Architect Speculates How Residential Design Might change post COVID-19 outbreak

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San Francisco-based architect Melanie Turner, who designed this Wine Country home with floor-to-ceiling windows, believes more clients and designers will think more about how air enters and exits a home in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Matthew Millman

Architect Melanie Turner believes COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on residential design—specifically in great rooms and entryways, as well as how air enters and exits a home.

She suspects people will generally spend more time at home than before, causing them to think more about how they feel returning to their sanctuary from the outside world, along with the layout itself.

“The open floor plan isn’t going away, but I think there will be a tweaking of it where you can find these middle spaces like reading nooks or small spaces for naps,” said Turner, director of residential design for Pfau Long Architecture, the residential studio of Perkins and Will’s San Francisco office on Bryant Street. “Clients will be more nuanced about bringing people together, but allowing them to be apart.”

She foresees great rooms with smaller spaces within them where someone can both keep an eye on things, yet have a measure of privacy.

This family retreat in Northern California, conceptualized by San Francisco-based architect Melanie Turner, features a concrete staircase and tile floor. Turner expects hearty finishes like these to become more common in entryways as people rethink aspects of residential design in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Art Gray

The New York native, who spent part of her childhood in Tokyo, also envisions some Americans adopting entryways similar to those of Japanese homes, very clearly defined spaces where you can shed your shoes, keys, jackets and assorted miscellanies before truly entering the home.

“It doesn’t have to be built-in. It can be a basket—or a bench to sit on while you take your shoes off,” she said. “But it’s thoughtful to have these architectural signals for people who walk in that this is space where you do this.”

Turner—whose portfolio includes homes peppered throughout San Francisco, Marin County, Napa, and Sonoma—expects entryways to have more robust material palettes, with walls and floors clad in finishes that can withstand harsh disinfectants.

That doesn’t mean stainless steel walls or other cold, uninviting materials.

“There are beautiful tiles and woods out there that are hearty and can be cleaned and scrubbed,” she said. “Textiles are tougher to clean. Wallpaper is tougher to clean. We’re seeing manufacturers come out with materials that are easier to clean. And clients will put more thought and ask themselves ‘Can I wipe this down?’ and ‘Can I scrub it?’”

She wouldn’t be surprised to see clients express interest in methods of sanitation in or before the entryway. Beach homes and country abodes routinely provide a place outside to hose off sand or dirt before entering. That concept could easily become part of urban design.

“People have different thresholds for safety, she said. “But I think you’re going to see a bigger interest in what you take outside and what you bring inside.”

Indoor/outdoor living will remain a fixture of California residential design, Turner said, but expects clients to ponder more about how air moves through the home.

“This topic came up during the fires a few years ago. Sometimes it’s good to be able to limit outside air that comes in,” Turner said. “We know it’s environmentally responsible to have an efficient heating and cooling system, but I believe clients will have an enhanced interest in air handling systems.”

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