From green spaces to functional private WFH corners, homes in a COVID-19 world are focussing more on comfort than drastic architectural changes. Architects weigh in
Every morning, a tug of war ensues: A couple — both IT professionals with varied responsibilities and shift timings — is trying to navigate the seemingly endless tunnel that is work from home (WFH). To complicate matters, they have to share a single room.
As more people start working remotely, members of the family are scrounging for private corners inside homes to work undisturbed. And, with people spending more time indoors, there seems to be a need for homes to evolve. But, do architects feel the same? While some believe that there is an evident change in the design language of the COVID-19 world, many feel that the shift will be much gradual than we think.
Everything from having a well-lit, airy room to placing a potted indoor plant for company, the ‘little things’ now matter. A lot of these small yet notable changes are directly affecting people’s productivity as well.
At work or home?
Apart from aesthetics, functionality seems to be of prime concern today. People are forced to spend more time than ever before inside their homes: products and designs that are multi-functional are hence sought-after, says Stuti Gawri, interior designer and CEO of The Greyy Room, a design firm based in Delhi.
She has had clients who redesigned their houses during lockdown. “I think there is a major shift. Designers in today’s world are trying to solve issues that are very specific to the times. In terms of space, products, material, sustainability and multi-functionality, there has been a massive change in peoples’ perspective,” she says.
There is more of an emphasis on individual privacy now that offices have moved into homes. Small changes, like signage that demarcate one’s space (even if that means changing the carpet colour of that particular area) help, says Stuti.
Her firm recently introduced a series of portable work pods, called the Greyy Pods, equipped with partitions to give a sense of working inside a private cubicle, with features including Bluetooth, wireless phone chargers, customizable coloured fabric and lumbar support. This product comes in handy for those who share a single room and require their private working environment. Similiarly, Hyderabad-based Leesha Fabritech has introduced portable home office pods, that are customisable and can be placed inside apartment complexes or houses. However, there seems to be more interest in partitioning existing balconies with glass doors and the like, than setting up separate pods.
Some tips and tricks
- Family time: In the recreation room, position the TV at a central point, as the entire family can gather around. Introduce a central table, flanked by furniture that face each other.
- Make space for corners: In crowded spaces, furniture can be pushed against the walls to create more space to do indoor exercises, or set up recreational corners.
- Your bed is not your desk: Set up shop where there is natural lighting (facing a window), and designate the space for only work. Reduce visual clutter (start with a pen holder or a fancy mug). Invest in an ergonomic chair and multi-purpose desk. Considering hanging a colourful piece of art.
- Creative dividers : Stack a pile of books as a separation between your work area and the rest of the room.
Despite this focus on privacy, the lack of social interaction also needs to be addressed. To tackle this, Thiruvananthapuram-based architect Jayakrishnan RJ proposes the mushrooming of limited community spaces. He firmly believes in today’s “cooped-up at home” scenario, people are looking for limited social interaction; with precautions in place. He suggests small community spaces within residential colonies and common intersections where people can walk to set up makeshift workspaces. A proposal for this, anchored by Institute of Indian Interior Designers’ Kerala chapter, has been considered by the Government of Kerala.
“In this case, people can avoid travel and be near their homes. Professionals are increasingly trying to escape from their homes, and still want privacy,” says Jayakrishnan.
He gives an example: within society and apartment complexes, a stand-alone module with a good master connectivity and work per hour schedules. In case of a residential colony, this space can be located at a midpoint accessible to all. “More than work-from-home, work-near-home seems to be the future,” he says.
Bring the outdoors in
“Recently, a client we met said she wants to ‘enjoy’ her house,” says Stuti adding that her client wanted to open up her living room as a multi-purpose space for entertainment. “People are actively asking for changes based on what they like, because they want to make sure they use that space.” The onus here is on their own enjoyment since the day is spent mostly indoors.
Another positive change that architects hope will not wane is the growing interest towards green and open spaces in homes. Jayakrishnan adds, “I have been observing the sales pattern of potted plants and garden accessories and it is growing like never before.” A plant instantly freshens the mood of a room or indoor space.
Bengaluru-based architect Leena Kumar, who is also part of Institute of Indian Interior Designers (IIID)’s, Bengaluru chapter, adds, “In the past, people preferred to enclose outdoor spaces because they saw ‘space’ to be more worthy inside. That will definitely change… In a small space, it is necessary to bring the outside in.” Just to be able to stand on a balcony and breathe fresh air is being appreciated now.
Finding comfort at home has been the takeaway from the pandemic, more than seeking drastic architectural changes. “Now, instead of going to an architect, they are likely to go to a designer in order to try and make their spaces more comfortable,” says Chennai-based architect Benny Kuriakose, who was mentored by Laurie Baker (British born, Indian architect known for his designs that are energy-efficient and can maximise space). He is however cautious about prophesying lasting changes. “Transformations usually happen when the discomfort level is very high. This is when remodelling happens. The pandemic and work-from-home might not lead to such big changes,” says Benny.
As options to work remotely emerged, young families started moving to their hometowns and villages from metropolitan cities. Making small but necessary changes in these ancestral homes (which may have been built in a different time) would then happen, Benny adds. The necessary changes are practical measures like getting high-speed connectivity or installing accessible plug points.
While the need of the hour is to quickly adapt to this new lifestyle with practical, economical tweaks, in the long run, the pandemic is slowly ushering a more thoughtful, personalised and high tech, but eco-friendly, home.