Sonoma home owners change design priorities
Whether life gets back to “normal” in months or years, the COVID-19 pandemic will have left a lasting mark on home design, according to Sonoma architects, interior and garden designers.
Architect Robert Baumann told the Index-Tribune last week that professional colleagues have been circulating and debating an article entitled, “The End of Open-Plan Everything,” that appeared in the July 27 issue of the Atlantic.
Will young executives working remotely turn their backs on open floor plans and start to favor walls and doors that allow for private work spaces for Zoom calls? Baumann hasn’t seen a slew of pandemic-related change orders yet but signs indicate that great rooms and open floor plans may fall out of favor in new construction and local experts agreed that there is a marked interest in outdoor living space.
Builder Jon Curry of Lander Curry said he is seeing a much younger client base, Bay Area executives with children who no longer need to commute and “are just starving for some breathing room, some sunshine and yard space.”
He is currently building a house in Kenwood for a 40-something founder of a popular San Francisco-based clothing company.
“He bought up here and now all his friends want to buy or build houses here,” said Curry. “Currently living in smaller spaces, they’re looking for big places for their families, with a pool, a bocce court, a barbecue area and plenty of outdoor space, where they can live full time while working remotely.”
And maximizing outdoor space is a high priority, says Bonnie Walner of the Sonoma-based interior and landscape design firm Re:Design.
Walner said that during the early weeks of the shelter-in-place order, by necessity, she found that she could only consult with clients on their outside space. “But that’s what they wanted to talk about. My clients wanted — they needed — to quickly make their outdoors spaces more livable, usable and fun.”
From hammocks to yurts to greenhouses, Walner is helping clients to come up with creative solutions. “They want ideas on unique, beautiful and comfortable outside spaces where they can safely visit with friends and family in a socially distant way,” she said.
Clients with more time on their hands have also been asking for help setting up a new garden or space outside to pursue new hobbies.
“People are thinking: If I'm going to be trapped on my property, how can I maximize my front or back yard more creatively so it’s an extension of my house?”
Walner said that with the right shade, it’s easy and “much nicer” to work or make calls outside — “with the right table and a comfortable chair, of course.”
Residential designer Jim Wilhelm was finishing up work on his own home in Sonoma when COVID hit and he and his wife Ann quickly decided to add a stylish Airstream to their property to serve as office space.
"With two children at home now and not at school, that extra quiet space is going to be crucial for us," he said. They are also purchasing a vintage army tent for the property to increase their shaded, usable outdoor space.
Wilhelm said that in the past two months, he has consulted with one client - a professor who will now be teaching remotely - to design a home office addition and met with a potential new client about the building a detached outdoor gym and yoga space.
Ryan Granko, founder of the Sonoma-based home automation company that bears his name, said that he has been busy helping new and existing clients update their entire network because they are now working from home.
“They want to able to work efficiently from any room in their home as opposed to just their home office,” he said. Also popular, says Granko — “Zoom rooms” and “smart pergolas” that can open, close, pivot or slide to provide shade, walls, privacy or open air dining.
“And clients want these improvements now,” says Emily Mughannam, owner of the Sonoma-based design firm, Fletcher Rhodes. “Our current clients are mostly Bay Area families who are relocating here more permanently. Since they are now in their house here full time, they are eager for updates and new furniture right away — which isn’t always realistic.”
Many of Bonnie Walner’s clients are budget conscious and she is suggesting quick and easy small changes to them that she feels can make a big difference, particularly with regard to outdoor space.
“You don't have to spend as much money to make a big impact outdoors,” she said. “Creating an outdoor living space is a way of extending your house without all the costs of building an addition. It can be as simple as moving outdoor furniture from one area to another, bringing indoor furniture outside or creating a space with art.”
And Walner does not see this as a passing trend.
“People are investing money to reclaim their outdoor space and seeing how enjoyable it is to be out of their house,” she said.
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