Homes have taken on new meaning during the COVID era: They are no longer just places to come home and rest at day’s end and for raising families.
As more people work from home at least some of the time, homes have become multifunctional, according to local interior designers.
This does not mean that the predicted home office boom has come to fruition, exactly.
Some clients do want home offices or to update their existing home office spaces. But more often, the multifunctional house is one in which people can use different spaces for a variety of purposes, according to Michelle Erdosi, the owner of Aeternum Design Studio in Philadelphia.
A breakfast nook can be for drinking coffee or working from your laptop. A big bedroom can be for sleeping or taking a Zoom meeting. A home office can be a place to add a lounge chair or a sofa for nap or relaxation time.
But at the core of all these upgrades is remote work, Erdosi said.
“How can we utilize every space in the house to support work?” she said, referring to the question many clients are asking her.
This re-conception of the home started in March 2020. Almost overnight, white-collar companies transitioned to virtual spaces and recognized that they could work.
While offices are not obsolete, the transition continues. More and more interior design clients are working from home, according to Erdosi.
Business is so good right now that Amy Cuker, the owner of Down 2 Earth Interior Design in Elkins Park, eliminated her waitlist. She didn’t want to make people wait for over a month.
Cuker now tries to finish her jobs, clear space on her schedule and start on the next client right away. If a homeowner calls during a busy stretch, she tells her to call back in a month or two.
“We only take jobs when we’re ready,” Cuker said. “That way we’re limber.”
According to the Down 2 Earth owner, her busy schedule is not just the result of more remote work. During the pandemic, with so much of society closed or partially closed, people just started spending more time at home.
When homeowners spent the majority of their weekdays and much of their social schedules outside the home, they didn’t look too closely at the infrastructure. Now, though, with people home more often, they are actually looking at their houses and seeing potential upgrades.
If a cabinet has wear and tear, and a homeowner sees it, she can’t un-see it, Cuker said.
“And once you have that, it stays on your checklist,” she said.
If the home has become more of a multifunctional space, then the checklist becomes more of a blueprint.
It keeps growing and growing, which is partly why Cuker keeps her schedule on a short timeline. By the time she gets to a job, it has grown into a project. And since she wants to please her client, she embraces and completes said project.
Ideally, when it’s over, the client doesn’t just have a robust, multifunctional space: The family has a full-scale reflection of its desires.
In her own house, Cuker installed two gas insert fireplaces, one in the living room and one in the sunroom. Compared to a wood fireplace, the gas version doesn’t need logs or produce a smell.
Erdosi has a client who leads meditation classes, so she designed his living room to allow him to push his furniture to the edges.
“They have a heightened interest in having a space that’s uniquely theirs,” Erdosi said of her customers. “We have to play psychologist a little bit as a designer.”
Erdosi also said she could see this theme continuing. Working not just remotely, but 100% remotely, is now “very common across industries,” she added.
Cuker thinks this trend may deepen over time.
“What’s going to happen with technology? Virtual reality?” she asked.
At the same time, Cuker believes the interior design market may have reached a peak.
Restaurants, bars and event spaces are back open. Travel is, too. So, clients won’t have quite as much time or money to put into their houses moving forward.
“When the world really opens up, people may put their emphasis back on travel and less on their home base,” she said.