Nov 16, 2021 - Energy & Environment

COVID has changed home design for good

Illustration of a lightbulb with a house-shaped filament

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The pandemic may be on the wane, but the appetite for homes where residents can each have their own space — and enjoy time indoors — will be a lingering legacy.

Why it matters: Builders, architects and interior designers are all adjusting to a new reality in which we spend more waking hours at home and don't take for granted that household members will leave every day for work or school.

What's happening: While the pandemic put a premium on outdoor features like pools and big backyards, it also nurtured a desire for large, flexible interiors — like open-plan living rooms — and rooms that can be repurposed as conditions change.

  • An example is a home office that can be redone as a kids' playroom when its occupant returns to the "real" office.
  • Spacious kitchen islands — and "double" islands that are parallel or side-by-side — are in hot demand as people grow accustomed to cooking at home and wean themselves from takeout.
  • Projects like closet renovations and "smart home" installations are on the upswing, according to Thumbtack, which connects homeowners with contractors.

In a RentCafe survey of people looking for rental apartments online — taken a year after the pandemic started — "more space" was a priority over "cheaper," reflecting a long-term view that cocooning is here to stay.

What they're saying: Before COVID-19, your house "was a place to run home from work, drop off stuff, quickly eat something if you're lucky, and get the kids out the door for sports," Laurel Vernazza, a home design expert, tells Axios.

"The pandemic forced people to stay home and reevaluate their space and say, geez, we don't really have a space for everybody to decompress and do their own thing."

  • Her company, The Plan Collection, sells pre-drawn home plans to builders and middle-income consumers who are looking for off-the-shelf designs.
  • Lately, they've seen more demand for home plans with larger outdoor spaces and easier access to them — "not just French doors, but those large, floor-to-ceiling door sliders," Vernazza said.
  • Rec rooms and multipurpose "bonus" rooms are hot. "After months at the dining room table, people are kind of like, alright, I need to reevaluate our home and make spaces for everybody, and make it comfortable," Vernazza said.

The details: Interior designers agree on some trends that have emerged at this stage in the pandemic.

  • Curves, in furniture, moldings, arched openings and barrel-vault ceilings, are chic.
  • "Biophilic" design, or elements drawn from nature — like outdoorsy-looking houseplants and the use of natural and organic wood — is too.
  • Bigger and more permanent WFH spaces, sometimes with libraries or sitting areas, are here to stay.
  • Recycled materials and accents: Broken supply chains and the lumber shortage are pushing homeowners toward flea market finds and other "new-stuff" alternatives.
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