When considering the lingering, long-term global effects of Covid-19, think of how it might change the home, as the pandemic’s aftershocks reshape the feel, form and function of how we live. The influence is likely to be radical, thanks to the renewed emphasis on domestic life for much of this year.
Many of us have been forced, possibly for the first time, to spend extended periods in something close to house arrest (accepting that such things are relative). We’ve engaged with our properties in new ways, learning much more about their strengths and shortcomings. Now we’re determined to future-proof against another pandemic—or at least against going mad in one. So Robb Report asked 26 of the world’s foremost design talents how the home may change as a result of Covid-19.
Providing an exclusive glimpse into the imaginations of the best architects and interior designers working today, this portfolio showcases their unpredictable and varied answers: from a minimalist meditation pavilion to ingenious solutions that help better integrate the outdoor and indoor spaces and even an offbeat suggestion of how design could help prevent the next outbreak, rather than simply react to it.
“In pre-Covid-19 times, I tried to leave the office at the office—my laptop and backpack were the only signs of the workplace,” says Gardner, a New York-based architect. “Now, my wife and I find we need a clearly delineated office area in the midst of our home.” His concept for a new home office is spurred by that first-hand experience.
“I am imagining a more nascent, transformable working space embedded in our apartment,” he says. “Movable shelving backdrops for Zoom meetings, filing in the Vitsoe system, which straddles the aesthetic line between commercial and residential space. For good measure, I will bring back the plants, color and decorative items so the office area feels like home but makes a private office space. I see this idea of office as essential to our future homes, as the technology that will shape it.”
Tang runs ADDP, one of Singapore’s foremost architecture firms; he’s particularly deft working within the confines of urban density. In the wake of the pandemic, he adjusted plans for the 450-unit Martin Modern condominiums in the city-state. With residents potentially stuck at home for extended periods, he repurposed the apartments’ entryways into adaptable mini-rooms. “It has the possibility of custom built-in, flexible furniture that can be deployed into workspaces, and room for glass dividers to properly segregate the space between working and living,” he tells Robb Report. “Members of the household can use this space for work, conduct meetings with external parties and at the same time enable the other daily functions of the households.”
ELLIOTT BARNES INTERIORS
“Interior design in a post-Covid-19 society will emphasize the transition from outside to inside,” says Barnes, a Parisian designer, “from a precarious environment to one which is stable.
“No longer will the entry be simply a place to say hello or goodbye,” he continues. “It will also be where traces of the exterior are removed before entering a living space.”
Barnes finds inspiration internationally. “Remember the Italian palazzi, which use the piano rustico as a filter before moving up to the piano nobile. Consider Japanese houses, where shoes are changed for uwabaki [slippers] in an entry hall, or the place of a door which isolates the entry from the living space.
“I could imagine an unencumbered stone-covered space, punctuated by a hand fountain and oshibori [towels]. I would complement this with house shoes and elegant reception robes to replace an exterior garment, before stepping up to the soft and velvet calm in the living area.”
A Low-Tech Haven
“My dream room is device-free,” says the New York designer, who goes by one name. “It’s a place to celebrate all of the senses, to incorporate all of the elements: the silence of thick stone walls and a timber ceiling and floor, with a deep bay-window seat jutting out into air and sky where two people can lounge or lie, facing each other or side by side.”
Clodagh, who designed the Miraval spa in Arizona, envisions furnishing the space with an eye to the practical and the playful. “There’s a wood-burning fire flanked by comfortable armchairs, a bookcase, proper reading lights, tactile textiles and a tiny fountain splashing into a stone bowl,” she enumerates. “Oil of sandalwood for grounding and rose for serenity create the mood for sensuality. There’s a dog bed, of course, a small wet bar and delicious things to eat. It’s a return to the analog world, a seemingly lost world right now. Children can crowd into the window seat if they detach their devices, and storytelling is encouraged.”
Brooklyn-based Meshberg sympathizes with larger families who have spent the past several months with “three or four makeshift desks around their home.” He envisages a modular, adaptable new approach that embeds work stations unobtrusively. “Transform an existing wall closet or underused walk-in closet into an office or study nook by modifying its floating shelves and pole system to carve out a central desk space, while still leaving some room for storage,” he suggests. “This solution gives you the workspace you need without making any extensive renovations or blasting any walls. And the best part is, when you’re done working or studying, simply tuck the clutter away by shutting your doors.”
An Organic Transition
Glenn Pushelberg & George Yabu
Pushelberg and Yabu, partners in life as well as in their international design firm, have used one of their own homes as a model for the future. “We’ve re-envisioned our Toronto home’s entryway vestibule in a manner that maintains the original façade aesthetic while mindfully addressing new health considerations as one transitions from outside to inside,” they tell Robb Report.
“A glass-paned greenhouse now awaits guests, drawing foliage from the surrounding wooded area while also offering an area to pause, shed the outdoors and clean up,” they explain, adding that they’ve discreetly incorporated a hand-sanitizer dispenser, compartments for shoes and bags and a supply of footwear and “comforting garments” to be worn inside.
“We hope this transitional entryway offers visitors a soothing area to regroup before joining us for a weekend brunch or lively shared evening at home.”
ROMANEK DESIGN STUDIO
“Indoor-outdoor living has long been an essential component of the ‘California lifestyle.’ As we’ve been sheltering at home, finding harmony between indoor and outdoor spaces has never been more important,” says Romanek, a Los Angeles interior designer whose clients include Beyoncé and Jay-Z. “This extended time at home, when we’ve been forced to combine the need for functional space with the need for sacred space, will have a lasting impact on clients’ approach to their homes.
“To that end, I envisioned this indoor-outdoor space with an emphasis on tranquility,” she explains. “The elements—the sun, the sky, the water—become the stars of the design. The simplicity of the palette, materials and forms is soothing. The partial cover for the bed provides shelter so that the space can serve as a bedroom, but it can also function as a lounge, switching the focus to the outdoors.”
“I’ve long questioned isolated high-rises with one way in and out, elevators that go straight to a private penthouse, floating high above the city streets,” says Chen, founding principal of the New York architecture and design firm. “Vertical living has turned us into voyeurs and observers rather than participants. While vertical towers house similar numbers of people as entire low-rise neighborhoods, they lack the community and social interaction we crave now more than ever and also disconnect us from the natural world.
“Covid reminded us that we need to live in cities where we can be alone without being lonely, that we can enjoy density while enjoying sun and fresh air,” Chen adds. “It reminded us that ‘neighborhoods’ should be a place where neighbors interact.”
A Batty Idea
“While the world contends with the pandemic, much of the focus is on mitigating the spread of disease to protect human life,” says Dykers, a founding partner of the international architecture firm, which is known for the National September 11 Memorial Museum. “However, my sketch looks at a longer-term solution for preventing future outbreaks of disease. The source of this pandemic, and many pandemics historically, is related to interactions between humans and animals in formerly remote habitats that are disturbed by human activity. In the case of Covid-19, the virus is most likely the result of an association between bats and humans.
“The bat population is under siege from two primary factors: poorly planned developments infringing upon bat habitats, and industrial agricultural techniques that strip forests and food sources from bats,” he continues. “The sketch shows some possibilities for more protected bat habitats and increasing their food sources in urban and semi-urban environments.”
“The Bat Café is a suspended insect-promotion site. It can be hung from trees, rock outcroppings, masts or buildings. The cave structure can be made from rammed earth and wood. Together the two structures protect habitat, relieve stress on the creatures and can potentially minimize the frequency of disease being shed to humans. These smaller interventions would ideally be in addition to larger systemic policies that would promote change in planning and agriculture techniques, thus supporting the development of healthy habitats for both humans and bats alike. When our bat neighbors are healthy and happy, we are, too.”
Water and Wellness
“A strong element of our design approach has always been the desire to connect to water and nature for serenity and healing,” says McClean, an architect based in Southern California. “It’s central to our designs, and we have been incorporating wellness areas into our homes for some time.
“Water, and waterfalls in particular, can be therapeutic. We have been experimenting with glass to allow for visibility from both sides and the transmission of light, while maintaining privacy,” he continues. “Aside from steam, sauna and massage areas, we are seeing increasing interest in salt walls, light therapy, full hammams and sensory-deprivation chambers. Water therapy in the form of horizontal showers, different plunge pools and water massage are popular. We have even incorporated snow-making as part of the wellness experience.
“Most wellness areas form part of a suite with an adjacent gym, but some clients have requested that it become part of the master-bedroom area, creating a true private retreat,” McClean notes. “On my wish list would be the design of a wellness area in a separate building, as part of a contemplative private garden.”
A Book Carousel
Mahdavi, an architect and designer based in Paris, went for a touch of whimsy. “This colorful rotating bookshelf could potentially become your best friend,” she says. “It can carry your favorite books, your files and maybe a printer. It is used best in a corner where space is often unused.
“The colors will cheer you up,” adds Mahdavi, known for her macaron-hued Ladurée shops, “and remind you life is beautiful.”
A Place for Everything
Deborah Berke & Kiki Dennis
DEBORAH BERKE PARTNERS
“The amount of time we have been spending at home has given us the opportunity to reconsider the critical details that create comfort, utility and beauty there. We have had many conversations about the truly crucial elements that will best support daily life in this changing time,” write Berke and Dennis, who are, respectively, dean of the Yale School of Architecture and an interior designer and partner in Berke’s firm. “A strong connection to the landscape, with lots of natural light and ventilation, creates a healthful and affirming environment for
part of the day or for extended periods of time.”
Berke and Dennis also recommend “flexible spaces that can be opened or closed off with acoustical separation” and can easily be repurposed from, say, an office to a guest room. “Considered and orderly storage not only helps keep a space uncluttered and serene, it also helps accommodate the various uses of living, working, dining, etc., so spaces can be adapted as needed,” they write. The pair also envision ample access to the outdoors, in spaces small and large, for family time, entertaining, exercise, work and individual relaxation. “Natural materials,” they note, “can help unify indoors and outdoors and add to the wellness of the home.”
A Greener Approach
“The journey between the sidewalk and the door of one’s home could be so much more enticing,” muses Idenburg, who founded the Brooklyn architecture firm with his wife, Jing Liu. “Why stumble through a revolving door, then press past a nosy concierge, through piles of parcels? An endless wait before you squeeze yourself next to the drooling Doberman and its owner, the creep from 15G, whose cigarette smoke has drenched his coat.
“The last part is the worst: 193 steps and five turns through an underlit maze of hallways until you reach your apartment,” he continues. “Can we instead imagine this journey as joyous? Filled with daylight, fresh air, lush plants and spaces for a quiet conversation or even to sit down with that friendly guy from 15G and his sweet little doggy.”
Let There Be Light
LEYDEN LEWIS DESIGN STUDIO
Lewis, a Brooklyn architect and designer, has found himself grieving during the Covid-19 pandemic “on several dimensions,” he says. “I experienced loss of family and friends and the loss of an identity which imagined myself to be free to do as I pleased when and where.”
His creative response to the crisis embraces a self-care approach. “We imagine an architecture of wellness which supports our nervous system and mental health to keep in balance,” he says.
Among the key features of this design, Lewis notes, “is access to light without the need to leave the house… filtered through perimeter plantings.” There’s also a central opening, bringing indirect light to the rooms, as well as direct access to sun and vistas on the rooftop terrace.
“The garden is a place to supply nourishment through vegetation and also a psychological expansion from the interior that is planted in a way to create a trompe l’oeil effect,” he says. “Seen through the ribbon windows, the garden is an outward gaze, a diorama, a lush environment blurring the sense of place, an alternative to the inward facing of the computer screen.
“A glass structure is framed around the perimeter of the house to function as both a protective shield and a greenhouse in order for the dweller to sustain their autonomous food supply year-round.”
Old Is New
NATE BERKUS INTERIORS
Per celebrity interior designer Berkus, expect a renewed influence on reclaimed materials as a result of the pandemic, which has made us all more cognizant of the environmental catastrophe that’s looming—look at the suddenly clear blue canals in Venice, for example. “We’re going to see the incorporation of more architectural salvage, like antique mantels and old roof tiles for fireplaces, salvaged wood flooring, and antique tile floors,” he tells Robb Report. “Even better, can these materials be sourced locally? And in terms of furniture, everyone is finding out that their homes need to be more comfortable—and functional—to accommodate how much time we’re spending in them now.”
A Meditation Pavilion
“Wellness in design is a key aspect that I am focusing on,” says Fu, an architect and designer in Hong Kong. “I strongly believe that spatial design shall once again return to the essence of the experience. It is about creating spaces that celebrate mindfulness, ones that are pure and balanced.
“I dreamt of a meditation pavilion that is built entirely in cast terrazzo, where the arrival experience is mannered by a sense of discovery,” he says. “One enters via a dimly lit passageway that leads to an inner, cylindrical pavilion that opens up to the sky. It is an inner sanctum for one that allows for the soulful spirit to fully immerse and unwind.”
Furth, an LA-based interior designer, traces the home-privacy trend to the 1930s. “Frank Lloyd Wright, arguably the most influential architect of his time, turned all front doors to face away from the street, and since then, front porches have been considered unfashionable,” he says. “In postwar America, houses started to orient rear-facing, and private backyards became de rigueur for social gatherings. Today, many homes are gated, fenced and hedged all the way up to the property lines, creating privacy in front of houses as well as the rear.
“But now, with more privacy than we know what to do with, and the desire to entertain a few select guests while maintaining a safe distance, we are re-examining the notion of a front porch in a more contemporary context,” he continues. “My vision is a semi-enclosed space, covered for use in inclement weather, with comfortable furniture for dining and lounging—all cleanable and wipeable. Those of us who are socially isolated and cooped up inside all day will welcome having a neighbor to wave to from the safety of our own space, as we once did a century ago.
“This new porch allows you to invite folks ‘over’ without inviting them ‘in.’ I see it as the living room of the 21st century.”
The New Home Office(s)
“My family and I escaped from New York City to the Hamptons back in March. Here, we are lucky to have some more space and fresh air, but there have been adjustments required,” says Hampton, an interior decorator.
“With a busy work schedule, an office in Manhattan over two hours away, three almost-teenagers homeschooling, a six-foot-two-inch husband who requires three screens to work on at all times and, heaven help us, a new puppy, I have come to the very serious conclusion that we must rearrange our furniture to accommodate new desks everywhere.
“The dining room has always been a big workspace for us, especially in the city,” she continues. “You’ll find me at one end, my husband at the other, and at least one child coming in to discuss math problems or Greek lessons.
“These days, I think a desk is a must for all bedrooms—but mine especially. I need one nearby where I can fight my penchant for procrastination, accompanied by a frosty cold Corona and lime (on a coaster, of course). Covid-19 has taught our family that working together is a must, but if you can work from different rooms, and with locks on the doors, life is a lot easier.”
Color coding is key to the concept from Sanders, a practicing architect in Manhattan who doubles as a professor in the subject at Yale. His idea allows individuals to circulate from the street to the elevators with safety and confidence.
“Color-contrasting flooring differentiates between the ‘transition zone,’ where people and animals can wash, before entering the ‘sanitary zone.’ Visitors enter through automatic doors to a hand-sanitizing vestibule. A planter separates entry/exit circulation to prevent unwanted collisions,” he explains. “The adjacent mudroom is equipped with benches, sink and pet bath to clean shoes, paws and wheels of equipment. “There are also color-contrasting seat cushions to help indicate social distancing metrics in a lounge equipped with modular seating that can be reconfigured as needed.”
“Once Covid-19 changed the way we think about home, I decided to amplify health and wellness,” says Gillen, a Malibu designer and developer. “With Case Study No. 5, which is under construction in California, I added more greenery in the courtyard: a fuller, blooming tree with benches around it—not just nice to look at but something you can sit under and enjoy. On the inside—the glass-door-lined hallways bordering this courtyard—I’m adding new air purification, beyond HEPA filters, thus providing the cleanest possible air inside before you step into this courtyard.
“I’m designing homes not just as a place to sleep and shower,” he adds, “but as a true sanctuary where you want to spend every hour.”
Wouldn’t it be Loverly?
Like so many of us during lockdown, French architect and decorator Couturier binge-watched movies. One classic inspired his concept: My Fair Lady, specifically the conservatory of Mrs. Higgins. “This program-less room is a great space to fantasize and escape; what a better world to do this than the Edwardian high society of My Fair Lady?” he muses. “Pairing this with the jungle-like yet contrived atmosphere of a turn-of-the-century English conservatory is my idea of heaven on earth.” He designed this space for a long-time client to house an aviary, but she instead decided to claim it for herself, as a pandemic hideaway. “Ultimately, for her,” he says, “it’s a space to dream.”
PININFARINA OF AMERICA
Vives, a Miami architect, predicts “a greater demand for homes to be versatile, functional, modular and adaptable to sudden lifestyle changes.
“Air quality and sources of natural light are essential, as we continue to see the positive impacts of biophilia on human well-being. Standards already established by the EPA and enforced by local and international building codes for air quality will be supplemented by the increasing prevalence of floor-to-ceiling windows, balconies and gardens, both indoors and out. This concept will also encourage a conversation about mindfulness and is driven by the philosophy that good design can support good health.”
A Serene Sleep
“As we’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s important not to neglect our daily surroundings, as we never know when we’ll be confined to them,” says Yovanovitch, an interior designer with offices in New York and Paris. “So even as businesses begin to reopen and people return to their day-to-day work life, I do think that there’s an emphasis now on how our interiors influence our daily lives.
“A focus on craftsmanship and natural, long-lasting materials comes into play as a part of this,” he continues. “Particularly in an era when mass production in design is ubiquitous, I believe people are increasingly seeing the value in being thoughtful about what materials they choose to live with. In the example of the bedroom, using high-quality, natural materials and earth tones creates a space that is relaxing.”
KATHLEEN WALSH INTERIORS
The New York City-based interior designer sketched out her ideas for how second homes will now include offices as a default—and those work-from-home spaces will be larger, and less shoebox-like, as residents will likely use them more than occasionally.
“For the homeowner, we are using bigger rooms to accommodate the three, absolute, multiple functions of a home office: an active work area, a reading-thinking space and storage,” she says of her annotated floorplan. “We layer in sound, light and view solutions, like building in plenty of storage solutions to make sure the background during video conference calls is well-organized and professional, or an area rug that is large enough to take up a majority of the room, with a thick pad underneath it for sound proofing.”
Window to the World
Light, light and more light—the new mantra of Miami-based Chraibi. Stuck indoors, she says, we crave connection to the outdoors more intensely than ever. “Windows are not only paramount to achieving the style and tone of a space but essential to create a strong connection to the outdoors,” she explains. “Changes in lifestyle and situations such as working-from-home will be reflected in windows and window treatments. We will enlarge windows and opt for lighter, sheer window treatments.”
This architect had already planned a remodel for a family who’d tasked them with upgrading a waterfront summer home in the Hamptons. Those clients recognized they would be spending more time than expected there. The resulting refresh turned the property into a family compound, able to accommodate multiple families or large groupings of guests, without diminishing the intimacy or privacy inherent in the original design.
“Stylistically, the muted tones of clear gray cedar and beach grass, with accents of blackened steel, were maintained, but post-shutdowns, the form and geometry of this house was transformed in an effort to expand,” explains Stumer, who works between Long Island and New York City. “Several areas of guest accommodations were added to the home, one in the form of a ‘second’ second floor, and one as a new three-bedroom cottage over a new garage. The design assured that each of these spaces still felt like a part of the home—all have privacy, all have water views, and all connect back to the communal areas of the home.”