By Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki
What does the turmoil of the Coronavirus mean for new homes and communities? For starters, we are all spending more time at home, and gaining a greater appreciation for, or frustration of, all the things that come with that. Themes like safety, social isolation, health and hygiene taking top spot on the list of things consumers say are most important. And what started as work from home, thanks (or no thanks) to the virus, may have morphed into something bigger and more important for those of us involved in home and community development, says J. Walker Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer, Brand & Marketing of KANTAR, a leading data, consumer insights and global consulting practice. Walker calls it “LFH,” or life from home.
The pause button has been hit for sure on most sectors of the economy. But it will wake up, and when it does, is it possible that LFH becomes a core driver? To quote Walker in a webinar he gave on Tuesday of this week on the state of the pandemic and its effect on politics and business, “Is it possible that home could become the ‘new car’ in the sense that post-WW2 life has been built around the car? Will post-pandemic life be rebuilt around the home instead?” Our emotional connection with home and community has never been stronger.
In my neighborhood we now have a group text called “Lower Ranch Road” and with one text, I can reach out to my neighbors in the ten houses closest to me. Inspired by what’s happening in Italy, our Lower Ranch Road group comes out to the end of our driveways each night at 7:00 pm to check in and wave at each other, making sure everyone is good and doesn’t need anything. As I’m writing this, a neighbor across the street texted me the photo shown above of the mother hummingbird sitting on her nest with the caption, “Spring on Ranch Road.” This Friday at 6:00 pm we’re gathering – ten feet apart from each other – around the tree in the middle of the roundabout and having a socially distant dinner together.
If these new routines stick, lifestyles after we come out of this crisis could be re-made around the home the same way they were remade around the car after WW2. Back then, driving spurred the growth of the suburban master-planned community, drive-thrus, convenience stores, large centrally-located shopping malls and a car-centric culture that still exists, no matter how hard we all try and break it with new community concepts and more sustainable neighborhood-scale walkable living. Walker is wise to caution against any disruption (this one included) causing a massive about face. But he says we can expect this disruption to clear the way for underlying trends already out there to become more mainstream.
In home design, that means:
- Smaller footprint homes, more attainably priced will continue to be the product type of choice. While economists are revising their projections daily, if consumers re-boot how they earn a living or pivot to a different career, attainability will matter.
- Home wellness technology to monitor health, track at-home fitness, and maybe even the temperatures of visitors coming and going.
- Floorplans need to become more multi-functional, for working from home, for gathering with others, and for supporting multi-generational activities all happening at once. No wasted space, and more space that can be made to work however the person or family living there needs it to. Laundry sinks could be replaced with tubs that double as DIY dog washes – something we’re considering in my family. And I’ve seen at least three garages turned into home gyms – makes me think there will be a market for more affordable smaller fitness and indoor cycling options.
- Storage, storage, storage, everywhere – hidden in plain sight. Storage that works, and isn’t just an excuse for what to do with small remnant spaces. And what about tastefully-designed, near the front door hand sanitizer dispensers?
- Indoor/outdoor spaces that work. Porches actually deep enough to sit comfortably in a chair – sometimes this means an extra foot and it adds cost. My bet is consumers will value this and make trade-offs elsewhere for it.
I am hopeful that homes will be the post-WW2 car. I know for sure the innovators and creators that make this industry so great will come out of this stronger and more committed to doing everything possible to contribute to creating spaces and places for people who, more than ever, have come to see the importance of home.
Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki is the principal of tst ink, bringing a customer-focused “how might we?” approach to creating communities and brands that connect and engage with how people want to live their lives.