Stephen Kraus: Consumer insights ~ Digital trends ~ Market research
Stephen Kraus: Consumer insights ~ Digital trends ~ Market research
by Stephen Kraus, Ph.D.
Most human behavior occurs in one of the main “places.” The first place is the home. The second place is work. Third places are all the other places where people congregate and connect, such as parks, restaurants, bars, coffeeshops, clubs, gyms, and places of worship. This framework was popularized by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his book The Great Good Place, which focused on third places in particular, detailing their crucial role in democracy, civic engagement, and community cohesion.
This article is the first in a series exploring how the three places are evolving in The Corona Economy. First up: six key trends reshaping the “first place” — the home.
As we’ll see, major home-related trends, and the underlying needs they reflect, are broadly-based across many segments. But how these trends manifest themselves, and the business opportunities they present, differ strongly across economically-based segments, The rich are different from you and me, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote — a century later, the homes and the aspirations of the rich remain different.
Let’s start by quantifying the most obvious home-related trend — a lot of people are spending a lot more time at home. Growing numbers of people…
Most obviously and most literally, population density at home has increased — at any one time, more people are occupying the same amount of space. Pro: a greater sense of closeness, at a time of broader isolation and loneliness. For furnishings, expect trends toward comfort (for longer periods of sitting) and size (larger sofas, armchairs and sectionals that comfortably seat multiple people). Conversely, expect decor trends away from anything dainty, impractical, single-function, or that emphasizes form-over-function.
While greater density creates an opportunity for psychological closeness, it can also make spaces that once felt spacious now feel more crowded. The opportunity: growing interest in density solutions that enhance privacy, both physically or psychologically. Think room dividers, privacy screens, soundproofing, and even “do not disturb” signs for the home.
Another density solution — reclaiming and better utilizing the spaces just outside the home. The yards, gardens and backyards of America are being revisited and better utilized as places to cook, relax, play and/or swim. It’s less about the great outdoors, and more about the barely outdoors. Longer-term, people will dedicate outdoor spaces to drop zones and landing spaces for delivery drones — we still don’t have the flying cars we thought the future would bring, but everyone’s first drone delivery will be a flashbulb memory and a generational marker.
Home is “the first place” and is obviously accommodating more people. It is now accommodating more functions as well. The second place (work) has moved into the first place, and they are uneasy roommates at best. A host of third places have moved into the home as well, including restaurant dining rooms, movie theaters, schools, and gyms. That’s a lot of conceptual spaces folded into a single physical space.
“Multi-functional” has long been a design mantra for small homes — and now every home feels smaller than it used to. Spaces will increasingly do double- or triple-duty, such as office by day, dining room at dinner-time, and family game room by night. Multi-functional furniture is having a moment as well. For example, Google searches for Murphy beds spiked in April and remain elevated (fortunately Murphy technology has advanced, perhaps finally putting to rest the imagery of wrestling with a Murphy bed from Charlie Chaplin’s classic 1916 short). And some part of the house increasingly will do double-duty as a home gym as well — companies capitalizing on this trend include Peleton and Lululemon (particularly due to their purchase of Mirror).
"Have nothing in your house which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." William Morris, designer
"Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union." Frank Lloyd Wright
Home design has seen a long-term trend toward open spaces, a trend I think will continue, despite predictions by some of a return to closed spaces and more traditional architecture. More people spending more time at home will put a continued premium on open, airy spaces with light and views.
But I do think there will be a new creativity around creating “psychological spaces” — that is, areas within open spaces that give the “feel” of more intimate experiences. A breakfast nook is a classic example, and the concept is increasingly being expanded to reading corners, meditation alcoves, yoga spots and sanctuary spaces. The more trend-conscious might have a niksen nook or a hygge hutch or a cottagecore corner.
Sometimes psychological spaces can be created purely through design. In other cases, there are physical solutions — temporary or movable boundaries such as screen dividers or barn doors. Regardless of how they are created, these psychological mini-spaces can exist within open spaces, rather than replacing them. Psychological spaces also provide structure and variety — crucial when people feel every day is the same, and there is a hunger for breaking up the monotony.
Don’t expect a reversal of the trend toward open kitchens, either, as consumers have a continued enthusiasm for large kitchen islands, and kitchen windows for natural light and ventilation. Not only are people cooking more, but they are also increasingly using kitchens as multi-functional hubs for eating, Zoom calls, homework stations, and more.
"Luxury must be comfortable otherwise it is not luxury. " Coco Chanel
"The high-ceilinged rooms, the little balconies, alcoves, nooks and angles all suggest, sanctuary, escape, creature comfort." David McCord
The home now has more people and serves more functions. That translates to more stuff. And just as the second and third places have returned to the home, so has a lot of our stuff. Kids can’t leave books in their school lockers. Office workers can’t leave files or books or plants or bobble-heads at the office. It’s all home. And it’s all gotta go somewhere.
There is a trend toward creative storage solutions — under beds and stairs, in benches and ottomans and sideboards and cabinets. Google searches for “home storage” spiked in April and remain elevated — searches for “pantries” show a similar pattern. The hunt for storage has spurred complementary trends toward minimalism, a quality-over-quantity approach, and decor that emphasizes fewer (but nicer) things.
"The home should be the treasure chest of living." Le Corbusier
"Your home is living space, not storage space." Francine Jay
For many, the home office is no longer an afterthought. It’s not a laptop on a dresser in the corner of the bedroom. The home office is now a place where many spend a third of their day or more. That means they’ll stop overlooking poor ergonomics and less-than-photogenic backdrops. It means investing in a real desk, a real chair, and real lighting. And it’s preferably not in the bedroom where they sleep, as the desire for work-life separation is stronger than ever. For those who can afford it the money and/or space, a “real” home office with a dedicated space is a new form of luxury (good tips on creating an optimal workspace at home available here and here).
" An office that reflects the design and comfort of the rest of your home is a place you'll want to burn the midnight oil." Gretchen Roberts
This is perhaps the most obvious, and the most far-reaching, of the home-related macro-trends. The new-found focus on cleanliness is having pervasive short-term effects, many of which will continue to resonate post-corona. Hygiene and sanitization are top of mind — think air filters and water filters and smart toilets (even bidets are having a moment).
Home functions and appliances will increasingly be touchless and sensor-driven — faucets, ice makers, water dispensers, trash can lids. And they’ll be voice-activated where possible — one more factor accelerating smart home adoption. Expect growing use of anti-microbial materials, like copper, brass, bronze and stainless steel. Beneath our feet, look for flooring materials (like cork) that are anti-microbial, anti-mold, water-resistant, and sound-proofing.
From a design perspective, “mudrooms” are coming back, but are now better thought of as “decontamination zones.” A mudroom was an antechamber for taking your shoes off outside. A decontamination zone is a place to take off your shoes, and the jacket you wear outside, and slather yourself with hand sanitizer. Maybe the cleansing effect is more psychological than biological, but often that’s enough to make a design choice, and to help the habit stick. Once inside, you’ll put on your “indoor sweater,” making this the year we all turn into Mr. Rogers. Which, honestly, is the most wholesome and life-affirming trend I’ve seen in 2020 :-)
"Our house is clean enough to be healthy, and dirty enough to be happy." Unknown
"The objective of cleaning is not just to clean, but to feel happiness living within that environment." Marie Kondo
These six trends are broadly based; so are the underlying unmet needs they reflect. They have broad resonance across demographic and geographic segments. But the expression of these trends differs dramatically across socio-economic groups.
The wealthy can buy homes designed explicitly to meet these new needs and embrace these new trends. In a world where the wealthy can work from anywhere, they can move from San Francisco to Tahoe (for example, where real estate is currently booming). They can buy a huge mountain home with no trade-offs — an open-space vibe and dedicated spaces for multiple offices, a gym, a family entertainment room, etc. Their homes are custom-built and compromise-free. Luxury for them means being built from the ground-up to satisfy these new needs.
A step down the economic ladder, the affluent-but-not-quite-wealthy can meet these new needs by remodeling and redesigning and buying upscale products. The middle class will buy value-oriented products, or perhaps reclaim under-utilized space such as a spare bedroom. Struggling consumers will improvise their own solutions, or make do with what they have, leaving these new trends as aspirations for the future.