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Post-Pandemic Design Changes: Floor Plan Edition

July 6, 2020 | By Michael Kramer
Some of the buzz about possible design impacts of the pandemic is starting to fade. Will this crisis really create a lasting change to the way we design houses? The jury is still out on that, but it does appear that the pandemic is increasing the desire to own homes, maybe more than ever. In early June, almost 70% of new buyers said they purchased because of COVID-19. Many are moving out of multifamily properties, seeking detached for rent and for sale homes and the presumed safety they provide.

With both new home and resale inventory at historic lows, builders and developers have a great opportunity to bring new plans to market with pretty good assurance that they’ll sell quickly. And with all the focus on the pandemic, data about what today’s buyers want has been pouring in. Here are a few ideas I think every new home builder should consider, even after the pandemic ends.

Smart (Not More) Square Footage

Groups like Metrostudy/Meyers, John Burns Real Estate Consulting, and The National Association of Homebuilders have been tracking average square footage of new homes for years. Until recently, square footage had been on a slow but steady climb upward. But that upward trend has slowed and even dipped a bit because today’s buyers are looking for quality, not quantity.

Multi-function spaces might be the single biggest reason today’s homes can be smaller without sacrificing livability. When done well, a single room can serve multiple purposes and can even address multiple life stages (think nursery / home office / guest room). To make sure you get the most bang for your buck, floor plan designs should consider how rooms can transition between these various functions. How does that closet work once the space is an office? And how often do you actually have guests? Would a convertible space make more sense (think Murphy bed)?

One of the most functional spaces I’ve seen is the multi-gen suite. In Florida and Arizona, we use detached or partially detached casitas to create a very private (yet still connected) space that is perfect for aging parents or boomerang children. But even if the multi-gen suite is included in the primary footprint, be sure to design direct connection to the outdoors and an easily accessible exterior entrance. If the space becomes a home office, owners will appreciate that flexibility. And for buyers who don’t use the space for parents or children, we’ve seen these multi-gen suites morph into some pretty amazing entertainment hubs.

Amazing Outdoor Living

For the past year or more, homebuyers have consistently listed outdoor living among the top five priorities they want in a new home. The pandemic has amplified that desire, especially from renters in locations where stay-at-home orders have been extended longer than anticipated. 

Surprisingly, climate doesn’t seem to change buyer expectations in regard to outdoor living. Across the country, we’re designing enhanced patios, courtyards integrated into the footprint of the home, and upper level (including rooftop) spaces. The common denominator is that all of these outdoor spaces integrate with the interior, helping homes feel larger and more open and incorporating plenty of glass to introduce natural light. This is especially effective in narrow lot product.

Another interesting trend is toward architectural styles with front porches. There’s been a shift from thinking outdoor living needs to be fully private, reserved for side and rear yards. The community connectivity that a front porch offers has been a welcome reprieve from social isolation for those who have one, and new homes should consider incorporating front porches if possible. (Check out my colleague Mike Crocker’s article about how to make a front porch look great.).

Separated But Open Floor Plans

The ubiquitous open floor plan may see some changes, especially when buyers are seeking an alternative to the great room concept that makes working at the dining room table a noisy, distracting proposition. Instead of fully open, new designs should include options for partially separated spaces. I’m not talking about reverting to fully enclosed rooms for every purpose; but using partial walls, room dividers or optional doors (including pocket doors) is a great way to provide visual definition of spaces that actually helps rooms feel good. The added benefit is that more enclosed rooms afford more privacy, which has proven hard to find during a quarantine.

One of the best ways to build separation into an open floor plan is to use a L-shaped layout instead of an in-line great room. Consider including an optional kneewall to add definition to the dining area or kitchen area, but keep the family space as open as possible. This way, buyers can decide if they want to separate the spaces, helping the plan function the way they need it to.

“New” is the New “Healthy”

My last article about healthy homes covered materials and design considerations that have come to light as a result of the pandemic. But it turns out that many buyers think the most important healthy feature of a home is that it’s NEW. Not lived in, not a resale, but a brand spanking new home. That bodes well for us in the homebuilding industry. This idea isn’t really a design feature but is instead a call to action. Get busy building new homes and you’ll be busy selling them soon.

Goodbye, Pandemic

I’m officially sick of reading about the virus. That doesn’t mean I intend to ignore it, but I do think the industry is poised for a rebound like no other and we’d be wise to pause our focus on the pandemic and shift toward designing new product targeted to the new wave of buyers. Doing so means we’ll be ready and waiting as they continue to seek out better, more functional floor plans in these healthy new homes.

What do you think? Shoot me an email to start a conversation!
This article was originally posted on LinkedIn. View that version here