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The Future of Design

How COVID-19 Is Influencing Home Design

The architects of Boulder-based Bldg Collective discuss shifting toward a more values-based approach, how to "future-proof" your home, and what's next for Colorado's design community.

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The year 2020 may have influenced lifestyles more than any period in recent memory, but we aren’t in uncharted territory. Throughout history, epidemics have transformed how and where we live—cholera outbreaks inspired the 19th-century redesign of London and Paris’ infrastructures; fears of tuberculosis spurred 20th-century modernist architects to design light-filled spaces defined by clean, smooth surfaces. What kinds of homes will emerge in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic? We asked architects Chris Gray and Steven Perce, co-founders and principals of Boulder-based Bldg Collective, to share what’s taking shape on their drawing boards now.

5280 Home: What are the biggest lifestyle shifts you’ve noticed in 2020, and how are they influencing home design?
Chris Gray: People are discovering new and smarter ways to use the spaces they already have. Some have learned they don’t need as much space as they thought. Others are thinking about more creative solutions for storage. And many are realizing the importance of connection to their neighborhoods and humanity—they want to see the street from inside. I think the pandemic has caused people to reflect on how they live their lives and what they need, and I think that’s a positive shift toward a values-based approach to design.

So we’re less superficial now?
CG: I think it’s about balancing a focus on things that look cool with what really works with how a family lives. It’s not really about what countertop material you have. It’s does my housework with our school situation, our work situation, and our entertaining situation?
Steven Perce: We’ve also seen a shift away from people making decisions based on what they think the market wants. More than ever, they are focusing on their true needs.

And what are those needs?
CG: It goes back to the fundamentals of good design: spaces that have a strong connection to the outdoors for natural light, fresh air, and views; and a variety of spaces that can accommodate different scales of activity.

Such as?
CG: [A home] can’t be all one big open concept. You need more intimate spaces that can serve multiple purposes, and that are for people to use by themselves as opposed to with the whole family. Extra bedrooms are a perfect example. If you’re not having any guests, it’s an awesome place for an office or for kids to study in.
SP: There’s a British term for a small-scale space like this: a “snug.” We typically put them off of the main living space, and they’re great, flexible spots to read or work or exercise without disturbing—or being disturbed by—everyone else.

"Snug"
Photo by Raul Garcia, styling by Kerri Cole

At a time when the future seems uncertain, how can homeowners best plan for it?
CG: Future-proofing might mean designing spaces where people can age in place; perhaps there’s a main floor guest suite that could later be turned into a master suite. And in the meantime, it could be a perfect space for an office, or for a senior family member to live in.

What should Colorado’s design community plan for next?
SP: The Colorado lifestyle has been on the upward trend for the last six or seven years, but I think it’s going to accelerate dramatically in the next five years. Those working from home no longer have to be tied to where their company is located, so they’re asking themselves, “Why am I living in Houston when I could be in Boulder?”

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