Our homes have played (and continue to do so) a pivotal role throughout the global crisis into which we have all been submerged.
Our immediate surroundings have become crucial components of our support system on a myriad of new levels equipping us to face the challenges of the time, as well as evolving into space for learning and earning for many.
Whether we have felt safe or stifled, our homes have held us through this time. And in turn, their architecture and design are navigating us through a time of isolation, patience and endurance.
So what learnings can architects and designers take from these times to plough into design moving forward? How can we reflect and ensure we move forward pragmatically to create homes that can adapt?
Flexible and functional.
Floorplans laid in place by architects and designers can evolve to be viewed as a starting point or suggestion, rather than an absolute.
The design of homes and the focus of rooms needs to be allowed to be altered and adapted to allow for multi-functional spaces which can support the ebb and flow of life and the accompanying challenges. A dining room that can become a hive of industry when needed for home working (or learning), for instance, or a spare room that can transform into a snug as a retreat from the trials and tribulations of life.
The perennial favourite open-plan layouts can be re-addressed. Before walls are removed or knocked down across entire floors, we can now reflect on our better understanding of the importance of nooks and secluded spaces for retreat and privacy, in recognition that our mental and emotional health will always require moments alone, away from even from those we love and share a home with.
A breath of fresh air.
While the term pollution is familiar and brings to mind car fumes and smoke billowing out of factory chimneys we seldom consider the air we breathe indoors, at home, and what contaminates it stores. Paints, finishes, common cleaning products and adhesives all emit invisible pollutants into the air in our homes. It’s a potent cocktail to breathe in daily.
For our long term health at home, VOC-free paints and finishes and formaldehyde-free building materials should be the industry standard, not the environmentally-friendly exception.
And as for what we can do? NASA has a suggestion. Their Clean Air Study considered the ‘sick building syndrome’ and found that there are a number of air purifying plants that can detoxify your home from the airborne toxins, dusts and germs. “Since man’s existence on Earth depends upon a life support system involving an intricate relationship with plants and their associated microorganisms, it should be obvious that when he attempts to isolate himself in tightly sealed buildings away from this ecological system, problems will arise.” Makes sense. Ivy, spider plants, palms and peace lilies are amongst some of the more effective plants to welcome indoors.
Lowly, overlooked rooms may begin to rise up the ranks.
For example, the humble porch. The entryway to our homes can be decluttered, delineated with alternative flooring (using naturally antibacterial surfaces like cork perhaps) and become a practical space for domestic decontamination. Outdoor shoes, coats (and facemasks) can be shed, hand sanitiser applied and guests welcomed with far less anxiety than those who step straight into our kitchen.
Re-visiting the integration of larders and utility rooms into homes could well climb architects and homeowners wishlists as these spaces step up to support practical storage in terms of keeping store cupboards and freezers well-stocked.
When operating at an ever-increasing pace of life, brought to an abrupt halt by the pandemic, it could be said that our homes had been somewhat consumed by life beyond their four walls. We started and ended our day at home but invested little in the quality of the time within them. Work commutes, school runs, homework, planning activities for the weeks ahead and endless ‘to do’ lists rendered kitchens and bedrooms the practical start and finish points, with living rooms lost somewhere in between for midway entertainment.
However, our enforced lockdown has seen surges of interest in everything from baking to board games indicating that the desire for downtime is there, if not the actual time and space within our homes dedicated to it. The ability to zone our homes to promote and sustain a focus on ‘active rest’ (an engaged use of downtime that naturally counteracts stress as well as supporting resilience and good immune function) could become an important consideration in how we furnish our homes.
Flexibility and focus are key to zoning in on and perpetuating healthy habits. Kitchens can sustain us as the engine of the home, storing and preparing healthy food, while living spaces can rise to the challenge of instinctively integrating healthy routines and habits into everyday life. Be it floor space for yoga in front of a smart TV, a quiet nook for practising a new skill or a corner for the family jigsaw or Monopoly battle to be won, spaces and furnishings within our homes will increasingly demand a clear and adaptable purpose.