How the pandemic is changing interior design

Reid Collier and son Rye in the studio in the backyard of the Richmond family.
Reid Collier and son Rye in the studio in the backyard of the Richmond family. (Jay Paul/For The Washington Post)

For two years, life turned inward and the living spaces responded

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Reid and Heather Collier love their home. Located in Richmond’s Historic Museum District, the 2,024-square-foot Victorian was a haven during the pandemic. The couple hung a hammock in the shade of the large magnolia in the backyard, where the family picnicked and their son played in the sandbox.

However, as the pandemic continued, the Colliers didn’t really like their home. They couldn’t stop seeing all the things that needed attention: paint colors they didn’t like, a lack of storage space in the kitchen. And with the addition of their second child and both parents working from home, they felt pinched, sometimes bumping into the walls of the house: Their active toddler kept banging his head on the glass dining table.

The Colliers had to take a close look at their home situation. They painted, renovated a bathroom, added shelves, built a patio, modernized the landscape. And after a particularly hard collision with that dining table, they decided it was more important for their kids to have space to play than to dine formally. The dining room became a second living room.

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For the past two years, homes have been forced to work overtime, such as schools, offices and gyms. We were confronted with the brokenness of our homes – the leaking tap, the dated sofa, the uneven lawn – and the boundaries of our walls. The rush to buy suburban and rural real estate was as much about gaining existential square footage as it was physical. We craved space, places for our children, and our minds to wander.

Impossibly tight housing markets have pushed many to sit back and make the most of their homes. Renovations and furniture sales rose; home design shifted to accommodate the new rhythms of people’s lives. Life turned inward and living spaces changed as well, accelerating the movements toward home wellness, nostalgia, and maximalism that were already underway.

For families like the Colliers, the adjustments they’ve made have proven beneficial to their family dynamics and allowed them to settle in comfortably for the long haul. “When you put work in your house, you really feel like being there,” Reid says.

Boundaries have been scarce for the past two years, especially in the home. Bedrooms became offices, dining rooms became schools. The family roles changed when the parent became a teacher, the child a colleague. Work time, school time, dinner time often merged into one long, chaotic slog without the physical and mental boundaries that helped make sense of the day. And 9-to-5 became a thing of the past.

When gyms closed in 2020, many people needed a place to train at home, which meant adding equipment and installing mirrors. As DC-based designer Zoe Feldman discovered, customers didn’t just want an attractive, functional space to exercise in. They wanted a separate room.

“They should have a special space — and the kids don’t play there either and the man doesn’t dive in there,” Feldman says. “You can have those boundaries within our home and also with your family. When mom is working out, this is mommy’s space and mommy’s time. It helps us to spend more time in our homes.”

“Drawing the line — it’s more important now than ever,” Feldman adds. “We ask so much of our homes and we live in such a harder and deeper way in our homes.”

After more than a year working side by side at the same table, in a cramped spare bedroom surrounded by baby gear and clothing, the Colliers decided to build a small studio in the backyard. Designed by Reid, the studio added only 119 square feet but offered a new world: a quiet place for Heather, an ad agency executive producer and vice president, to have conversations with clients and a workbench to tinker with jewelry. for her vintage-fashion side hustle. It also gave Reid, a creative director, a distraction-free place to do his graphic design work.

“When you put work into your house, you really feel like it,” says Reid Collier.

The studio “allows us to focus, which we couldn’t do at home,” Reid says. ‘The act of leaving the house and walking through the garden – a change comes over you. Now I’m in a creatively committed zone.”

While some boundaries within the home need to be rebuilt, at least one has been eagerly erased: the boundary between the inside and the outside. Incarceration has led many to turn our homes inside out, transform outdoor spaces into entertainment and dining centers, and adopt interior elements from nature.

Memphis-based designer Carmeon Hamilton began her career as an interior designer 14 years ago in healthcare, creating spaces for hospitals and nursing homes for dementia patients. She focused on stimulating the memory, using color, texture and smell to activate the senses and activate the mind, and to bring the outdoors in – all techniques she’s seen playing in the past two years. designing homes.

“I dealt with people who couldn’t escape years ago,” says Hamilton, now host of HGTV’s “Reno My Rental.” “And now most of the world can’t escape, and that’s been a big part of the design.”

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Patio furniture sales skyrocketed in the spring of 2020 as people moved social gatherings outdoors; many customers are still faced with limited selection and backordered offers for outdoor items. Noz Nozawa, a San Francisco designer, says her clients continue to invest in their outdoor spaces. Plopping down a beach chair and card table is no longer the cut. Two years later, customers are prioritizing high-quality upholstered chairs that are resistant to moisture, heat and UV rays, and people are willing to buy covers and storage to protect their outdoor cushions.

Inside, people opt for an outdoor feeling: foliage; earthy color schemes; natural fibers; and materials such as reed, jute, raffia and wood. “When we’re two years in, people realize how important those external elements are,” Hamilton says. “…That’s where that boom in what I call the ‘wellness aspect’ of interior design — bringing the outdoors in, bringing in textures and plants and diffusers of essential oils.”

Scenic murals have made a strong comeback to create a landscape in the home. Wallpapers with natural motifs, such as Josef Frank’s whimsical patterns for Svenskt Tenn, have also been rediscovered. And of course there are the houseplants.

“It was a $2 billion industry by the time the pandemic rolled around, and that’s when houseplants became the trendiest,” Hamilton says. “… It’s important to have things alive in your space. Things that were trendy for the past two years were good for people.”

The Danish concept of ‘hygge’ (meaning ‘cozy’) has been popular in the design world for almost a decade, as people wanted to imbue their spaces not only with an appearance, but also with a sense of intimacy. During the pandemic, hygge has taken on a new, all-encompassing dimension. Feldman has transformed family rooms, dens and dens into intimate retreats.

“We make a lot of textured walls, almost as if people have the feeling that their room feels like a warm sweater or a hug. People really like coziness right now,” she says. “The fire is on and it’s very tonal and textured. There are very soft fabrics such as sheepskin, chenille, mohair and velvet.”

Color schemes, much inspired by nature, also move towards the warm end of the spectrum – russet and oxblood, hunter greens and must tones, navy tones, earthy oranges and curry yellows, along with grays with green undertones.

Rather than starting with a design aesthetic or piece of inspiration, Feldman and her clients use feelings as a starting point. “Really anything that makes you feel really, really warm, put your feet up and read a book, drink a big glass of red wine, and put on some music,” she says. “And that’s the hard part about it. We are not relaxed – politically and environmentally. The house should feel like a safe space and respite.”

“The house should feel like a safe space and respite,” says designer Zoe Feldman.

Nozawa says that during the pandemic, customers have turned to her less for resale-friendly designs and more for highly personalized looks that they can enjoy in the long run. “They want their homes to tell their story and to be surrounded by something that means something to them,” she said. “That happens much earlier in the design process.”

In her previous work designing for memory care patients, Hamilton incorporated pieces to reflect those individuals: culturally significant objects, family heirlooms, travel memories. “That personal connection with people is important in helping people feel grounded and good in their own space,” she says.

“It’s more about feeling good in your home now than before.”

The pre-pandemic era was dominated by all-white interiors and minimalist straight lines. “Everything was white. It was sterile and boring,” Hamilton says. “And I think when people had to live in it during the pandemic, they thought, ‘This isn’t the most exciting thing to be surrounded by,’ and then the resurgence of color came back. .”

The boredom of the pandemic may be driving a shift to pieces from the postmodern era. Think psychedelic murals, abstract art, asymmetry and curves. “There’s a boldness and confidence in 80s and 90s furniture and art that are just very appealing in these times of question and uncertainty – and also because we emerged from the long period of polite aesthetic neutrality that dominated the design scene,” says Anthony Barzilay Freund, editor-in-chief and visual arts director for 1stDibs, an online marketplace for high-end home furnishings and fashion.

The retailer reports that its top sellers include furniture from Venini, Karl Springer, Mazzega Murano, Ligne Roset and Directional. And in the art sector, pop art and street art by greats such as Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Hockney are popular.

As buyers grow tired of the ‘Mad Men’ aesthetic and millennials seem to reflect the environment they grew up in, they’re turning their attention to recent history. “It makes sense for us to step into the brash ’80s and ’90s,” says Freund. “That’s decades that are only now far enough away to be nostalgic about it.”

As the pandemic becomes endemic, those of us who have made our homes more comfortable may have a newfound appreciation for the steadfastness of our homes — the fortresses we’ve relied on during this trying time.

“I think people want to escape a lot less now that we’ve had two years to make changes,” said Hamilton. “People think that home is a great place to be. I don’t have to leave my space to feel connected to anything or myself.”

While it feels good to leave, we now also have the pleasure of returning, opening the door and meeting the sweet familiarity of home. Knowing what we’ve endured within those walls makes us appreciate it more than ever.

“No matter how sick something makes you,” Nozawa says, “you have to come home.”

Marissa Hermanson is a writer in Richmond.

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