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The Expert’s Guide to Creating a Well-Designed Home in 2021

Sari Mina Ross shares the trends that will shape our living spaces this year—from high-performance kitchens to easy-clean, antibacterial materials and more.

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“The way we interact with our homes is never going to be the same after 2020,” says Sari Mina Ross, who moved her residential interior design firm from New York City to Denver just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “Our living spaces are no longer places we simply leave in the morning and come home to at the end of the day. We have realized the impact on our mental and physical well-being when we have a well-designed home that really works for us—which means that anything we bring into our homes now, whether it be a drawer pull or chair or desk, has got to really do its job.” Designing just for friends or the Instagram feed is out, too: “People are no longer overly concerned with what their friends or neighbors think,” Ross adds. “Now, our homes are for us.”

How will this shape the way we design and decorate in 2021? Read on for the big trends Ross sees on the horizon:

High-Performance Kitchens

If you’re a parent navigating working and schooling kids from home, organization is key. And when the heart of the home—the kitchen—is organized and highly functional, it’s just so much easier to move through it and help your family, make meals, and clean up.”

Ultra-organization: “There’s a lot more detail and customization going into everything from the silverware drawer to the refrigerator, and so many options available—whether it’s a solution to store lids vertically or to keep knives neatly tucked away in a drawer. I’m a huge fan of lazy Susans and clear storage containers for the pantry. There is no guessing about what’s in there and how much is left. The Home Edit products are truly the most well-thought-out and logically designed.”

High-tech appliances: “Clients are investing in higher-end appliances because they’re cooking more. I love smart refrigerators, which, when connected to your smartphone or tablet, can send you a message when the door is open, track food items you have on hand, create shopping lists, and even tell you when the milk has passed (or is nearing) its expiration date. LG’s smart, WiFi-enabled InstaView Door-in-Door refrigerator is a great energy-saving fridge with a door-in-door design that helps keep contents at the right temperature all the time.

“A newer type of kitchen appliance that clients love is an herb fridge, which grows and displays herbs right in your kitchen. For people living in high-rises, it’s a great way to get a taste of the farm-to-table trend.”

(MORE: How I Reorganized My Pantry During the Pandemic)

The Nook Club

“By now we’ve discovered that the whole family just can’t gather at the kitchen table for work and school. I think it’s so important for everyone to have a little space that’s their own, which is why I’ve always been a big fan of the nook.”

Furniture solutions: “If your home doesn’t have a built-in nook, you can create one with thoughtful furniture placement and some new textures. For example, I love a hanging chair—suspend one in the corner of a room, add a small side table, and you’ve got an instant nook. I also love putting a really decadent chair in a bathroom. It’s amazing how just that addition can create a very luxurious retreat.”

A sitting room finished with acoustical wall treatments by Fabritrak. Image courtesy of Fabritrak

View and sound barriers: “I’ve been encouraging clients to create new nooks by using physical barriers—I can’t tell you how much I love screens; they hide a million sins—and sound-absorbing materials, which you can install in all sorts of places, from the floor to the ceiling. When we think of soundproofing a room, a lot of us imagine hideous foam on the walls, but clients love to learn that it doesn’t need to be this way. Fabritrak offers a noise-absorbing material (a favorite of certain high-end hotels) with a printed fabric face that looks stunning and can make a room completely soundproof. Another solution is GIK Acoustics’ small acoustic tiles, which can be mounted on a wall or ceiling in interesting patterns. You get a beautiful design element while soundproofing your space.”

A light-filled bedroom corner provides a sunny spot to ease into the day. Photo courtesy of Sari Mina Ross

Circadian Rhythm Lighting

“The more we stay inside, the more we miss the daily cues that tell us when we should be awake and when we should sleep. That’s why being thoughtful about the lighting in our homes and how it affects our bodies is really relevant right now.”

Smart space-planning: “When planning your interiors, think about the rooms you tend to occupy at different times of day. If possible, make the space where you have your morning coffee one that gets plenty of natural sunlight. Who doesn’t want to start their day with a little vitamin D?”

Programmable shades: “I’m loving automatic shades that adjust according to your schedule or to what’s happening outside. You can program them to open in the morning, so your body wakes in response to the natural environment instead of an alarm, and to darken as evening approaches, easing your body into sleep mode.”

The right lights: “When choosing light fixtures and bulbs, choose brighter lights for spaces you’ll use during the day, and softer glows for evening hours. Or, look for WiFi-enabled light bulbs, which can turn your smartphone into a dimmer switch—use it to create bright mornings and gradually dim the lights as the day progresses, which is one of the most important ways to improve sleep quality.”

Easy-Clean Materials

Ross is a fan of wipeable vinyl wall coverings, especially for families with kids or pets. Photo courtesy of Sari Mina Ross

“Even before the pandemic, antibacterial and easy-to-clean materials and finishes were starting to become important, and that trend certainly accelerated in 2020.”

Outdoor fabrics: “A lot of outdoor fabrics are antibacterial and mold-, mildew-, odor-, and stain-resistant. And these days, so many of them are so soft, you’d never know they were made for the outdoors.”

Bacteria-fighting flooring: “I’m a fan of incorporating materials that are innately antibacterial, like bamboo, cork, and oak, which actually prevent bacteria from growing. Cork flooring is really easy on the joints, and bamboo is another great choice for flooring, as well as for rugs, towels, and sheets, which feel so good on the skin. There are also some really interesting engineered-wood options that incorporate bamboo and cork, but that are a little denser than the natural materials. They’re more durable, easy to fix, and not affected by moisture or dryness.”

Washable floor coverings: “For floors in high-traffic areas, like the kitchen, bath, or mudroom, I love washable coverings—they look just like real rugs, but they can go in the washing machine.”

Nonporous materials: “These easy-clean materials—especially for kitchen and bath applications—are trending now and will continue to be popular far into the future. Quartz is a great countertop option: It’s the hardest countertop stone that exists, it’s nonporous, and stain- and scratch-resistant. It’s the best way to go if you want to be as clean as possible.”

For this dining room, Ross had the chairs upholstered in an easy-clean outdoor fabric. Photo courtesy of Sari Mina Ross

Patinated metals: “Copper and bronze have natural antibacterial properties, and I’m starting to see a lot of copper in particular in kitchens and bathrooms. One of the things I really like about these materials is that they change a little bit, developing a natural patina over time. Signature Hardware makes a beautiful copper farmhouse sink that I love—and the price is great.”

Wipeable wall coverings: “I’m seeing more manmade wall coverings that are treated to repel bacteria, but another great option are these incredible vinyl wallpapers—my favorites are from Phillip Jeffries—that look insanely high-end, but that you can spray and wipe with any cleaner. If you prefer painted walls, there’s even [bacteria-killing] microbicidal paint, like Sherwin-Williams’ Paint Shield. The only drawback is that it can have a chalky look, so choose your placement with care.”

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