Published on June 22, 2020

While we’re planting our first vegetable gardens and organizing our junk drawers, interior designers and architects have a long list of remodels and home extensions popping up on their schedules. “While construction has been halted in New York City, we’ve been very busy helping clients, both past and present, rethink their living situations and find properties upstate or out East,” says Britt Zunino, cofounder of Studio DB.

But while some families are opting to escape the city, others are staying put and reimagining their homes. “Our houses are becoming our new offices, classrooms, restaurants, and bars, and our remodels are reflecting that,” says Allison Petty of Hyphen & Co. Here’s how five experts predict our renovation plans will change post-pandemic.

Quarantine Quarters Are Officially a Thing

Jean Brownhill, founder of renovation service Sweeten, and Petty are seeing garages and basements being converted into workspaces and additional living spaces. Terri Appel of Appel Architecture is also noticing a rise in requests for more additions that include suites and studios with kitchenettes, where parents or grown children can stay for extended periods while still getting a little privacy. “It may sound counterintuitive, but we think the pandemic will actually encourage people to live closer together,” she says.

Interest in what was formally called ADUs (additional dwelling units) has been growing for a few years, says Appel, but they’re now being rethought as multipurpose quarantine spaces. “People can use them as rentals to supplement income or as home offices,” she adds. 

The Open Plan Versus Separate Rooms Debate Continues

“We have definitely seen a move toward more enclosed spaces for offices, playrooms, and gyms,” notes Petty. Brownhill, however, is seeing trends shift somewhere in between: movable partitions, partial walls, and through-windows, which, she says, give homeowners “an openness with a sense of separation.”

Meanwhile, interior designer Becky Shea remains firmly in the former camp: “Open concepts are incredible; they bridge rooms and allow folks to interact with one another in a space.” Working at home away from colleagues is hard enough without adding hours spent isolated in a corner. “We much prefer to set our clients up to have a flexible environment that provides visibility into other rooms but offers a quiet space for calls and meetings,” explains Shea.

Home Offices Are Going High-Tech

“Our biggest request is for more Zoom-ready rooms that can be closed off to outside noises and disruption,” says Zunino. For Shea this has even involved soundproofing, green screens, and lighting kits. “We’re essentially building mini studios for professionals to be able to work virtually with no issues,” she says. Her AV team has also been focused on limiting Internet speed to certain devices and directing maximum bandwidth to the offices and devices used for work. 

At Hyphen & Co, Petty says, “we’re designing built-in desks that appear more hotel-like, so guests don’t feel like they are sleeping in your home office.” In smaller apartments, Brownhill is seeing niches and closets being carved out for workspaces. 

Rooms Are Becoming Hyper-Specialized

With the possibility of remote learning continuing in the fall, Zunino notes that parents are planning for permanent homework areas, which involves closed-off rooms and workstations for each child. Petty has seen more demand for kid-focused activity areas for arts and crafts, as well as screening rooms where adults can go to wind down and families can have movie nights. 

Workout Nooks Are Being Carved Out of Unused Spaces

A common request Shea has been getting from her Manhattan clients during quarantine is to repurpose an unused corner into a small gym. “We just finished a project last week in the West Village, where we converted a sitting area that was never used into a full-on gym with layered rubber floors to protect the hardwood underneath and all the equipment needed to get a good sweat in,” she says.

Kitchens Are Getting Restaurant-Grade Makeovers

Think: pizza ovens and sous vide gadgets. “When we’re able to see family and friends again, homeowners will want a more efficient kitchen to cook and gather in,” Brownhill predicts. Zunino has already been tasked with building ultra-organized pantries with additional dry food storage, larger refrigerators, and freezers. “People are looking to create spaces that are less dependent on the outside world,” she notes. 

Shea’s kitchen remodels have largely stayed the same, save for one important detail: multiple dishwashers. With families spending more time cooking at home, she says, “people seem to be getting dishwashing fatigue!”

Backyards Are Being Rethought as Extensions to Inside

“Access to the outdoors, no matter how small, is on everyone’s mind,” says Appel. “Clients who were previously focused on maximizing the size of their living room or bedroom are now more willing to give some of that up to add a small terrace or patio.”

Shea has been designing breakfast tables that double as a makeshift office, complete with shade and high-speed Internet. “We want to help people be one with nature, especially during these trying times when work is stressful enough,” she explains. “It’s important to get in touch with what matters most.”

It’s hammer time: Follow @reno_notebook for easy rental updates, clever DIYs, and tips to nail your next project.

Discussion