Jonathan Boriack – Wellness-Focused Flexibility

Green Home Builder

June 14, 2021

Outdoor spaces that provide flexibility can be functional while enticing buyers.

While the global community has a long way to go to stabilize the spread of COVID-19, many media analysts and data forecasters predict current vaccine progress will create a summer season akin to the “Roaring Twenties.” People will hopefully begin to experience a life that is fairly “normal” and that includes visits with grandparents, dinner parties with loved ones, local staycations with vaccinated friends and lots of hugs. As we regain this freedom, architects and homebuilders will need to account for how current wellness and healthy home trends, recently impacted by the global pandemic, transition into the future.

The focus on healthy home features like indoor/outdoor connections, access to natural light, biophilic design, indoor air quality, etc. has become more important, especially when viewed through the lens of post-pandemic social gatherings. For example, incorporating spaces like an entrance courtyard not only increases the opportunity for engagement with nature beyond the typical “backyard,” but also responds to the ways in which many people have shifted their lives during the pandemic. Many homeowners desired increased privacy in their outdoor spaces; spaces that preserved sanitation and security in their home. Entry courtyards are now multi-use and serve as outdoor kitchens, living room extensions, exercise spaces, play spaces and protected package/grocery drop-off spaces off the street. They have become a way to welcome people into our homes again, while still preserving the sanctity of our more private spaces. These areas can help increase airflow and passive cooling opportunities. They also create a sense of arrival and calm, likely something homeowners will look forward to as they venture further outside the confines of their home again. Lastly, they offer many opportunities for personalization, responding to the captive DIY boom of the pandemic.

In multifamily developments, roof decks are another way to create larger, outdoor social gathering spaces while still preserving density in a neighborhood. Many contemporary elevation styles already use flat roofs. Those spaces can be designed to incorporate occupied private roof decks with little change to the existing construction methods or materials. While homebuilders and architects alike often avoid skylights due to water intrusion concerns, roof-deck stair towers allow for the installation of vertical windows and French doors at the top that can flood the stairwell and lower home levels with natural light. They can also vent heat at the top of the home thus passively reducing cooling loads.

While this last year has arguably been all about the addition of remote home office spaces and the “Zoom room,” moving forward it is about incorporating spaces that can convert for a variety of uses and support our health and happiness. I know “options” is a bad word in this high-material and labor-cost environment, but having the ability to show a potential homeowner how their home can grow with them and how they can add value in the future can drive sales volume without adding cost.

An example of finding this kind of flexibility is the offset, split garage. Shifting the garage allows for a parkable driveway space, while also fostering the ability to repurpose a garage space in the future as our relationship with automobiles continues to evolve. Suddenly a space like a single-car garage that was purely for storage becomes a multi-gen suite, an ADU income unit, a home gym or meditation space, a remote workspace, hobby room, or large outdoor kitchen and dining room. It’s possible that a garage will convert to electric bike storage in the near future as this market is set to almost double in the next six years, a trend sped up by the pandemic. The offset garage also breaks up the typical garage-dominant street scenes of suburban neighborhoods, thus increasing architectural interest, which may help with the curb appeal and even entitlement approval.

As we return to a new “normal,” there will be a huge focus on continued health and wellness in our homes and lives. I think that focus will center around increasing our social connections, our connection to joy and thus, as designers, we need to be creating spaces and incorporating elements and technologies that foster that in our lives.