John McGrath – Has COVID-19 redesigned the home?
New figures from CoreLogic show a -1.4% decline in national housing values over the first month of Spring, but that’s a slower decline than we saw in August at -1.6%.
COVID-19 led to a remarkable surge in home values across Australia. As we now watch the market cool, it’s interesting to contemplate other elements of the pandemic’s impact on property.
There is more to home design than most of us imagine. From climate to lifestyle to the size of households, dwellings have been shaped over the years to reflect our changing needs and ways of life.
The impact of COVID-19 on our lives has resulted in many changes in residential design. As our lives have become more complex, so has the design response, with considerations expanding beyond matters of hygiene to patterns of work and living, as well as notions of privacy and wellbeing.
As discussed in our newly released McGrath Report 2023, the impact on residential design of being able to work from home was immediate and profound.
Adam Haddow, the Director of award-winning architecture and design studio, SJB, said while a desk space in the corner of a bedroom or working at the dining room table sufficed in the early days of the pandemic, two years on homeowners are looking for long-term solutions that promote productivity and wellbeing.
While not everyone will be investing in top-line home offices with built-in joinery, a separate, private room with good sound insulation has become a priority for many hybrid office workers.
For double-income households, two home offices are better than one, with all creative solutions considered, from those within the floor plan, like attic spaces, to prefabricated studios in the backyard.
Separation has also become a key theme in open plan living.
Already under scrutiny prior to the pandemic, the limitations of this style of living, popularised in the 1990s, became evident during the pandemic as household members who were spending more time together than ever before went in search of privacy.
Architects and design experts now predict that greater interest in creating separate zones within a broader open kitchen, living and dining area will accelerate, with sliding doors, screens and partitions providing both visual and even acoustic privacy.
The emphasis will be on flexible spaces that can be used for different purposes as circumstances require, such as kitchen island benches that can double as home-schooling hubs.
Overwhelmed by the pressures of lockdowns and fear of infection during COVID-19, residents turned to their homes for respite, with the renovation market buoyed by money that would have otherwise been spent on overseas holidays.
If there is one room in the house that embodies all the pressures and anxieties of COVID-19 together, it’s the bathroom. Design had already shifted towards creating ‘day spa’ environments before working from home fully kicked in, but homeowners are increasingly opting for light, airy spaces finished in high-end, natural materials such as stone and timber.
For those who can afford it, buyers are spending on statement freestanding baths, rainwater-style showerheads, underfloor heating and built-in sound systems.
Wellbeing and companionship were also big drivers behind surging pet ownership during the pandemic.
Design adaptations such as pet door flaps, built-in litter trays and dog washing stations have led to terms like ‘barkitecture’ — architecture for dogs — entering the design lexicon.
Homeowners are becoming more assertive in their decisions about how they configure their homes to best suit their needs, opting for adaptable, multipurpose floor plans that are also suiting a growing number of buyers.
As is the case with so many aspects of our lives in the past two years, while the pandemic is not solely responsible for changes in residential design, it has certainly accelerated the conversation about what it means to live a more holistic lifestyle in the 21st century, with a sharper focus on health, mental wellbeing and flexible working arrangements.