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Brave new world: interior design after Covid-19

The shock and distress experienced by people the world over during the Covid-19 pandemic has led many to re-evaluate the way they live, work and interact with others. Long stretches of time spent indoors have encouraged us to reprioritise interior design and refresh our homes in ways that precisely suit our needs. While the prospect of a vaccine provides hope, a desire to make homes safer spaces resulting from a greater awareness of the fragility of our health is perhaps irrevocable.

Among interior designers and furniture dealers, there seems to be a consensus on the kind of design consumers now crave, with certain preoccupations recurring time and again. A key trend is for interiors that reflect a greater appreciation of nature (a result partly of us realising that countryside and open spaces are safe and Covid-free), natural light and a nature-inspired palette. The buzzword for this is ‘biophilia’ – a belief in humans’ innate tendency to connect with nature.

Consumers are also converting their homes into multifunctional spaces as companies acknowledge the benefits of employees working from home. Increasingly, homes are incorporating functions previously fulfilled by public venues, such as gyms and offices. Accordingly, designers are looking at how to improve acoustics in domestic interiors.

Mezza House with interior design by Pallavi Dean at Roar
Mezza House, designed by Pallavi Dean at Roar

“Our homes are becoming more multifunctional with people from the same household undertaking multiple tasks,” says Pallavi Dean, Founder and Creative Director of Dubai-based interior design studio Roar. “Adding layers and textures – rugs, upholstered surfaces, undulating finishes on walls and plants – can soundproof different areas of a house, allowing people to work individually without being disturbed.”

Yet social spaces are required too. With people tending to eat in more, kitchens are likely to feature bigger islands that provide larger dining areas and built-in banquettes.

We’re also witnessing a return to hand-crafted, long-lasting design, reflecting a greater concern for environmentalism. Classic mid-century modern furniture, which fuses simplicity and comfort, has been in fashion for many years but it’s now more coveted still, thanks to its high quality and durability.

It’s not the first time that disease has impacted on interiors. The minimal aesthetic of early 20th-century modernist homes was shaped by architects and designers who espoused pared-down, all-white interiors and enormous windows partly to maximise daylight and ventilation in the belief that light and air killed germs. 

Cat Hoad, founder of interior design firm Absolute Project Management, which specialises in renovating properties, believes our observation of Covid’s impact on the environment has influenced consumer tastes. “The pandemic has drawn our attention to nature and the harm we’re inflicting on our planet,” says Hoad, who is a member of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID). “With fewer people out and about, CO2 emissions were reported to have been greatly reduced and areas damaged by deforestation and human interference showed evidence of returning to a more natural state.”

The pandemic has drawn our attention to nature and the harm we’re inflicting on our planet – Cat Hoad, Founder of Absolute Project Management

She says that a renewed interest in nature is reflected in one of her recent projects – the renovation of a converted warehouse in Wapping, London with views of the River Thames: “Our client wanted a biophilic palette with sage green walls and oak flooring and joinery throughout. People are increasingly opting for natural textures and tones that create a sense of serenity indoors.”

Interior designer, Nicola Holden of Nicola Holden Designs, also a BIID member, concurs: “We will see people factoring biophilic concepts into their design choices. We decorated one client’s living room with different textures, from a wooden floor, shagreen side table, glass lamp base to a mix of fabrics on the sofa – a variety of finishes with a sensual richness similar to that found in nature.”

Villa Copenhagen in Denmark with interior design by Goddard Littlefair
Villa Copenhagen in Denmark, designed by Goddard Littlefair @ Stine Christiansen

Jo Littlefair, co-founder with Martin Goddard of hospitality and interior design firm Goddard Littlefair, thinks along similar lines. In their projects, which include the public areas of hotel Villa Copenhagen in Denmark and the entire renovation of Hilton Vienna Park, they favour natural materials. “Their qualities are unsurpassable and feel more in tune with nature and sustainability, which is extremely important to us,” says Littlefair.

Interior designer Tara Bernerd
Tara Bernerd © Raphael Faux Gstaad Photography

By contrast, interior designer Tara Bernerd, whose projects include the Empire Suite at hotel Four Seasons New York Downtown, predicts a bolder, invigorating approach for the New Year: “2021 will feel like a new dawn due to the challenges we face. The crisp feel we associate with a bright winter’s day can be harnessed as a backdrop to a home – warm greys mixed with sumptuous petrol blues, cognacs and deep greens. We’ll want to add layers and live with confidence through colour but with clarity rather than in overly busy atmospheres.”

The Four Seasons provides a good example of how interiors are becoming more multifunctional. “In one room, we re-angled the furniture in the study area, positioning the desk next to the window so it capitalises on natural light and the stunning views,” says Bernerd. “We introduced a daybed, allowing the room to be used as a second bedroom. Its navy blue upholstery and cognac-coloured and tweed cushions, teamed with a herringbone tweed wallcovering, add another luxe layer.”

“The pandemic has been a reset button for the world,” stresses Hoad. “Buying sustainably and with purpose will become increasingly important. We’re designing a home in Islington around its owners’ stunning mid-century pieces. These include a white marble table and white chairs with blue and brown seats by Eero Saarinen in their kitchen, so we’re opting for these colours elsewhere in the room.”

According to Andrew Duncanson, whose Stockholm-based gallery Modernity specialises in 20th-century Scandinavian design, “Discerning buyers will be more aware of sustainability in terms of buying vintage pieces and will demand a high quality of design and manufacturing.” He singles out two ‘very rare’ pieces the Modernity sold recently Axel Einar Hjorth’s elm and saddle-hide leather Funkis sofa of 1930 and Grete Jalk’s bent plywood, 1960s Shell chair.

Discerning buyers will be more aware of sustainability in terms of buying vintage pieces and will demand a high quality of design and manufacturing – Andrew Duncanson, owner of Modernity

A desire for contemporary furniture that is finely crafted and enduring is another trend. “We recently commissioned a bespoke dining table and chairs from furniture-maker Tim Gosling,” says Littlefair. “Their design is unique and evokes the arts and crafts movement while complementing the modern interior it’s in.”

The impact of the pandemic on interior design is yet to be fully ascertained but it’s astonishing how fast designers and consumers have responded to it, adapting to utterly new circumstances both in terms of aesthetics and practical needs.

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