In the span of just a few months, shelter-in-place orders and the spread of COVID-19 have shifted Americans’ relationships with home spaces, and a number of home professionals expect design trends and buyer preferences to change as a result.
Early evidence would seem to suggest that buyers are developing new priorities for their homes. Google search trends for “home office,” “home gym,” and “healthy home” have remained high since the start of the pandemic, and respondents to a survey conducted by Realtor.com and Toluna Insight reported a growing fatigue with small spaces and a desire for outdoor space in their next homes.
With the situation ongoing, it is hard to say what will definitively follow for new-home design trends once “normal” conditions resume. Some predictions are based on the practical realities of shelter in place and others on the psychological impact of the viral threat. However, as home sales continue and construction remains an essential business, the homes built today will serve the needs of consumers for years to come.
Here are a few things designers and other professionals are keeping in mind for the future:
1. The Home Office
Homes have served as offices, school spaces, gyms, and nearly full-time family shelters since about mid-March, and families have found it difficult to find the right space for each activity, or privacy for themselves. While opinions are divided on the fate of the open floor plan, dedicated and private spaces are likely to be more important for new buyers.
A home office space will likely be in high demand for the future, especially as some workers (and companies) shift to working from home full time. “As the tools to work from home get better, the next generation of buyers may start to look for homes where living spaces and working spaces are more defined or adaptable. For some families, that might mean multiple adults need work space,” says Dwayne MacEwen, architecture principal and creative director at DMAC.
Thanks to Zoom and other video platforms, MacEwen also notes a desire for office spaces that not only function well but also look good on camera. Considerations include lighting, fresh air, and tech infrastructure depending on user needs.
2. Multipurpose Spaces
For smaller homes with limited space, one room can be designed to serve multiple purposes. “A living room may seamlessly convert into a gym and an office may transform into a bedroom, all with a great deal of ease,” says Jairo Vives, lead architect at Pininfarina. “From a design standpoint, we will begin to determine the use of a space by considering all potential uses from the start.”
3. Healthy and Antimicrobial Living
Health, safety, and wellness are expected to be more important to homeowners than ever before, especially as states begin to reopen. Product manufacturers are anticipating this new environment by highlighting antimicrobial home fixtures and finishes in their catalogs. These include the use of metal such as brass or copper, fabrics such as polyester or vinyl, or exterior coatings such as INOX’s new antimicrobial hardware finish.
MacEwen anticipates the return of a threshold or vestibule into a living space, specifically as a health safety measure. “I don’t think open plans are going away, but the threshold into the dwelling unit may make a comeback,” he says. “[It] may also serve as a sort of ‘mantrap’ entry between the outside world and the dwelling unit. I can imagine these spaces programmed with hand-washing stations and UV sanitation for protective gear.”
Beyond antimicrobial protection, designers emphasize the importance of personal well-being as people spend more time indoors. Buyers will look for homes that are pleasant to spend long periods of time in. “Air quality and sources of natural light will likely be a top priority, as we continue to see the positive impacts of biophilia on human well-being,” Vives says.
As noted above, outdoor spaces have already become a higher priority for personal well-being, especially for first-time buyers moving from apartments without private outdoor space.
4. Tech Infrastructure
Designers anticipate not only an increased need for smart home technology, but also a need for that technology to be touchless, in order to reduce the spread of microbes.
“Automation will no longer be an indulgence but will help keep people safe,” MacEwen says. “As the memory of the pandemic fades, I do think the ‘best practice’ for hygiene will remain and change the way we interact in the world and what we expect from our home."
5. Kitchen Focus
“In recent years the kitchen has become the most important space in the house, and the pandemic is pushing this trend forward,” says Mary Maydan, founder and principal of Maydan Architects. “I am sure future homeowners will spend even more on their kitchens, wishing to make it spacious enough to cook and hang out in, equipped with great appliances and efficient. We are going back to basics, thinking first of the things that we need that are crucial, not things that we need to impress people with or have to make a statement.”
6. Aging in Place
Louis Delaware, co-founder of the Living in Place Institute, predicts a greater preference for in-home care for aging family members over nursing homes or assisted living in the years to come. As such, both he and LIPI co-founder Erik Listou believe that the pandemic will create a rise in demand for home accessibility features, including larger bathrooms, a greater smart home technology infrastructure, and the incorporation of personal hygiene (or bidet) toilets and seats.
Toilet paper shortages aside, personal hygiene toilets have been popular with home accessibility professionals for their ease of use and remote control options. “One reason someone ends up moving out of their house and into assisted living is because they draw the line at having somebody take care of their personal hygiene,” says Listou.