It had to happen. The COVID-19 lockdowns have left us much wiser about our homes, a fact of great interest to think tanks studying consumer trends, and builders and home goods manufacturers are paying close attention.
This means that homeowners can look forward to rafts of new home designs and products that respond to demands caused by the pandemic.
It’s hard to think of a group more interested in shifting consumer attitudes than the National Association of Home Builders, and its research shows major post-pandemic changes.
Rose Quint, an NAHB economist and researcher, explained that once forced into isolation, we became aware of needs that weren’t obvious before the pandemic. For example, the open floor plan finally lost its luster. When families were forced to live together 24/7, they realized how noisy and chaotic this layout can be.
“People now understand that a much more calculated layout is needed to work and relax better,” she said. “So now their priorities are outdoor spaces, porches, more space for working at home, in-law suites, privacy, organization, and surfaces and home systems that defy contamination.
“The connection between health and home design is well-established,” she added. “Changes like this also happened after the Spanish flu epidemic of the early 1900s. Wood and oil cloth floors gave way to easier-to-clean tile or linoleum. Built-in kitchen cabinets replaced free-standing units that were too heavy to move for effective cleaning underneath and behind, and wallpapers got easy-clean coatings. White subway tile became hugely popular because it wasn’t just easy to clean, but it practically shouted cleanliness.”
Similarly, she said, second-floor porches that allowed open-air sleeping became popular during the tuberculosis epidemic of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Lancaster follows suit
Lancaster County builders and architects agree that the pandemic has changed homeowner priorities in major ways, and their newest projects reaffirm NAHB’s findings.
Architect Dana Clark of Tippets/Weaver, an award-winning Lancaster architectural firm, sees great interest in porches, better connections with the outdoors, and extra space that can be used in multiple ways, while Jared Erb of Custom Home Group, Quarryville, finds unexpected increased interest in larger homes.
“This is the first time in many years that people want larger homes,” Erb said. “People want room for more family members, more activities and privacy. And we have been surprised by lots of requests to soundproof rooms. Extra insulation is something previously limited to exterior walls. Also, buyers are now ordering finished basements right off the bat. That used to be something they would do down the road.”
“People are clamoring for well-designed, healthy homes that work well for the entire family, and that almost always translates into more space,” he said. “For one thing, so many people, aghast at losing connection with elderly relatives during the pandemic, now want to bring them into their homes. Then there’s the home office, which had lost much of its popularity in recent years. Now people want two home offices, virtually his and hers. Home schooling is another activity that has entered the picture. So we’re seeing lots of remodeling aimed at expanding home sizes and also an increase in ADUs, accessory dwelling units. This could be a converted garage or barn or even a large backyard shed.”
Clark’s own parents, John and Brenda Clark, chose 2021 to start an expansion of their Lititz home. For them Clark designed a much larger, airy kitchen plus an enclosed porch.
“I love cooking and baking for my family and friends,” Brenda Clark said. “And in this new kitchen, I have lots of windows for natural light, great views of the garden, and room for socializing without people being too close.”
Adding a porch to his Manheim Township home was something Paul Fulmer had wanted for years, and he finally went ahead with the project.
“Knowing the restrictive effects of COVID on indoor socializing, we made the jump,” Fulmer said. “We wanted a space to enjoy the company of family and friends even when the pandemic made this very difficult. It has worked well. We spend more time outside now, which I think is good for the soul. Our children, too, love the porch for entertaining their friends.”
Health by design
Sanitizing the house has become a top concern, with entrance ways, kitchens and baths requiring the most attention.
Speaking for the National Kitchen and Bath Association, designers mention buffer zones and sanitizing stations in entrance halls and mud rooms, and laundry rooms are now being placed near the entrance. It’s convenient to be able to throw masks and clothes right into the washer when you get home, they explain.
Kitchen islands are becoming larger to meet their expanding roles, such as a homework spot for both kids and parents. Valerie Corsaro of cabinet manufacturer Clive Christian Furniture that 10-foot islands are now replacing 8-foot versions, and she was recently asked for a 16-foot version in a remodeling project. Also, easier-to-clean large slabs of stone are replacing intricately tiled surfaces. Anti-bacterial materials are in high demand as well.
Freezers and refrigerators are growing bigger to make fewer grocery shopping trips.
“The 42-inch French-door refrigerator/freezer is the new 36-inch,” Corsaro said. “And because they’re cooking more, people are now asking for two sinks and two dishwashers.”
The NKBA calls good ventilation a definite must in the post-pandemic kitchen, and since fresh air is newly appreciated outdoor kitchens are more sought after than ever.
New germ-defying features for the kitchen include edgeless sinks, touchless faucets, and voice-activated ovens, dishwashers and refrigerators.
The pandemic has driven many bathroom upgrades as well. For example, more people started asking for bidets, especially with the toilet paper disaster at the beginning of the pandemic. And while self-flushing toilets and touchless faucets have long been staples in public restrooms, they are now coming home.
Actually, current bath design can appear a bit schizophrenic. A Houzz survey shows that 41% of homeowners want a spa-like bath, soothing and relaxing. On the other hand they are also attracted to ultra techy features, such as self-filling tubs, toilets capable of analyzing their contents and chromotherapy showers.
But much more is on the radar. For example, a wellness toilet and a bathroom-specific fridge to store beauty products were among the “future” products shown at the recent Consumer Electronics Show.
Already here is a free-standing tub with 42 jets providing massage while also keeping the warm bathwater, LED-lighted mirrors that can be tweaked to different settings and also stream the news, and a shower that’ll blast you with a 3-gallon -a-minute-spray while using 80% less water than a typical shower.
But will the legacy of the pandemic’s effect on home design last? Architects and designers point out that during the quarantines we did more than adopt hygiene-related routines. We also learned to make the most of our home-bound lifestyles. So yes, they believe that the focus on design that improves both our physical and mental well-being will continue.