Home Design Trends: Functional Spaces

The pandemic’s been a busy time for interior designers, as clients restricted to their living rooms, kitchens and desks are finding that the new normal might call for a new couch.

Interior designers Amy Cuker (Down2Earth Interior Design), Candice Adler (Candice Adler Design) and Michelle Erdosi (Aeternum Design Studio) spoke to the Exponent about the choices they and their clients have made in the past year.

Amy Cuker,
Down2Earth Interior Design

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A kitchen designed by Amy Cuker of Down2Earth Interior Design | Photo by Rebecca McAlpin

Since the pandemic began, Cuker and her team at Elkins Park-based Down2Earth Interior Design have worked exclusively on residential projects. With lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders, Cuker anticipated that clients would come to see the home office as newly essential. They’d not only need a comfortable, productive space to work in, Cuker theorized, but one that served as a cocoon in a home with children.

But it didn’t turn out that way. Instead of home offices, Cuker said, it’s been mostly about basements, whether unfinished or in need of an update. When one party needs noise and the other needs quiet, it seems that the squeaky wheel is getting the grease. And extra time at home has afforded more attention to worn surfaces, nicked corners and scuffed paint. Projects that might’ve been put off in the past in favor of travel, summer camp or leisure activities are finally getting completed.

“Counterintuitively, these aren’t necessarily projects that address a specific pandemic need,” Cuker said. “It’s more just, you’re finally prioritizing them.”

Kitchens are a priority, as always. Storage space is valued in a way that it wasn’t before, Cuker said, as families are finding that they want more food in the house. And Cuker’s seen formal dining spaces reclaimed as an extension of the kitchen, as the pandemic has allowed some families to admit the truth: They weren’t entertaining all that much before, and they don’t plan to start when it becomes a possibility again.

Candice Adler,
Candice Adler Design

Families now want more kitchen space, according to Candice Adler, who designed the rooms above | Photo by Candice Adler

Like Cuker, Cherry Hill-based Candice Adler has found the extra time at home has turned “maybe next year” changes into “why not now?” projects for her clients.

But Adler’s guidance for the people she works with hasn’t changed: When it comes to couches, chairs and sitting areas, she says, “if it’s comfortable enough for a seder, then it’s going to work.”

Non-functional seating that serves purely aesthetic purposes is waning in popularity, while functional space is the name of the game. Spare bedrooms increasingly double as gyms and offices, and basements that needed work have gotten it. Unlike Cuker, Adler has seen a slight increase in the demand for home offices, but she’s noticed a greater emphasis on the kitchen as a place to congregate, which has led to more attention to space and storage — larger fridges, especially.

And whereas silver was the trend in kitchens for a long time, brass is coming back, Adler said, so everyone who got rid of their brass in favor of silver is switching it back, and everyone who dragged their feet on making the switch is delighted to find that they have no switch to make.

“They’re like, ‘Oh my God, it’s come back!’” Adler said.

Lastly, Adler sees that her years of stressing the importance of lighting are finally paying off, as clients now realize how transformative new lighting choices can be.

“If you really want to give your room a face lift without spending a ton, a little bit of paint and a fabulous light will go a very long way,” Adler said. “It can change everything.”

Michelle Erdosi,
Aeternum Design Studio

Aeternum, based in Fishtown, typically splits time between private residence jobs and commercial design. Erdosi’s specialty is hospitality, so as the world of her clients contracted, her expertise in figuring out what makes a warm and inviting public space has been brought to bear on private homes.

“It all kind of comes down to having that people-centric sense of hospitality and experience, to be the focus of how we design,” Erdosi said.

This year, being people-centric has meant designing for interiors where working hours often bleed into after-work. Creating home offices, living rooms and kitchens that are “a little bit more multifunctional and a little more flexible,” Erdosi said, is her way of meeting client needs.

Erdosi is seeing the same trends as Cuker and Adler: Goodbye, beautiful, inhospitable chairs; hello, function and performance in every room — but especially the kitchen.

“I see that as a performance space, where we ask of that space and we need it to deliver and not just look cute,” she said.

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