For designer Nina Tolstrup of Studiomama, living in an intergenerational household during the pandemic was the culmination of a long process of change – from living alone to sharing a home with partner Jack Mama and then with their children, whose increasing privacy needs as they grew from children into adults compelled them to adapt their home over time. ‘We're now looking at how we transform our house into something that has several mini living spaces and a communal area,’ she says, speculating that greater separation within the home may become more common as people spend more time there.
Another approach is to create modular interiors that transform for different functions. The Smile is a new apartment building by Bjarke Ingels Group in Harlem, New York City. Five of the homes inside have been installed with furniture systems by Bumblebee, a company that aims to make the most of cubic space rather than just footprint. Bumblebee has created a ceiling-mounted unit containing a bed, storage units and a desk that can be lowered to the ground on demand, swiftly transforming the use of space. There are plans to add walls, appliances, a dining table and a pantry to the range of possibilities. The ambition of this retractable, app-controlled furniture is not only to wring as many uses out of a space as possible, but also to bring more of the functions we are familiar with from our digital lives into our homes. The constantly updated Bumblebee software will allow you to Face ID lock private sections, and the software keeps track of what is in the storage bins enabling owners to effectively ‘keyword search’ their own possessions.
But if we live in increasingly smaller spaces, with less privacy and fewer possessions, the public realm will need to compensate by offering more. Sonia Solicari, Director of London’s Museum of the Home, which explores British domestic life since the 1600s, observes that this used to be the case – bathhouses, bakehouses, launderettes and even outdoor toilets have historically been sites of shared activity – but the trend over time has been towards cramming more into individual dwellings. The pandemic has exacerbated this: we’ve become comfortable downloading films instead of going to the cinema, exercising at home and ordering in gourmet meals. As we come out of the pandemic, a strengthened sense of the public and a greater permeability between home and the wider community might be one way in which we can rebuild social ties and attend to many of the inequalities laid bare by Covid-19.
Such changes to the ways in which our homes, cities and public spaces are designed and built will involve large-scale political and structural change at all levels, but dramatic change is, at least, something we’re now used to. ‘Extraordinary things need to happen for these things to take place,’ says Solicari, ‘but if anything good has come out of the pandemic, it's that people seem more open to more radical possibilities.’