Residential design in the era of COVID-19

As an architect, I am inspired by the architecture community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those specializing in healthcare. The coronavirus has created a surge of temporary hospitals and testing sites in spaces like convention centers and parking lots. Additionally, global “stay at home orders” has forced us to spend more time at home with our families. With this home life immersion, we’ve enjoyed the perks of telecommuting, but also experienced the shortcomings of not being prepared. I’d like to share some of the COVID-19 residential design issues I’ve noticed while on “lock-down” with my family of four.

Floor plan ideas for COVID-19 friendly residential design

Virtual Reconnection

Probably the first change that came globally was the swift shift to video conferencing. My PK-4 child was the first one in our household to test drive zoom conferencing after a week of homeschooling. She had been requesting that her younger sibling who attends a small in-home daycare stay home with her for company. It occured to me that her social interactions were paramount. We had to reestablish contact with her school friends.

My daughter’s success of “zooming” with friends quickly grew to us connecting with family, happy hours, church and yoga classes. We simply use a tablet or laptop for video conferences or watching live broadcasts. Often our tablet or phone is precariously propped up against books, wine bottles, or anything else nearby. I am looking into a converting our larger living room TV for this purpose, most likely with an HDMI connection. If you’re looking for a sleeker COVID-19 friendly video conferencing then a built-in entertainment center would be a better choice for your residential design.

Good to have: Webcam connection for your TV
Wishlist: Built-in entertainment/video-conference center.

Home Office Design

For those of us that are able to work remotely, setting up a functional work space can be a challenge. Some of us have had to re-purpose the den, guest room or even the dining room table for office use. For me, I already work from home so nothing changed with my immediate needs. My wife, however, was also now working from home, and we share the same office space. My old gripes of working in large open bench style offices quickly came back – there’s no acoustical separation! I now had to transition from having a quiet office to random chatter from my wife’s all day video conferences. This can be distracting depending on my task at hand.

Luckily, our schedules have a brief overlap when I switch from AM homeschooling to “starting my work day” at 2pm. If there’s any unwelcome noise from a conference I just pull out my regular headphones to drown out the distraction. You could also get a pair of one of those noise canceling headphones which tend to be pricier. If you and your spouse work from home with a significant amount of COVID-19 video-conferences, I recommend incorporating separate offices into your residential design. You could also temporarily move to another room, but it’s most convenient to have all your office tools within reach.

Good to have: A dedicated desk for your home office and noise cancelling headphones
Wishlist: Separate home offices for spouses

COVID-19 Clean & Dirty Zones

While I handle most of the cooking in our home, my wife enjoys keeping the house clean. She now cleans daily with antiseptic wipes and vacuums to clear food scraps from the kids grazing all day long. Our home does have both a foyer and mudroom to keep dirty shoes out of our main living spaces. Recent opinions on virus control, has me thinking about how to make the “dirty” zones in the house more robust.

The powder room didn’t make the cut for our phase-1 renovations but we’re looking to tackle that space soon. To create a more effective “dirty” zone we are planning to relocate access to the “powder room” from the mudroom. This would enable us to wash our hands immediately after entering and even shower if needed.

Quarantine Space

Another consideration is what if someone in your household does get sick, and how to isolate them. Luckily for us we do have a basement that could be used for this purpose. When I suddenly fell ill towards the end of last year, I actually found myself sequestered in the basement of a friend‘s house during a weekend trip. Although the remoteness of a basement is more effective at controlling virus spread, you could use a spare bedroom if that is what’s available. You might even consider door seals to minimize air flow to the rest of the household.

Good to have: Foyer & Mudroom
Wishlist: Mudroom with laundry & bathroom access

Long-term Food Storage

In an effort to minimize our outside exposure to the virus and maintaining “social distancing”, we’ve been trying to minimize our big grocery runs from every week to once every two weeks or more. Luckily when we renovated our home we added a pantry, one level down from our main kitchen. It has a deep freezer, which has become even more valuable during this time. We currently have a smaller galley kitchen, but I could see how a larger footprint with more cabinet space would be useful in times like these. I find that I am preparing more meals and there is a lot more foot traffic through the kitchen. Extra food storage capacity is also great for entertaining which I personally can’t wait to get back to when this is all over.

Good to have: Pantry, deep freezer & extra fridge

Home-schooling / Kids’ space

Our dining room table has become our 4 year old’s multi-purpose zone of choice for art projects, lessons, and of course meals. She does have a small satellite desk, but this has become overwhelmed with the volume of materials used for her art projects. We still also have toys floating between the dining & living room which is quite the chore to cleanup every evening. Having the kids at home more has accelerated our plans to create a dedicated playroom to allow for less frequent cleanups and a place for the kids to be noisy.

With the shutdown of playgrounds to control spread of the virus we’ve been taking “recess” as walks/bike rides around the neighborhood. Our backyard is adjacent to an alley and is fenced in by a short chain link fence which doesn’t afford any privacy, but more importantly is not gated so it isn’t safe for kids to run-around on their own. Since the coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon we’ve decided to move forward with plans on a fence to create a safe enclosed outdoor space for the kids to play. We’ll also be seeking out a landscape professional to weigh-in on the design of our exterior spaces.

Good to have: Kids playroom & workspace
Wishlist: Fence for safe Outdoor Play

Quiet Space to de-stress

Mental health is a major concern amidst this pandemic. Parents are over-stressed from having to deal with lack of employment and/or juggling homeschooling. To address this issue there are numerous offerings of “solutions” such as yoga, meditation and even free access to mental health professionals. It’s also just good practice for parents to get a breather from the challenges of parenting. I’ve found the daily live sessions at 10% Happier very effective as they also discuss issues relevant to the ongoing pandemic.

A dedicated “quiet space” for passive respite (reading, meditation) or activities such as yoga or a quick at-home workout is useful for de-stressing. We have gravitated to our basement since it’s remote enough to “get away” and has enough space to exercise. If you’re in a crunch with no such space, bathrooms are also a good place to escape for a quick breather. Just remember to lock the door!

Good to have: Yoga/meditation room

Swing Space during Construction

If you’re thinking about starting renovations, but don’t know how you’d be able to live in your house through construction, consider renting a temporary swing space. Before COVID-19 we would have been at our jobs or school during the day, avoiding the inconvenience of construction. We were also able to stay with friends for a couple weeks to avoid the invasive noise, & dust from our central AC installation. Since staying with friends/family is next to impossible with social distancing, one option would be to look into getting a small short-term rental (airbnb) space to setup an office or home-school work station for daytime refuge. Of course, if you can’t stay in your house at all during construction, than a larger house would be needed. Many hosts/landlords would be happy to have a renter stay for 1-3 months to avoid the time consuming “deep-cleaning” required at this time.

Please share your comments below on the other COVID-19 issues that have changed your residential needs. Also feel free to contact me if you’d like any assistance on your renovations plans.

Stay well.

Further Reading

How Infectious Disease Defined the American Bathroom

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