After Years of Open-Plan Living, How Has Covid Affected Floor Layouts?

Interior Design

After Years of Open-Plan Living, How Has Covid Affected Floor Layouts?

Though some luxury buyers will always prefer a formal dining room or a classic six, loft-like open-floor plans have been trending for years, with kitchen and dining room walls being torn down in service of spacious great rooms that connote a more casual style of living and entertaining. But as with so many other aspects of day-to-day life, the way people use their homes has changed dramatically since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Dining rooms became home schools, or sometimes prep areas for cooking at home,” said Nikki Field, founder of The Field Team at Sotheby’s International Realty in New York City. “There was a lot of adapting spaces in order to [accommodate] this group [family] effort that was going on for almost a year.”

As such, many buyers now have highly specific needs in mind when it comes to the floor plan and flexibility of a home.

“One of the things that has really changed is how involved buyers are in the floor plan even before they’ve seen the apartment,” said Stan Ponte of Sotheby’s International Realty in New York City. “We’ve had many examples where a client, before making an appointment, will reach out directly and already have scanned the floor plan, and have circles on walls, ‘X’s in certain places, asking if this wall can be broken down, can we put pocket doors here, expand this room, contract that room.”

In addition to sheer square footage, additional rooms—as well as the option to divide larger spaces up at a moment’s notice—are now essential features on many buyers’ lists.

“Overall, floor plans have become more important than ever before,” said Bianca D’Alessio of NestSeekers International in New York City. “Kitchen and kitchen storage have become way more important. People want space, generous layouts, room for a king or queen size bed in all bedrooms, and a home office in addition to that. That changes the dimensions of bedrooms.”

As the real estate market navigates the stop-and-start reopening and the prospect of another long stretch of working and schooling from home, here’s what the future of the floor plan might look like.

‘Extra’ Rooms Are Now Essential

The resounding housing trend to come out of the pandemic was the sense that “bigger is better,” and whatever a buyer’s preferred layout, extra rooms are now at the top of their wish list.

“In my experience, the vast majority of buyers do [still] prefer the open floor plan, because we’re all living much more casually,” said Nicole Hechter, a New York City-based Corcoran agent. “However there has been a real trend towards needing at bare minimum a home office or extra bedroom—for people working from home with kids doing homework at home it’s critical. So where we used to have people looking for a three-bedroom, they now need a three-bedroom plus a home office or fourth bedroom.”

In many cases, Ms. Hechter said the extra bedroom “wasn’t going to be a bedroom, it would be an office, room for a Peloton, a room for people to go and make their phone calls or just decompress from being with everyone.” Some affluent families have also sought apartments with extra room for live-in nannies and baby nurses, Ms. Field said, preferring that they not have to commute on public transportation in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.

“I think multi-purposes rooms are the way to go,” said Angela Kessel, an agent with Houlihan Lawrence in Westchester, New York. “I represent a lot of builders and advise on new construction, and that’s what we’re doing. They’re still doing the center great room and open kitchen, but have these dedicated spaces that serve many functions.”

Ms. Hechter added, “I think many people still want that great room where everyone can be together, but there is also a longing for privacy.”

Keep the Open Plan, But Make It Flexible

While there will always be exceptions to the rule, for American luxury buyers, the pandemic largely hasn’t dampened the craze for an expansive open entertaining space.

“What we’ve seen coming out of Covid is that clearly some division of space and rooms is required,” Ms. Kessel said. “However, the open-concept kitchen, great room and family room is here to stay. People still want the open family room to entertain in and to be able to watch the kids while they’re in the kitchen.”

In certain properties, an open-plan design may even be integral to the building’s overall appeal. “Where we’re building here [in Sarasota, Florida] tends to be in areas that are near the water and very view-centric,” said Dan Kaplan, managing partner at developer PMG. “So having an open floor plan accentuates those external features. Specifically where we’re building, we haven’t thought to change our floor plans or how the buildings necessarily function.”

Instead, the potential to make those shared spaces adaptable has become a selling point for some properties.

At The Woolworth Tower Residences, Pavilion A—a $23.3 million five-bedroom listing in Manhattan that was featured on the most recent season of HBO’s “Succession”—Mr. Ponte said, “It’s a great floor plan because we pre-designed it so that the open kitchen could easily accommodate pocket doors or folding doors to separate it from the great room.”

“That’s been a real key for buyers, to be able to know that if they’re cooking dinner and on a Zoom and the kids are in the living room, they can just shut the door for 20 minutes,” Mr. Ponte added. “People rarely sit at desktops.”

At 555 West End Ave., a new development in New York City, “We have 13-foot ceilings in the apartments, so it’s very big and loft-like, but the kitchen is also closed off,” said Alexa Lambert, a New York City-based agent with Compass. “If you look at the floor plans they’re like open kitchens but with pocket doors that can close—it’s the best of both worlds. People are looking for bigger, sunny spaces so that they don’t feel claustrophobic, and they’re also looking for little nooks and private areas. They want both.”

Particularly as the Omicron variant surges in the U.S., sending many businesses and schools back to exclusively remote setups, the push toward flexibility—and the ability to have every possible option contained within one home—is likely to continue.

“It’s an interesting mix of uncertainty for buyers of all ages on how they want to live their lifestyle right now,” Ms. Field said. “Are they going back to the office? Do they still have to maintain a home professional space? Because we are in such an unknown moment regarding the pandemic, I think people are looking for flexibility to be able to pivot if we need to.”

By: Virginia K. Smith I Mansion Global I January 2022

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