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Ask the Experts | Home Economics

H. Mathews Interiors

Lately, when I watch home design shows filmed pre-pandemic, I find myself talking to the TV, trying to warn the homeowners and renters about how their choices won’t make as much sense when spring of 2020 arrives. But there they are, removing walls for open floorplans or forgoing any outdoor space for that small, luxury condo. While these aren’t bad or wrong decisions, in many cases, people are finding them less ideal here in 2021.

Whether we like it or not, the pandemic has changed how we view, use and enjoy our homes. While it’s too early to tell which changes will be long-lasting, home design experts acknowledge that the changes force homeowners to rethink their spaces and the items they choose to include in them.

The biggest shift in home design is a toward functional spaces, creating home offices, school and homework areas, multi-functional flex spaces and exterior respites for relaxation. This naturally affects décor, the items in and around the home that we generally look to freshen in spring. For local experts, the focus for décor right now is on generating pleasure and maximizing functionality.

“If there is something that you don’t like in your home now — after staring at it during a pandemic or quarantine, you will hate it afterwards,” says Blake Erskin, licensed interior designer and partner at Shotgun Design Group. “This can really affect your mood, so it’s a good idea to make sure you find items or décor that speak to you.”

Designer Hailey Mathews of H. Mathews Interiors concurs. “Your house should bring you joy and peace, not stress,” she says. “I fully believe that a person’s home should be the place where they feel most comfortable and relaxed.”

A home’s décor has the power to elevate moods — from the room colors, to the rugs and furniture, as well as the art that adorns the walls or shelves. After a chaotic year, now is perhaps the perfect time to create your own happy place, your own sacred sanctuary. Mathews suggests using the money saved from fewer vacations, parties and social gatherings as an investment in that space.

“This year, I really want to focus on collecting art from local artists, not only to freshen my space but to support local businesses that are suffering during the pandemic,” she says.

According to local artist Abigail Reller, people take in their surroundings all the time, even subconsciously, so it’s important to fill your space with images, icons and symbols that bring joy. Through her project, The Grey Collaborative, Reller offers families a unique way to create collaborative high-end paintings for the home while capturing a stage of life.

“Maybe you are bringing your baby to crawl around on a canvas full of paint or maybe you are dragging your college-age kids to the studio during break, but either way, you are left with a timeless piece of art that is worth making a part of your home,” she says.

Certainly, painted canvases are one solution to freshening your décor — another option, and an easy, low-budget one at that, is painting your walls. According to Blake Erskin, color impacts moods and is trending again.

“For the last few years, the biggest trend was a soft white,” he says. “You can make a space so much more dynamic and interesting by adding color.” To freshen up his own décor, Erskin is repainting his bedroom this year while changing out items that are worn or that he’s tired of seeing.

Another way to bring color and warmth to a room is to add indoor plants, according to Penny Francis, principal designer of Eclectic Home. Francis also recommends changing cabinet hardware and rearranging art and furnishings as inexpensive options for changing the look and feel of a space. In rearranging furnishings, you can also rethink your space.

“The open floor plan, which was so coveted by young families, now presents challenges when you have both work and schooling done in the same room,” says Francis. “There is no privacy, and we see requests to convert dining rooms to offices, stair landings becoming classrooms, and the removal of the guest room and converting to a home gym.”

Francis created a studio for her daughter on the family’s second-floor landing space.

“It’s a great space for her to spread out and be creative when she’s home from college studying architecture virtually,” says Francis.

At Legend Interiors, interior designer Nicole Ruppel Jones is also seeing functionality playing a larger role in home design and décor choices.

“Homes have had to shift gears to be ever-evolving, constantly changing with new work conditions, school schedules and taking in additional family members, including new pets,” she says. While kitchen and bath design remains a priority, in-home wet bars and home offices are trending. According to Jones, exterior spaces have taken on the role of breakroom, where you can escape the hustle and bustle of busy new home life.

“It has been nice to see people enjoying every inch of their homes again,” she says. “Utilize your garden — cut fresh flowers and herbs to tap into all your senses.”

Another aspect of décor, furniture, is also finding itself at the intersection of form and function and plays its own role in pandemic-era home satisfaction.

“We’re realizing that furniture is not only stylistically important but also practical to our everyday lives,” says Alex Geriner, owner and creative director of Doorman, a handmade, boutique line of furniture designed and built in New Orleans.

“Our dining tables are no longer just a place to eat but also a virtual learning classroom and the home office all at once,” he says. “If the furniture in your home is not meeting all those needs, it’s going to make life pretty hard on a daily basis.”

In recognizing the current functional needs of homeowners, Doorman is developing a collection of indoor and outdoor chairs as well as day beds, bar stools, home office designs and bedroom furniture.

“We’re seeing a shift back to classic, refined, and traditional decor, but with a more contemporary twist,” says Geriner. “Our clients are asking for that ‘heirloom’ quality piece that will be with them for years to come, but they want it to feel fresh and modern with a nod to the past.”

No matter how big or small a step you take towards a more joyful, functional home, these experts say it’ll give your home — and your mind — a healthy spring boost.

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