Have pandemic restrictions changed our homes forever? Eve Kelliher consults Cork interior designer Sinead Kelly
SPARE a thought for our homes in these times: They’re flat out working round-the-clock shifts, and taking on multiple roles — serving not only as our havens but as workplaces, universities and schools.
Because Covid-19 restrictions continue to confine us pretty much to barracks, we are more aware than ever of how we use our living space.
Commutes shrank almost overnight to mere metres when employees across the world moved from boardrooms to bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and even garden sheds, so it’s unsurprising that online searches for “home office” and “desk” rose in popularity during March 2020 (95% and 89% respectively), on home renovation and design platform Houzz.
So can we predict how the coronavirus pandemic could shape the home of the future? Going forward, it does seem that homes will be designed with multiple uses in mind, carving out dedicated workspaces or creating rooms that are reconfigurable depending on the time of day, according to design professionals.
This is the main change Cork interior designer Sinead Kelly has made to her home since the pandemic lockdown started.
The coronavirus restrictions' ripple effect is both immediate and long-reaching, she believes. “People are starting to reinvent the way they live,” Sinead told the. “In our own home, one thing we have changed since lockdown is creating a multipurpose work-living space with built-in cabinetry and desk for a home office/study.
“In our family, we were trying to cater for online learning as well as work. Our daughter is a Leaving Certificate student and our son is a college student with end-of-year exams at the moment — and my husband and I relocated our office to home due to government regulations.
“I think our kids were fortunate that Mum and Dad could whip up something very quickly for them. The need for such a space could be longer-term.”
Sinead operates Kelly Creations in Little Island with her husband Ian.
“He’s a cabinet maker, so it’s the perfect fit,” she says. In recent weeks, Ian has been “inundated with requests” for bespoke home office pieces. “A lot of people are contacting Ian in relation to sourcing a bespoke wardrobe that also acts as an office space, for instance,” says Sinead.
Born in Australia to Irish parents, Sinead has worked in the design industry both in Sydney and Cork for 18 years.
She met Corkonian Ian in Australia and the family moved to Cork in 2016. With many years’ experience designing and staging residential and commercial properties around Sydney, Sinead became a colour consultant with Dulux for residential and commercial developments and has worked as an interior design consultant for the Next retail chain.
Over the years she has forged a strong relationship with homeowners she’s advised throughout Munster and she now believes the home office has “become a new normal”.
Attics and log cabins or garden sheds can offer remote working solutions that help maintain focus.
“An attic conversion or a small cabin in the garden can be ideal for remote working; their position is perfect — isolated and away from the central living area, allowing people to work effectively without distraction,” she says.
Zoning is key to domestic wellbeing, adds Sinead.
“The new home will combine work and home life and I feel it’s really important to zone these areas to get that perfect balance of work-home life if this is people’s new normal,” she says.
Our “new normal” could also have a major effect on commercial design: “New ways to safely distance with the public will become a necessary step moving forward.” Large offices will need to adapt too, of course.
“Work hubs and face-to-face desk systems in call centres and large offices will need to be adjusted and the boardroom table will likely be replaced with a media room as more and more companies opt to have employees working remotely,” says Sinead.
“A company that once had 80 employees in the office might have now only 20 with the remainder of the teams at home. There will be a need to facilitate Zoom, Google meetings and conference calls, online interviews and the like. Having employees working from home can also be very cost-effective for large businesses.”
Once the restrictions have eased, we will continue to use our homes in a different way, adds the interior designer: “Most definitely homes will become multifunctional. The world is going to be totally different. And although it’s tough, we will come out of it with a renewed appreciation for life and the way in which we live it.
“Many people will appreciate their time more, working from home and spending more time with family. Homes will also adapt to this new lifestyle quite easily, I feel.”
Our outdoor spaces are hugely overlooked, believes Sinead.
“In many countries bringing the outside in is a lifestyle choice many households adopt.
“I feel it would work well in Ireland although the weather is not ideal. Having a covered area extends the time we can spend outdoors — with advances in glazing and the technology of gas heating, an outdoor space would work well and connect to the hub of the home, the kitchen.
“Having an outdoor space adds another area to your home and is somewhere to retreat to if remote working.”