I can’t go anywhere so I might as well enjoy what I’m looking at here
by Matthew Morley
Funny how, before a global pandemic made it mandatory, the idea of having more time to spend at home was probably high on many people’s wish lists. A few months of enforced downtime, social isolation, and 24/7 family bonding, however, likely opened more than a few eyes regarding how well these same shelters worked in the so-called “new normal.” If nothing else, COVID-19 certainly provided anyone living beneath a roof with plenty of time to carefully consider potential edits and improvements to their living spaces.
As this is being written, the country is beginning to emerge from the shelter in place experience. With the future uncertain regarding coronavirus, it’s entirely possible we may be expected to repeat that experience in the near or distant future, and if so, our dwelling spaces may demand greater flexibility and functionality in order to bridge our human needs for both privacy and connectivity.
What changes will best improve a home’s versatility? Here’s a look at several home design concepts that are likely to play a prominent role in the next generation of living spaces.
Separating work and home, at home
A logical outcome of the COVID-19 experience is likely to be a much wider acceptance of work-from-home policies, and along with that the need for home-based workspaces that can accommodate productive virtual officing. Non-dedicated home office space might have been fine for working from home one or two days a week, but working full-time at home necessitates minimizing distractions and maintaining a clear division of work and home life.
The ideal scenario is to simply repurpose an unused extra bedroom or niche into an office. If that’s not an option, instead think about creating dedicated spaces for work. You may have to get creative, setting up a desk in a guest bedroom, or creating a built-in wall unit or bookshelf to double as a workspace. Consider modifying kitchen or living room spaces, utilizing closet space, or retrofitting basement and garage space.
If you have the space, think about adding a little, extra, tiny house to your property, a 200–400-square-foot structure that could do double or triple duty as an office, a guest suite, and/or an art studio. If you’re handy with a hammer, you might even build your own structure from a kit, such as our timber frame kits. The Garage Plan with Apartment is the quintessential multi-purpose structure, with an endless number of possibilities for use.
Rethinking the open floor plan
When the pandemic forced entire families home for months on end, communal living spaces suddenly exploded in population. While Mom handled a deposition via Zoom at one end of the kitchen island and Dad scrutinized spreadsheets at the other, the kids were “at school” in the living room, Zooming with teachers and working on assignments. Many homeowners quickly realized the open floor plan concept they used to love was now a little too open. As shelter-in-place orders are lifted and life returns to normal, expect to see an architectural return to compartmentalized spaces, as well as smart repurposing of existing areas, such as office niches in kitchens, and built-ins that provide activity space and subtle room separation.
Spas, home gyms, and yoga studios
In a time when it was important to stay healthy, it was a shock to many to find they could not even work out at their local gym. In a post-virus world, we are contemplating how to keep up with healthy routines despite closures and social distancing issues. One solution is to create a home spa or fitness room—a dedicated space for exercise, meditation, and yoga practice. Your instructor may be on Zoom, but who cares? All you need is a mat, a space, and maybe an iPad or TV.
Has bathroom space ever not been a premium home amenity? No, we love our bathrooms. And for those living in one- or two-bathroom dwellings, the recent stay-at-home orders made it painfully clear that these intimate spaces need to be able to accommodate more than one person at a time. One solution is to take advantage of the Japanese and European concepts of separate bathroom fixtures, since this allows multiple people to use the same space without sacrificing on privacy and comfort. For example, separating the toilet area and the shower/tub space from the sink area is a simple and effective way to provide flexibility. Jack-and-Jill bathrooms also accommodate multiple users simultaneously, and with space-saving design.
Another solution is simply adding a half or three-quarter bathroom to your living space. It’s a relatively high-dollar investment that will pay off handsomely in convenience now, and resale later.
Maximizing outdoor living space
If we’ve learned one thing about this pandemic, it’s that being outdoors is a great way to combat stress and anxiety. Make the most of your own outdoor spaces by adding outdoor features. An outdoor kitchen, a pavilion, a pergola, or a patio shade structure can dramatically expand your living areas, offering clean, safe space to gather with the whole family for activities and meals.
Gardens great and small
Gardening is one hobby that exploded during COVID, drawing people out of their homes and into the fresh air. Especially in tighter urban spaces, creating some kind of garden area—even a tiny nook of potted vegetables or flowers on a small balcony—extends one’s living space and gives a feeling of space and connection to the outdoors. You might even consider putting together a greenhouse kit as we did. Plus, gardening is an act of sustainability—something reassuring in these uncertain times.