At the very start of 2020, new restaurateur Angeli Rodriguez contacted Square Paws to commission some special items for her cat cafe that was just beginning construction. Being the first cat cafe in Florida’s historic town of St. Augustine, situated a stone’s throw away from the picturesque campus of Flagler College, Angeli wanted to showcase her adoptable cats in a warm, fun, and eclectic environment that would be a memorable and beloved experience for her patrons. Located in the “oldest settlement in the United States,” a place where Ponce de Leon sought the fountain of eternal youth, her corner of the planet would need to be very special, as special as the menu items she serves and as special as the kitties she presents for adoption.
Our initial conversation about our Espurresso pot and our Hickory Dickory grandfather clock cat towers led to a discussion of what style appealed to Angeli. From the start, she knew she wanted to create a bright place with a hip kind of “tea room” vibe. She wanted to go with a Bohemian aesthetic, colorful sari prints, throw pillows, and alluring patterns throughout the space. We explored funky Arabic teapots as inspiration for the cat trees we might build. The forms didn’t lend themselves easily to cat-habitation, so our conversation turned to other things.
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Next, we discussed a second big “element” for the cat room. While the Espurresso pot would certainly be appropriate, I asked Angeli if there was anything else that called to her, what other “feline fantasies” she had in mind. She mentioned how her parents were born in Puerto Rico and wondered if we might draw upon the beauty of Old San Juan. I quickly went to work looking at the architecture of the island’s oldest town, a fitting complement to the historic energy of St. Augustine.
Like most islands in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan has buildings and streets that harken back to their European forebears, but done with the bursts of bright color that is so prevalent in the various islands in the area. We selected several streetscapes and proposed to make two groups of “buildings,” designed so that they could be grouped back-to-back, placed against the wall, or set side-by-side. We wanted Angeli and her staff to have the freedom to rearrange the pieces as she felt best suited the room, given that she would be hosting events like “painting with cats” there and would need flexibility.
Our tasks were truly a labor of love. (Mind you, we say that about every project we work on, but it’s true!) The astronomical clock, which we all took to naming the “Purrague” Clock, was one of the most delicious projects we’ve ever worked on. The unique curved arch at the top, the statuary, the decorative ornamentation…it was all such a rich visual item for us to draw upon. As we often do on handmade custom cat condos, our finish paint work relied upon hours of faux rustication on the building faces, replicating the centuries-old masonry, and faux patina on the top roof, emulating the aged copper on the real clocktower. We found resin figurines and gave them homes on our clock. Prints of the real clock elements were meshed in with our woodwork. With one exception: for each month of the astrological clock (showing images of year-round pastoral life) we Photoshopped in an orange tabby cat to each medallion. Although it was a small detail virtually no one will notice, we wanted to have this tiny surprise on the clock face.
Simultaneously to this, we framed out the Old San Juan streetscape. We fashioned the roofs as removable “trays” so that Angeli and her assistants could simply “lift them off” for easy cleaning within or to retrieve a hidden kitty if needed. Though made to be very open for cat movement, the second floor balconies have balustrades in some areas and delicate decorative details in others, like scored lines of a terrace tile pattern. We wanted them to feel authentic in spite of being miniature buildings.
And, not to leave the backs of the buildings blank, we decided to draw upon the alleyways of the Old San Juan quarter and to create the illusion of plaster garden walls that have been adorned with colorful murals, a signature motif found in Old San Juan. We used actual murals as source material on these walls. And, of course, we were sure to add that same orange tabby hanging out on the plaster walls, just for consistency with the Purrague Clock. After all, when you sit in a cat cafe, part of the fun is watching where a cat starts and where she gets to while you’re enjoying your beverage!
Having had the background of building lifeguard stands for The Cat Cafe South Beach, as well as the two Billy Joel cat rooms at North Shore Animal League America, we knew that all of our construction would need to be washable and to withstand the test of time…and cats.
Despite the pandemic, we delivered and installed our pieces to Angeli’s delight! She opened her doors within a week thereafter and has been welcoming folks and connecting the foster kitties with their forever homes ever since!
Angeli trusted our instincts and allowed us to adorn the clock in an artful way
We were honored to have the opportunity to contribute to Angeli’s vision for a sweet little destination where people can come face-to-face with their furry new best friend. She really created a delightful gem of a cafe, and we hope you get to visit there the next time you find yourself in the Jacksonville- St. Augustine part of sunny Florida!
The Witty Whisker Cat Cafe is located at 112 N Ponce de Leon Blvd Unit A St. Augustine, FL 32084. Call for operating hours and reservations at (904) 342-5447