>> FOR DECADES NOW, no design has been as coveted as the easy breezy open concept. You can’t watch 30 minutes of HGTV without hearing a designer or even homeowner say, "That wall has got to go."
But these are pandemic times, and like everything else,our feelings about that echoey open staircase we thoughtwas oh-so-chic — but allows us to clearly hear the kidsplaying mini hockey downstairs — have changed.
Noise complaints aside, though, we shouldn’t go so far as to declare the open concept dead. Most homeowners aren’t going to be putting up kitchen walls quite yet. But more defined spaces within the home are definitely part of "the new normal."
"I think a lot of people that we’re working with now are building a home because COVID-19 has made them realize that if they are trapped at home, and they’re working at home, they need separate spaces to be able to do that in," explains Rob Swan, who founded Huntington Homes with his brother Sheldon in 1987. The duo introduced the open-concept great room to Winnipeggers back in 1993, when they built a show home that saw the traditional living room replaced by a room which highlighted the views at the back of the house.
Swan says a lot of homeowners are continuing to embrace the open concept in terms of their home’s common area — the kitchen, dining room and great room — but are opting for more closed off personal areas (such as a closed sitting area within a master bedroom) and recreational areas (like a private sunroom or home gym with a door that closes).
And thankfully the days of the dungeon basement are behind us, creating a large opportunity for homeowners to build the perfect isolation escape below ground level.
"With the walkout basements, we’ve got two or three levels in some homes," Swan says. "There’s enough separation where people can go find a place for themselves and not have to feel like they have to practise social distancing in their house."
Take Huntington Homes’ latest show home, a stunning 3,305-square-foot custom built bungalow at 661 Bridge Lake Drive, for example. It boasts a basement with a walkout that leads right out to the lake. The lower-level’s main area — which features a wet bar, fireplace and rec room — is surrounded by bedrooms and a closed-in gym space.
Aside from the defined spaces naturally created by the layout of a house, it’s important for homeowners to create personal sanctuaries within the home — human charging stations, if you will. The most obvious spot for a relaxing sanctuary — especially if space is tight? The bedroom, of course.
"I share my house with my husband and a seven year old and a nine year old, and when we were in the full-on lockdown, I was retreating to my bedroom and locking the door," says Kelsey Kosman, who helps clients create their dream spaces as owner/designer of Dollhouse Design.
"It doesn’t matter what the space is, I think that just for our own mental health, we realize that having our own time and space is important.
"I think everybody should have a goal of having one space in the house where they really pour their heart into creating a thought-out, well-designed space that makes them feel good to go into for quiet time."
Kosman suggests creating comfortable, minimalistic, clutter-free bedrooms where you (or the kids) can have an escape.
"I love adding real plants, diffusers for aromatherapy, and layered lighting is important so we don’t have a fluorescent light blinding us. Just try to think of all the senses and how they play into our mental health."
Beyond the bedroom, Kosman stresses the importance of keeping the home tidy so physical clutter doesn’t lead to mental clutter, especially during these trying times.
"There are a lot of studies out there that contribute to this way of thinking," she says. "Keeping things organized and clutter free really does have an effect on us in a positive way, so just try to keep that in mind as we’re embracing a new (ab)normal."
This includes your makeshift home office (and perhaps the kids’ makeshift home classrooms), which you should aim to turn into comfortable spots that are at least somewhat separate from personal and recreational areas. Kosman suggests turning a small corner of your own or your child’s bedroom into a workspace with a laptop table, for example, rather than allowing the dining room table to become a cluttered command centre.
Even before the pandemic shook up our lives, Kosman says a lot of her clients were longing for more closed spaces. Trendy minimalistic designs often have a lot of hard surfaces (like granite countertops and hardwood floors) that provide little in the way of sound absorption. Separate spaces with carpets and other cozy decor items can reduce the need for parents to wear earplugs when their little ones forget to use their indoor voices.
"Where people would have been considering opening up a living room to the rest of the house, maybe we’re keeping that one space as that one quiet area of the house," she says.
Swan says another popular option for a hideaway within the home is the flex room — a separate space that can be morphed into a playroom, office, workout room, you name it. The three-season sunroom is a must-have for many new Huntington Homes buyers. Half-walls and dual-sided fireplaces that straddle two rooms are also options for folks looking to create a customized quarantine space.
"We talk with clients about what their expectations and needs are and then we tailor each room to accommodate that," he says.
A more close-minded approach to new homes might not be the only innovation brought on by the pandemic, Swan says. We might start seeing more automated features not unlike those in The Jetsons’ futuristic abode.
"I see amenities like taps that turn on by electronic eyes in the guest bathroom as a possibility," he says. "We may see more automatic things within the house, especially in the common areas."
Photos by Marianne Helm