Health consciousness will be the norm.
How the world will change post-pandemic remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: the pandemic may be temporary but its impact on home design will likely last generations as our houses become formidable fortresses against future viral threats.
“I think the pandemic is really going to cause some permanent changes in the way we think about design to the same level that the flu and tuberculosis caused major changes in the way we lived 100 years ago,” says Lloyd Alter, design editor for Treehugger, a sustainability website, and adjunct professor of sustainable design at Ryerson University’s School of Interior Design in Toronto.
Indeed, tuberculosis and the Spanish flu, along with typhoid and polio breakouts, prompted changes a century ago that emphasized cleanliness and a belief that less is more. “Where the Victorians had big, overstuffed furniture and cluttered rooms and stuff everywhere, suddenly you got modernism,” he says.
Large windows became popular because they provided fresh air and natural light, which were among the most helpful therapies in preventing the spread of illness and reducing mortality.
“They didn’t have anything to actually kill the disease other than cleanliness and that’s the situation that we’re in right now,” Alter says.
He weighs in on some of the features that might become commonplace:
Improved air filtration. The pandemic will push demand for better mechanical systems, ventilation, air filtering and humidity control, Alter says.
He’s an advocate of the Passive House, a construction concept that emerged in Germany and eliminates the need for mechanical heating and cooling of a building through the use of strategies like natural ventilation, solar heat gain and solar shading, and efficient insulation.
Sustainable design, which once focused largely on designing buildings that are healthy for the environment, will continue to evolve. Alter points to the WELL Building Standard, a global rating system that focuses exclusively on the ways that buildings and everything in them can improve our comfort, drive better choices and generally enhance – and not compromise – our health and wellness.
“WELL hasn’t come down to the residential level yet,” he says. “It will, but the principles are all there – the principles being careful materials, careful lighting, careful choice of everything you bring into the house, right down to what you put in the fridge. It’s a much larger, holistic picture.”
Functional bathrooms. Spa-style bathrooms remain in vogue, but we may see a return to more functional bathrooms “where you go to get clean.” They’re feature finishes that are easy to clean, hands-free fixtures and toilets housed in their own enclosures.
Alter provides the example of an architect who split a traditional bathroom into separate rooms: one for the tub, another for sinks, another for the shower and still another for the toilet, reducing the number of bathrooms but not impacting a family’s ability to use its facilities.
Other designers believe future homebuyers will want one bathroom for every bedroom so if a family member falls sick, they can self quarantine and keep their germs to themselves.
Mudrooms/transition spaces. Mudrooms, once the domain of farmhouses because boots were perennially muddy, could surge in popularity just like powder rooms did following the flu pandemic of 1918.
Powder rooms were billed as a way to sanitize quickly upon first entering a home but mudrooms take that even further, with the potential to become ‘transition’ spaces not unlike the makeshift decontamination zones frontline workers have created to safely toss their clothes into the laundry and sanitize their hands before entering their homes.
Flexibility will also be important moving forward, as many spaces will serve numerous purposes, such as a bedroom that doubles as an office or an exercise room. “We’re going to have to start thinking about different ways people get into their houses,” Alter says.
“Should that flex room have a separate door to the outside so that I can meet clients or that a caregiver can visit without coming through the whole house?”
Functional home offices. If you’ve been working from home during the pandemic, you know the home office isn’t going anywhere. “The home office is going to become much more important than it ever was and it’s even going to evolve,” Alter says. “What it has to be now is like a Zoom room – a home studio that’s basically got soundproofing and a green wall behind you and decent lighting because we’re doing more of that than just sitting at desks working.”