As the first month of the new year came to an end, I sat down several times with Ronei Kolesny who is CEO of Barleigh Ellis, and discussed the past year chatting and taking notes over cups and cups of green tea and early gray as we envisioned the marketing strategy for the new one. And, we decided to turn these fruitful conversations into articles and publish them to communicate with our community on a monthly basis to stay in touch with our audience in a conversational manner despite social distancing using our blog as a platform to everyone updated. In this first attempt, we gathered views and data into an article about the current trends in home living for the year 2021.
It is said that a home can be compared to the air a bird flies through: it becomes so familiar that it often goes unnoticed. Light switches are flicked without looking, and furniture edges are avoided with blind accuracy.
Lockdown challenged this passivity. As the great expanse of life was concertinated between four walls, those trapped inside felt less like fish in the water than sardines in a tin. Around the world, homes that had previously been just fit for purpose were suddenly unfit, and neighborhoods once deemed “convenient” were found lacking.
We enter 2021 with a vaccine, and a vision of normality is creeping over the horizon. But many people’s homes will emerge from the pandemic transformed. In Spain, there has been a lot of activity in the property market since the first and strictest lockdown was lifted. In July, at Barleigh Ellis, we experienced our busiest day ever for site traffic.
“A lot of people want to make changes”, says Ronei and adds that all areas of the business are up 20-30 per cent year-on-year. “This last year, we have taken on more clients than ever, we have bought more houses in Sitges than we have ever bought in Barcelona,” he says. “We’ve had a record year.”
He is part of the upheaval. “In February, I will be moving to a beach rental in Balmins Beach with an allotment twice the size of my current and gardenless flat in Terramar”, he added while smiling.
While the response to the pandemic was to focus on how social distancing and hygiene requirements might change the design of our homes, as a too little too late type of solution. Instead, Covid-19 will change our homes because it has changed the way we live, and the way we want to live.
“The definition of home is turning,” insisted Ronei. “It is beyond our individual homes and rear gardens. It is the streets in front of us, the communities and the neighbors that we have spent years living next to but never spoken to.”
But how will we shape our homes in 2021 and further beyond?
1. The rise in multigenerational living
As of September 2020, at least 12% of the Spanish population were adults who had moved back in with their parents as a result of the pandemic, according to a survey published by a local bank. More than two-thirds had no move-out date in sight.
This year there may be more university students choosing to live at home too, according to Sandra Freitas, front office manager and attendance at the British College of Gava, who explained about the many dissatisfied with the treatment students can receive on college campuses around the country. “Given ongoing uncertainty about how their courses will be delivered next term, many will understandably do not want to take risks going through all that again and may prefer to remain in their family home,” confirmed Sandra Freitas.
The sharp rise in multigenerational households may help to diminish the social stigma that persists, in some western cultures at least, around young adults living with their parents. It is now seen as “frugal-chic” to live at home during times of economic uncertainty.
The reason one moves to Barcelona is the social aspects, and being able to go out and see people. With those opportunities shut off due to corona-virus restrictions, it is a bit of a no brainer to move back, really.
Although it is bittersweet to celebrate any change born of economic necessity, there are benefits to living in larger families: in Spain, 82% of multigenerational households have reported that living together has enhanced their bond.
2. The rise of the extended home
Working from home -at least for part of the time- looks like it is here to stay. Spanish companies like Seat, Inditex, Endesa and Repsol have all announced plans to allow for total or partial remote working post-pandemic, and a June 2020 poll reported that 67% of Spanish information technology decision-makers expected that work-from-home policies would be either permanent or long term.
At the same time, the popularity of homeschooling has risen sharply. During my visit to the premises of the school while I was researching for the details in human-centered methodologies around Sitges I realized how the British School of Gava is leading in creating “remote-first” cohorts, who will be taught over a video call with the exception of hands-on classes. As a result, our homes will have to adapt.
There are two solutions for the newly space-pressed home: expand or divide. This year, orders at apartment construction specialists increased 54% compared with 2019, a daunting prospect given the noise pollution in big cities.
Meanwhile, residential architecture firms report that searches on their websites were up 95% in 2020 compared with previous years, and “home extensions” was their most popular category.
Therefore, new companies have started to offer future-ready design solutions. “People feel that they can go to work, even if it means five steps outside the back door,” says Ronei Kolesny.
Other solutions for subdividing space will remain more makeshift: around the world, Google searches for “room divider” hit record highs in August.
3. The city exodus
The need for space, combined with the flexibility offered by homeworking, is driving people out of cities. In June, views from homes in rural zip codes across Spain increased 34% year-on-year. Barleigh Ellis’ Roeni, who has specialized in selling high-value property in Barcelona for the last 20 years, says there has been a huge leap in sales of country estates priced about 1 million Euros, with 10 sold or agreed deals in 2020, compared with just one in 2019. “This is the strongest market we’ve seen since 2006/7,” he says.
Last year, Barleigh Ellis saw a new demographic of rural and market town buyers, either people who “would have never imagined they might move out of town” or your couples “leapfrogging” the suburban semi. “Some people are just panicked, saying “I’ve got to get out,”” she says.
The aesthetics of rural life will be hard to escape in 2021 given the unstoppable ascent of “countryside living.” The all-encompassing design trend conjures an idealized version of mediterranean life – think shabby chic meets nordic style becoming globally popular in nature-starved urban households during the pandemic.
“I think countryside living was inadvertently invoked for many people, this romantic idea of homesteading, of being totally self-sufficient, was in a way a coping mechanism for the horrifying reality,” says Ronei. “Everything during Covid is about seeking comfort, self-care, escapism. That is pure countryside living.”
4. The rise of self-reliant living.
Back in April, when the first lockdowns occurred in Europe, Spanish Google searches for “how to grow vegetables hit record highs. The grow-your-own mentality has stuck. YouTube channels displaying videos of self-sufficient living, which include everything from quail breeding to using a fish head as plant fertilizer have tripled in the first month of the pandemic. Ten months on, there is still a noticeable boost in people getting into growing food at home and continuing due to the pandemic.
5. The energy-efficient home
The reality of running a home 24/7 has made energy efficiency a budgetary issue as well as an environmental one. “It’s hitting people’s cheque books,” says Ronei. “I have seen a leap of buyers coveting dull but useful features such as double glazing and smart thermostats, and a sharp rise in the numbers wanting to move into new-builds as a result of their perceived eco-features. Architect Luis Turrens from Arcworld explains why the pandemic precipitated such a shift in thinking. “In many homes, one part of it is freezing, and the other side is boiling hot,” he says. This minor irritant became an obstacle during lockdown, as many households needed to deploy every room available.
6. The community home
Arcworld, which specializes in “place-making” architecture, is modifying forthcoming developments to contain more business units to provide local amenities, and to include wider pavements and communal areas. The biggest change will be to accommodate the remote office: its architects are working on a residential development in the Canary Islands that will integrate a co-working space on its ground floor. It is an approach that stands in contrast to the car-centric ethos of traditional suburban planning. “It comes back to this holistic view that residential spaces will no longer just be residential,” they say. If this shift can be implemented, it has the potential to benefit people who live in all types of housing, not just those wealthy enough to be able to escape to the country, or put a work pod in the garden.
Ultimately, the big question when it comes to post-Covid housing is this: how can we adapt so that we are better prepared for the dreaded “next time”?
It seems the answer is not to be found in measures that react to the details of this pandemic. “Designing very specifically for Covid misses the point of resilience because tomorrow’s Covid might not ve Covid at all,” says Ronei Kolesny. He believes we need to design homes and communities in such a way that they are resilient to all threats: a different pandemic, climate change or something as yet utterly unknown. “What matters is building a general resilience to the unknown challenges of the future,” he adds. “I think a really dangerous alternative exists where, out of fear, we retreat into our homes and cars.”
It is a bold vision of how homes might change in 2021, and perhaps a poetic one: after a year spent stuck at home, the door to the outside world is opening.
Chief Experience Officer at Barleigh Ellis