When the United States locked down in March 2020, the way most people lived in their homes saw significant changes. We began cooking in our kitchens again; dining rooms doubled as makeshift homework centers; spare bedrooms became offices or home gyms; and furnishings needed to be comfortable and truly functional. “We’re working on our homes now because we’ve been in them,” Libby Langdon, Owner of Libby Langdon Interiors, in New York, says.
The good news with these sudden changes is that it deemed home furnishings and lighting retail as essential businesses pretty quickly, and as a retailer, if you already had online options in place, you may not have even missed a beat. Many home furnishings retailers have reported that they saw sales exceed the previous year, even after a couple months where customers might not have been allowed in the store.
For interior designers as well, the coronavirus pandemic contributed to a business boom rather than hurting the industry, even though it has created some logistical challenges. Suddenly, the functionality and comfort of home was top priority, and consumers with the means funneled money from canceled vacations or other plans into updating their abodes, which now needed to incorporate living, relaxing, work, school and even the gym. “Your home is the only thing you can control [during this pandemic],” says Wendy Glaister, Owner of Wendy Glaister Interiors, in Modesto, CA. “It’s a big psychological thing,” she adds, noting that her customers decided that this was where they could exercise control, so they wanted it done.
Focus on Function
The home design changes that designers and architects have seen across the country tend toward similar concepts: making the home more functional and also more livable. Where open concept hasn’t gone away, clients are looking for ways to create zones that serve multiple purposes and/or offer up some quiet space. Homes now house classrooms, offices and even workout centers; something John and Theresa Dorlini, the husband and wife Architect/Designer team behind Circle Design Studio, in Roanoke, VA, don’t see going away. “For new homes and remodels,” says John, “people want a variety of spaces. We’re getting requests for pocket doors and folding doors as a way to subdivide spaces. Clients still want an open concept but with the ability to close it off when necessary.”
To achieve these flexible spaces, the Dorlinis aren’t seeing their clients trend toward much larger homes however. “People want to fit within their current spaces, but they want them to be more efficient,” says Theresa, noting that they are looking at customization of the spaces that might not have been used in the best way previously. “They are opting for better finishes, technology and design in current empty spaces rather than expanding.” For example, the Dorlinis have seen an uptick in requests for kitchen pantries and additional kitchen storage in remodels and new builds, as clients want to keep that open kitchen space less cluttered.
For Glaister, current design renovations don’t necessarily mean adding rooms either. It’s more about repurposing spaces for dual functions. When she creates office spaces for her clients, for example, it’s not about taking away a room that can serve another function. Instead, she looks for a space, such as a dining room, that may have an outside view so working from home includes some beauty. “What happens outside impacts how you feel inside,” she says. “Being able to work anywhere in your house will be something that will stick.” Right now Glaister is also seeing an uptick in home media rooms, home gyms and resort-like outdoor spaces.
Standing the Test of Time
As we’ve spent this past year spending more time at home, materials, furnishings and the finishes they feature have shifted some, say designers. Practicality and performance are high on the wishlists of today’s clients. In kitchens particularly, which are likely seeing far more action this year than in past years, designers are trending toward more durable finishes and darker colors to ensure newly redesigned spaces will remain durable, functional and beautiful for a long time to come. The Dorlinis are seeing customers begin to ask for luxury vinyl tile (LVT) as flooring material in high-traffic areas, for example. “We’ve always used LVT in commercial settings, but now we’re seeing clients ask for it in residential projects too. We’ve never had clients looking for LVT in their homes before,” says Theresa.
For Glaister, in the kitchens she designs, she currently specifies Cosentino countertops for her kitchen remodels, in large part because of the durability of the material and the 25-year transferable warranty.
“Everything I sell or place in a home is performance or hardwearing and has a warranty, where someone local can be called to resolve it,” Glaister notes. “I maintain a higher level of quality control than I’ve ever had before.” For sofas, she only specifies performance fabrics. “My market is mostly families or grandparents with their grandchildren.”
As we’re spending more time at home, the pieces have to stand up to the added usage, designers agree. They also have to be flexible. In keeping with that need for flexibility, mobile furnishings, which can do double duty, are trending in home design, says Langdon, much like the rooms that have to function in multiple ways. As clients ask for console tables that have seating that tucks underneath or small tables that can pull up to a chair or sofa, Langdon adds, she pays attention to those details and client requests when designing pieces for her furniture collection with Fairfield Chair. “Furniture has to earn its keep,” she notes.
Color, pattern, materials that connect to the outdoors and even whimsy are all high on the list of today’s design clients. “A lot of people have experienced depression through this,” says Glaister. “Color helps to warm up spaces, which in turn helps with mood.” In the kitchen, for example, her clients are asking for stained lower cabinets that can take abuse, often in darker colors. The Dorlinis and Langdon agree that darker-colored lower cabinets — while keeping upper cabinets lighter — has been trending: it adds depth and interest to the kitchen and holds up to wear and tear. For the Dorlinis, stained finishes that showcase the natural patterns of the woods have been a common request, as their clients are looking to bring some outdoor elements into the home. “People are having fun with color,” Langdon adds. “They’re less worried about mixing things than they used to be. There used to be all these rules. Now they’re not as worried about mixing and matching materials and finishes. People get that you don’t have to have things in sets.” Langdon has seen this uptick in requests for color and pattern — particularly with such surfaces as peel-and-stick wallpaper. People have become more confident taking risks, since we’ve hunkered down throughout much of the country this winter. “When COVID hit last year, we were on the cusp of spring. We hadn’t been cooped up through the winter months,” Landgon notes. “Now, there’s been more of an emphasis on indoor because we’ve all been inside since October. That’s made rugs and accessories even more important right now.”
To combat months of being cooped up, natural elements, artwork and vibrant colors intended to warm up spaces have played an important role in home design. “Anything we can bring in from the outside, that feels really good right now,” Langdon adds.
Another key category designed to elevate the mood — and functionality — of the home is lighting. Once again, with our spaces doing so much for so many, better lighting has been tantamount to creating a more functional environment.
“We’re adding lots of layers of lighting because that affects your mood,” says Glaister. “Task, ambient, mood lighting... the colors of the layers need to be right,” she says, adding that she consults with her local lighting designer/retail showroom to ensure she’s sourcing the right light for each project.
Langdon, who designs lighting pieces for Crystorama, agrees that this category has had a significant impact on residential design and the quality of home life. “You need to have different layers and different heights of light in a space. Layers of light are more efficient,” she says. Lighting also plays a role in the drama of a space, Langdon adds. “People used to be afraid of large-scale lighting. That’s gone out the window. Clients are now seeing that a large fixture can add a whole moment in a room.”
What Will Stick?
“The lighting is something that will not go away [post-pandemic],” Glaister notes. “Adding lighting layers adds to the convenience of working around the house anywhere.”
Beyond lighting, what do designers expect to see stay around as the country gets vaccinated and we can move about more freely again? Glaister also sees the trend of being able to work just about anywhere in the home as a trend we can expect to continue post-pandemic, so multifunctional home furnishings that double as office space will remain popular. She’s not alone in this prediction.
Another behavior that has shifted over the last year is one of really living in our homes and in the coming years, it’s likely to become a spot for more social activity again as well. “For me, even now that things are going to be opening up, I’m finding that staying in is the new going out,” says Langdon. “When things do open up, we’ll be entertaining more at home. Making spaces work for that is going to be important.”
In addition to entertaining, designers see clients continuing to request guest spaces in the home. “The combo of home office and guest bedroom is a super big request,” Langdon continues, and one she doesn’t see waning anytime soon. “People are going to want to stay with family and avoid hotels,” she adds. That opens the channel for mid-size desks and again multifunctional pieces that can easily be moved around or reconfigured for more than one purpose.
And that space for additional family members may not just be on a guest basis for many consumers going forward, adds Theresa Dorlini. “People have become more family-focused,” she notes, as they are finding new clients that are moving to be closer to family members after this year of difficult travel. “They want to be near their grandkids.” In keeping with this trend, the Dorlinis are also seeing more requests for multi-generational living spaces. “After the issues with nursing homes this year, people want to keep their families close.”
In many cases, this pandemic year has changed our relationship with the homefront, and for many, that has meant making it more efficient, more cheerful and simply more livable. While home design and furnishings trends come and go, we can expect consumers to continue to focus on the materials, layouts, styles and furnishings that can make home a true home base.