The home of the future is energy efficient, flexible in function, and probably made from weird recycled stuff.
Reports from the recent Milan Furniture Fair identified sustainability top of the design agenda. True to form, Milan made eco-friendly look glamorous. Elle Décor reported outdoor furniture made of recyclable aluminium with cushions made from recycled plastic bottles; glass recycled from discarded computer monitors; and floor tiles made from eggshell waste. Talk about walking on eggshells!
Other trends at Milan were driven by the pandemic experience and the push to make interior spaces more versatile. Sliding doors, concealable kitchens, and workstations in closets all figured. Hilarious, but many of us have been known to step into a walk-in wardrobe to make a phone call.
“People are coming to me saying that they need a place to make a quiet phone call,” says Bernard Gilna, an architect who specialises in sustainable design. “You know when you have to make a really horrible work call and there are kids screaming in the background and the sound of someone making tea…”
While many are back in the office, Covid hasn’t gone away. “Working from home has to be an option,” he says “If one of your children catches Covid, you’re grounded for two weeks.”
Soundproofing is a big thing and so is natural light. There is also the need to separate or conceal your workstation. “You need to be able to hide the fact that you’re working from home. You don’t want to be glancing at your computer during the evening and seeing it blinking back at you.” Historically, this was achieved with a roll-top desk.
In the aftermath of lockdowns where co-habitants struggled to get a break from each other’s company, many prophesied the end of open-plan living. Reports from Milan indicate that, rather than slapping up walls, designers and architects are using moveable walls and sliding glass doors to divide spaces in flexible ways, without compromising the flow of light.
“I don’t think that open plan is dead,” Gilna says, “but people need to be flexible about their spaces. An open plan space needs a snug room; every minimalist home needs a clutter room; and there will always be laundry.” True dat. Passive houses have neither airing cupboards nor radiators on which to hang the washing, and their owners tend to shun dryers for environmental reasons.
That leaves them kind of stuck. Gilna has recently worked on a passive house that included a drying room where the occupants would hang the laundry at night. In the morning it would be dry.
“What’s interesting at the moment is not the return to normal,” says Patrick McKenna. “It’s moving forward.”
McKenna is the principal of Wabi-Sabi, a company that designs and builds fitted furniture: bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, panelling, sliding screens and stairs. “Fitted furniture is an over-layer of architecture. Rather than this idea of sourcing your furniture, you build it as part of the house.”
He has recently constructed an internal wall with built-in storage, a sliding screen and hidden doors, which divided an open living space into zones which could be changed according to the needs of the people who live there. “It creates a room of need,” he says. “Whatever that need may be.”
“Open plan living spaces are still massively popular,” says Jane Witter of Dulux. “But multi-generational living brings so many functions to a space that we need to do what we can to fine tune it and single out the different uses.”
This is known as zoning and one of the of the cheapest ways of doing it is with paint. The Dulux Colour of the Year is called Bright Skies and comes with several co-ordinating palettes. “Let’s be honest. It’s pale blue, but it’s great on the ceiling,” Witter says. “It’s a recessive colour, so it’s good for small spaces and it makes you feel calm. I feel it’s good for the soul.”
Rather than paint an entire space in one colour, she suggests using a palette designed so that all the shades will play nicely together. In this way, a zone that is used for work can be subtly set apart from a relaxation area. She also suggests getting rid of the white ceiling and bringing the colour down so that it extends to part of the wall. “It’s about trying to find these moments around the house. You can’t touch it. It’s about going around and asking: what is this space delivering?”
On one level, this versatility is a lesson learned from lockdown which underscored the requirement for zones within a house that could be flexible throughout the day: breakfast in the morning, homework in the afternoon, and relaxation in the evening. Taken a step further, it also relates to universal design, and spaces that are accessible to all, regardless of age, ability or disability.
“I can see that being a lot stronger, moving forward,” says Oisín MacManus, interior designer and principal of Ollas Design. “How can our spaces transform as we transform?” She quotes the architect Ali Grehan who once said: “If we’re not designing our buildings and places for everybody, who are we designing them for? We’re designing them for nobody.”
On a more immediate note, the pandemic experience set her thinking about washrooms and how they might be situated within the home. “In the country everyone enters by the back door and cleans themselves off. They wash their hands and change their boots for slippers.” These rooms, she observes, are usually a mess.
“Why can’t they be situated at the front door and designed as a considered space?” In the lingering half-life of the current pandemic, we still need to wash our hands. And protecting ourselves against germs of the future is no bad plan. Although creating homes with decontamination zones seems far-fetched, it is very useful to have a handy place to wash your hands as you enter the house.
MacManus is an advocate for Interior Design Declares a worldwide collective response to the twin emergencies of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss. The movement was initiated by architects and acknowledges that buildings and construction account for nearly 40 pc of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.
“As designers, Covid caused us to react,” she says. “Now we have to come up with solutions. I don’t like the phrase – a new normal – I don’t think there is a new normal. But if we don’t create a new way of living we’re in trouble.”
See gilna.com, wabisabi.ie, dulux.ie, and ollasdesign.com.