OPINION: Interior Design and the lessons it will learn from COVID-19

OPINION: Interior Design and the lessons it will learn from COVID-19
April 23, 2020

It is undeniable that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the world and it’s population, and whilst we are very much still living this pandemic and adjusting our lives to cope with the curve balls that it is throwing, it is very much forcing us to think about how we will live and work in the future.

The creation and development of spaces that we live, work, educate, and socialise in will be very much at the forefront of these future adaptations.

As we are isolated in our own homes, a strong spotlight is being shined on how the space makes us feel emotionally, physically and productively.  Much like a new material being tested for how it will cope with the extremes of temperature, we are being forced to see how the spaces we live, work and socialise in cope with the demands of this confinement. It turns our mind to how we need to adapt our design thinking to cope should such a situation arise again. A few of these reflections are outlined below.

Home Office  - No longer an afterthought?

Working from home and flexible working arrangements are not exactly a new phenomenon, but the average “home office” would most likely be non descript, especially if the property does not allow space for a specific office. The “office” is very often relaxed and confined to the spare bedroom, or even the dining room table, with the understanding that important meetings could then be done at the office, or more casually at a cafe. With the isolation resulting from COVID-19, the  “home office” has shifted from being just the work space to being the place where virtual meetings are taken over live meeting platforms such as Zoom, and the deficiencies, both aesthetic and functional, started to become exposed. For designers the “home office” will no longer be an afterthought but a place where full consideration of the “look”, lighting, sound proofing, ergonomics and mental health to name but a few will need to be given consideration. Just as the Kitchen is designed to function to our needs, the home office will need to too.

Mental health in the home - Home is often our sanctuary, but how do we make it more so?

Major corporations have been implementing measures in their design to assist with physical and mental health for many years, recognising that it increases productivity and thus profit. You water the seed, you grow the flower. Confinement in our homes has increased our awareness of our own mental health, and designers will need to look at ways that they can focus on this in homes with the use of lighting, colour, textures, and acoustics to name but a few, to and ensure that should we be placed in a similar level of confinement our mental health will be supported.

It will also be about going back to modest simplicity. The use of nature (biophilic design) for example, not only has aesthetic value, but the correct choice of plants can help to improve air quality in the home by extracting volatile organic compounds (VOCs). NASA’s Clean air study found that a number of plants were very effective at cleaning harmful air pollutants and root systems absorbing virus’ and bacteria.

Homes will need to look to become more “multifunctional” to allow them to adapt to the needs and demands of the users, thus avoiding the frustration of being unable to perform tasks effectively when needed. For example, a partition wall that can easily be pulled across an open living space to create an additional office, home schooling area or just an “I need to get away from everyone” kind of space. This shift towards multifunctional living was something that was already being predicted by market researchers Euromonitor as a one of the top 10 global trends for 2020.

Public and Commercial Spaces - Understanding our post COVID - 19 fears.

As mentioned, much of the corporate, retail and public sector already embrace design centred around the physical and mental health of their workers, customers and patrons. “Biophilic” design, “virtual workspaces”, “Collaborative workspace” and “workplace wellbeing” are just a few of the buzzwords that are branded across the moodboards and specifications of designers working in these spaces. Certainly COVID-19 will ensure the continuation of many of these philosophies, and while many will shift to having a greater importance there may be a question over whether collaborative working strategies align with the post COVID-19 lessons. 

Ultimately designers will need to drill into the concerns of those using those spaces and come up with strategies and designs which help alleviate these fears. For example, embracing systems which clean air, contactless systems of opening doors, lifts or public bathroom doors, and incorporating surfaces which have antibacterial properties, copper being one such metal with proven abilities to eradicate surface virus and bacteria. 

Utilising smartphone technology to open doors or operate lighting and technology in workplaces or a hotel room. Aged care provider Feros Care has developed a program that uses Google Assistant technology in an Australian-first initiative that will allow seniors to manage crucial aspects of their lives via voice-connected devices, so why not extend this to other spaces. There will also be a need for social, public and commercial environments to embrace space and allow people to separate, as well as structure spaces to discourage overcrowding and encourage frequent sanitisation. 

This has perhaps only touched the surface but the underlying essence is that interior designers and architects will really have to delve into the fears and concerns, both physically and mentally, of the users of the spaces that they are designing. As Coco Chanel once said, “Luxury is not luxury unless it is comfortable”. A space can be amazing but if the user is not comfortable within that space, both emotionally and physically, then it is never going to work and with the fears and concerns that many will have post COVID, getting that “comfort” just right will be more important than ever.

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