How Will COVID-19 Impact Single Family Home Design?

What will homebuyers be looking for post-COVID-19? With or without a pandemic, home design is always changing and evolving. Society, technology and the economy all influence the homes and communities we live in. As architects, it’s our job to stay at the forefront of those changes. Without doubt, COVID-19 will play a role in shaping consumer preferences. How big and lasting that role is, is still to be determined. We believe the recent pandemic will serve to accelerate already existing trends, pushing them to the forefront. Working from home, multi-gen living, and functional owner’s entries are nothing new. Current events have simply forced us to look at them from a different perspective. Homebuyers are now acutely aware of how functional (or not) their current home is, and what they’d prefer instead.

Since the pandemic began, we’ve been giving this topic a lot of thought. What exactly will single family homes look like in a post-COVID-19 future? We don’t believe they’ll be dramatically different. Instead, we see subtle changes that are either included standard, or offered as options, in new home plans. In today’s world hygiene equals safety, and there will be an emphasis on both. Here are some of our thoughts.

The Importance of the Owner’s Entry

We all want to feel safe at home. The owner’s entry is no longer just a great way to stay organized. It’s the first line of defense for people coming home to shed items that could potentially be contaminated. In addition to space for shoes and coats, it could have a “disinfecting area” where people can leave items such as mail, packages, or groceries, that they’re concerned could be infected. The introduction of ultra violet light can give another layer of decontamination.  A small hand sink or powder room makes it easy for people to clean their hands as soon as they come home. A simple built-in hand sanitizer dispenser is also an easy solution.

Adding a laundry and a full (or 3/4 ) bath adjacent to the owner’s entry is an excellent upgrade. Targeted to doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers or families with high risk individuals, it offers the opportunity for enhanced safety and hygiene. Homeowners can now shed dirty clothing after a long day of work, throw it directly in the wash, and take a shower before entering the home.

The owner’s entry makes it easy to shed shoes, coats and other items that could be contaminated before entering the home.

Pantry and Storage Space

Whenever possible, add additional pantry space near the owner’s entry. Homebuyers will be looking for additional storage for bulk, non-perishable items. In homes with larger square footages, this is an opportunity to get creative. At a homeowner’s request, we added a door directly from the garage to the walk-in pantry, so she can leave groceries in the pantry to disinfect without even bringing them into the house.

Storage for cleaning supplies and equipment is another important consideration. For cleaners with harsh chemicals and odors that can off-gas, we like to create a ventilated closet in the garage. This helps keep indoor air quality as healthy as possible. Inside the home, a dedicated spot for storing (and plugging in!) a vacuum cleaner keeps everything in its place.

Keep Deliveries Cool and Secure

Package theft has been an on-going issue for some time now. Integrating a small closet accessible from the front porch, via a changeable code, can deter those porch pirates. With the rise of grocery deliveries, consider adding refrigeration to the equation. Not only should homes have a secure spot for package deliveries, it should also be refrigerated. There’s nothing worse than wondering if your groceries or prepared meals may have spoiled in the summer heat. This solution should be considered in all home designs moving forward.

Working and Learning from Home

We can’t help but smile thinking of the many home offices in model homes staged with dual work spaces over the years. Great in concept, but not practical when you have two people working from home full-time. The open floor plan is not going away. The real question moving forward is, how to accommodate 2 people working from home and kids learning from home all at once? One home office with a door is a must. Dropping in flexible spaces and nooks throughout the home that can be used as an office if needed is a clever solution. A spare bedroom, or loft space, can also work for these functions. Create an in-home learning area that is free from distractions. This might be a flexible, multi-purpose space with plenty of storage so it can easily transition from home to school, and back again. Ideally it should accommodate 2 students or more, and be set-up to easily support Zoom calls and online learning. In fact, any upgrades to home technology will increase the chances of a seamless transition to sheltering in place, should a stay at home order happen again. 

A separate room for learning at home with access to running water for art and science projects will attract family buyers with school-age children.

For an upgraded home learning experience, provide access to bathrooms and running water for science and art projects. Use hard surfaces that can withstand a little wear and tear. Consider providing a separate entrance or quick access to this area should a 3rd party be helping with online learning. This would also be helpful for families home schooling with a small group of similar aged children.

A New Perspective on Multi-Gen

The possibility of another quarantine is making many homebuyers rethink multi-gen living. After feeling separated from parents, grandparents or kids, we believe more buyers will look for homes with multi-gen floorplans as a way to remain together if (or when) another quarantine takes place. The benefits go both ways. Older family members aren’t in an assisted living facility where risk of infection is higher and visitation is restricted. Retired parents who are in good health can help with child care and learning from home. Alternatively, college students or adult children who’ve suddenly been laid off have a place to come home to with more privacy than just the guest bedroom. For maximum benefit, a good multi-gen space should have its own private entrance from the outside, a separate bedroom and living space, and a kitchenette. The great thing about this type of multi-gen space is that it’s not all or nothing. We’ve designed many single family homes with optional multi-gen suites, which allows builders the flexibility to offer buyers a choice. If zoning allows, a granny flat or carriage house above a detached garage is also a great option. Just be sure to think about accessibility if there are stairs.

This multi-gen suite option offers enhanced privacy thanks to the single car garage bay with direct access to the suite.

Multi-gen plans also offer creative homebuyers the opportunity to create their own mini co-housing. Two families with kids of similar ages might choose to live together to make housing more affordable and share the responsibilities of childcare or learning from home. Empty-nesters might choose to live with friends, giving them more opportunities to be social and share in daily household chores. New duplexes and paired homes offer similar opportunities for friends or family members to purchase both sides of the home. We’ve seen paired homes with parents in one unit and their adult children with kids in the other, and even 2 sisters who purchased either side of the duplex.

The Question of Outdoor Space

In recent years, many builders and homeowners have preferred to max out the square footage of the lot, rather than leave room for outdoor space. Buyers have been happy to exchange the lawn mower for a bit more square footage inside. With the realities of a quarantine and being cooped up indoors, this may start to change. A front porch with a small front yard makes it easier to socialize with neighbors while still social distancing. A fenced in backyard with enough room to send the kids or pets out to play helps keep everyone active and entertained. In many areas of the country there is a huge uptick in the number of homeowners choosing to build pools in their backyards.

We believe homebuyers will be looking for a bit more outdoor space, such as this right-sized front yard at Berkley Shores.

It’s a question of finding the right balance between size and functionality. The answer will vary depending on how the neighborhood is designed. At a certain point, there are diminishing returns. Many communities are forgoing the large multi-field open space parks for smaller, more intimate parks that limit the size of crowds. The large community pool is starting to get replaced with smaller pools with a defined purpose. One could be a lap pool for training and swim meets, while another includes splash pads with a resort feel. Safety from large crowds will begin to shape the neighborhoods of tomorrow.

Garages: The New Place to Be?

We’re seeing many homeowners who have exhausted their existing spaces turn to the garage. And, we love what we see! Garages are no longer just for parking the car or storing junk. They make great hang-out spots with ready access to fresh air by opening up the doors. Adding a garage door at the back of the garage that opens to the backyard or a back patio is a great, family friendly option.  Garages can make great work-out spaces, offices, entertaining or even guest quarters if properly built-out. While many of these may be retro-fits by creative homeowners, it’s up to us to create, build and stage flexible garages that inspire buyers.

Conclusion

Flexible, multi-purpose spaces will be key moving forward. Of course, the over-all square footage of the home plays a determining factor in what features can be included. It’s our job as architects and builders to be creative and think of innovative new ways to address the evolving wants and needs of homebuyers. Home is more important now than ever before. It represents a safe space even when everything around us feels uncertain. Safety now expands to hygiene, and today’s homebuyer has a heightened awareness around both. By knowing who your target market is and understanding their pain points, you can design homes that will motivate people to buy. And that’s what we call a win-win for everybody.

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