The safety and security of life at home—both indoors and out—will drive design decisions and creative solutions.
By Annette Reeves
Finding any form of certainty in current day-to-day life is a challenge. As people embrace what is now called the “new norm” it carries with it the weight of undefinable answers and a vision of a world we’ve never experienced. How will society evolve in the future? What will social gatherings look like? Will our hearts skip a beat every time we shake hands or embrace? Where, in fact, will we find peace and safety? Industry experts believe that peace will be found at home. Home, our safe haven, the only place where we can control who comes and goes, what’s clean and isn’t, and where the threat of the outside world and its endless uncertainties can be shut out by closing the door and drawing the shades.
So how will this new normal shape how we look and design our homes? As we follow the pleas to “stay home,” the safety of that structure is intensely magnified. Families are cleaning and organizing, every room and space is being used for new functions…school desks, home offices, and happy-hour Zoom rooms. Husbands and wives are looking at their real estate investments in a completely different way than they did only a few months ago. This is not simply where we sleep, raise our children, eat, and live, this is safety, this is predictable, this is home.
Ryan Bloom, co-founder and president of Urban Bonfire, agrees that people will see new opportunity in their homes, both as a staycation with luxury vacations canceled and, more importantly, as an opportunity to improve economic value. “The safe place that people have today is the home. As we move out of this, I think there is going to be an overall trend toward people wanting to do more in their homes because that is where they have complete and full control.” And as the months pass and summer approaches, Bloom believes that the outdoor area will most certainly become a focus. He, along with co-founder and chief design officer, Stefan Marchant, created Montreal-based Urban Bonfire in 2013 out of a love for the outdoors but, more importantly, out of a desire to provide clients with the ability to turn their outdoor spaces into real rooms.
The heightened sense that home is safe and that’s where people can socialize free of unseen germs will only increase. Bloom also sees the outdoor zone as a vital part of raising a home’s economical value and something that is on trend to becoming one of the key focal points of the construction and renovation industry. “Even before COVID-19, the outdoor living and entertaining room has been an emerging trend and tops many homeowners’ wish lists of where and how they want to invest their dollars for maximized economic and experiential returns. And now, more than ever, people will be freer to take a step back and evaluate what is important. The idea of family and friends together will come to the foreground. Whether you’re cooking outside on a $150 Weber or a $25,000 Kalamazoo, it’s not what creates the memory, it’s who creates the memory.” Bloom and Marchant developed Urban Bonfire to offer people a platform for creating outdoor memories.
For some people, the question of how life will look as we evolve along the path of COVID-19 brings a heavy level of stress in its unpredictability. But for others like Principal Designer Rona Graf of the Orange County-based design firm, Grace Blu Design, the query presents a positive and uplifting opportunity and offers the chance to reshape our future and the ability to design homes.
As we alter our lives to homeschool our children and adapt our houses to include home offices, classrooms, and outdoor gymnasiums, the respect for what we’ve had and the beauty of what we can create is the excitement, in Graf’s opinion. “This is an appreciation for everything…nature, teachers, home, and peace of mind. I think people will come out of this a little bit changed. That’s what we should be focusing on… we will see what we can do when we band together.” And that’s exactly how Graf plans to move forward out of this. “The way I’m looking at it is, let’s make lemonade out of lemons.”
Bloom shares the same sentiment. “Most of the articles we read are kind of doom and gloom, but in fact, everything will get better. In the most horrific of times, real leaders emerged, people came together, visions were aligned, and great new ideas were born.”
Thankfully, the construction industry is deemed an essential business and builders and designers continue to manage jobsites and maintain construction schedules despite the pandemic. While many building departments remain closed to the public, many, like in the cities of San Juan Capistrano and Newport Beach, are working virtually while continuing to process building permits and plans. Graf finds that some of her clients are unaffected by the pandemic while others are exercising caution. “People are telling me, let’s touch base, but no one is pulling the plug.” Urban Bonfire is maintaining virtual work through their employees, continuing to design and support by phone and email. Bloom says people are moving forward, starting new projects and planning for the future. “While there is obvious caution in the market, many people now have the time and creative space to think and dream up their future living and entertaining spaces,” Bloom shares.
Graf feels that the most important part as she works through this time with her design team is to heighten the sense of personal choice. “We look at design as timeless, that’s how I’ve always designed. More importantly, as people spend more time in their homes and find this to be their safe place, I believe design needs to reflect their personalities.” Graf believes that people will truly own their spaces, the formal living room that’s now a school classroom will transform to what is functional today, not what society has viewed it historically. Rooms will evolve in Graf’s prediction because people will say, “I want it to be this way because this is me, they will put their own personal twists on their homes.”
Most importantly, what both Graf and Bloom believe is that as we emerge from this experience, the positive aspects of these unprecedented times will continue, and people will embrace the fact that life is not on hold forever. Graf says, “The world will go on, and I think this is good for people to appreciate family, to remember what we did while we were forced to stay home, and we will hopefully maintain those practices long after COVID-19.”
Bloom thinks that although this is a monumental time in history, great things will come as a result and people will ponder what they’ve learned. Most importantly, he senses that the bond of family will be the pinnacle of these memories. “We really are in the middle of history and I think that this chapter is something that will be talked about in schools long after this. If you think about the worst of times—the Vietnam War, 9/11, or the market crash of 2008—families and communities adapted, and many found new strengths. From epic tragedy came creation and innovation that changed our future. This is no different, we will recover and that is in fact the silver lining.”
Co-Founder and President
Grace Blu Interior Design