What will a post-pandemic living space look like?
Image credit: Dreamstime
Covid has accelerated the pace at which our homes are evolving into hybrid spaces where we work, exercise and play. It’s time to think in a joined-up way about how they can be designed to be fit for purpose in the years to come.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made people dramatically reassess their relationships with their homes. As lockdowns forced us to live under stay-at-home orders, we made significant changes to cope with the pressures of juggling all aspects of our lives stuck indoors for prolonged periods of time.
Now, as we move beyond the pandemic and permanently adopt some of the lifestyle changes we’ve made, what are the lasting implications for the design of our living spaces, furniture and home products? What opportunities are there to transform our homes for the better going forward?
By April 2020, half of the world’s population was in lockdown, and as we adapted to the ‘new normal’, many took the opportunity to adapt their homes as well. Sales of consumer goods surged – garden furniture, storage, printers, TVs, games consoles, computers, audio equipment, exercise equipment and cooking equipment all became massively popular. Meanwhile, DIY retailers reported huge growth in sales and profits as consumers tackled home improvement projects.
All these purchases helped turn our homes into multi-modal living environments. Those not blessed with enough space for dedicated spare rooms resorted to setting up laptops on dining tables to become makeshift home offices and classrooms, or put exercise machines into corners of living rooms to become home gyms, or upgraded audio-visual equipment to become home entertainment hubs. As a result, our homes became filled with new products with nowhere to live after use.
At the other end of the spectrum, we began to question the fixed architectural spaces we live in, with increased demand for movable furniture as a way to zone-off living spaces as our needs changed throughout the day. There are products that exist to solve this challenge. For example, the Pocket Studio Plus by Ori, an MIT spinout – which, through the innovative use of a motorised L-shaped ‘bulkhead’ that travels along a runner mounted on the floor, can transform a bedroom with a walk-in closet into a private home office, and then into a living room. Whether such innovations become mainstream or continue to be the preserve of niche, interior design projects remains to be seen.
Even though futurologists have anticipated that home-working patterns would eventually become the norm, the pandemic accelerated this trend overnight. What began as a sticking-plaster solution to an extreme situation has now evolved into a way of working that is set to continue for the foreseeable future. As the world returns to a ‘new normal’, many workers and businesses are offering a hybrid approach to both home and office working.
The tools for home working however - laptops, peripherals and accessories - were designed to go travelling on business trips, sit in offices and only occasionally be taken home. Instead, these gun-metal grey slabs have sat in our homes for prolonged periods of time, failing to blend in. Some solutions are starting to emerge, with furniture pieces designed to hide away our home working tech when not in use and tech products that visually integrate better into our home environment. Apple’s iMac all-in-one computer, through its many iterations over the years, has sought to do just this – an item of desirability from all angles that supplements our interior décor rather than fights against it.
For bulkier home technology that cannot be easily hidden, the answer was to reduce its footprint. Some good examples can be found in the smart home gym sector – like Tempo Studio, a compact freestanding AI-powered home weight trainer that comes with an integrated screen and dumbbell storage. As gyms closed during the pandemic, people turned to purchasing exercise equipment, and whilst the lockdown was a great way for these products to establish themselves we expect their popularity to continue, either as a complement to reopened gyms, or to replace the gym experience altogether.
We do so much more in our homes these days. They are no longer traditional sanctuaries of rest, but places where we work, exercise, socialise and play. As we progress beyond the pandemic, certain lifestyle trends are set to remain, including working from home and home exercising.
The expected hybrid functionality of our future homes represents an opportunity for joined-up thinking to deliver future living spaces that are fit for purpose. It will require the alignment of different sectors though. For example, consumer product companies need to visually integrate products better into homes, furniture companies must create flexible, mainstream, and affordable solutions that can renew our spaces from one mode to another, and the architecture of our homes should also accommodate these developments. Indeed architects, designers, and technologists all need to work together to better understand people’s ever-changing needs around the home, to create better, and more connected experiences.
Whichever way you look, our homes are ripe for innovation.
Tim Wooller is principal - industrial design at PDD.
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