable bed provides is an inviting place for a pet to relax after working like a, well, like a dog. Water and food bowls are nearby on a finished wood deck.

The message is “Come play with me! Sit on my bench! Stay for a while!”

“Rascal House,” designed by Daniel Martinez and built by Robert Carey is a Craftsman-style home, fit for a prized pet, with a front porch and interior living space with a comfy dog bed.

Kirk Saunders designed a modern, whimsical, wooden structure with an angled metal roof — a doggie spa in which your pet can relax.

Saunders and his son, Rory, built the pet house.

“The pet house project was the brain child of Nancy Pooley,” said Caroline Haines, founder of the pet parade and cook-off. “Last October, I got the domain name. Originally it was ProjectDogHouse, but Leslie called and said she didn’t have a dog. So I changed the name.’

Oligino was the first contractor Haines contacted, testing the waters for reaction and guidelines.

“I asked Al how he would do it and he said had worked with Anders,” said Haines. “That gave me the green light to go to Morris, whom I have known for a long time. He said it was a no-brainer and gave me the name of eight architects who might be interested in participating.”


The houses can be viewed at Tivoli Too or online at

Online bidding has begun and will continue until 5 p.m. Sept. 9. Absentee bidding by proxies will be accepted at the live auction, at the Pet Parade/Cook-off, which Haines will co-chair with Gary Boisen, incoming board president, who also co-chaired the unveiling.

Proceeds from the auction and the Sept. 11 event will benefit the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Laguna Beach Animal Shelter and the Blue Bell Foundation for Cats.

“The building of these pet houses will give us the opportunity to raise more money for the charities and give the exposure of the generosity from our local architects and builders,” Haines said.

Other contributors to the pet house project include official photographer Faye Chapman; event logo designer Angie Miller; Peter Yoss of Golden West Moving, who has donated moving of the houses by two men within the city limits free of charge; Kathy Blond of Laguna Digital, who developed the bidding site; and Tivoli Too owner June Neptune, who donated the exhibit space for the project and hosted the invitation-only unveiling. Bobby Fader oversaw the catering

Among the invited guests: Councilman Kelly Boyd and his wife, Michelle; Martha Lydick, president of the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library and Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn.; Rebecca Barber, president of the First Thursday Art Walk — at least until her term ends this fall; Joanne Culverhouse, Laguna Beach High School principal and emcee of the Pet Parade; Jim Beres, who oversees the Animal Shelter; Ara and Sandy Hovanesian, president of the Debussy Chapter of the Performing Arts Center Guilds; Police Lt. Jason Kravetz and John Hoover.

For more information on Project Pet House and its contributors, visit

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (949) 380-4321 or email