Look for a Shift in Home Feature Preferences
Talk about life and style changes on the fly.
With the world still facing the challenge of Covid-19, everyone’s resilience and patience are being put to the ultimate test. As we sheltered in place at home – alone or confined with family members – the world-as-we-knew-it changed, as did our lives and activities.
In one quick flash, our homes were transformed into more than just living spaces. They became schools, workplaces, gyms, entertainment, hobby centers, and more.
As we dealt with the constraints of stay-at-home mandates and the feeling of being trapped, it was inevitable that our points of view and opinions about home design would shift. In our minds, we were redesigning our homes to adapt to our new activities. How many times did you wish for a quiet nook, an extra bedroom, or even a tool shed in the yard just to get away from everyone else?
Don’t perish those thoughts – since builders and architectural experts were also pondering the new reality for home design and its impact on current and future homeowners.
Past history shows how well building design adapted every time the world faced a pandemic. Wide porches and increased ventilation, for example, became popular after the cholera outbreaks in the early 1800s. The Spanish flu in 1918 brought healthy home designs to the forefront – reinventing the powder room as a way to sanitize before entering a home; and inspiring subway tile in the bathroom.
With Covid-19 far from over, home design is now being reimagined to accommodate – and balance -– the demands of daily living, work, and study. And industry experts are very quick in figuring out how to adjust to the new normal in current homes and new builds.
Let‘s find out about these home design-related concerns as well as the “must have“ features and preferences sparked by the pandemic of 2020.
With health and sanitary measures top of mind, homes with mudrooms – where family members can drop their gear and clean up before going inside – are really ahead of the game. A sprawling 3,832-square-foot three-bedroom Contemporary homes features this very spacious and well-designed mudroom. (Plan #202-1014)
The Challenges of Shelter-in-Place
A survey of consumers searching for a home conducted by realtor.com during the early months of shelter-in-place directives revealed peoples‘ struggle with confinement, separation from family and friends, and difficulty in finding ways to relax and de-stress. Other factors included lack of fresh air and outdoor time (especially for renters), being out of work, and the reminder of existing home improvement projects.
Younger consumers struggled with work-life boundaries, lack of comfortable work space, and lack of privacy. For others, being furloughed, home-schooling, entertaining minor children, and sharing living space with extended family or visitors were major difficulties.
This chart illustrates the shelter-at-home difficulties faced by consumers during the first months of the pandemic. Feeling trapped was the top challenge followed by separation from extended family and friends, especially for those aged 55 and over (source: realtor.com).
Given all these concerns, when consumers were asked about home features that became very important to them during the pandemic, the top answers related to quality of life – including quiet neighborhoods or property, outdoor spaces, and proximity to grocery stores and pharmacies. With the home as the epicenter of majority of activities, consumers are looking for more space, flexibility, and options to work remotely, exercise, and escape to a quiet corner.
Possible Changes in Homes – Existing and New Builds
History has shown us that pandemics have a way of reshaping residential design. With Covid-19, innovations will focus on healthy home designs that incorporate larger outdoor spaces, bigger kitchens, getaway areas, quiet zones, touchless technology, lots of windows to bring in the natural light and exterior views. As Jonathan Boone of House Plan Zone notes: ... “clients are having more of an emotional connection to the home design now than before. People are more aware of how the design can affect one’s attitude and emotional state. “
Here are a few features that are likely to emerge or be reinvented now, and for years to come:
1. Larger, More Elaborate Kitchens
The kitchen has always been the heart of the home. Now, more than ever, its importance will be more emphasized. With dining out at restaurants and other eateries curtailed, more families are cooking at home. Kitchens with larger islands, more storage, walk-in pantries, and larders will be in demand.
More space is needed for cookware and to store canned goods, ingredients, and food for longer periods of time as families continue to stock up on necessary supplies.
This gorgeous kitchen in a two-story, five-bedroom Mediterranean style home includes a huge island with plenty of seating space for meals. Storage space is in abundance here – with the cabinets, drawers, and shelves around the kitchen and in the island itself (Plan #195-1173).
Designers predict that the demand for walk-in pantries – such as this one in an expansive and well-designed one in 1.5-story 2,854-square-foot French style home – will increase in the years after Covid-19. Families will want more storage space as they stock up on canned goods, other non-perishable food items, and cleaning supplies (Plan #142-1209).
2. Mudrooms and Drop Zones
While the mudroom has always been an area where the family “dumps“ wet and muddy shoes, umbrellas, rain gear and other stuff, expect it to be redesigned in the wake of Covid-19. Boston-based designer Stephen Chung is thinking of an “expanded mudroom with places for disposing clothes, taking off shoes, and washing hands immediately“ – thus equipping the mudroom with specific drop zones, and turning it into a makeshift decontamination station before entering the home.
A laundry room accessible to the front and back doors can also serve as a drop zone for wet clothes, coats, and other outdoor gear – and another sanitizing area prior to going inside.
If you want an ideal drop zone and a makeshift sanitizing station, you can’t ask for more than this mudroom in a sleek one-story Modern style home with flat roofs, three bedrooms, 3.5 baths, and a three-car garage. You can hang jackets, sit on the bench, and take off your shoes and store them underneath. There are built-in cabinets and drawers plus a countertop where the family can place sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, and paper towels for cleanup before going indoors (Plan #202-1027).
Top: Another drop zone is main-floor laundry room, which already comes with a sink and faucet where one can wash hands – as in this one in a rustic two-story Craftsman home. Bottom: The main level floor plan of the home illustrates how family members can gain access to the laundry room from the front porch – through the mud room (Plan #163-1027).
3. Space for Remote Learning and Working
With more children in virtual school, and one or both parents working from home, dedicated office spaces and study areas are a must, areas such as
- kids’ nooks
- home offices (two, one for each wage earner)
- flex spaces
- other designated areas.
We can expect designers and architects to incorporate more flex spaces, dens, and family rooms in new home designs to accommodate the emerging changes wrought by the pandemic.
In older homes, existing floor plans may be altered to create separate areas and designated rooms for different activities. As an example, large bonus rooms may be sectioned off to create study or reading nooks for kids. You can also consider window seats for these purposes.
If you have an attic/loft or basement, now may be the time to convert those areas into home offices and remote learning rooms. Some homes also have laundry rooms that include reading nooks and corners where you can set up a work-from-home space with a desk, chair, and laptop.
This very spacious bonus room in a two-story, three-bedroom Craftsman style home with country touches can be designed to accommodate study corners for children in virtual school. Desks, chairs, desktop computers, laptops, and/or tablets can be set up in the corners near windows (Plan #106-1274).
Think about it … people don’t wash clothes and sheets every day. So you can take your office equipment to a laundry room like this one in a 3,757 square-foot Ranch style home and work from there. The spacious home includes four bedrooms, 4.5 baths, and a four-car garage (Plan #161-1088).
In the future, the balance may shift dramatically to more people working from home full time rather than in an office. When/if that happens, the demand for home office space will also increase; “… the next generation of buyers may start to look for homes where living spaces and working spaces are more defined or adaptable,” says Dwayne MacEwen, architecture principal and creative director of DMAC.
Sam Morgan of SW Morgan Fine Home Design adds that he is talking to his clients about two separate spaces for spouses who are both working from home. Morgan notes that if he was building for himself now, “there would be two offices, with one having a dedicated exterior entrance for clients to come in.”
Will the work-from-home trend continue into the future? And if it does, how will it affect residential design? Rick McAlexander of Associated Designs, Inc., says that if a great number of people who are working remotely are not eager to come back to the office, he “could see a fairly significant shift in the commercial and residential markets. Homes could get larger and offices smaller.” But until a sense of normalcy returns to the country, we will remain at a “wait and see” period.
Top: If you had this spacious work area with a spectacular view, returning to the company main office in the city may not be top of mind. This stunning home office in a four-bedroom, 3,757-square-foot Ranch plan is perfect for working remotely and offers privacy and separation from the rest of the family (Plan #161-1088). Bottom: One of the big trends in 2020 is a pocket office like this one in a 1.5-story, 2854-square-foot home with three bedrooms, A downsized version of the traditional home office, it includes everything you need for work – great lighting, office chair, a desk, computer, shelves and cabinets for office supplies. If there are two wage earners in the family, you can incorporate two of these pocket offices in the home design and give each of them the space and privacy they need to conduct business (Plan #142-1209).
4. More-Defined Workout Rooms
Prior to Covid-19, individuals and families – especially those who lived in apartments – squeezed in a "gym" or workout room in the most accessible space they could find in the home. That may be a bedroom, living room, mudroom, or even the laundry room.
With Covid-19 and stay-at-home guidelines, going to the gym has not always been possible. So people looked for ways to work out at home to stay fit and to relieve stress – in addition to the daily walks and runs around their neighborhoods or backyards.
As millions of Americans brought the gym/exercise facility to their homes, the demand for fitness equipment soared. Bring on the Peloton, dumbbells, treadmills, yoga mats, medicine balls, and other exercise paraphernalia – and a separate room in the home to conduct all these activities.
With the renewed focus on fitness and exercise, a dedicated workout room – not just a corner – is another feature to watch out for in new builds and in homes that are being renovated.
Check out the gym equipment and the ping-pong table in this exercise room of a stunning two-bedroom rustic Ranch style home. The workout room is part of the 1,491-square-foot finished basement, which adds two bedrooms, a full bath, and family room to the home (Plan #161-1097).
5. “Getaway” Spaces
While people want to enjoy their homes more these days, they also crave more privacy and less noise. Prospective buyers are also asking about private “getaway“ spaces – like so-called Zoom rooms – or just go-between areas of the home that are not open environments to take calls or just to relax and enjoy some quiet time.
As people continue working from home, realtors expect certain areas to be outfitted for Zoom chats and video calls.
Anyone for a fabulous getaway space? Escape into this relaxing well-lit window seat in a gorgeous 1.5-story, 2,854-square-foot French style home, and bask in the soothing pastel shades (Plan #142-1209).
A stunning two-story rustic Country manor home comes with many amazing features, including this dedicated crafts room that can be adapted as a Zoom room, a conference call space, or home office (Plan 161-1076).
6. Sophisticated Entertainment and Media Rooms
Without movie theaters, sporting events, field trips, and gatherings, homeowners have been quite creative in fashioning their social activities. This summer, a number of my friends turned their yards into outdoor theaters, complete with popcorn, soda, and candy stands for a series of movie nights.
While the makeshift theater served its purpose, there is no substitute for a space specifically designed as an area to host friends or a room where the family can enjoy activities together. Designers like Jonathan Boone of House Plan Zone LLC say they are seeing people putting more emphasis on the entertaining aspect of the home design – which includes "larger living rooms, larger rear porches, and game rooms added on the main floor."
Check out this amazingly furnished basement in a two-story five-bedroom, 5.5 bath Country style home that serves as an entertainment/social gathering space for family and friends. There’s a bar, fridge, wine cooler, dishwasher, sink and everything a family needs for a cocktail party (Plan #153-1121).
Today’s emerging trend is a multi-purpose entertainment room that may be used to watch movies and sporting events or play games. This area can be furnished with sofas, individual chairs, and if need be, multiple screens to watch different sporting events simultaneously. As a game room, you may want to have a billiards, ping pong, and/or foosball table. And don’t forget a kitchen for snacks, drinks, and entertaining.
Walk inside this comfortably furnished media room of an impressive Country style home; curl up on the sofa; dim the room; and enjoy a movie. The one-story home is spread over 2,686 square feet of living space and includes four bedrooms and a number of amenities (Plan #142-1169).
Here’s a spacious multi-purpose entertainment room in a two-story, 5,638-square-foot luxury home. The room works as a media room, game room with a pool table, and bar for drinks and snacks. The home includes four-bedrooms and a two-story Grand Room (Plan #198-1073).
7. Emphasis on Outdoor Spaces and Wider Porches
While decks, terraces, patios, and other outdoor living spaces have been around for years, Covid-19 has increased and accelerated the demand for them. Today, more people are putting in outdoor kitchens and pools where they can cook, relax, and have fun. With families spending lots of time inside, the need for design features that bring in a lot of natural light and air into the home has become very important.
Windows, porches, decks, and terraces are being redesigned to open seamlessly to the backyard to have one huge outdoor space. For the ultimate comfort and relaxation, the space is outfitted with chairs, lounge and dining furniture, and state-of-the art technology – including flat screen TVs, kitchens, fire pits, and more.
Sit back and relax on the cushioned chairs in this rear porch of a gorgeous two-story Transitional Country style home. The home’s outdoor space includes a swimming pool and outdoor kitchen (Plan #202-1017).
Style and chic are in abundance in this wonderful 1.5-story French Country home with 2,854 square feet of living space. For added curb appeal, there is that wide and welcoming front porch topped by shed dormers. The home comes with three bedrooms, two full baths, Great Room that opens to a large kitchen with an island peninsula and walk-in pantry, a screened back porch, outdoor living space for gatherings, plus a three-car garage (Plan #142-1209).
8. Improved HVAC Systems
Another topic that is coming to the forefront relates to energy and the home’s air filtration system. SW Morgan’s Sam Morgan now talks to his clients about indoor air quality, and has been recommending a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV) in their mechanical system for continuous air circulation through the house.
Heat-recovery ventilators (HRVs) or energy-recovery ventilation (ERV) systems transfer heat or coolness from stale exhaust air to fresh intake air. This balanced ventilation solution removes excess moisture, odors, and contaminants while conserving energy and enhancing comfort in the home.
While not design-related, Morgan insists that “designers could and should be talking to clients about things like this that they probably don’t know anything about.“
Ventilation unit with heat pump & ground heat exchanger – cooling. The heat -recovery unit in the attic transfers heat to and from incoming ventilation air as required by the season (Illustration by Kobraklb under license CC BY-SA 3.0).
9. Touchless Technology
In 1918, America was exposed to the powder room as a sanitation station before entering the home; Covid-19 may bring more touchless tech features into the big picture. Designers note that hands-free fixtures will become standard in years to come. We already have some exciting features in maintaining a safe and healthy home design like touchless faucets and bidets. These faucets help family members and guests wash their hands and sanitize without spreading germs on the handles.
More forward-thinking homeowners are now investing gadgets like automatic toilet flushers and motion-sensor garbage cans to reduce contact with surfaces that may harbor germs. Next up will be keyless entry-based systems with voice and image recognition. And why not? If we can have keyless cars, we can certainly get used to these home fixtures that focus on a healthy design.
With healthy home design in mind, watch for more smart home technology features – like touchless water faucets (source: amazon.com).
As lifestyles and the function of the home changed with Covid-19, more attention has been focused on residential design and shifting feature preferences. Whatever innovations the pandemic brings to building and home design, history has shown that the architectural reaction to public health crises has been nothing if not creative and imaginative.
Footnote: The top left photograph in the lead image of this article is the amazing outdoor living space – which includes a swimming pool and outdoor kitchen – in a two-story Country Transitional style home. For more details on the beautiful 3,254-square-foot home with four bedrooms, go to Plan #202-1017.