One thing’s for certain — we’ve entered a new age of living, one with vastly different routines than we were used to prior to spring of 2020. Home design experts are still wrapping their heads around what these changes mean for home life, function and style. As they experience high demand for renovations and new home designs, so do the home furnishings industry and the suppliers and artisans who create the goods homeowners desire. Locally, Hurricane Ida further increased demand, as many homeowners are replacing damaged items. This winter, we’ve checked in with a variety of home design experts on what changes are ahead for home furnishings and how homeowners should approach new purchases.
According to Nicole Ruppel Jones, kitchen and bath designer at Legend Interiors, multi-functional pieces have become the name of the game.
“The most obvious is a kitchen table or island,” says Jones. From a dining spot to a work desk or a school work space, the kitchen island has become for many families the busiest and most functional space in the house. Jones and other designers also note that home office buildouts are increasingly popular, with homeowners basically duplicating their “at work” office and furnishings at home, some even sacrificing an extra bedroom to do so.
Another new priority is creating spaces — beyond the outdoors — geared toward calm and enjoyment.
“I think that all the things that were on the back burner in homes have now been brought to the forefront,” says Designer Tara Shaw. “One client had a room she called the ‘No No’ room because no one was allowed in there. Now she wants it to be a place she can enjoy every day.” A redesign did away with the formal drapery and damask but kept the piano and added midcentury seating, an updated, chic, and comfortable sofa, Belgian linen drapery, and a “smashing cocktail table from London,” according to Shaw.
As families with open concept houses try and adjust to the new onslaught of activity happening in one room, designers like Christine Diggs work to incorporate sound and visual privacy.
“We love an open space for entertaining, but the room layout, hidden doors, insulated walls and layered textiles can all contribute to softening sound transfer,” says Diggs. “In a busy household of Zoom calls and online school, creating separated, quiet spaces are a welcome respite.”
One example of rethinking or better utilizing furnishings for the purpose of “me time” is the daybed, which offers a place to curl up, read, or research and that is cozy without being a couch. For some experts, this new era has inspired extreme nesting — looking at what one really uses, what isn’t really used, and what matters in the long term. By minimizing a collection of chairs or other items, homeowners can create a welcoming, contemplative or distraction-free space for easing tension and stress.
When buying new furnishings, Diggs recommends keeping the undertones of the new items consistent with the kept items to avoid the new selections causing the original pieces to look out of place or outdated.
Whether replacing furnishings damaged in the storm or simply purchasing new for an update, Eclectic Home’s Principal Designer Penny Francis has one recommendation: buy what you love. Francis says to consider functionality and to restore family heirlooms or pieces that have sentimental value. As to trends, Francis loves the recent infusion of color into furnishings and a turn towards valuing vintage and antiques.
“Mixing those finds with modern furnishings creates a layered, curated look,” she says. Tara Shaw agrees: “I feel a collected home is filled with antiquity, vintage and current, modern pieces that the client is attracted to.”
For Francis, Shaw and Hailey Mathews, owner of H. Mathews Interiors, these warmer tones and a return to color make spaces more inviting and cozy. When replacing items, perhaps those damaged in Hurricane Ida, Mathews suggests starting with the necessities.
“As long as you have a bed, chair or sofa to watch TV and a dining table and chairs or barstools to eat, the rest can wait,” she says. According to Mathews, the backorders caused by the pandemic continue to make for challenging, long delays, and she hates to see people sacrifice quality or give up on something they love because of a desire to have a replacement now.
“If it is something that you plan on having longer than a year or two, wait for what you actually want and don’t settle,” she says. Considering how much more “living” is going on in the home, she recommends performance fabrics for upholstery to avoid worry over spills or everyday wear and tear.
At the Northshore’s Rug Chic, Owner Beth Assaf has observed a much more home-focused clientele than in the past. People are interested in creating a curated, balanced space where they can comfortably relax, work, and enjoy family all in one place. Rugs — Assaf’s specialty — are one of the most important textiles in a room for their ability to soften sound, add dimension, and insert color or personality. When asked what piece of furniture or item has become a favorite of hers in this new era of living, Assaf of course names her own living room rug.
“It is soft, beautiful, colorful and cheery,” she says. “It’s great to relax on and do yoga, and it is the focal point of the room.”
For Mathews, a favorite is her revamped drinkware.
“If you can’t always go to a bar or restaurant, you might as well use beautiful glasses for your favorite cocktails,” she says.
Jones loves her kitchen island for its versatility, while Francis loves retiring to her outdoor furniture and space. Shaw’s favorite item has become her dining table, where she’s able to gather with others.
In the new era, function is clearly king, but, according to these experts, be sure your furnishings contains a little fun as well.