The Post-Pandemic House
Will Covid-19 change our definitions of home and the design features we want? We asked experts to weigh in.
Carly and Patrick Coleman were initially disappointed that their custom bookcase/Murphy-bed unit was too big for the living room of their townhome in Courthouse. They’d been hoping to put it on the main level when they bought the place in 2018, but only the basement could accommodate it. “We were super-upset that it had to go downstairs,” Carly recalls.
Fast-forward to March 2020, when Covid-19 was filling hospitals and forcing stay-at-home orders. Patrick, an emergency-room physician at Inova Fairfax Hospital, found himself taking up residence in that basement to protect Carly, who’s expecting a baby in November, and their 2-year-old daughter.
“We’re lucky in that we do have multiple floors, and I can completely isolate on a single floor,” Patrick says. Murphy-bed basement to the rescue.
With a full bath on the lower level, “it’s actually kind of a sweet setup,” Carly said in a June interview, “except that it doesn’t have any windows.” (That, plus the fact that she’s had to don a mask and special slippers to deliver Patrick’s meals.)
The pandemic has forced us to rethink our homes in ways we might never have imagined. Working, cooking, entertaining and recreation have coalesced under one roof for everyone in the family, for better or worse.
“This kind of event has a cathartic effect; you start thinking about the totality of all that you’re doing,” says Stephen Yeonas Jr., a partner at Artisan Builders in McLean. Looking ahead, “it’s going to be more about what types of spaces do you need and where do you want them, rather than ‘I just want to build a big house.’ ”
In the homes of the not-so-distant future, rarely used spaces such as formal dining and living rooms—which were already on the wane—may be eliminated altogether. Arlington organizer and decorator Gretel Lynch says one client who was contemplating a living-room makeover changed course during the shutdown, opting to transform it into a home office instead.
Residential design experts predict functional spaces such as mudrooms will gain more importance—and square footage—as “decontamination” zones with laundry, food storage and mail-order package areas joining shoes, coats and bookbags. Many renovations are already including secondary, upper-level family rooms tucked away from the public spaces downstairs.
Old rules won’t apply in the post-pandemic house, and no room is safe from scrutiny. We asked local builders, architects, designers and real estate agents to elaborate on what they’re seeing, and the kinds of solutions clients are considering for future construction and renovations.