The Post-Pandemic House
Will Covid-19 change our definitions of home and the design features we want? We asked experts to weigh in.
“People don’t want their parents in a nursing home anymore—go figure,” says architect Ballard. He’s currently designing a house in McLean where an elevator off the mudroom goes straight up to a separate apartment for the owners’ parents.
Similarly, one of architect Moore’s latest projects is for returning clients who asked him to design a separate structure on their Falls Church property—one where the wife’s parents can live when they’re not wintering down South. “The parents are paying,” Moore says. “To me, this type of project is another outgrowth of Covid.”
Classic Cottages, an Alexandria home builder, anticipated this trend even before the pandemic began. In 2019, it formed a new division called Backyard Cottages that’s dedicated to building stand-alone residential structures—aka “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs)—that coexist on the same lot with a larger house. Arlington County last year began issuing permits for ADUs. The units still require special-use exceptions in Falls Church City and Fairfax County, but Fairfax County is looking to ease those regulations.
“It’s really taken off on the West Coast, and we think it’s a big opportunity in Arlington,” says Pierce Tracy, Classic Cottages’ vice president for business development. “We look at it as an evolution of the single-family space, but disconnected [from the main house].”
Where separate structures aren’t feasible, Akpinar and his team at NV Kitchen & Bath have been transforming basements into one-bedroom apartments with kitchens and full bathrooms. Even if no one is living there full time, he says, they make great flex spaces for exercise, work or a hangout for teens who want to get away from parents.
And the reality is, whether it’s a detached structure or a discrete apartment inside the main house, these self-contained units are ideal for sick patients who need to quarantine—or frontline workers like Patrick Coleman, the E.R. doctor, who need to isolate from family members.
“I’m not optimistic that this is going away anytime soon,” Coleman says. He knows many health care workers who’ve had to move out of their homes to keep everyone safe, so he considers himself lucky to have his basement space.
For now, he’s doing OK and has devised a routine for coming home each day, shedding his scrubs into industrial garbage bags in the garage before going straight to his basement bathroom to shower.
He and his wife have no immediate plans to renovate their townhouse—though it might be nice to have some kitchen space in that windowless basement, he admits, and some sunlight would help. “I have a TV down there,” he says. Maybe I can just set it to a screen saver of the beach!”