Wag Hotels

This popular northern California pet hotel chain offers distinctive luxury stay-and-play services for dogs and cats. For their expansion into the Peninsula market, they turned to a local architect to help them convert a long-vacant warehouse into a 23,000 square foot facility for its high-end pet care business.

Although located on the frontage road backing up to the busy Bayshore Freeway, the site was not easy to see or locate. The existing concrete tilt-up warehouse had been vacant for many years and the street was lined with motor homes, abandoned vehicles, and even a homeless encampment. As part of the project, the architect worked with the brand’s graphic designer to utilize the existing concrete wall facing the freeway as a canvas for eye-catching photographic murals. Now when drivers pass the site on US-101, the building covered with super-sized images of adorable dogs is a distinctive landmark. This passive publicity is part of what makes Wag Hotel’s Redwood City location their most profitable site to date.

A facility for a wide variety of dogs, and the employees who care for them, requires a safe and sanitary environment. Through careful space planning and attention to detail, the architect worked with the client to establish an efficient relationship between the boarding, grooming, and play areas, including a plan for easy containment of animals in case of an emergency. The 1950’s-era warehouse required creative solutions to comply with current building codes. For example, to accommodate the robust HVAC and mechanical systems required, the architect created a dedicated mezzanine level to support the machinery. Taking a cue from post-occupancy surveys conducted at other Wag locations, the architect specified materials and created custom details for intense and repetitive cleaning, noise protection, and secure passageways for the animals. For example, custom baseboard details were designed to protect the walls from scuff-marks caused by machinery used for daily floor cleaning, thus reducing maintenance costs and increasing the longevity of the building. Door handles, while complying with the ADA codes, were chosen to be inoperable by large dogs. To solve the challenge of bringing natural light into the expansive interior play areas without reducing the structural integrity of the tilt-up concrete walls, the architect placed a grid of solar tubes in the roof, resulting in an even and pleasant ambient light.

To meet the goal of differentiating the Wag Hotel from ordinary kennel services, the main entrance and lobby are designed to imitate a hotel, including convenient check-in and concierge service areas. The Ultra Suites for dogs evoke the spaciousness and comfort of hotel rooms similar to those used by people.

In designing the space for their pets, the pet owners’ experience was also considered. A tour route was carefully incorporated into the plan so that potential customers can view the facility’s amenities without disrupting business operations. A large glass window between the lobby and the adjacent play area provides literal and figurative transparency, allowing customers to glimpse how well their pets are being cared for. Electronic video surveillance equipment is available in the play and boarding care areas to allow pet owners to see and even talk to their pets via Skype.

The area surrounding the completed building has been transformed by the higher intensity of use from Wag Hotel customers. Abandoned vehicles and R.V.s are gone, replaced by parking lots full of customers. Adjacent properties are now being renovated and this long overlooked block is now a source of smiles for customers and passing drivers. The final product is a building that serves and promotes the business successfully from the inside and out.