Where Home Design is Headed

By Sue Bady

My previous blog post explored two current developments in real estate, i.e., higher demand for housing in the suburbs and a higher percentage of adaptive reuse activity, where existing buildings are renovated as apartments. In this post, three leading American architects call out specific modifications in housing design that buyers are beginning to see in the market and will continue to see.

Healthier, greener, local

If 2020 has taught us anything about designing houses, it’s that we need to be concerned about healthy living spaces, climate action, and an equitable economy, says Nathan Kipnis, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C.

“There is a clear intersection of [these three] primary concerns, and we all need to take [them] into account,” says Kipnis, principal of Kipnis Architecture + Planning, based in Evanston, Ill., who recently opened a second office in Boulder, Colo.

Kipnis feels that the incoming Biden administration is “primed for action” and that there will be a continuing push to integrate greater levels of high-performance, energy-efficient design; a newly focused understanding (thanks to the pandemic) of healthy spaces and features in homes; and the utilization of local materials and workers to stimulate the economy.

Long-term effects of pandemic

COVID-19 is already impacting home design and will continue to do so, says Deryl Patterson, AIA, president of Housing Design Matters in Jacksonville, Fla. Patterson identifies eight specific trends:

  1. Work/school from home: There will be multiple workspaces within the home for mom, dad, and the kids. Acoustical privacy is addressed through Zoom meetings and phone calls. Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) can serve as detached home offices or backyard classrooms.
  2. Increased home deliveries: With both deliveries and theft by porch pirates on the rise, homeowners might want to consider a parcel delivery vestibule—a concept borrowed from cold climates. The vestibule has two front doors: the first allowing access to the vestibule and the second allowing entry to the home. Packages can be left out of sight from the street and out of the elements. Adding HVAC vents prevents the vestibule from getting too hot or cold. If the outer door has an electronic lock and video monitoring doorbell, delivery personnel can simply ring the doorbell to gain access. “It’s conditioned space for grocery deliveries and [prepared] meals, which is great for seniors who are vulnerable or don’t want to drive at night,” Patterson says. It’s also a feature that new-home builders might want to consider offering as an option in their next project.
  3. Outdoor living: With the pandemic has come an increased awareness of the importance of fresh air and sunshine. Outdoor space is tough to come by in multifamily buildings, which don’t always have balconies, so it behooves developers and designers to include courtyards, patios, and other outdoor areas. In single-family homes, “the front porch offers social distance without social isolation, which is really important for seniors living alone to feel connected,” she says.
  4. Home gym: The closing of fitness centers caused demand for home gyms to surge. Popular exercise equipment from such companies as Peloton, Bowflex, and NordicTrack is on back order, Patterson says, and homeowners are booking Zoom fitness sessions with personal trainers and Pilates instructors. She thinks it’s possible that the home gym could replace the media room typically located in the basement or on the second floor.
  5. Stay-at-home vacation: When their trips overseas were cancelled, many Americans invested that money back into their homes, installing pools and spaces, artificial putting greens, and outdoor grilling centers. Who needs to travel?
  6. Discovering one’s inner gourmet: With limited access to restaurants, more people are cooking at home and discovering they need a kitchen remodel, with bigger pantries and high-end appliances. Think proofing ovens for baking bread and wine refrigerators.
  7. Rental solutions: In multifamily buildings, Patterson recommends avoiding common stairwells and elevators and turning instead to private entries, such as a first-floor entrance, a private staircase for the second-floor unit, or a private elevator. “Detached apartments, single-family rentals, individual entries, and private outdoor spaces were initially thought ideal for dog owners,” she says. “Now they’re solutions for COVID.”
  8. Clubhouses and common areas: There is a greater focus on outdoor activities, says Patterson, such as yoga on the lawn, putting greens, and bocce courts. Smaller gathering spaces will become the norm, as well as three-season outdoor rooms with fans for the summer and heaters for cooler weather.

Upping the efficiency of floor plans

Living spaces don’t necessarily have to be bigger, but they should work at the highest level of efficiency, says Donald J. Ruthroff, AIA, principal of the Neighborhood Residential Studio at Dahlin Group Architecture|Planning, Pleasanton, Calif. This and other trends are reflected in the data that Dahlin Group is collecting through the America At Home study and will be incorporated in the concept home that Garman Homes was building at press time in the Raleigh/Durham market.

Ruthroff explains, “It’s not a bigger kitchen, but a kitchen that has creative storage solutions. It’s not a bigger great room, but a room that works for gathering as a family and secondary spaces that are connected but can be isolated for other functions. There is dedicated office space—not the large book-lined spaces with huge desks of old, but appropriately sized spaces with some sort of door/partition that provides privacy and allows for calls from home.”

A “public” living room, offering space to entertain guests without having them step foot inside the home. Farm to Table Juice Kitchen, photograph by Diana Sell Photography

Other tweaks include:

  • Master baths that are luxurious, but not enormous. Space in oversized bathrooms is being reallocated for larger closets and retreat spaces off the master bedroom.
  • A European concept called the Family Bath, a larger second bath utilized by the secondary bedrooms. The Family Bath has a private water closet, a tub and shower, and dual vanities.
  • The return of the vestibule at the front entry, which allows homeowners to control entry into their private space, allows for package management, and pairs nicely with an adjacent powder room or bath.
  • Even more emphasis on a functional family entry—not just a drop zone, but storage for shoes, coats, and packages. A bath and/or laundry room adjacent to this entry permits handling of clothing that has been exposed to higher risk work environments.
  • Accessibility of the rear yard from the front or secondary outdoor spaces/courtyards to permit greeting and entertaining guests without having them enter the home.
  • Flexible garage spaces that can be converted into additional living space or outdoor rooms.
  • Additional flexibility in secondary bedrooms through the elimination of built-in strip closets. Where walk-in closets are not provided, making the built-in closet an option allows homeowners to be creative with closet solutions and therefore the arrangement of the room. “No longer are furniture placement decisions driven by the marketing of the home,” Ruthroff says.
  • Not necessarily more windows, but larger, thoughtfully placed windows that maximize the impact of the fenestration.
  • The furnishable front porch or courtyard—the new “public” living room. This is a place to meet and chat with neighbors without having them penetrate your private spaces, says Ruthroff.

Post by Sue Bady, self-proclaimed “armchair architect” and advocate of sustainability, new building technology and most of all, good design. 

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