Hamilton

Here's how COVID-19 is changing what people want from the design of their homes

Realtors and home designers are starting to notice a shift in what people want out of their living spaces as a result of the pandemic.

'Their houses aren’t going to be a collection of stuff, it’s going to be a collection of experiences’

Nicole Meek and her children, ages 5 and 7, have been using the kitchen for work, play and food — all of which has her re-imagining her home to better suit these separate needs. (Supplied by Nicole Meek )

During the pandemic, Nicole Meek's Dundas home has become her family's personal outlet mall, acting as a classroom, office, gym, restaurant and play-place. 

With Meek working from home with two school-age children, it means her family's living space must accommodate the need for work and play, for supervision and privacy like it never has before.

"The pandemic has put my home front and centre and I think of it more often than I would have (before)," Meek said.

 And she's thinking how her home might need to be different in a post-pandemic world.

 "What we're doing, it seems to be, is setting up and tearing down and setting up and tearing down — do I want to keep doing that? Or do I want to create a space where it can just be set up all the time (with) easy access?"

Meek's situation is not unusual and realtors and home designers say they are thinking about how COVID-19 is changing what people require of their living spaces and how these needs might be reflected in future home design, home renovations and buying choices. 

"Homes have become more than just a roof over their head," Hamilton RE/MAX realtor Conrad Zurini said. "It's a combination of everything." 

Realtors and design experts expect that among the trends that could emerge from the pandemic are more minimalist design and easy to clean decor and surfaces, a preference for multi-purpose spaces and more closed-concept floor plans to provide more privacy.

Renovations could include permanent home offices with a professional aesthetic for video calls, at-home gyms to stay active and a backyard oasis to replace cancelled vacation plans.

A new normal

These changes and more might become the new norm, suggests Zurini. 

"Their houses aren't going to be a collection of stuff, it's going to be a collection of experiences," he said. 

"I think people are going to look at space and (think) how can I experience something a little different in this space and experience something a little different in that space."

Interior designer Tracy Laqua predicts that open-concept living spaces are on their way out and 'flex' spaces will be the new norm. (Supplied by Tracy Laqua)

All this time indoors is forcing people to reflect on their living accommodations, says principal consultant and owner of Hamilton-based in-ex-teriors design firm Tracy Laqua. 

"They have a greater amount of time that they may not have had prior to the pandemic, to really sit down and figure out what's important to them and what those changes might look like," she said.  

It's not unusual to expect that a global event will alter our way of living. 

'More cleanable surfaces' 

Past health crises, like the 1918 flu and later tuberculosis outbreak, had a similar impact on living conditions, says sustainable design professor at Ryerson University's School of Interior Design Lloyd Alter. 

During these times, people were forced to re-think the layout and design of their homes, making their spaces more simplistic to promote cleanliness. 

From a "busy, cluttered Victorian look" with dark wallpaper, Alter said spaces became brighter and light-coloured, taking on a "minimal aesthetic." 

COVID-19, Alter predicts, will bring that back. 

And to emphasize cleanliness, he says bathrooms will be at the front of the house. 

Offices are predicted to become home must-haves as experts say it's likely we won't all be heading back into work. (Submitted by Annie Barnwell)

"I think you're going to see almost a universal trend to having a sort of in-between space when you come in, where you can wash and the washing is going to be something that we're doing a lot more of than we have been doing." 

While this is already being done in many suburban homes, where families enter a laundry room from the garage, he thinks it'll become more commonplace across all living spaces. 

Throughout the home, he said people will want "more cleanable surfaces," meaning no more wall-to-wall carpets and kitchens will take on a stainless steel, clean and sleek look. 

As for newer trends, Alter said he anticipates people will continue to work from home, making the home office a mainstay. 

Work from Home 

When COVID-19 first began and people were forced to work from home to slow the spread, many, including commercial office space designer at Niche for Design Erika MacKay, soon realized the need for more stable at-home work spaces. 

"(Working at home) has become one of the new and perhaps primary uses for our home environment right now," MacKay said. 

"For some people, that means that some kind of a guest bedroom or...in a lot of other cases it means like a dining room is becoming an office or a little corner of a living room is suddenly having to become an office." 

Erika said she's seen an increased demand in ergonomic chairs and workplace accessories. 

And while she agrees with Alter that work-from-home is likely here to stay, she thinks companies will still occupy commercial office space to upkeep branding and culture. 

One of the home offices that commercial designer Erika MacKay helped a client create. (Supplied by Erika MacKay)

Flex Spaces 

Without long work commutes, people are finding themselves with plenty of time to cook, bake, exercise and enjoy other hobbies. 

To accommodate these various needs, Laqua anticipates flex or "pop-up" spaces will become more popular. 

These are areas in the home that can "quickly (and) easily be transformed to suit multiple functions," she said, adding that a guest room could be an office by day but turn into a yoga studio and arts and crafts centre by night. 

This versatility can be achieved through furniture like a Murphy bed or in smaller spaces, that might mean having counter space or desks that can easily be set up and then stowed away. 

While this flexibility can be done in homes with open-concept floor plans, if everyone is on the same floor and doing different activities, it might not be ideal. 

Open-concept floor plans

Before we became isolated in our homes, Laqua said there was already a slight shift away from an open-concept main floor. 

But now, with families at home together all hours of the day and juggling work, school and play, she predicts homeowners will definitely want to go back to compartmentalizing their space. 

"When you're forced into a situation like a pandemic and people are having to spend more time in their homes, then people I think are starting to appreciate the benefits of having separate spaces to go to." 

This is an example of a flex space, designed by Tracy Laqua, where a living room is also a work/office space. (Supplied by Tracy Laqua)

In addition to comfort, Alter anticipates the "reversal of the open-concept kitchen," where instead of the kitchen being the centre of the home, it'll go back to being a closed-off space to ensure proper sanitation. 

"You don't want your kids smearing their homework all over the table in the kitchen and on the counter and that, you want the separation of functions," he said. 

Backyard Oasis

The closure of parks and trails, in addition to strict non-compliance fines related to physical distancing, has meant that the only outdoor space people can truly find solace in is their backyards — if they're lucky enough to have one. 

Local landscape designer Dave Maciulis, who has been answering people's backyard renovation questions for free online during COVID-19, has said he's noticed that more people want to create an outdoor living space. 

This includes an outdoor kitchen and living room, with gardens that can actually produce fresh food for the family. 

"It's living space, entertaining space and relaxation space all in their backyard," he said. "They don't have to leave — that's their objective." 

About the Author

Jennifer La Grassa

Reporter/Editor

Jennifer La Grassa is a reporter/editor for CBC Windsor. Email: jennifer.lagrassa@cbc.ca

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