The coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown have caused a seismic shift in the way we think about and use our homes, with consumers putting more focus than ever on how they can be adapted to not only be more flexible and functional, but to also contribute to our wellbeing.
Where previously our homes were a haven away from work, school and the outside world – somewhere to retreat and unwind – they have transformed into the places we work, educate, socialise, exercise and much more. Our homes have become busy spaces, which need to be many things to multiple people, at various points in any given day.
How the lockdown has changed our habits at home
The outcomes of the coronavirus seem set to change habits that have been in place for as long as many can remember. For example, 44 per cent of people have said home working should become a permanent thing1, while up to 70 per cent of people living in large cities are too scared to use public transport2. People’s lives have already changed due to this prolonged period of lockdown3 and as such, there is much discussion around how this will lead designers and architects to change the homes of the future, so their features and layouts cater to our changed needs and continual comfort.
Research shows that since the UK lockdown took hold in March, there has been an increase in time spent on home entertainment and socialising by around 44 minutes a day4, while those with children spent 35 per cent longer providing childcare, including helping out with homework.5
As these shifts in typical use have been forced upon us, homeowners have been taking matters into their own hands to adapt their internal and external spaces to ensure they are more comfortable during lockdown and any continuation of restrictions.
Research with over 2,000 consumers found that 72 per cent of people have bought new interiors products for their home in the last two months, while a third have invested cash on improving their back gardens so they can better enjoy time spent outside, but in close proximity to home.
Many are planning bigger projects, with three quarters of Brits preparing for major home improvements – such as a new kitchen – in the next 12 months. Over a fifth (22 per cent) said they’re creating a home office so they can work remotely more regularly in the future, while a further 22 per cent said they’re creating a space so they can exercise from the comfort of their own home rather than return to the gym.
A divide in demographics and time spent at home
However, the trend in people spending more time at home isn’t the same across the board. While those who earn over £1,700 month have been in their homes for 52.5 per cent longer than usual as a result of the pandemic, those who earn less than this figure are actually more likely to spend more time at work.
Looking beyond keyworker roles, some lower paid or less secure jobs, such as those working in the gig economy or the hospitality sector, which has been particularly affected by the pandemic, have found their income reduced or stopped all together.
And on top of that, the impact of poor quality housing and lack of access to outdoor areas are other issues that have been emphasised because of the lockdown.
As Isaac T Tabner, senior lecturer in finance at the University of Stirling, wrote in an article for The Conversation: “There is a large and growing body of evidence showing substantial mental and physical health benefits from taking regular exercise and fresh air in the natural environment – and that this has the potential to save the NHS billions. Access to areas of natural beauty is limited in lockdown to those typically wealthier households living in more scenic neighbourhoods.
“Many people in big cities have no outside space of their own to venture out into, let alone access to the great outdoors, yet more crowded and densely packed housing increases the need to access open space, both for mental and physical health. Now parks are being shut, despite being a lifeline to many. The toll of social distancing on the less advantaged will outlast the time spent in lockdown.”
Designing and building for comfort and changing needs
Whether it’s because we’ve spent more time at home or we’ve understood the need for quality, flexible spaces to live in, the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need to focus on comfort at home.
As we explore with Multi Comfort, this can be achieved in a number of different ways. It could be visual, in terms of having the right type and amount of light for tasks like working, learning or socialising, or it could also include biophilic design though bringing nature into homes or making the most of outdoor areas.
If people are spending more time at home, acoustic comfort is important for wellbeing too. After all, chances are you don’t want to hear your noisy neighbours throughout the day – especially if you’re juggling work and home school.
Indoor air comfort has also been the focus of attention recently, as some research suggests that an increase in lockdown cooking has resulted in more pollutants inside the home.
Finally, thermal comfort is important too. While the UK’s spring heatwave was likely to have impacted our comfort at home, with millions of people negatively impacted financially because of the pandemic, looking ahead to winter it’s vital that we don’t risk people falling into fuel poverty. Therefore, homes need to be designed and built to keep a comfortable and safe temperature all year round, without increasing energy bills.
Although the pandemic and associated lockdown has enforced many challenges on us, it’s also highlighted the elements of housebuilding which must be in place across the board. We still don’t know what elements of our ‘new normal’ are here to stay, but the coronavirus has already made many people rethink about what they want from their homes – for example, some estate agents have reported an increase in searches for properties in more rural areas or homes with gardens.
For architects and property developers, this moment in history should be an opportunity to put comfort and wellbeing at the centre of housing design. Whether we face similar situations again in the future or not, by focusing on comfort and improving the quality of our homes will mean everyone will be able to take solace in their property.
Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any views expressed lies with the author(s). Any opinions shared do not necessarily represent the views of Saint-Gobain.