America At Home Study: The Follow Up

The second iteration of the America At Home Study finds lasting changes to home and community design inspired by the pandemic 

By Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki and Nancy Keenan 

As 2021 begins, there has been much discussion about the impacts COVID-19 will have on future home and community design. The America At Home Study, first conducted in April 2020 with 3,001 US consumers, provided an early snapshot. The study was repeated in October/November, this time with 3,935 respondents nationwide, nine months into life with the pandemic. The goal of the second wave of the study was to understand what changes made in homes and communities since the start of the pandemic appear to be lasting and could have potential impacts on home design, and which changes were just reactionary during a challenging point in time. It has inspired the development of a concept home designed by Dahlin Group Architecture Planning and to be built by Garman Homes by summer 2021 in Chatham Park, NC, to bring the survey findings to life.

Home = A Safe Place and So Much More

In April, when asked what “home” means to them, 91% of respondents chose “A Safe Place.” In October/November that same choice was still at the top of the list, at 89%, with notable increases also in “Freedom” (up by 13%), and “Financial Stability” (up by 8%). The increase in both these factors demonstrates home is much more than just shelter. The second wave of the study confirms that people are committed to making permanent changes to their homes to adapt to the lifestyle of spending more time at home. As such, builders, designers, interior designers and product manufacturers should be thinking about home design differently, with a focus on high-use areas to improve. 

Just what those high-use areas are were revealed in the survey data and were consistent in both the April and October/November waves of the study. 

Top 5 Missing in Current Home + Willing to Pay For  April data  Oct./Nov. data
Greater technology/energy efficiency  55% 56%
Better equipped kitchen for cooking 47% 52%
Germ-resistant countertops and flooring 55% 50%
More storage for food and water 51% 50%
Touch-free faucets, appliances, and smart toilets 48% 47%

Related to “safety” and the importance of hygiene, the desire for a laundry room off the garage rose 11% from April to October. With more time spent cooking and eating at home, having a dining room or dedicated eating area rose 7%. The team behind the concept home took this to heart and designed a 100% functional kitchen for cooking with a flexible eating area. Only one factor dropped in any significant way between the April and October data — the desire for germ-resistant countertops and flooring — down 5%. While many are rushing to say antimicrobial surfaces were a flash in the pan in the early months of life with the pandemic, as the chart above shows, this was still the third most requested feature in the second study, with 50% of consumers saying they want it and are willing to pay for it. Disinfecting things more remains the top behavior change in both waves of the study, and this long-term projected behavior change crosses generations, with 78% of Millennials, 81% of Gen X-ers and 82% of baby boomers saying this will continue to be a routine part of life. 

Arriving at Home 

Entries in the concept home were designed to address the desire to disinfect and preserve the sense of safety at home. The guest entry has a vestibule — harkening back to homes of the early 1900s. Accessed from the front porch with a gate, the vestibule entry has an adjacent bath. The design creates an airlock, so to speak, that allows the family to greet visitors, contain the arrival of packages and transition from the weather. 

The same attention was paid to the family entry, with a focus on transitioning the items people come home with to being at home. Designed with a more gracious and functional drop-zone, the family entry includes a laundry, secondary refrigerator, and the option for a shower in the powder room. It works to transition the family coming home from an outing or kids, and pets coming in from the yard. Plus, it provides direct access to an outdoor covered gathering space, given that more than 60% of survey respondents plan to continue entertaining friends and family on porches, patios and decks.  

Community Matters More Than Ever

While the changes respondents made to their homes show signs of sticking, the data shows “community” is even more important as well. When asked which community features would influence their decision to buy or rent their next home, every single factor increased in the second round of the study. A new option was added in the November study, “nature and open space hikes and activities,” in response to the overwhelming number of ways people expressed wanting to get outdoors more. It topped the list of desired community features at 59%. Other community features with the greatest increases from April to November are:

Community Features Impacting Move Decision  Oct./Nov. data  % increase since April
Large park with open fields and green space 56% 4%
Controlled environment for safety, sanitization  54% 9%
Trails  51% 4%
Small neighborhood park with seating/playground 47% 8%
Health and wellness clinic 46% 8%

The design changes in both homes and communities are coming out of a renewed focus on what matters most to us and the survey has helped us articulate that, even if the impetus is the unfortunate circumstances of a pandemic. Design changes that make a home more comfortable and easier for a family to live everyday life, while bringing value to their investment are here to stay. We can look back in five or ten years and credit this point in time with helping us to design homes and communities that better serve our needs. 

Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki is principal at tsk ink LLC, a marketing and brand experience design company. 

Nancy Keenan is President and CEO at Dahlin Group Architecture Planning

 

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