Visions for the future: The post-pandemic home
In July, the Indian Railways announced that it was working on a prototype coach with foot-operated soap dispensers, fixtures with anti-microbial titanium dioxide coating and air purification equipment in air conditioner ducts that would sterilise the interiors using ionised air — all to safeguard mass transit in a post pandemic future.
Sachin Goyal, 35, read the news and rejoiced for a different reason. His family, comprising wife Ekta (35), daughter Divisha (4) and two sexagenarian parents had moved out of a bungalow in New Delhi’s Anand Vihar and into a rental apartment in Gurugram, a month before the national lockdown was announced on March 24 to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, he was on the look out for the right kind of air conditioning system (ACs), since air circulation was a crucial factor in the transmission of the Sars-CoV-2 virus. Goyal searched online for the equipment that the national carrier planned to use, and found a company, Plasma Air, that sold it in India. He then made a call to his AC service provider to procure eight pieces of the ionised air purifier.
But that’s not the only thing that Goyal did to prepare for a post-Covid reality. The chartered accountant with his own logistics firm asked Dinesh Panwar — an architect-designer who drew up the plans for the Goyals’ newly bought apartment in Gurugram and into which they plan to shift in a few months — to make some significant design modifications.
Panwar, who runs Delhi-based architecture and design firm Urbanscape, said that Goyal swapped the designs for a 250 sq ft area with the adjacent 450 sq ft area. Earlier, the smaller area was meant to be a living room, with a small dining area, the television and recliner seats — essentially, the family lounge room. The larger area was to be a drawing room with two seating areas to entertain a large number of guests. Now, the larger area will now house the family lounge; a wall has even been designated for a projector that will be connected to the computer so that four-year-old Divisha won’t need to stare at the laptop screen during online school and activity sessions.
“I wanted a big, alishaan drawing room where we could entertain many guests. But now, we don’t know what the future will bring. In case of another pandemic or a lockdown, the area that we use daily should be more luxurious and comfortable. The drawing room for guests should also be separate from the rest of the house,” Goyal said.
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As the Sars-CoV-2 virus continues to ravage India — the country now has the second-worst outbreak of the disease in the world, behind only the United States — many begun to turn their homes into multi-functional spaces. The house, which has now turned into a school, playground and workspace, must cater to a variety of demands.
What’s more, furniture makers have come out with a range of work tables with adjustable heights and ergonomic chairs to cater to what they forsee will be growing market, as tech giants such as Infosys and Wipro, Dell and Google, among others, ask their employees to work from home for the foreseeable future.
“Work from home furniture which comprised about 3% of company’s sales has increased to 15 %. Overall, June, July and August achieved 60%, 70 % and 85 % of the normal demand with improvement seen month after month. We believe we will achieve normalcy from forthcoming festival season, which will also be supported by marriage season,” said Subodh Mehta, senior vice president (B2C) Godrej Interio, the furniture making arm of Godrej.
Two products that have done well since they were launched during lockdown are a work desk with a separate hutch and a swivel arm that can allow more than one user to use the desk at the same time, and a chaise that allows a user to stretch out while working on laptops/tablets and thus create a comfortable working corner, Mehta said.
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Panasonic has come out a desk and 4-ft high partition which can be assembled at home to create a work cubicle at home. It is currently only available in Japan.
German manufacturing company Vitra recently published a “set of hypotheses” on the future of the home. Among the most radical of post-pandemic design implications was a so-called broken plan — hive off existing spaces to create new multifunctional spaces for family members.
“Now that we are spending more time at home and having to share that limited area with our cohabitants, we need to work on optimising the available space. Partitioning off or zoning our interior between various activities and people, or during different times of the day, presents an easy option. The so-called broken plan — with screens, curtains and plants in the absence of walls — creates digital detox zones while other members of the household carry on with their work. The home might even adopt some well known typologies from open space offices, such as soundproof phone booths or objects with higher walls,” the document stated.
“It’s not just about designing a two BHK (bedroom-hall-kitchen) or a three BHK anymore; it’s about designing a multifunctional space, since spaces inside a home can’t any longer have a singular purpose. So, customers are asking us to create collapsible partitions. They are experimenting with the idea of sound-proofing through acoustic panels and false ceilings. Customers are saying, ‘give me open spaces (like skylights or balconies) for the future’,” said Neelima Ronanki, vice president of design for HouseJoy, a company that provides a suite of services from appliance repair to interior design, construction and even home salon services.
In Bengaluru, a client recently requested a design that would give her and her husband much-needed silence during work hours, and their two children private space after school. Ronanki’s team came up with an elegant solution: a mezzanine floor, between the ground floor and the first, “like a sort of box in an in-between space” where “the children can play video games or chat with friends without disturbing parents,” Ronanki pointed out.
This focus on the interior is here to stay, said Amar Tendulkar, chief of design at Mahindra Lifespace Developers Limited. Tendulkar’s team conducted a survey among a small sample size of 125 families in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (across middle, and upper middle class, he said) over the past three months to gauge how their needs from their home and community has evolved over the course of the pandemic.
Some of the themes that emerged included the need to re-evaluate the spatial configuration of interiors, flexibility being key; a need for sanitisation spaces in the lobbies and entrance areas of apartments; a shift from indoor, air-conditioned community spaces to outdoor ones (like gymnasiums); and, the need for balconies.
“Balconies and decks have re-emerged in the Covid era as more families realise their importance. Balconies are like your own private outdoor space,” Tendulkar said, adding, “We are looking at doing this in some of our upcoming housing projects in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.”
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His own big take away from the lockdown, he said, was the re-emergence of the kitchen as an important space within the home. High-end appliances and a screen in the kitchen — something that current designs don’t usually take into account — are gaining importance and modern-day kitchens must account for this.
“I used to love cooking, but I wouldn’t get much time to cook earlier. Now, having spent time in kitchen [during the lockdown], I realise the importance of smart appliances. Other male friends of mine are also realising this — a screen in the kitchen, for example, which can play recipes on YouTube,” he said.