Luxury real estate is taking on a whole new look because of the pandemic. Here’s what you can expect to start seeing in houses, apartments, and outdoor spaces.

Look for a rise in living walls and a heightened emphasis on outdoor spaces in luxury design after COVID-19. Yasser Chalid / Getty Images
  • Thanks to the pandemic, many Americans have spent weeks locked down at home.
  • As a result, they have become more focused than ever on their living spaces – and the pros who tackle interiors have seen a surge in requests to update those spaces.
  • Practical design is shaping up to be a new hallmark of luxury: think self-disinfecting surfaces, requests for double pantries for optimal food storage, and sumptuously outfitted laundry rooms.
  • Living walls, herb gardens, and expanded outdoor spaces are also in high demand.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A week before the pandemic struck, 44-year old attorney Jason Post closed on his dream home: a townhouse in Sunset Harbour, a quiet bayside corner of South Beach, Florida. Post was primed to begin a gut renovation, steered by Brooklyn-based architect and interior designer Adam Meshberg. Those plans shifted drastically as soon as the impact of COVID-19 became evident.

“The idea was that you’d walk in, and everything would be wide open, so you could see the water from the front door, and I wanted to maintain that feeling,” Post told Business Insider. “But I also wanted a distinct area when I walk in – not to sound so clinical, but almost like a decontamination station: somewhere to put down my groceries and take off my shoes.”

Briefed this way, Meshberg carved out a small, self-contained foyer, like an elegant air lock, with ample storage, shelving and seating. Floors there will be stone, rather than wooden as elsewhere in the house, for easier disinfection.

Post is thrilled and reassured by the pivot: “It’s my own little space to separate the outside world from the house, my home.”

The foyer of Jason Post’s home. Provided

It’s a newfound need that’s easy to understand. Thanks to the pandemic, many Americans have spent weeks locked down at home. As a result, they have become more focused than ever on their living spaces, conscious of what they like, and of course, what they don’t. The pros who tackle interiors have seen a surge in requests to update those spaces. Meshberg and other high-end interiors experts are busier than ever.

San Antonio, Texas-based Melissa Morgan says that despite the economic uncertainty, business is up 20% compared to the same time last year. “So many people want to start projects now because they have the time, they have been thinking about getting these things done, and the only thing they can’t do is travel,” she told Business Insider.

They can, however, transform their spaces with several new trends that were distinctly kickstarted by the onset of COVID-19.

Interiors will follow the ‘Poppins rule’

Call it the Poppins rule: Everything should be practically perfect, Meshberg said.

The Pinterest boards clients like Post send him have pivoted in recent weeks: “There are more useful concepts, rather than just pretty pictures – instead of a beautiful marble bathroom, it’s more storage solutions and closets.” There’s now an additional double pantry on the floor plan of the attorney’s townhouse, a forward-thinking gesture in case he has to cook at home again for an extended period.

“Thinking about storing food after going to the grocery store just every two weeks wasn’t on the table when we started the plans,” Meshberg said of the change in pantry design.

Adam Meshberg, interior architect and designer. Provided

Meshberg is also working on a modular version of the foyer he created for Post, intended for installation in lofts and other open-plan apartments. Think of it like a mobile closet and a movable storage cart. With built-in casters, it can be stashed next to a wall, or act as a barrier to entry right in front of the door; artwork on the back makes it as decorative as it is functional.

Materials will be antibacterial, even if you don’t realise it

Materials will change, too, per Meshberg, with an emphasis on antimicrobials. He’s suggesting Porcelanosa’s Krion, a man-made alternative to stone that’s hard-wearing and stays clean, to clients. A pricier upgrade is copper, the luxuriously all-natural germ-fighting surface.

New York-based designer Clodagh agrees. She’s long been a champion of wellness in design, and is now exploring how to sanitize outside air as it’s sucked into an AC system using infrared light. That’s in addition to what she calls a “sanitizing sieve” intended for the entry to a large home or apartment complex.

“It’s an art piece that you can walk through, like a stone circle, which mists water like you’d find on the street in Las Vegas – and as you walk through, it sanitizes,” she said. “It could be quite beautiful.”

Gardens and terraces will be treated as an extra room

Expect a heightened emphasis on the outdoors, Clodagh said. She’s biased, having spent much of her childhood in Ireland’s rugged countryside. “I’m a barefoot country girl, and I was brought up in Oscar Wilde’s country house until I was 8,” she said.

Clodagh portrait at the Caledonia.
New York-based designer Clodagh spent much of her childhood in Ireland’s rugged countryside. Jonathan Beckerman

For several years, she has been working with one New York City-based client, constantly adjusting and updating his lavish apartment. Clodagh repeatedly suggested he focus on the roof terrace, but he demurred, insisting it was only for entertaining or hosting benefits, rather than his own family.

As soon as the pandemic hit, he tasked her with turning it into a space he could use every day. Clodagh brought in cosy seating, chairs she likens to “giving yourself a hug,” where small groups can gather. She concealed concrete with wooden panels that were patinated to look as if they had long been in place.

She also worked with another client, sixty-something Marcey Pantowich, to transform her outdoor space on the Upper East Side in much the same way – with more seating and tables, to encourage her to consider it an extra room.

The living room of Marcey Pantowich’s home. Keith Scott Morton

“The garden feeling is so very, very important, especially when you’re going to be confined to your home,” Clodagh said.

We’ll be surrounded by greenery 24/7 everywhere we go

Look for a rise in living walls, or vertical gardens, that will bring the outdoors inside – as at a luxury hotel in the Cayman Islands that Clodagh is currently designing. She’s promoting snuggle-ready fire pits, too, as well as moon gardens on current projects. These outdoor spaces are carefully planted with flowers that are scented at night, so residents working long hours can still enjoy the outdoors, even after dark.

Living wall apartment building
Living walls help bridge the gap between the outdoors and the indoors. pixzzle / Getty Images

Vegetable and herb gardens are back in vogue, too, says Melissa Morgan, the Texas-based designer. She has been asked to incorporate them into several projects that she’s working on right now.

“It’s not about being a self-sustaining prepper,” Morgan laughed. “But it’s a combination of needing to go to the grocery store less often, and how everyone found themselves cooking, even people who usually had a chef.”

Utility rooms are the new luxury

As for the newfound luxury obsession, look no further than the customised laundry room.

Morgan cites clients in Texas who recently hired her back to finish off their basement, the sole room in their home she hadn’t overseen. “I had been to that house a million times, and I had never even been in the basement,” she explained. The homeowners, a couple who both work in finance and have one child, had not handled their own laundry until lockdown. At the beginning of the pandemic, they sent their housekeeper home on full pay to self-quarantine and began tackling household tasks themselves.

The pair quickly realised their utility room was not fit for purpose and brought Morgan back to remotely oversee a renovation. That involved endless Zoom calls as well as samples, tear sheets, and products all dropped off at the client’s door so they could review at a distance.

“Nothing replaces being able to hold fabric, carpet, paint, trimmings,” she explained. “The client loves receiving a big tote full of beautiful samples – and it also gets everyone on board for the project and instills a sense of participation and involvement.” Once completed, the updated laundry room will include everything from new wallpaper and storage to upgraded appliances and better lighting. The contractor will also reopen a small window that’s long been boarded up.

Luxury laundry room
There’s a rise in requests for double laundry rooms. YinYang / Getty Images

Overall, Morgan said that since the coronavirus outbreak, she’s been seeing more requests for double laundry rooms. In one instance, she turned a box room into a secondary washing station, replete with washer and dryer; there, towels and linens can now be laundered without needing to be lugged downstairs. Similarly, there’s been a boom in double dishwashers in kitchens to streamline cleaning plates and flatware.

Shared spaces in high-end apartment blocks will be transformed

Meshberg, the Brooklyn-based interior designer, noted that amenities in luxury apartment buildings will also see several major changes. Expect touch-free elevators or ones with antibacterial, anti-scratch surfaces and industrial-grade air filters like those from Finnish manufacturer Kone.

Onsite gyms, Meshberg said, will be supplemented with private spaces in each apartment that come with a pre-installed Mirror fitness system (which retail for $US1,495). And the amount of space allocated to rentable offices in any apartment tower will increase. Rentable space currently accounts for around 20% of total space, and he predicts that to double: “It’s going to be almost like micro-offices you can lease, so you can feel like you’re leaving your apartment but still have an office within your building.” Don’t expect WeWork-style communal tables and cafes, though – these will be spaced-out and self-contained.

We’ll still need to rely on the professionals

All these changes are likely to be long-term shifts, but Meshberg experienced one change to his workflow during the pandemic that he expects to be temporary: co-opting clients onto his team.

Sequestered at home, and working remotely on an existing townhouse renovation, he pulled up an old set of drawings that were then digitally traced. He mailed some tape measures to the family, who then set their bored teenagers to the task of measuring each room and confirming the dimensions on record.

“They did ok, but they’re not professionals,” Meshberg said, smiling. “But it at least got them to feel a little more involved.”