What Sheltering in Place Taught Us About Home Design

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Balancing telecommuting and remote learning requires reimagining home design. (Getty Images)

Shelter has taken on a whole new meaning as everyday life evolves into a different normal, with changing expectations for what one’s home can and should be.

So, what has sheltering in place taught us and how has it transformed our personal spaces? As folks started seeing their dwellings in a different light, lessons were learned along the way about the power of resourcefulness and creativity through DIY projects on a budget, using space more efficiently, the importance of bringing the outdoors in, and more.

“Home became a necessary refuge,” says Jennifer Lock Oman, LISW, BCD, a Des Moines-based psychotherapist with more than 30 years of experience. “The spotlight has also turned to home in terms of functionality and design.”

A Zillow survey found that after spending more time stuck at home, one of the top reasons for considering a move is to get a place with more rooms. And, as people continue to work from home and start online schooling, more private spaces will be needed.

“Rooms have been repurposed,” Oman says. “I hear about a lot of people finishing basements or repainting rooms to create added space or a much-needed sense of comfort and coziness. Putting energy into being home-focused in this way also provides some sense of well-being and agency where there is little of those feelings to be found in the greater world right now.”

Designers and architects have been busy rethinking (pandemic-driven) home design and coming up with great ideas and solutions.

“With so much uncertainty, the importance of home as one constant has heightened,” Oman adds. “When the world feels overwhelming, retreating to what we know is a basic instinct, not just a COVID-mandated necessity.”


Think fluid and multifunctional spaces. Living rooms that transition into work, study, play, exercise/yoga areas or ”stations” for busy families; changes to the “home office” idea, i.e. mudrooms that serve as a temporary office space; adding/upgrading guest bedrooms. Flexibility is key in limited quarters, so a dining room table can become a workspace with flexible partitions.

“While open floor plans soared in popularity in the last few decades, there’s a lack of privacy that comes with these open spaces, and sheltering at home emphasized for many a loss of quiet spaces to work, reflect, and take a break from the chaos of life,” says Haley Johnson, communications coordinator of the real estate and rental marketplace Zillow. 


While New York City apartment dwellers yearned for design elements that merged indoor with outdoor living, i.e.  sunrooms, rooftop terraces/gardens, lots of greenery, Long Island homeowners turned patios and backyards into tranquil sanctuaries.

“This pandemic serves to remind us how important our houses are to our daily well-being,” Vicki Yuan, associate at Lake|Flato Architects, told design and architecture platform Dwell.com. “We delight in natural daylighting, quality materials, healthy indoor air quality, and access to livable outdoor spaces. In many ways, this analog moment is a return to simple living, and in designing future homes, we will think more about what is essential to the experience of how we want to live.”


Thoughtful design and retrofitting homes with technology offer new ways to conserve energy with projects that incorporate solar panels, battery-charging stations, and air filtration systems.

“As the pandemic emphasized the need to keep our homes as clean and germ free as possible, smart home features like touchless faucets, bidets, and self-cleaning toilets will start to become increasingly popular to help maintain a safe and healthy home,” Johnson says.

“Life will be much different on the other side of this,” says Oman. “But a definite constant will be the value most of us place on ‘home’ and what that means both practically and emotionally.”

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