The pandemic has had a major impact on real estate in terms of pricing, inventory, availability and values. But it has also left its mark on home design with many homeowners, builders and remodelers reimagining almost every room in the house.
When the pandemic forced both parents to work from home, and children were schooling from home as well, suddenly the dining room defaulted to a second office space. Zoom calls were being done from the makeshift office set up in the master bedroom because it was quiet. Kids were doing schoolwork at the kitchen island. All of which are uses that none of those spaces were designed to accommodate.
We spoke to several builders, designers and other real estate experts about the pandemic-driven home trends they are seeing and which ones are here to stay. The overarching theme is that homes are now being built with more flexibility in spaces that buyers can make into an office, school room, home gym or any other need that might arise.
Below is our list of Top 4 Builder Trends that have evolved out of pandemic life.
1. More flexible spaces
Homes used to be designed with very clearly defined spaces. The kitchen was for cooking and maybe a little light entertaining. Dining rooms were designed for large tables for family meals or guests. Short of a “bonus” room which was originally intended to be a hang space for kids, the rest of the house had design-specific intentions. Not anymore. Now, a front room in the home has to be designed to function as an office, school room, music room or home gym – depending on what the owners’ lifestyle requires. There are many more potential uses for a space than ever before.
Dana Tucker, owner of Bella Tucker, a design-build firm specializing in kitchen and bathroom remodels, said so many households found themselves with two parents needing to work from home instead of just one which was challenging.
“This meant all of a sudden you had to come up with two office spaces in the home that maybe just had one before,” Tucker said. “I’m hearing from a lot of clients that they don’t need a formal dining room anymore. Even in new construction, we see people would rather reclaim that space and make it usable.”
Those who are trying to retrofit dining rooms are installing bookcases and built-in desks in traditional dining spaces, she said. “We are doing a lot of things to make that room function more like a library or office and less like a dining room.”
2. Reimagined kitchen island
As dining rooms were absconded by parents suddenly working from home, that left a mountain of paperwork where the placemats used to be. Displaced family meals suddenly had to find another place to land. By default, family meals moved to the kitchen island, although many kitchen islands weren’t designed to accommodate much more than a spot to lean while conversing with whoever was doing the cooking.
Tucker said as families were all working and schooling from home, parents realized their kitchens didn’t function like they needed to anymore.
“Families are all eating meals in their kitchens at the same time and they are also making most meals at home, whereas before the pandemic, they probably had three meals a week at home,” she said. “We are seeing a lot of these two-tiered islands where the seating is very high, which isn’t safe for little kids. We have been going in and cutting down that two-tier countertop and replacing it with a one-level countertop and enough legroom to eat meals there.”
Tucker said prior to the pandemic, she was redoing maybe two islands a month. Now, it has more than doubled to five a month.
3. Expanded outdoor space with amenities
Ask anyone who is trying to build a swimming pool at their house right now and they will tell you there’s a lengthy wait time to get it done. The demand for backyard pools has skyrocketed in the last year. While public pools have been closed due to the pandemic, families have decided to just build their own.
This is one element of an overall trend of maximizing outdoor space including expanded patios, covered porches, outdoor kitchens, fire pits, hot tubs and of course, swimming pools.
McClain Franks with Tennessee Valley Homes said they have seen a 50% increase in customers that install pools either during or right after the building process.
“More than ever our clients are requesting pools so that the backyard is truly an extension of their home, especially when the neighborhood pool is closed,” she said.
Mary Hatcliff, with Hatcliff Construction agreed, saying second only to the home office, adding great outdoor spaces is a top request.
“People are thinking more about how they want to spend time at home and being able to have fun and entertain outside has become very important,” she said.
4. Clearly defined home office
While many homes have a home office space designed in, many have needed a reboot thanks to the pandemic. What may have been a spot for an occasional work call or just an area to do work-related things, now has to function as a real office.
Doug Herman, president of Legend Homes, said the home office has been the top consideration his company has seen during the pandemic as people are trying to accommodate working parents and children in Zoom school.
“The pandemic has definitely changed home priorities for people with the home office more important and essential where maybe it was optional before,” Herman said. “We’ve also seen the need for more than one space to accommodate multiple working members of the family as well as for kids. Sound control has become more important and the need to close doors for privacy.”
He added that some people are also preferring to move the home office away from entry where guests would see it. “Spaces that work the best are those where you can create a separation and provide privacy,” he added.
Franks with Tennessee Valley Homes said they are seeing clients asking for dedicated Zoom backdrops in their home office space.
“In addition to needing a dedicated office, many of our clients are needing a space in their home that will look professional for Zoom calls,” she said. “This can be a custom bookshelf space that features art lighting and a space to hang a decorative art piece, perfect for any Zoom call backdrop. We have seen about a 20 percent increase in customers asking for custom Zoom spaces.”
Many we spoke to would add that few of these trends are going away anytime soon. A number of working parents will continue to work remotely after the pandemic, so the need for that maximized and expanded office space will remain. Families that have reclaimed the sanctity of eating meals together will continue to do so – just probably at the new kitchen island or our by the pool and not in the traditional dining room.