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10 ways that the pandemic has changed home design and decor

No one expected the pandemic. And certainly no one anticipated its impact. There are at least 10 ways that the pandemic has changed home design and decor.

One day, life is normal. You go to work and the kids go to school. You hit the gym before heading home or make plans to go out to dinner. The next day, everyone is sent home indefinitely and your entire household is together 24/7.  

It only took a few months (maybe less) for cabin fever to shift homeowners into a different perspective on their home. Home centers were bombarded with DIYers looking to tackle home improvement projects—out of necessity, boredom, or both. 

Other people decided that the low interest rates and the flaws of their current home were enough incentive to go out and buy a new home. Inventory was quickly depleted. In spite of shortages in materials and labor—and the CDC’s safety restrictions—homebuilders have tried to meet the demand for new construction homes. However, they are recognizing the need to make some design changes to accommodate the pandemic’s impact on what buyers want as priorities have clearly shifted.

A history of health-directed design influences

It’s not the first time that a health crisis changed home design. Back in 19th century homes, bathrooms were quite elegant, with heavy drapery and carpeted floors. When the cholera outbreak erupted in London and spread worldwide between 1846 and 1860, those germ-collecting features were replaced with tiles that were easier to clean.

The 1918 flu pandemic caused 50 million deaths around the world. Homeowner installed small bathrooms on the main floor to allow guests to wash up without moving through the rest of the home. White subway tiles were added because they showed dirt more readily. This first-floor bathroom represents the start of what is today’s powder room.

In the 1920s and 1930s, clinics treating tuberculosis recognized the importance of natural light and fresh air in helping patients. The idea spread to residential design with the addition of more and larger windows, balconies, and sunrooms.

So let’s look at the specific features that homebuyers want as a result of living through a pandemic.

#1. Office at home, not a home office

If you didn’t already have a designated workspace at home when the pandemic hit, you probably scrambled to make do with what you had. 2021 home design has made it a priority to design dedicated workspaces. It’s not a nook tucked in an unused corner, but a bona fide office. The space is designed with functionality, a location that allows business visitors easy access, and accoutrements like a private bath and storage closet. 

New homes also incorporate wiring for technology, ensuring you have a robust signal that can handle your many work devices,

Finally, for home office design, consider the importance of a background wall for your Zoom calls.

#2. Multi-use in the under-utilized areas

You probably had various under-utilized spaces where you tossed things you had nowhere else to store. The garage and basement were frequent gathering places. But now, with more functions required in the household, those areas—plus guest and flex rooms and a loft—are repurposed. A home gym, hobby studio, homework station, and a workshop for the growing list of DIY projects are some of the ways homeowners are making the most of their homes.

New home design takes these needs into consideration. Floor plans include more flex spaces. Bedrooms and lofts incorporate workspaces. Garages are being made large enough to accommodate a workshop, storage, and maybe a second refrigerator or freezer. Designers are also presenting more options for a finished basement to add to the home’s living space, like a rec room, fitness space, a second living room, or additional bedrooms. 

#3. More organization

In the beginning, you stockpiled paper towels, canned goods, water, and pasta. No one quite understands why. With so much more to store, where did you put it all? Pantries were overflowing. The garage was getting cramped. And you knew if you opened the hall closet, you’d be struck by an avalanche of paper products. 

Overstocking created a need for more and better organization. New homes address the need with larger, walk-in pantries and the optional butler’s pantry—a nook that connects the kitchen and formal dining room. It’s a space for storing anything from serving pieces to wine and drinks. And if you have a surplus of small kitchen appliances, this butler’s pantry (also known as a service kitchen) is ideal for keeping them handy but out of the way. 

Homebuilders are also looking at converting more square footage to closets and storage space, like in the family entry, foyer, and linen closets.

#4. Color shift

Seeking energy, homeowners have shifted from the common neutrals to making a bold statement with more vivid colors. They’re getting a little braver with kitchen cabinet color or painting a wall (hey, it’s just paint!). Bathrooms have shed the rule that dark colors make them look small. And if you don’t want to go too bold on the walls or cabinets, infuse pops of bright colors in rugs, furniture, and accents. 

#5. Comfort zone

In contrast to energetic colors, there’s a need for calm. Having a comfort zone where you can recharge your mental batteries is a useful area. It can be a cozy nook by a window that streams natural light or a sitting area in your bedroom. Maybe your comfort zone is a soaking tub in your bathroom. Home designers have recognized that people need to find solace in their homes after so much turmoil so they’re emphasizing ways to create a comfort zone in a floor plan. 

#6. Owning the owner’s suite

The owner’s suite has become more luxurious in new home designs, A much-needed and deserved retreat, the bedroom can feature a seating area. Unwind in your own way—relaxing or working out. Even situate your office within the confines of your private bedroom. The en suite bath, which has become more luxurious in recent years, became more important than ever, with essential features like a soaking tub and rain showerhead getting more appreciation. 

#7. The cloffice

In desperation for a quick fix to needing a home office space, some homeowners converted their walk-in closet to serve this purpose. If your floor plan allows for a change, maybe you can still have your office and your closet, too. Home designers have now recognized the value of situating an office in or adjacent to the owner’s suite.

#8. A little less open

The open concept remains strong but after more than a year of sharing the space, homebuyers are now looking for more closed-off spaces for privacy. Walls and doors are essential for many functions, like working, studying, exercising, and even critical “alone time”.

#9. Cleaner and healthier

New homes need to address the concerns for healthier living at home. From indoor air quality to germ-free surfaces, home designers are taking it all into account. Touch-free technology (lights, faucets, thermostats, and even toilet seats!) prevents the spread of germs. The use of copper, bronze, and brass for knobs and door handles uses these antimicrobial materials that naturally kill germs and bacteria, reducing the need to frequently disinfect.

#10. Expand outdoor living

No one enjoys feeling cooped up. Outdoor living spaces might have been a nice extra prior to 2020, but now they are must-haves. A back deck, porch, or patio creates a place to relax and entertain outdoors. The addition of an outdoor fireplace and/or kitchen has become a feature that hits a big item on many homebuyers’ wish lists.

How has your priority list changed since early 2020? What changes have you made to your home? If you’re in the DC Metro region, Kettler Forlines Homes designs, builds, and remodels homes that address all of the current concerns. We’ve been building in this region for more than 40 years, and that experience ensures you get the results you want. Contact us to learn more about the home you have today and the one you envision for the years ahead.