New rooms for the new normal

18.13, Thursday 2 Apr 2020

In the new normal, I imagine we’ll need a few new room types for our homes.

1. Quarantine room

Now when we get grocery deliveries, Amazon parcels, or hand-me-down toddler clothes from friends, we take them directly from the front door to a holding zone where they sit for 24 hours before being allowed into the house proper. (Covid-19 does linger on surfaces for longer than that but the concentrations drop quickly.) The holding zone is the corner of a bathroom. Cold items go on a special isolation shelf in the fridge.

Maybe we could build a porch onto the front of our house and create a quarantine room. Bonus points: if we could give one-time access codes so deliveries can be left somewhere safe indoors, but without having grant full access.

2. Video conference room

You have to care about different things when you’re working from home. Backdrops are important, as is lighting. I take my video calls with a neutral grey wall behind me. And while I was considering bookshelves for that wall before, now I want to keep it clear.

Doing the PE with Joe live workouts at 9am every day, I’m struck by how considered his backdrop is – it’s definitely his home with his personality, but it uses neutral colours and all the ornaments are non-overlapping and mostly low contrast. It probably compresses well. Here’s a pic.

It’s easier to maintain a space like that at home if it’s just one space. Everywhere else can be a mess. And so long as I’m always going to use that single space, then why not attach a proper webcam to the wall opposite, add some soft furnishings to dampen echos, etc.

There’s probably a good business in being an interior designer who curates Zoom-friendly home office backgrounds. Though in this age of lockdown you’d have to figure out how to do it without actually visiting the house. Maybe in the interim Ikea could supply pop-up video call snugs with well-positioned lamps and tasteful decor.

Also I wonder how this will impact fashion? I noticed I was looking like a mountain man so I shaved my hair off. But I haven’t worn a nice pair of shoes for weeks and I’m mostly in sweatpants. Zoom life is all haircuts and no trousers.

3. A home that pays its way

Ok, Airbnb is getting a shoeing because it turns out that (as everybody knew…) people were hoarding property and farming them with short lets, damaging neighbourhoods and driving up rent. BUT the original idea makes sense: rent out a room in my home, or the whole place when I’m not there. The sharing economy innit.

And the wider picture is that your home needs to work for its living. In unstable economic times, a home should also be a source of income, so what does that mean? A room with its own entrance, and a second door (lockable from both sides) that goes into the kitchen for breakfast, to be rented out? Solar on the roof, obviously, sold back to the grid. A kitchen garden. A Powerwall home battery to store cheap electricity and then sell it to neighbours?

Maybe the future of the “front room” is to be a mixed public/private space, a bit like the shopfronts or workshops of old – a space which is made to run a small artisan business: massage, haircuts, I.T. support, neighbourhood parcel drop-off… a counter, a big welcoming window to the street, a secure internal door to the rest of the house. How would architecture respond if the ground floor of a duplex, or the front half of a home was assumed to be semi-permeable interface to the outside world like this?

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