Designer Insights on Making the Most of Your Home During COVID-19

Five experts on interiors weigh in on reconfiguring our homes to squeeze in living, working, playing, and exercising.
Petrus Palmér Hem Stockholm Juni 2016

Palmér’s kitchen table at home Courtesy Hem / Erik Lefvander 

Cities have long deemed homes a check-out point from the hustle and bustle of public life—places merely for sleeping and recharging from the chaos outside. In recent weeks, the restrictions surrounding COVID-19 have shattered the urban order, reinforcing the idea of the home as a refuge. But at the same time, domestic interiors are being forced to serve a number of other purposes: The couch has become the office; window plants stand in for the park; the door frame has replaced the gym. Outside has abruptly penetrated inside.

The homes estranged during our old nine-to-fives, happy hours, and upstate getaways have found us again, and we depend on their limited yet resourceful offerings. The challenge to carry the outside world’s responsibilities and necessities inside is a practical exercise as much as it is a mental one. Whether you’re living alone or cohabitating, interiors are challenging to decorate for function, yet a treat to dwell in once orchestrated mindfully. Where is the best spot to place the computer for a Zoom meeting? How can I still welcome the spring without stepping outside?

Metropolis asked four design experts for advice on revising our dwellings to best function as multipurpose spaces for work, leisure, cooking, contemplating, and most importantly, living.

Rangwali No.296 (modern) 4

Rangwali by Farrow & Ball Courtesy Farrow & Ball

Metropolis: What is your solution for separating life and work within limited space?

Petrus Palmér, founder of Hem: As Sweden has yet to impose more strict regulations, we try to alter being home and being outside. In general I think routines are important—make the bed, dress as if you are going to work, exercise. But maybe more importantly, don’t mix work and free time, as it quickly deteriorates into something where you neither get stuff done, nor get proper time off. Full disclosure though, I personally fail at this miserably.

Elisa Ossino, founder of Elisa Ossino Studio: I tend to wear my headphones and listen to my favorite music while I’m working. It helps me isolate even when my family is around.

Patrick O’Donnell, color consultant and brand ambassador for Farrow & Ball: Color can have a big impact on your mood. For example, blues and greens like Light Blue and French Gray are calming, so are good shades for spaces of relaxation. Hotter tones like our Dutch Orange, Charlotte’s Locks, or Rangwali can be invigorating and help you feel more positive, so consider the background for the spaces you’re working in and make sure your environment is conducive to the kind of work you need to get done. Having a setup that you can pack down at the end of each day or work week can really make a difference. Create a desk space for yourself in your favorite corner where there is natural light, sockets for your electronics, and add a vase of flowers for a splash of color. Occupy it only during your workday to help you keep your two lives separate.

Hope Stockman, cofounder of Block Shop: I’ve noticed that the eroding boundaries between work and downtime, both communication-wise (friend, work, family, and Zooms are all blending together) as well as spatially—toggling between work emails and Netflix on my laptop at night, is giving rise to low-grade digital exhaustion. I work and eat at my dining room table. So I’ve found it’s really helpful to clear off all my work stuff by 6 PM, and set the table with flowers, candles, and cloth napkins for dinner. It delineates the functions of that room, and it’s the signal I need to switch off my work brain.

Elisaossinostudio Perfect Darkness03 Ph.giorgio Possenti

“Perfect Darkness,” a 2019 installation in Milan’s Brera district, conceived by H+O (a collaboration between Elisa Ossino and Josephine Akvama Hoffmeyer). Courtesy Elisa Ossino / Giorgio Possenti

What are your tips for sharing a space with a partner, roommate, or children for an extended amount of time when personal space is needed?

Petrus Palmér: Sound isolate your doors! We have a courtyard house in central Stockholm that we designed together with architects Förstberg Ling. It features beautiful sliding doors throughout the house—but this is terrible, however, when it comes to sound. This is especially annoying if you have two small boys with excess energy and healthy vocal cords. Hence my tip: Put the kids into their room with toys (or iPads), close the door, and plug the door runs with strips of furniture foam. You’ll have at least an hour for Zooming.

Elisa Ossino: I think it is essential to divide the areas of the house and to assign everyone a private space where they can work and live, while obviously keeping common areas where you can spend precious time during lunches and evenings.

Patrick O’Donnell: Assign yourselves a room or a section each and agree to keep it separate throughout the work day. Treat each other’s working spaces as if they were offices and be mindful of when you have calls, whether you work better with music or in silence and try to accommodate each other. Consider the backdrop to your conference calls—make sure there is a suitable location to be broadcasting from and if there isn’t, upload your own painted backgrounds to Zoom from our Farrow & Ball inspiration gallery. We’ve been seeing some great examples of home offices through our Farrow & Ball Instagram, as people use this time to take on those at-home projects they’ve been meaning to get to.

Lily Stockman, cofounder of Block Shop: Humor! Memes! Cocktail hour at 4 PM! My husband and I trade off piling both babies into a stroller and taking the dog for long walks along the abandoned L.A. river so the other one can have a blessed 30 minutes of alone time. Also, cleaning as you go—keeping the house tidy (or at least one room) helps with moods a lot. I’ve made peace that quarantine is not going to be a productive time for two working parents of a newborn and toddler, so we’re just doing the best we can, when we can.

Block Shop

Hope Stockton’s home, featuring pillows and a rug by Block Shop Courtesy Block Shop / Hope Stockton

What are a few ideal solutions to bring in more nature and sunlight inside?

Petrus Palmér: Maybe move your kitchen table or desk (if you have one) closer to a window, or out on the balcony (again, if you have one). Otherwise, try [to use] the kitchen counter and face the counter lights—they are unusually bright and might work as some type of daylight treatment.

Elisa Ossino: You can surround yourself with plants, make fruit compositions in large dishes on tables, or hang mirrors or artworks on the walls.

Patrick O’Donnell: A vase of flowers or a jar of spring branches can breathe life into a room when you can’t be outside. Have your windows open when you can, or if you live somewhere with limited natural light, try draping colorful fabric over lamps to infuse a room with a different shade. Paint can be a great way to inject color into a room, like our range of Natural History Museum shades inspired by nature. Paint a feature wall in a higher sheen finish such as Eggshell to bounce some light. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could paint a mural.

Hope Stockman: Something that’s brought me a lot of joy is foraging for flowers and branches from my yard and alleyways (to be clear, not trying to snipe my neighbor’s rose bushes!) and arranging them in vases around the house. Something as simple as a budding tree branch can make for a gorgeous arrangement. The foraging exercise also helps you see your city block with fresh eyes.

Dune Rug Hem

Hem’s Dune rug Courtesy Hem

How can we revise our interiors to accommodate outdoor activities, such as exercising, sketching, or practicing anything that requires its own space?

Petrus Palmér: Rugs are good. I would recommend our Dune rug as it’s very soft and pleasant for all types of activities. We do a lot of play aerobics, such as lifting the kids like planes on our feet, while lying on our backs and trying to mimic the flight attendant, calling out, “Flight SK903 from Arlanda to Newark, it’s a sunny day and we’ll be serving chicken.” It also cures the travel abstinence a bit.

Elisa Ossino: Choose an area dedicated to these activities, and equip it with a mat, a [medicine ball], or a rope, almost as if it were a small installation. You don’t need too much to train.

Patrick O’Donnell: Creating spaces within your home for different moods can be really worthwhile. Remodeling or re-designing spaces for calming corners or bright kitchens can be easier than you think. Painting the frames of a window can change the whole look of a room for example, or upcycling furniture by painting it a fresh new color can be an at-home project in itself. Be clever with your furniture and fabrics: If you’re now using a room more than usual and are getting fatigued with it, use throws or cushions to transform tables and chairs temporarily. If you need more space to do your at-home workouts for example, try a new furniture arrangement that allows for more central space in the room.

Lily Stockman: Moving the furniture to the outside of the room to have a fort-building session helps break up the day. We’re trying to be outside as much as we can. What’s more important, a nursery-school Zoom class, which is my worst nightmare, or weeding the garden with my toddler so she can learn about worms and grubs and the names of plants? Being connected to nature in any small way is such a gift. Also, a friend gave me great advice about keeping kids busy: water play! Two buckets, a scoop, and some water will keep our toddler busy for at least a solid 15 minutes.

You may also enjoy “5 Ways Architects and Designers are Responding to COVID-19.”

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Categories: Residential Interiors