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How 2020 changed home design

From getting a sweat on in the front room to turning your sectional into a psychoanalyst’s couch and hosting a never-ending sleepover with your extended family, here are the trends from the past year that will help you navigate the future of home design.

Finding room for fitness

With 59 per cent of Americans not planning to renew their gym memberships after the pandemic, 2020 quite literally shifted the landscape for many exercise brands. ‘For home fitness, instead of a “want,” it quickly became a “need” – especially with many people incorporating daily fitness routines in between work calls,’ Chris Zoller, sports accessory brand Everlast’s VP of marketing and product development, told Modern Retail. ‘Building a home gym, as long as you have the space, is proving to be an efficient use of consumers’ time.’

For home fitness, instead of a “want,” it quickly became a “need”

Zoller highlights an important secondary effect of this trend. An emphasis on at-home exercise will have spatial implications for residential design. While uptake of apps and associated equipment many have rocketed this year, it’s also highlighted the challenges that homeowners face when integrating fitness routines into their domestic environment. A recent study by The Shopper Agency and Design Partners found that 87 per cent of consumers say they face barriers to exercising happily at home, with some of the most frequent issues being a lack of space and not having the right equipment.

Employer encroachment

In some instances, homeowners’s employers might even help foot the bill for that home gym. Kevin Yip, cofounder of employee rewards platform Blueboard, recently told Wired that some of his clients have started providing staff with popular exercise platforms like Peloton and Mirror. It’s just one example of the ways in which companies are increasingly influencing how consumers use their home space. The most straightforward, of course, is in helping create more productive home working environments. A 100,000+-respondent survey by workforce-analyst Leesman showed a direct correlation between employee satisfaction with remote working and access to a private office or dedicated desk. To that end, brands like TravelBank, Twitter, Facebook and Google have all been offering employees significant stipends to build out their workspaces.

"We need new forms of private "sanctuary" space at home"

As companies look to address (especially this year) the psychological burdens of work more directly, they’re also exploring how these benefits can be exported to the home. Brands such as Twitter have started offering mental health days and subscriptions to mindfulness apps like Happify, while PR and advertising agency Havas is hosting Wellness Wednesdays, which include guided meditation, reiki and the opportunity to have a session with a psychotherapist. Some of these activities aren’t exactly suited to a shared domestic setting, however, raising the question of whether we need new forms of private ‘sanctuary’ space at home.

Taking healthcare in-house

In fact it's not only mental health that’s increasingly been treated from the comfort of the kitchen table. Earlier in the year Metova and Innovator Health published a survey that showed how the COVID-19 crisis has boosted public perception of telemedicine. Four-fifths of the 1,000 UK residents surveyed said that they would choose telemedicine for their next consultation if given the option. Of the 70 per cent who had already experienced a video consultation with a healthcare professional, 40 per cent had done so for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Indeed medical journal The Lancet estimates that there has been a ten-fold increase in the number of virtual patient consultations since the pandemic began.

"The hospital of the future will bring the technology to the patient instead of bringing patients to the technology"

There are some misgivings, however, with the vast majority of respondents (96 per cent) saying their experience would be improved if health associations were to provide equipment to take key readings (temperature and blood pressure for instance) during health calls. These results resonate with a study by Deloitte which canvassed health professionals’ view on how hospital care will look in 2040. ‘The hospital of the future will bring the technology to the patient instead of bringing patients to the technology,’ write the authors. One key concept they cite is ‘hospital at home’, in which ‘staff and technology in centralized monitoring locations oversee patient care’ remotely.

Long live the smart home

The rise of at-home healthcare will also be driven by increased awareness of the ways in which smart technologies can help consumers live both better and longer their own properties. ‘Structural changes to consumer lives initiated in 2020 will have a lasting positive impact that will help to drive adoption in many areas of the smart home space,’ says Jonathan Collins, smart home research director at ABI Research. Indeed a survey of US households’ attitudes to in-home technology by consultancy EY projects an 80 per cent increase in average smart home device ownership over the next five years. ‘The impact of COVID-19 is. . .creating new applications and use cases,’ write the report’s authors. ‘Providers should therefore consider enhancing their offerings in areas such as contactless home delivery systems and health monitoring services.’

"Baby boomers will be looking to leverage smart home devices for independent living in their senior years"

That last point is particularly instructive during a period where the failure of nursing-home networks has raised further questions about the viability of assisted living. As a result, older demographics are now likely to reappraise the potential of smart home technology. ‘This is a critical segment but we don’t really see it being addressed by anyone yet,’ says Bharat Chadda, SVP of technology at constants Sutherland. ‘It will become even more critical as baby-boomers age into this group. Many in this generation have embraced smart phones and smart home devices and will be looking to leverage them for independent living in their senior years.’

A multi-generation migration

What ‘independent living’ actually means moving forward will be somewhat contested, however. We’ve covered a range of new multi-generational house designs over the last couple of years, a typology that was reemerging in response to several socioeconomic pressures, from loneliness to house prices to the cost of child and senior care. Now it looks like the pandemic has given the homeward migration another boost. 2020 has seen the share of US 18- to 29-year-olds living with their parents hit 52 per cent according to Pew Research Centre, surpassing the previous peak during the Great Depression era.

"One in three UK households are now multigenerational"

In the UK insurer Avia has just published data showing that one in three households are now multi-generational, and not just due to ‘boomerang’ children; while young adults make up the majority of such homes, the number of older people living with relatives has grown by 56 per cent since 2016. Designing properties that have capacity and flexibility enough to accommodate such shifts in occupancy should be high on developers’ priorities. Aviva’s report also found that seven per cent of householders have plans to add annexes to their home, 27 per cent to house older relatives, 25 per cent for adult children and 16 per cent for lodgers.

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