How the Pandemic Is Reshaping Interior Design So Far

The pandemic has caused a sea change in how we live, work, and recreate—seven months later, here’s how that’s impacted our homes.
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In January, we identified the 10 interior design trends that would rule 2020. While we predicted statement tile, organic shapes, and cane detailing, what we couldn’t foresee was how the COVID-19 pandemic would fundamentally transform our relationship to home.

As we clock seven months of lockdown, we reached out to designers to see how the pandemic has reshaped our interiors so far. What are clients prioritizing, and what new trends are emerging as a result? What’s becoming clear is that 2020 has brought a renewed focus on function and flexibility on top of aesthetics as we navigate a new normal.

1. Heavy-Duty Home Offices

For many, working from home has gone from a rare perk to a company mandate as traditional offices remain closed. As interior designer Jessica Helgerson reports, "Our office has been designing home offices for decades, but who ever thought our clients would actually work there—I mean really, really work there, five days a week, week after week, month after month?"

In this San Francisco midcentury home, what was once a storage space is now a sun-drenched home office.

Previously, Helgerson explains, most clients looking for a home office envisioned it as a much more casual space to pay bills, check emails, or look up a recipe. Now, home offices are souped up with large work surfaces, comfortable task chairs, and expanded storage space to support much heavier usage.

This modern office by Jessica Helgerson Interior Design promotes productivity with uncluttered white walls and plenty of natural light. There’s even enough space for the homeowner’s instruments and a media center.

The Albemarle Terrace House by Jessica Helgerson Interior Design includes two workspaces: As remote work continues, designers suspect that clients will start to request multiple offices to help with homeowners juggling a challenging work/life balance.

2. Remote-Learning Spaces

With school transitioning to Zoom as well, having multiple designated workspaces at home is becoming essential to reduce distraction. Whether it be a room converted to a home office or a remote-learning nook within a larger area, clients need clear workspaces for everyone in the household.

The Irwin Caplan Midcentury project by SHED Architecture & Design includes a private office space on the lower level. The furnishings tie in with the home’s midcentury architecture, including a modern wood desk, an Eames side chair, and a slim Design Within Reach bookshelf. 

Architect D'Arcy Jones transformed the third floor of this 1940s Vancouver bungalow into an office and playroom that can be used for work or play.

"Now, many understand the need for having a dedicated space with boundaries (and probably sound-rated acoustic doors) to achieve deep work," says architect Matthew Hufft in a post on what he describes as the future boundary. "The home office may not be a big oak–clad traditional space, though. New furniture may allow these spaces to become more like objects or pods, floating in a backyard or attached to a garage."

This children’s room and playroom caters to one family’s young kids with built-in cabinetry that allows the mess to be hidden away. Hufft designed this marker-board table, which was cut in the shape of Missouri. The ceiling features abstract details from Thomas Hart Benton paintings.

A Mash Studio wall-mounted desk offers a place to study in this Chicago family home. 

This 450-square-foot apartment includes an origami-like desktop that unfolds to reveal a perforated-steel divider that allows the passage of computer cables hidden inside the office compartment. This transformer-like cabinet helps maximize limited square footage.

3. A New Focus on the Foyer

Entryways, foyers, and mudrooms are getting extra attention these days as people become more cognizant of maintaining sanitary areas and clear divisions between outdoors and in. 

The front door and foyer will make gains not only in aesthetics, but functionality as well. Here, at the Artery Residency by Hufft, a large wood door welcomes visitors while the foyer acts as a buffer zone to the main living areas. 

"A renewed focus will be placed on thresholds, such as the foyer and mudroom—those spaces that allow one to enter from the outside world, take off their shoes, and wash their hands," says Hufft. "Of course, these spaces are not new per se, but we will see a renewed emphasis on their design. They will grow and become much more functional. And the awkward request for a guest to remove their shoes will no longer be awkward…it will just be the accepted norm." 

Simple details max out functionality in this mudroom at the Streamline House by Hufft, which features built-in storage for coats, shoes, and kids’ backpacks. A large island with deep drawers adds additional storage space and a surface for folding laundry.

This reconfigured Craftsman home in Portland, Oregon, designed by Beebe Skidmore Architects, includes a highly functional mudroom. The exterior siding and windows were kept in place to reference the house’s previous incarnation. Built-in cabinetry with exposed plywood edges and laminate fronts are now up to the task of handling the family’s gear. The mudroom has sight lines to the family nook at the back corner.

New storage, multifunctional pegs, and pegboards help a New York City lawyer make the most of his 710-square-foot apartment. In the foyer, StudioKCA turned a closet into a valet area. 

4. Biophilic Design 

From large windows and sliding doors that bring the outside in to greenery and nature-inspired colors, design that enhances our connection to the environment will be key to boosting mental and physical wellness as we hunker down in our homes.

Floral wallpaper in a soothing green hue wraps this workspace designed by Jessica Helgerson Interior Design. The botanical pattern, paired with the rich green trim and ceiling, creates a calm atmosphere that ties back to nature.

"A stronger connection to nature during this time has become essential, especially for city dwellers," says designer Nina Blair. "For homes to be places of refuge and safety, we should choose colors that promote peace, wellbeing, and this connection to nature [as well as] textures that are less about display and more about comfort and cocooning."

Though the office nook in designer Nina Blair’s Tribeca loft has limited views, she brings in plants and natural wood textures to place an emphasis on the organic.

In this sustainable home in Silicon Valley, the primary suite opens to a deck and fern garden with large, sliding glass doors.

A flourishing garden grows inside this glass-roofed Victorian home in Melbourne. The skylight creates a sunny space to dine while warm wood tones accentuate this nature-inspired abode.

This Venice, California, home promotes indoor/outdoor living with large openings, courtyard spaces, and ever-present views of greenery. 

5. Hotel-Inspired Amenities 

Since travel and vacation plans are still largely on hold, homeowners are looking for ways to make home feel like a retreat, prioritizing spa-like bathrooms and places for relaxation that take cues from hospitality design.

This revamped Montreal flat includes a rooftop sauna lined with torrified, or dried, cedar. Outfitted with glass paneling and oriented to capture views of Mount Royal, it is the ideal haven for this hardworking homeowner. 

This clean-lined home designed by Lim + Lu makes use of materials like rattan, oak, and volcanic slate to create an island vibe.

A family’s getaway in the California desert includes a spa-like main bath with a large soaking tub that connects to an outdoor shower. 

6. Creative Partitions

With most of our daily lives confined to the home, the importance of having separate spaces for different activities has tempered the rise of totally open floor plans. Screen walls and other dividers will help define spaces for flexible use.

At the BauLinder Has by Hufft, a black vertical wood screen elegantly separates the kitchen and main living area. 

This northern Wisconsin summer home includes a seven-foot-tall entry screen made from raw heirloom cedar.

Designer Nina Blair’s Tribeca loft features a former glass-box office that has been turned into a kids’ room with a wraparound curtain for privacy. In the morning, she explains, the kids draw the curtains open to reconnect with the rest of the home.

7. Multiuse Bonus Rooms

Homeowners are taking advantage of underutilized basements, bedrooms, and garages, recasting them as bonus spaces for working out, watching movies, and other activities that keep the family entertained during a pandemic.

This innovative family home in San Francisco’s Mission District includes a library/media room where a rolling chalkboard panel conceals the TV when not in use.

The lower-level living area in San Francisco’s Presidio Heights has been transformed into a home gym complete with weights and a stationary bike. 

The 2 Bar House by Feldman Architecture includes a secret play area above the kids’ rooms. To access the space, the children clamber up climbing holds purchased from a local sporting goods store.

Herron Horton Architects converted a garage into a place for kids to study and play.

8. Outdoor Entertainment Areas

With restaurants, bars, and other venues becoming tricky to navigate—if not shut down entirely—our homes and backyards have become community hubs for loved ones to hang out at a responsible social distance.

"Home outdoor living spaces fill a void of missed outdoor experiences and enables safer get-togethers with friends and neighbors," says principal Thomas Schaer of SHED Architecture & Design.

With the home’s glass walls pulled open, the patio and fire pit become an extension of the dining room.

This remodel of a 1959 ranch-style house in Madison Park by SHED features new green space, an exterior deck for entertaining, and a built-in fire pit. 

The Main Street House by SHED includes spaces both inside and out that engage with the surrounding site while maintaining a sense of refuge. Large glass sliders open up to the outdoor dining space while the living area directly connects to a spacious patio.  

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention, and the pandemic’s impact on interior design can be best summed up as a deepened focus on well delineated, adaptable spaces. 

"It’s forced us all to rethink the importance of home," says Blair. "It was always somewhere we lived, but in recent times we’d lost connection to what it always used to do: sheltered us, protected us. Homes had become possessions to show off, or bases to spend our times elsewhere. That all changed this year. All of this underscores the profound importance of design [that’s] not just about the surface, but the function and the meaning."

Related Reading: 

17 Architects and Designers on How the Pandemic Will Change Our Homes Forever

Architects and Designers Weigh In on the Future of Work

Life After COVID-19: How the Pandemic May Reshape the World as We Know It


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