Reimagining and Reinventing Commercial and Residential Spaces

Photos courtesy of Emily Morrow Home

There are three ways we are reimagining commercial and residential spaces:

  • Maintaining space and making human connections
  • Adopting smaller spaces and distancing between home and office
  • Blurring the roles of both spaces

If you pay close attention to the evolving changes in the world of interiors, for example, how flooring, colors, finishes, and other design elements are applied, you’ve no doubt noticed there has been a fast and massive shift in how spaces are being used. Furthermore, the boundaries between the two worlds of work and home have become blurred. Although I wince as I use the words “post-pandemic,” the words have relevance in today’s world of product and interior design, in both commercial and residential spaces, and the demographics of what consumers are trending toward.

For the past year, I have been asking myself, “If so many people are working remotely rather than in their offices, how many corporate spaces are going to be and remain underutilized?” The cost to own, maintain, and operate any corporate campus is a major expense. If a portion of the workforce is able to continue easily with a hybrid work model, then at some point, there will be major changes in the designing of workspaces of future buildings and existing real estate. We already are seeing the workforce population leaving from major city centers to rural areas, striking their ideal balance between home life and work life. So how is this impacting our design styles?   

The Gensler Research Institute recently published Reconnect: Design Strategies for a Post-COVID World, which describes the post-pandemic world like this: “Today, the desire to be together is driving the recovery. How can we safely bring people back together while also providing meaningful experiences? The opportunity we see is a realignment of real estate with human experience. By designing with people at the center, we can add value to real estate, because in a post-pandemic future, people will prioritize their use of real estate based on its human experience value.”

“Work and place have become uncoupled, redefining the office as the best place to bring people together – especially for those whose jobs rely on in-person collaboration or specific spaces or shared resources. Physical and virtual experiences must be integrated fully since digital systems will continue to shape a seamless level of connectivity and personalization.”

The Role of the Office Building Has Changed

The report continued, “The office building is no longer just a container for workers; it will become less important to maximize density. As we adapt to a hybrid lifestyle where the workforce is split between the office and home, the role of the workplace will be to strengthen relationships, teach others, and build community, culture, and purpose. Since tenants feel safer and healthier outdoors, they will want their workplaces to offer easy connections to outdoor space. Articulated terraces and balconies along with interconnecting outdoor stairs will offer cohesive new social experiences. Rather than open-plan floors, the future office will be ‘open section,’ providing multilevel settings where views, movements, and ideas are not constrained by walls and windows.”

In my deeper dive into statistics and design styles, I’ve discovered many are enjoying the new way of living and have found they prefer it over the former hectic travel for in-person meetings. This summer, we have experienced a return to flooring expositions like The International Surface Event (TISE) and the NWFA Wood Flooring Expo/Coverings. Everyone who attended seemed sincerely delighted to see one another.

At the (home) office, there is a fundamental shift. After more than a year of Zoom, GoToMeeting, and WebEx, we’ve had authentic glimpses into one another’s lives and homes, and some of us decided it was time to make some improvements to give a better impression. 

Former open space plans have become home offices and there is less “I’m sitting on my comfy sofa while I’m zooming” than before. Comfort is essential and classic style is leading the way. Herman Miller, which makes office furniture, offers a direct-to-consumer option since so many are using their homes for at-home classrooms and zoom-style conference rooms. Is commercial going to survive this major shift? Yes, but as always, it will adapt. 

According to The Economist, “Before the pandemic, Americans spent five percent of their working time at home. By spring 2020, the figure was 60 percent. The shift has gone better than expected. People are working longer hours, but they report higher levels of happiness and productivity. As lockdowns lift, working from home is likely to stay.” 

Office interiors already were being designed for a flexible and diverse workforce to attract new talent. This includes flexible open work areas, open spaces for gathering, and welcoming pets. Put those trends under the pressure of COVID-19, and work becomes a place that looks and feels much more like home, and home becomes a lot more flexible.

Adding to the blurring of the lines, we are seeing people moving to rural areas or less-urban places where they’re bringing in both old and new design styles. Some of the design styles are pulled straight from the ‘80s with modern adaptations. Kitchens, dining rooms, and living rooms might be somewhat open to one another, and there still are some areas that are specific to work. New home construction includes a greater focus on wireless technology and smart furnishings with plug-ins for smart devices.  

Colors are brightening up in both new and remodel projects. Kelly green, coral, plum, and chocolate brown are making strong statements as accent colors. “Urbane Bronze” is now the ideal backdrop of color onto which all the bright pops of colors stand out. The once uber-Scandinavian light gray-greige palette is now both brighter and darker. Contrast is once again key while keeping its still relevant counterpart known as the “blank canvas” or nude-neutral color palette close by. White and off-white painted furniture, some lacquered, some aged and crackled, brighten the overall feel of rooms with darkly colored walls. 

Last year we predicted the return of brown as a power player in the interiors world due to slowed-down supply chains and decreased inventories of new furnishings. This left moving homeowners to fend for themselves at antique and consignment shops where they fell head-over-heels in love with the richly patinaed brown woods of yesteryear, giving impetus to the “Grandmillennial” trend, partly due to necessity, and partly due to feeling comforted by the nostalgia and familiarity of these pieces. It’s essentially taking a few key older pieces and artfully layering them with more contemporary pieces. The older items tell a story while the newer elements give contrast and make it feel fresh, not tired. 

Keep your eyes on the horizon to see where the two worlds of work and home continue to collide and influence one another. For now, it’s driven by practicality, functionality, and the need for a little bit of fun!

Emily Morrow Finkell is an interior designer and CEO of Emily Morrow Home in Dalton, Georgia, and an NWFA design contributor. She can be reached at or 866.775.3877.


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