Chapter 2
Blended Living

Future-Proof Design in Shared Living

COVID-19 brought major changes into our daily life and in the PBSA sector. Like in many cases, flexibility and resilience have become key for the adaptation to the new normal. As interior designers we are reimagining the spaces we develop according to health and safety measures that we think are here to stay in the future, even when this virus will be eventually stopped.

When thinking about the effects of COVID-19 on interior spaces, there is an initial distinction to be made. We could not implement any structural change for projects already underway or being completed soon; therefore, had to rely on short-term measures and quick fixes. For new developments two or three years away, we are actively reviewing designs and trying to interpret the future of the industry through a long-term mindset.

Short Term: Small Fixes, Big Impact

Among the short-term solutions, the most common in PBSA are the use of hand sanitiser, plexiglass screens and signage, that will likely continue to be an integral part of interior design. In this scenario, it will be important to streamline all these elements. For instance, using the same size and design for screens and branded hand sanitiser dispenser creates consistency throughout the interior of different schemes. Similarly, adopting clear Perspex screens, instead of frosted ones, has a less disruptive effect on an interior look. For spaces laid out in a period when uncertainty is the first word that comes to mind, being ready to change is key. So, the best approach is to use movable items as much as possible, making sure that these short-term solutions can be as easily modified in the future as the new lifestyle develops.

You can get creative with short term design solutions for health and safety best practices. (Image by A Designer at Heart)

Mid Term: Thinking through details

Developments in the early stages can implement more well-thought-out solutions. For instance, along with the flexibility mentioned previously. We think that additional storage will become important to ensure more flexibility and facilitate social distancing by removing furniture when needed.

Subtle design adaptions can make it easier for residents to practice social distancing (Image by A Designer at Heart)

New Interior Design best practices are likely to include the subtle but purposeful use of colour blocking to highlight areas at least 1.5 metres wide and encourage social distancing. Even specific paints that are able to reduce air pollutants can become powerful allies, not only against the spread of COVID-19, but different strains of bacteria.  

Materials with antibacterial properties should also become the rule for commercial spaces. Cork (which is inherently antimicrobial and antibacterial) as well as easy to clean fabrics (to be cleaned with a wet wipe, or with alcohol for proper sanitisation) are currently our preferred choices.

Long term: Designing for Mental Health  

Finally, improvements in the Interior Design can also help tackling mental health issues. This is not limited to the pandemic situation; however, we are witnessing an increased attention nowadays. Attention to residents’ mental well-being is likely to remain a priority even after restrictions are lifted. Therefore, we recommend you think long term and plan ahead. For example, biophilic design, a current trend that stems from sustainable interior design principles, has proved how the use of specific natural features recalling nature can have a profound impact on our mental health, emotions, and even cognitive performance. Visual connection with natural materials, plants and water can impact mental engagement and overall happiness. Attention though has to be paid to material’s durability and suitability to alcohol disinfection.

Indoor plants and natural materials are examples of biophilic design (Image by A Designer at Heart)

Indoor plants and natural materials are examples of biophilic design

The first evidence highlighted by the outbreak proved that we were not ready to cope with this situation. After experiencing lockdown, we are now more aware of our surroundings and the places we live in, resulting in a general willingness to improve the quality of life indoors.  

This means, continuing what has already been started in terms of environmental sustainability, bring it to the next level and complement it with solutions for residents and managers health and safety in your shared living space. This is achieved through more investments in human-centred design, technology in materials development and IoT.

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