What's Happening in Design Adapting Common Spaces to the New Normal

While the initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic may have stopped much of our normal economic activity in its tracks, the gradual revival of business and commerce is inspiring some new thinking and new solutions for individual unit owners, co-op and condo communities, and the boards that oversee them. Some of the changes we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic, such as working from home, distance learning, and gym-less exercise to name a few, may be here to stay - and are already affecting a broad swath of industries and professional relationships.

Falling Off a Cliff

With shutdown orders affecting everything from going to work and school to buying and selling homes, moving, renovating, and accessing amenities both private and public, more than a few commentators jumped on the bandwagon to trumpet the looming demise of Big City Life. While the market in many major urban areas is clearly in flux, and the political climate uncertain and dramatic to say the least, how it will all work out over the longer term is anybody’s guess. For the moment, brokers in many metropolitan markets are reporting increasing activity by both sellers and buyers; just this week, CBS News reported that according to New York City-based moving companies, moves both out of and into New York City have increased dramatically since the beginning of the year; in fact, many movers say they are working at capacity.

An interesting side effect of this reshuffling of residents and residences - as well as the work-from-home revolution - is an uptick in business for design professionals, including architects, interior designers, decorators, stylists, and their adjacent colleagues. Marilyn Sygrove, a Manhattan-based interior designer and President of Sygrove Associates Design Group Inc., says that “When COVID hit, I was prepared for the worst - for no business at all. But in fact, the opposite is true for us here. We have been getting quite a few new business calls precisely because more people are working from home and have canceled their flights for their summer vacations.” Owners are seeking ways to adapt their spaces to the realities of working from home, educating their children from home, and maintaining their health through exercise at home.

The Reality of Now

Sygrove reports that unit owners are using ingenuity to reconfigure their spaces. It’s more than just eating, sleeping, and entertaining; “Now residents work, exercise, cook more than ever, supervise remote learning, meet on Zoom gatherings, and sometimes require multiple virtual access at one time. There is a lot of creativity going on to separate spaces, coordinate schedules, survive, and thrive!  Dining tables in particular, are doing multiple duty.”

Boards are active as well. With so many residents home all the time, they’re hearing more complaints about everything from noise to bedraggled-looking common spaces than pre-pandemic, when more people were spending the bulk of their waking hours elsewhere. “Looking at unsightly, dim hallways, or pyramids of packages lining up in the lobby because their package room isn’t large enough to accommodate the surplus of people ordering things every single day from home while home is aggravating to board members and residents alike,” says Sygrove, adding that a byproduct of COVID is the concern that apartment values may plummet. “Now more than ever, they figure they need to up their game to compete now for sales.”


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