Working in Toronto’s real estate trenches I have the unique vantage point from which to watch the ever-evolving state of architecture, interior, and landscape design, as I get to see what features and fixtures renovators and builders install in their product, and how prospective purchasers respond to it. Yes, our approach to shelter provides us with a unique canvas for self-expression – which fascinates me – but it also provides a snapshot of a society at any given moment in time – particularly in the context of how we use (or prefer to use) our built environments.
There is nothing quite like the lens of hindsight to make us see more clearly in the future. Vaccines are now more widely distributed, and we begun to emerge from our lockdown lives and adapt to reality post-pandemic (which may ebb and flow over a period of time depending on how the virus mutates and how populations mitigate its spread). But for now? It feels like…
As we reflect on our time spent in lockdown, we are struck with a change of sensibility in how we use our homes – mostly because we were in them for such an extended period of time.
Are you working on your post-COVID design style? These past posts provide tips on how to start –> Dear Urbaneer: How Do We Establish Our Interior Design Style? – and –> An Urbaneer Style Enhancement Features An Art Deco Bar Cart From Spruce Toronto.
Here are ways I see us building, designing, and décorating in 2021 and beyond.
How Health Crisis In The Past Has Shaped Our Homes
This terrific article from Real Simple called The Post-COVID Home: How the Pandemic Has Made Us Rethink Everything chronicles the relationship between historic events and how they have impacted house design each and every time. We expect we will see the same as we re-establish our lifestyles in post-pandemic living with lessons learned.
Beginning with the implementation of indoor plumbing with sewer system infrastructure becoming more accessible in the 1850s, through to the building of transom windows to promote airflow and outdoor “sleeping porches” to maximize access to fresh air during the tuberculosis crisis in the 1890s, housing trends have always reflected a move toward healthier living. After the Spanish Flu in the 1920s, there was a rise in spearate bathrooms – particularly powder rooms – to allow guests a private spot to clean up and sanitize when visiting. Along with powder rooms, Roosevelt’s New Deal included legislation mandating separate exits (fire escapes) and wider hallways to battle contraction through proximity in dense urban housing.
Décor items evolved over generations in support of health as well. For example, it was discovered that wallpaper during the late 1800s contained arsenic, which was used to distemper paints in the wallpaper. This in effect, served to slowly poison the inhabitants of the rooms in question over time. Similarly, the heaviness and inherent dampness of wallpaper at the time made it difficult to clean remove airborne germs. Décor moved away from this towards white paint (which made dirt more visible and easier to clean) to tiling in the kitchen and washrooms (making it easier to sanitize).
It all comes down to creating a healthy home – which has taken centre stage in our quest for progress no matter what is on-trend. I explore that link between health and home and all the influences that support or harm that experience in my Healthy Home series. Check it out!
Post-Pandemic Housing Design
That Real Simple article referenced above includes a number of studies and surveys of homebuyers whose attitudes towards housing have clearly been impacted by the pandemic with having safety and security at home and prioritizing outdoor space having increasing importance over interior square footage as a high-ranking ‘must-have’. It also identified a preference to purchase turnkey properties versus a fixer-upper given issues with the supply chain, although from the Toronto real estate trenches I personally found purchasing as large a dwelling as possible within one’s budget limitations took precedence over the condition of the property. I call it the ‘New Space Race‘ as Buyers focused their attention on securing their ‘Forever Home’.
I wrote about how COVID-19 will most certainly change the way in which we think about (and therefore design) our living spaces back in June 2020 in How COVID-19 Will Likely Change How We Design Our Homes. At the time I predicted a number of things would come to pass as our lockdowns continued – the emergence of fashionable and functional home offices, the return of the foyer – so as to compartmentalize the transition from the inside to outside world, ensuite washrooms for most every bedroom, accessible areas to support multi-generational housing, and an emphasis (and priority) on having quality outdoor space at home. And indeed, these are all very much elements of home design now, and likely to trend for a while.
In addition to these items, we may also see gravitation away from open concept living, as the division between functional spaces has become a higher priority (check out my post How To Determine If An Open Concept Space Plan Is For You). Building on that idea is that enclosed spaces will likely be built with flexibility, allowing them to be used easily for work, play, learn or simply day-to-day living – as you and your household require different functions.
In addition to seeing the return of the foyer (with the formal living room at the front of the dwelling being converted into a Work-From-Home Office), we are seeing the mudroom being celebrated – accomplishing many of the same functions that a foyer would – but with functional pragmatic built-ins and storage for the immediate family – separate from the rest of the household. As much as pragmatics take precedence, there is also an increased yearning to create an escape pod inside your home – like a dreamy master sanctuary with a sitting area and indulgent spa. It’s all about an amped-up degree of ‘cocooning’ (coined by Faith Popcorn back in the 1990s) from the ravages of everyday living.
There is also a growing awareness of how we consume in our households when it comes to things like water, electricity, and heating/cooling. Things like touchless faucets and intelligent sensor systems for heating/cooling (which also serve a dual purpose as being more sanitary), energy-efficient fixtures and fittings, and sustainable eco-friendly options (grey-water systems, solar energy, passive design) will be incorporated into our housing choices.
The high-density nature of condominium living presented particular challenges over the course of the pandemic. From elevators to crowded common spaces, it’s particularly hard to maintain physical distancing. And then there was the question of maintaining mental and physical health when you are living in a smaller space, for work, play, and learning.
So what does the condominium of the future look like? This article Future Condos Being Designed With Zoom Rooms, Balconies And Touchless Tech provides a snapshot. The overarching theme with condo design is to create spaces and offer amenities going forward that permit access to fresh air and the outdoors, while being productive in work and personal life, without having to wander from home base. This is particularly challenging when it comes to Work From Home if you’ve got two or more people working or learning remotely at the same time. If there’s one truth we discovered during the lockdown, it’s that no matter what the size of our dwelling, it wasn’t large enough for any household who had to occupy it 24/7/365.
Moving forward the priorities include enhancing the quality of life at home, with some pretty swanky amenities to be offered to go forward. Think rock climbing walls, outdoor yoga, dog parks/pet washing facilities, putting greens, basketball courts, and more.
Victory gardens were a big trend during the pandemic, both because of their ability for homeowners to control and contribute to their food supply-right at home, but this was a hobby that many found tremendously rewarding and soul-soothing. I talk about this in The Movement To Hipsteading During The Covid-19 Pandemic & Toronto Real Estate. Hipsteading isn’t just for rural homeowners; urbanites will no doubt be drawn to rooftop gardens, which will be a coveted condo amenity.
With space at a premium in condos, we may look at ways of rethinking the space that we’ve got to work with. This might mean using what might have been cupboard space or even a closet (like above) for a niche to house a desk for work from home; even utilizing something like a murphy bed could allow a single room have two very different (and necessary) functions from day to night. However, consumers have not lost sight that size matters with larger units growing in popularity. One of the biggest impacts of the pandemic appears to be that no matter what size of dwelling you were or are occupying, it wasn’t as large as you truly required when your entire household was living together almost every moment during the lockdown.
To facilitate Work From Home, there will be co-working spaces designed with Zoom rooms for privacy away from partners, pets, and kids at home in your unit. Another issue around condo living during the pandemic was having to wait and wait for an elevator because of physical distancing and capacity limits. It’s likely that future developments will consider this and have more elevators incorporated into the design, or smart technology in their systems so that they can be programmed to service specific floors or zones of a building.
Hi-touch areas were problematic during the pandemic, especially in areas like elevators and any transition point designed for security. Anticipate the adoption of technologies such as facial recognition and touchless entry systems adopted to reduce the spread of germs in high-density living, as well as more self-contained zones in lobbies and reception to receive and hold packages being delivered to residents. Of equal importance is air quality – which I wrote about in –> Dear Urbaneer: Can I Catch COVID-19 From HVAC Systems?. This article from the Globe and Mail called COVID-19 Spurs Interest In ‘Healthy’ Condo Design explores how the condo market is evolving to cater to buyers who have become increasingly aware of features the benefit their health at home. The pandemic has fueled the movement for independent compartmentalized HVAC systems, controlling individual unit air quality, rather than sharing air filtration, as there is increasing evidence of the role of airborne transmission for the spread of COVID-19- and other diseases as well. Furthermore, UV lights to kill germs will be an additional welcome design feature.
Biophilia & Healthy Design
A trend in design that had already begun to swell in popularity pre-pandemic will likely grow even more as homeowners become more and more interested in meshing physical and mental health with physical design.
The theory around Biophilia – which I explored in How To Embrace Biophilia In Your Home – proposes that we as humans intrinsically seek to be immersed in or close to nature. We gravitate towards natural elements to bring us calm, so it only makes sense that these would be incorporated in the design and décor of our built environments.
Things like water features, greenery, natural materials (living walls, bamboos, recycled materials, etc.), earthy colour palates, loads of natural light and lots of fresh air are the constructs of design through biophilia. This article provides great insight too –> How The Pandemic Is Reshaping Interior Design So Far. It only makes sense, as our home is our safety and security – and biophilia is a way of expressing and enhancing that sense of safety and wellbeing. Creating these calming natural environments is even more important for urban dwellers, who may not have the benefit of rolling pastures and the forest right outside their door.
The Increased Desire For Outdoor Space
Having an extension of indoor to outdoor space will be coveted, with design elements like a greater connection between inside and out, covered porches, and balconies or terraces that are large enough for lounging and dining. Ground floor units with their own front doors and private outdoor space are as coveted as penthouses with terraces. Check out my post The Increased Desire For Outdoor Space In Toronto Condos During The Covid-19 Pandemic.
There has also been a focus on creating an at-home outdoor sanctuary- whether it is creating an oasis outside (there has been a surge in popularity in backyard pools, hot tubs, and general landscaping, with waiting lists extending for months and months, reportedly). Although it’s not ideal in some Canadian climates, anticipate the incorporation of a historical design element – the courtyard wrapped by the dwelling. These lovely, lush spaces are enclosed within a home’s architecture, providing both privacy and separation from the world outside – both desirable benefits when trying to keep distance and still connect with nature.
The interior courtyard is regal and opulent – and harkens back to ancient times. However, the concept can be modified to reflect current trends, space, and tech. With seating, water features, and an array of flora and fauna, interior courtyards are open to the sky and help vent stale indoor air out. Technology exists to install a retractable skylit roof making the space all-seasons, too. By creating a sheltered space (i.e. a pergola or a patio with an umbrella) is a way of having these outdoor spaces be usable during inclement weather, if open to the air. Other popular features are firepits, birdfeeders, and swimming pools or hot tubs.
According to this article Is The Covid-19 Pandemic Reviving A Historic Residential Design Feature? home design website Houzz.com reports an uptick in searches related to creating inner courtyards.
*Image courtesy of ArchDaily
How COVID-19 Will Influence Home Decorating & Furnishing
It’s not just how we physically design our homes that will be impacted by the pandemic; how we furnish and decorate them will likely change as well.
This insightful piece from Architectural Digest What COVID-19 Will Mean For Design Trends In 2021 suggests that the overarching theme is comfort, which is why nostalgia will figure heavily into interior décor.
It’s that wistful fondness for the past that provide us with comfort when the present is turbulent and the future uncertain. Expect to see lots of vintage pieces – including items from the 1980s (which makes me howl with laughter as I’m well familiar with them, being of my vintage).
In the same vein, décor will be simpler as people pare down on their emotional and physical clutter after having been at home for so long. Quiet, simple patterns and natural colours will likely be popular. The article suggests too that people may be seeking design elements that have stood the test of time and that speak to strength – like Greek or Doric columns, for instance.
As far as furnishing goes, the trend will likely move away from sharp angles and lines, but instead, embrace curves and padded, upholstered items. Again, it is all about comfort. Rattan and wicker – basically any natural materials – are likely to be popular.
Housing, design, and décor are my personal and professional passions. It’s a wonderful thing when these intersect, and I’ve love to share my experience and observations with you. Perhaps you are considering a move to a new space to embrace your new post-pandemic lifestyle? Be assured The Urbaneer Team is here to help! It would be our pleasure!
**Hero Image courtesy of The Spruce, with thanks.
Love design and fascinated by trends? Me too! Check out these past posts: