It goes without saying that the pandemic has profoundly changed the way we all live our lives. The ability (and in some cases the need) to go to work and school from home, coupled with limitations on what we could do in public, meant our homes had to do for us more than ever. As homeowners have reprioritized their spaces, builders and architects have had to change the way homes are designed.
Buyers of new apartments want more space
The biggest change concerns the footprint of new buildings. “Shoppers want more square feet,” says Rose Quint, associate vice president of survey research at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
Quint explains that the average size of newly built homes tends to be cyclical. It has been trending down since its last peak of around 2,700 square feet in 2015. In 2020, however, this trend began to reverse. After falling to around 2,450 square feet, new home sizes are rising again, averaging 2,561 square feet in the first quarter of 2022.
Architects place new value on entrance areas
According to Donald Ruthroff, director of Dahlin Group Architecture in California, the desire for more space isn’t the only home design trend to emerge since the pandemic. “People are looking for a safe place for their home that’s more functional than before,” says Ruthroff.
This increased functionality starts right at the front door: the pandemic led to a resurgence in popularity of foyers and vestibules at the main entrance.
Homeowners were looking for a way to separate delivery workers and other transient visitors from the main living area, and a separate room at the main entrance was the answer. In fact, says Ruthroff, vestibules first became popular architectural features a century ago during the Spanish flu pandemic.
Side entrances, like a backdoor mud room more commonly used by the family, have also been redesigned. In particular, the so-called drop zone, where shoes, coats and bags are often disposed of, had to be redesigned due to demand from homeowners.
“We’re seeing the space getting bigger because it has to do more,” Ruthroff said. “People want to be able to come inside and wash their hands and take off their work clothes, especially if they’re working on the front lines.”
Flexibility is now a furnishing trend
Further inside the house, attempts were also made to expand the existing space.
“We’re really talking about changing the design so that instead of making the house bigger, we’re looking at every square inch of the house and making sure it’s working as efficiently as possible,” says Ruthroff.
From glass doors that turn a corner of the living room into an office space, to furniture solutions that help spaces function better, innovative solutions of all kinds have seen increased interest in recent years.
“Our President speaks of the Swiss Army Knife kitchen,” Ruthroff gives as an example. “Kitchens don’t necessarily have to be bigger, but they have to be able to do more. It’s about more detailed kitchen cabinets that offer more efficient storage.”
Has the pandemic killed the open floor plan in new homes?
Even as people need their space to do more, the open floor plan remains popular with homeowners and buyers.
Quint says that in a recent NAHB survey, about 34 percent of remodelers said they were working on projects aimed at making floor plans more open. Only 2 percent said they had work that created more isolated spaces.
Ruthroff agrees. “The open floor plan isn’t going away,” he says. “But we’re creating opportunities for adjacent spaces that are connected, but not fully connected.”
One futuristic solution that’s just beginning to draw attention, he adds, is movable walls. “We’re seeing the arrival of flexible wall systems that offer the ability to separate or change the floor plan,” he says. “It’s still a couple of years away from real-world application, but I think it’s coming.”
Architects and builders are also placing more emphasis on creating spaces at the right scale. “Some of the spaces we created around 2010 were too big,” says Ruthroff. “Sometimes we refer to it as swirling space, just space for space’s sake. But it comes down to this: you can’t sit very far from the TV before it becomes uncomfortable.”
New homes emphasize indoor and outdoor living
Homeowners have also increasingly valued outdoor living space during the pandemic. Patios, decks, and porches have been popular additions in recent years, according to Quint.
According to Ruthroff, more and more people today want outdoor spaces that feel like a natural extension of their indoor spaces. This includes the use of complementary materials both inside and out and the creation of clear lines of sight to the outside.
“It’s the idea of making people feel connected in a holistic way, which contributes to physical wellness and wellness,” he says. “The amount of natural light you get indoors is important for keeping people healthy.”
The pandemic has changed the needs and wants of people in a home, and builders and architects are responding with new, more adaptable floor plans. From more outdoor space to more flexibility indoors, home design is changing to meet the needs of the moment.