Don’t think ‘new-normal’, think evolution…
Part 2 – Our Homes – Reinvented?
In Part 1 we focussed on the future of the workplace, and how this is evolving. In the meantime, at home everyone has been forced to face the reality of how their homes really work for them, or not. The home study that might have been seen as a luxury last year has almost overnight become a necessity for many. Whilst such space might still be a luxury to the first-time buyer, those trading-up might be considering how their next purchase does or doesn’t work in this respect. We think that we will see an acceleration in the trend of extending homes to create dedicated office/learning space, as well as the use of higher-end preformed garden structures to similarly fulfil this role. There is real potential here to grasp the idea that our homes are an extension of our offices and schools and that the integration of flexible spaces to cater for this potentially more regular requirement should be considered the norm rather than the privilege of the few. And if others are going to be looking into our homes on a regular basis, as the background to our video conferencing, will this have a bearing on how we wish to be generally perceived?
Hopefully now is the time to reverse the past trend in the UK of building the smallest new homes in Europe 1. More than ever before our attention has been drawn to how important our homes are to us. Many of us have gone from using them essentially for only lodging during the week, to barely stepping foot off our properties over the past few months. All those singing garden birds that people have noticed, is it really the lack of road noise or is it that we’ve never really stopped to listen before? Will we reconsider the real value of our homes, not just in terms of location and school catchments, but moreover in terms of spaces, flexibility of use and also, useful external space? And already parts of the southwest are experiencing high levels of movement in the residential market, with particular locations seeing significant price increases 2.
This opens the potential to truly rethink our new homes as the ‘machines for living’ that were envisaged nearly 100years ago by the famous French Architect Le Corbusier, but never fully realised. We can live better lives with better homes, homes that can flex and change each day and more significantly in the future in response to both internal and external pressures. At ADG we encourage our domestic clients to consider the ‘what-ifs’. How will they continue to live comfortably if they break a leg, become less active, have another child or need to work remotely. Besides kitchens and bathrooms, rooms don’t need to adhere to the labels given to them on a plan, a study can be a bedroom, nursery, guest room, playroom or dining room. The important consideration is how that space relates to the others adjacent to it, how it is accessed, opened-up or closed off and even how it relates to external space. This thought is carried across all areas of the housing sector, from private single dwellings to multi-level apartments and housing estates.
From our perspective, new homes are better in many ways than they have ever been, certainly, in terms of air tightness and energy use. But their internal arrangement and form of construction generally restrict and resist adaptation. Roof spaces are often constructed using multiple trusses that make habitation of the space difficult without invasive structural work. Options for spatial subdivision rely on opening or closing a door, whereas the Japanese have employed the use of sliding screens for centuries. Because both house and garden are often small, adding an extension is always a compromise between enjoying internal or external space. And to make matters worse, limited permitted development rights and a generally onerous-appearing planning system put many people off even trying to change how they live.
What ADG think is needed are homes that offer light and space, with the ability for subdivision in various ways and with roofs that can be easily turned into living space to flex with the family size. These new homes should probably be engineered and fabricated, rather than ‘built’. Standard plug-on options should be available to extend the footprint as desired, with planning legislation that in most cases automatically supports this form of extension. Many options could exist for cladding these new homes to suit the vernacular style.
Since lockdown we generally seem to spend more time outside, at cafes, in our gardens, at pubs, and our homes could support this better too. Why do we need to be either inside or outside, our homes should surely provide protected external areas that for 6 months of the year can act as cheap additional living-space. Personally, without our artificial grass just outside the back door my kids would have driven me mad over the past months.
There is plenty of work to be done here, and I don’t mean in relation to those able to pay for whatever they want. This is a huge market currently dominated by half a dozen organisations who tell us that what we want is a tiny brick box with a tiny garden, but it’s OK because there’s a new primary school nearby. This is a model that is based on a financial model alone, not on delivering the right product. At ADG we are taking a serious look at how housing could be rethought, what technology could be used, how we actually want to live and how this could be delivered. Watch this space for future updates. In the meantime, we will continue to create the best, most flexible homes for our clients.
In the next and final blog of this series we take a look at the leisure sector.
1. Based on a study carried out by sellhousefast.uk in 2017 and research carried out by Cambridge University in 2014. https://www.sellhousefast.uk/blog/shrinking-british-homes/
2. Based upon market research received from RICS, Halifax and Nationwide. Results show that pent-up demand and behavioural shifts, such as the need for a garden or home study space, have fuelled this strong shift. However, the longer-term projections into 2021 see more instability in the market due to rising unemployment and general uncertainty.