Wellness design was a strong and growing trend before Covid-19 reached our shores early last year, but it has exploded in popularity as the virus increased awareness of the links between home and health. It’s likely that the trend will long outlive the pandemic.
That’s partly because so many Americans have spent so many more hours at home considering what works for them and what doesn’t in their living spaces, have had to start working in existing or improvised home offices, set up distance learning stations for their children, possibly started doing bulk shopping online and needing more storage, inexplicably couldn’t find toilet paper in stores last Spring, and wished they had bidet functionality in their toilets; sequestered ill family members in spare rooms, or moved an older relative out of a nursing home or assisted living facility.
It’s also because the virus was shown last summer to be mostly transmitted via airborne spread in poorly-ventilated spaces, elevating the importance of indoor air quality management and improved ventilation.
Here are six key wellness design trend predictions for 2021 from leading design professionals and industry watchers:
- Laurence Carr, GREEN AP, sustainability and wellness designer in New York;
- Janice Costa, long-time design industry magazine editor and creator of the new designers’ resource platform KB Designers Network;
- Eric Goranson, CKD, host of the syndicated home improvement radio program Around the House with Eric G;
- Linda Kafka, CLIPP, CAPS, Toronto-based LivABLE Environment Conference organizer and subject matter expert on aging in place;
- Paula Kennedy, CMKBD, CLIPP, CACC, Seattle-based certified master kitchen and bath designer and design instructor;
- Ebony Stephenson, CLIPP, CAPS, Newport News, Virginia-based kitchen and bath designer and the state’s National Kitchen & Bath Association chapter president.
These experts agree on the importance of these key “macro” trends in influencing product specifications, innovations and popularity in this new year (and beyond).
1. Indoor Air Quality Takes Priority
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Ventilation has always been a matter of code, but hasn’t always been optimized, with space and style considerations too often outweighing health and safety principles. “There are some states where a range hood is still not required in a home for new construction and remodeling,” observes Goranson. “With people spending more time indoors during the pandemic, contaminants can contribute to long-term health issues,” he adds. It’s not just cooking ventilation where improvements are showing up, the radio host comments, “We will also continue to install in our HVAC systems air purification that will not only take out contaminants, but viruses as well.”
Kafka sees the importance of the IAQ trend. “Given the fact that humans spend 90% of their time indoors, and that indoor air quality is reported to being more polluted than outdoor air, it’s no surprise that improving residential air quality is on the rise.”
What that looks like in wellness design is smart-home enabled air quality management systems, sensor bathroom vent fans, integrated cooktop-vent hood technology and strategies that reduce viruses from the air, including HEPA and advanced MERV filtration plus emerging UV-based systems, and a renewed emphasis on building and design products that don’t emit toxins into a home environment, she says.
2. Nature Comes Home
The many benefits of nature in design – called biophilia in the industry – have long been touted, but have taken on new importance because of the pandemic. With people shying away from crowded public spaces, including parks and busy hiking trails, having plants within one’s indoor and outdoor living spaces has become a must-have feature.
Carr anticipates, “Designs in 2021 will be rooted in nature, as people seek to ‘bring the outside in’ through biophilia and the artful inclusion of nature elements in indoor spaces.” The designer cites views to greenery, natural materials like stone and wood, and nature-inspired shapes, patterns and symmetry. “People have been seeking more immersion in nature, woods, and parks, and we are already seeing a houseplant boom as a result of 2020’s pandemic social distancing efforts!” she notes.
Nature has also shown up in a strong gardening trend, particularly as a way of adding to a healthful, immunity-boosting diet. “Space for an indoor garden of some sort has always been something I tried to incorporate into my own home, as well as my clients’,” shares Stephenson, adding, “Now, more so than ever, for wellness we need access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs.”
Kafka is seeing that trend in Canada too, she says. “Kitchen appliances that focus on nourishment wellness will be in high demand. These include combi-steam ovens, sous vide cooking, refrigeration that extends the life of perishables and appliances for herb-growing,” the conference planner reports. Beyond appliances, there has been a renewed interest in vegetable gardens, she notes, “With dedicating spaces in backyards, using raised beds or opting for container gardens.”
3. Lighting Sees Improvements
It’s not surprising with so many more hours spent indoors – including on video cameras –that lighting would take on new importance with the pandemic. “New lighting options will be on tap to help counter the negative effects of spending so much time indoors deprived of the benefits of natural light,” Costa reports. “In design, this is being addressed with everything from skylights and sunrooms to new light fixtures that more closely mimic natural light. While ‘bringing the outdoors in’ has long been a trend,” she points out, “Expect that to increase in 2021 as people seek to brighten up their homes with multiple light sources that create a more Zen-like vibe.” This is also tied to the increase in plants’ popularity, the editor points out. Many of the new designs that incorporate herbs, greens or plant walls include grow lights.
Kennedy sees improved lighting showing up in advanced window coverings, she says. “Window treatments have huge light management benefits [and] support our circadian rhythm. In all my research I haven’t found one element like this that has such a huge impact on so many areas of our comfort,” the designer shares.
Kafka sees these lighting trends emerging for 2021: “Circadian lighting, which can help improve sleep, mood, and our overall sense of well-being; increased amounts of task lighting to support the aging eye; lighting in the home for safety (mounted under beds, vanities, kitchen cabinetry, stair rails); more natural light (modifying spaces with larger windows and adding skylights; personalized lighting options to increase productivity in home offices, and lighting for relaxation during personal time.”
4. Noise Reduction Gets Prioritized
This trend was inevitable with more people taking on more tasks at home, and with more demands and worries added to so many lives. With one or two parents working from home, living rooms becoming classrooms, and everyone dealing with their own stressors, the need for noise reduction becomes urgent. It’s showing up in different ways, the pros observe.
Radio host Goranson sees the biggest challenge being new video-centric tasks conflicting with long-established layouts: “The open concept house is great for family time and entertaining, but harder to navigate with a family of four trying to conduct school and business at the same time. We will be controlling sound in bedrooms and offices and possibly creating a space in the garage when the house is fully being used,” he predicts.
Many families are using their kitchen counters and tables to meet new multi-tasking needs and space challenges, Costa observes. This – plus ill family members quarantining at home – is driving a need for quieter appliances and sound muffling. “Look for a greater focus on ultra-quiet ventilation, dishwashers and laundry equipment in 2021, along with softer flooring and wall coverings with sound absorbing properties,” she suggests.
Kennedy agrees: “Sound management is a huge need right now, and we can help accomplish that with solid core interior doors, acoustic plaster, acoustic panels, and designing in softer and more textural finishes to help absorb sound waves.”
Designer Stephenson sees a related trend toward quiet rooms, she says. “These spaces may be used for a mental retreat, a work phone call or for students to log into their virtual classrooms.” She sees this need trending, even – or especially – as she anticipates open floor plans remaining popular.
One area of the home that’s almost never part of an open floor plan concept is the bedroom. “We will see a trend towards quieter bedrooms [and] removal of any devices that distract us from falling asleep at a reasonable time,” conference organizer Kafka notes. “The bedroom will be one of the most important rooms in our home; the sleep sanctuary for improved health.”
5. Smart Home Technology Supports Wellness
It’s long been available, but entertainment and security have often eclipsed wellness-oriented smart home technologies. Pre-pandemic, wellness tech was often seen as a luxury. A deadly virus changed its ranking in importance, and will continue to do so in 2021, especially in the areas of air quality management and reduced germ spread via handsfree technologies.
“The more handsfree we can be in our world today the better,” Kennedy comments. “We have been learning to appreciate touch faucets in the last few years, however, I believe we are going to leapfrog straight to motion sensors and voice activation. Every kitchen faucet I’ve specified this year has had motion sensor or voice activation features,” she shares.
Goranson is seeing this trend too. “Smart home devices will continue to become more common as we can set up a home so we don’t have to touch a light switch, or door lock, or even a garage door opener.”
6. Fitness Gets Home Space
In many parts of the country last Spring, gyms and fitness studios closed in Covid lockdowns and their members needed to find space at home to workout. Exercise equipment got almost as scarce as toilet paper, and rooms were reorganized to hold available gear and screens to workout with trainers, instructors and friends remotely.
It’s likely that as people’s routines improve, they’ll continue to exercise at home. The savings in time, travel and membership fees are notable. In some cases, people are trading those membership fees for expensive equipment. Peloton is one of the beneficiaries, with sales soaring and demand outstripping supply, but other equipment manufacturers saw dramatic growth too. As people contemplated purchasing exercise gear for their homes, they had to rethink their homes to accommodate these additions.
“Home exercise spaces will become the new hot thing as people seek to lose that pandemic weight,” Costa anticipates. That’s already happening, with the frequently-related need for improved technology to stream workouts and share them with instructors and friends.