Mental Health, Wellness, and Sustainability, Oh My!

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Photos courtesy of Emily Morrow Home.

Mental health has taken center stage these days, from the concerns of the mental health of our military heroes who return stateside, to the school-age kids who have struggled from missing out on their activities, sports, and being with other young people. Mental health also has been a challenge for adults as they struggle to find work-life balance and adjust to the financial pressures of recent inflation and lessened work hours.

Although a major factor before the pandemic, wellness is listed as one of the topmost priorities for homeowners today. While two entirely different things, wellness and sustainability go hand in hand with what today’s consumers are spending on and seeking more of in their day-to-day lives. It leaves us, as employers, employees, consumers, and designers, with a heavy responsibility. Workplace wellness is a must, both in commercial workplaces and home office spaces. Our homes used to be our oasis at the end of a busy workday, but now our homes are possibly still our workplace.

Some strange things are happening in housing. The average size of the single-family home is getting larger and multifamily homes are getting smaller. The inventory of available homes also is under pressure, particularly in the Sunbelt regions, where many homes are being snatched up by companies whose primary business is purchasing homes to rent. It’s the new way of “flipping,” except this flipping puts potential homebuyers in a pickle where they aren’t able to know soon enough or cannot outright buy a home without financing before these corporations have purchased them. Single-family homes as of the fall of 2021 are 62 square feet larger than in 2020. On the multifamily side of the business, the square footage is shrinking, down 20 square feet. It’s a little bit like the approach that the airline companies took when they made passengers’ seats smaller, packing in more passengers for the same or more money.

designer_BRAIN-IN-HANDOne positive in the single-family market is that families are moving to be closer to one another. This, too, is a result of the pandemic. When schools shut their doors, someone had to care for the children. If one or both parents worked, either one or both parents stayed home. While kids and adults were working and learning remotely, families realized they could be helping each other better if they lived closer to the grandparent or vice-versa. Another phenomenon was adult children were moving back home to save money on living expenses. The addition of people into one household calls for some smart selections. Performance fabric, spill or splash-proof flooring, and other durable goods allow more adults (and their pets) to come together harmoniously without sacrificing the style or look of the furnishings.

From “maximalist” style to “grand millennial,” the multigenerational household in a single-family home is the living, breathing embodiment of both. Everyone arrives with their favorite chair, and the design challenge is mixing it all so it looks and feels livable. The multigenerational living arrangement might be temporary. Senior living options have been under scrutiny after the elderly mortality rates skyrocketed during COVID-19’s darkest days. Many families literally picked up their senior family members and moved them into their homes or found them a small home or apartment in order to keep them safe.

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One detail that might come as a surprise is that 79 percent of people are investing in their homes, making home improvements or building new larger custom homes. How families are using their square footage certainly has shifted, and the desire for “open format” house plans is not always what they want. Designated spaces with purpose are the direction homeowners are taking where they require separation of areas depending on their needs, from homeschooling to working from home to adjacent outdoor spaces for fresh air and sunshine and open areas for gathering everyone together for meals and entertaining.

Comfort is key in every segment of design. Comfort comes in the form of natural elements like groups of plants, upholstery with soft curving lines, walls and floors of hardwood, patterns with palm leaves and botanicals on fabric that is soft to the touch, and the generous application of varying earthy hues.

Materials certainly matter more than ever before. Natural materials, easily cleanable materials, and materials like vegan leather are in demand. The mindset has changed to an acceptance of what was once known as “naugahyde,” but now the new name “vegan leather” sounds entirely different. Vegan consumers and designers seek materials that are vegan. It’s incumbent on them to ensure that although it might not be made from an animal hide, it could contain or have been treated with chemicals that come with a list of concerns and warnings.

Values and buying habits are changing in a big way. Younger consumers (age 18 to 34) are looking for authenticity from products or companies that are socially and environmentally conscious. Beyond that, products or brands that offer an experience or connect emotionally with them will get their business. There has even been a shift in acceptance of “previously owned,” also known as used items like furniture, designer shoes, and handbags, just
to name a few.

Do you recall during the lockdown when normally busy streets were barren and office buildings were sitting empty? I posed the question, “What is going to become of this costly real estate if things don’t return to normal soon?” That question is now being answered in some of the areas that were slow to return to normal. Unused commercial office spaces are being transformed into apartments. Since businesses need less office space with their workers working remotely, at least 20,000 apartment conversions are from unused offices.

Supply chain disruptions have been a headache for everyone. Many homeowners decided to make some home improvements after sheltering in place. They shopped online to select the store or company that had the flooring or furniture they needed, and ordered it only to find that it was either sitting in a port waiting to be unloaded, or was back-logged and back-ordered for months due to a shortage of laborers who left the workplace, commercial truckers, or even a shortage of raw materials.

There is a prediction of and expectation of a recession in 2023 unless there are major changes in our domestic and global economy. As that is on the horizon, there is a less than optimistic outlook for business in the latter part of 2022 and early 2023. With that in mind, everyone on the supply and service side is rushing to meet the current demand before things slow down.

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 emily@emilymorrowhome.com or 866.775.3877.

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