It goes without saying that the pandemic has changed the way we all live our lives a lot. The ability (and in some cases the need) to go to work and school from home, coupled with restrictions on what we could do in public, meant our homes had to do more for us than ever before. As homeowners have reprioritized their spaces, builders and architects have had to change the way homes are designed.
New home buyers want more space
The biggest change is the footprint of new homes. “Buyers want more square footage,” says Rose Quint, assistant vice president for survey research at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
Quint explains that the average size of newly built homes tends to be cyclical. It had been on a downward trend since its last peak at around 2,700 square feet in 2015. In 2020, however, that trend began to reverse. After dropping to around 2,450 square feet, the size of new homes is increasing again and averaged 2,561 square feet in the first quarter of 2022.
Architects are giving new importance to entrances
The desire for more space isn’t the only home design trend that has emerged since the pandemic, according to Donald Ruthoff, director of Dahlin Group Architecture in California. “People want their home to be a safe space that’s more functional than it used to be,” Ruthoff says.
This increased functionality starts at the front door: the pandemic has led to an upsurge in the popularity of foyers and vestibules at the main entrance.
The owners were looking for a way to separate delivery people and other temporary visitors from the main living space, and a separate space at the main entrance was the answer. In fact, says Ruhroff, vestibules first became popular architectural features during the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago.
Secondary entrances, such as a backdoor mudroom more often used by the family, also received a makeover. In particular, the so-called drop zone where shoes, coats and bags are often dumped had to transform in response to owners’ demands.
“We see this space growing because it needs to do more,” Ruthoff said. “People want to come into the house and be able to wash their hands and drop their work clothes, especially if they’re a frontline worker.”
Flexibility is now an interior design trend
Further inside the home, people have also sought to optimize the existing space.
“We’re really talking about design change in terms of not making the house bigger, but looking at every square inch of the house and making sure it’s functioning optimally,” says Ruthoff.
From glass doors that create office space from a corner of the living room to furniture solutions that help spaces work better, innovative solutions of all kinds have garnered increased interest in recent years.
“Our president talks about Swiss army knife cuisine,” Ruthoff offers as an example. “Kitchens don’t necessarily have to be bigger, but they have to do more. These are more detailed kitchen cabinets that have more efficient storage.
Has the pandemic killed the open floor plan in new homes?
Even though people need their space to do more, the open floor plan remains popular with homeowners and buyers.
Quint says that in a recent NAHB survey, about 34% of remodelers said they were working on projects to make floor plans more open. Only 2% said they had a job that created more secluded spaces.
Ruthoff agrees. “The open floor plan isn’t going away,” he says. “But we’re creating opportunities for adjacent spaces that are connected, but not fully connected.”
A futuristic solution that is just beginning to attract attention, he adds, are moveable walls. “We are seeing the advent of flexible wall systems that will allow walling in or changing the floor plan,” he says. “It’s still got a few years left in its true application, but I think it’s coming.”
Architects and builders are also more concerned with creating spaces at the right scale. “Some of the spaces we were creating around 2010 were too big,” says Ruthoff. “We sometimes call it swirling space, just space for space’s sake. But it comes down to: you can’t sit very far from the television before it becomes uncomfortable.
New Homes Emphasize Indoor-Outdoor Living
Homeowners have also begun to place a higher value on outdoor living spaces during the pandemic. Patios, decks and porches have been popular additions in recent years, according to Quint.
Ruthoff says more and more people now want outdoor spaces that feel like a natural extension of their indoor rooms. This includes using complementary materials inside and out and creating unobstructed sight lines to the outside.
“It’s the idea of making sure people feel holistically connected, which contributes to physical well-being and well-being,” he says. “The amount of natural light you get in the house is important for keeping people healthy.”
At the end of the line
The pandemic has changed what people need and want in a home, and builders and architects are responding with new, more adaptable floor plans. From more outdoor space to increased flexibility indoors, the design of the house is evolving to meet the demands of the moment.