Gagan Chandhoke, BArch, MSD.

Our biggest advantage over this virus is our ability to co-operate effectively” -Yuval Noah Harari

Whatever these lockdowns bring with them other than the sense of self-obedient security within the house and further the community, they also bring along the anxiety of the unknown future. Among these unknowns are questions about how this will all affect our respective professions. 

Sipping on my coffee, after some home chores my head spins in all directions thinking of all the possibilities I can fathom relating to my design field of architecture and interiors. And the only way I know how to tackle anxiety is to deal with the thoughts. So I’m beginning a series of write ups starting with the simplest and most obvious changes that these covid times might organically bring along and how proactively accepting these changes will only help designers design better.

I’m beginning with our dear underestimated home. Whether you used your home just to crash at night and spent the occasional Sundays homebound, or you were mostly at home anyways and looked forward to your frequent or rare socialising events, the humble house has proven to be our ‘safe-house’ almost like that for an action hero with a bounty on his head, who gets one (safehouse) by the FBI. Yes, this is under the influence of an overdose of Netflix during our inglorious lockdown days.

This write up shall only look into the home space from a perspective of designing new homes and possibly for renovating existing ones. Whether it’s a flat in the middle of a busy city or a sprawling bungalow on the outskirts of the urban jungle, there’s something for everyone to take from here. So let’s begin from the entrance into our homes. I feel the first obvious one is hygiene and the disinfection process. The very first thing we have to come in contact with is the handlebar of the door and the doorbell. So a way of not having to touch these, at all, will be a winner. I’m thinking voice recognition or face recognition entry gadgets could do the trick. An added feature of checking body temperature can now be a part of this. An access card or a fingerprint access would not really solve the purpose here. Then once we enter, a powder room nearby equipped with all types of cleaning equipment, a closet with home-wear and a laundry bag would be great. And if space allows, a small shower cubicle would add that cherry to the cake (speaking of which, there’s something about lockdowns and discovering or rediscovering your culinary skills, ha, it’s true). Before we leave the post-covid powder room, let’s not forget that here a sensor-based soap dispenser and a sensor- based tap goes without saying. A foot operated wash basin could also be used but disinfecting the foot peddle from time to time would be necessary 

All the essential stuff that you just bought needs to be disinfected before you store them in their respective spaces. The veggies and fruits would of course just need to be straight away washed. But the packeted items will need a wipe off with a sanitiser. So if you have an outdoor lawn, you could use that space for disinfecting these items, but if you don’t, you would probably use the entrance hall/area to carry out this activity. So this should be kept in mind while designing these spaces.

So, you are all clean and have done the best you could and are now relaxing at home after your home chores or WFH – ‘work-from-home’ meetings. Maybe it’s the weekend and you have ample of time on your hand after about two weeks of lockdown where you have addressed all the untidy corners and pending deep cleaning parts of the house. Now what to do? How to be not stuck to your phone, going through unverified news and forwards? How not to be bored? Now here’s where I think the designer must bring in his/her creativity while designing home spaces. 

Imagine an ideal situation where you did not get bored of your home. What would that look like? You can use your very own creative mind to figure that out but meanwhile I’ll share my ideas. I feel designing different corners of the house differently to be one way. Change in colour, style of decor and even the utility of every little potential corner will create a variety of mood spaces within the same house. One corner could be for spending time with family or just for a couple to sit and sip tea while watching outside. One could be a part of the study, but with an added bay window sitting space. It is natural to feel comfortable next to windows and natural light so make sure all such spaces are explored for creating these varied corners. One window could be with a couch and one with a bean bag with a whimsical background of hanging lights or light pastel sheers. 

One corner I would definitely recommend (next to a window) would be the plants corner. Small little pots at multi levels. Some on the wall, on the floor and on tables. So time spent each day in this corner can be a part of a routine. This could be in the balcony too. Watering the plants, transplanting them, rearranging them, all this could be very soothing and can be taken as an anti-anxiety pill, only of course being a lot more engaging, connecting and rewarding than a pill. 

Another interesting space that can be created at home would be a music corner. We all listen to music on or phones or some form of gadget depending upon the extent of our love for it. But creating a dedicated space for music can allow you (again) make it a part of your routine and help you relax while you scroll through your favourite old music or while you’re in the mood of discovering new artists and maybe even genres. Who knows the potential of these lockdowns (ha).

Another important functional change the lockdowns have brought along are the WFH spaces that had to somehow be adjusted in the house. But if we could re-do our house post the lockdown, how would you set up this space? If you have a spare guest room or a multifunctional study room in the house, your office space could be set up there. Keeping in mind that conference calls and phone discussions will be a major part of the WFH scenario, the sound issues must be addressed. Creating a soundproof room is one idea. But what if your wife and you both needed separate spaces and there weren’t enough rooms for that? Or you need to attend calls while your kid(s) are playing or watching TV? For this I suggest a sound proof air-conditioned booth. This could vary in design with variables in size, material used etc. If done right, you could have two sound proof booths in one room. This would allow more functional use in less space! 

Now once the space part is sorted out, the office should be equipped with separate internet connections (if bandwidth issues are to be avoided). There should be an ergonomically designed set up for your screen(s), your keyboard, mouse etc. and of course a carefully picked chair. Many good office furniture makers have adjustable hydraulic tables (Hawoth and Godrej to name a couple) and these allow you to stand at regular intervals while continuing your work smoothly. While doing your office space, you can always add a coffee machine, few bean bags or things that you like to do in short breaks but couldn’t do in the office set up. Afterall, if your office design depends on you and not your boss or the majority of your colleagues, you might as well customise it to the Tee.

Coming to the next important aspect of a house from a post covid design perspective is storage. No matter how much we try not to hoard and might even be considered wrong to do so in some countries, a certain amount of hoarding can have wisdom in store for us. Reducing your trips to the outside world automatically means reducing the infection risk. So at least equipping your home with the basics that are sufficient for about a month or two isn’t a bad idea. For that a store or a larder designed with separate compartments for toiletries and food items can be helpful. 

While you’re indoors and avoiding meeting people, things can go wrong sometimes. Like a plumbing problem, a fused light bulb or a broken machine or kitchen equipment. With online videos of DIY on maintenance, one can easily solve half of those problems. But you’ll need to have the tools at home. So, a tool box and storage for spares is a must for even those who have apartment maintenance on a quick call. 

While I round up the ideas for creating different spaces within the home, let me not forget the outdoor spaces. If you are lucky to have large or small outdoor spaces and great weather for even a couple of hours a day, you must make full use of this. From planting small herbs to harvesting fruits, all depends on the space you have. But the point is to not to underutilize the outdoors. It is within this that the true anti-stress and vit-D laden environment exists. You can sign in with an online course of gardening or just collect information from the internet. 

Apart from gardening, physical activities should be a must to consider.  Creating a jogging path, a half court basketball area or even a yoga space to breathe in the fresh air while you’re at it, is vital. The possibilities are many and all this depends on the space you have and your choice of physical activity. But what it shouldn’t depend on is lack of will or giving this the least priority. If the space has been created, chances are you will utilise it, especially during a lockdown. 

If you are lucky to have a terrace space available, all the ideas mentioned in this write-up could be used to create interesting spaces there. Weather you create a plants corner for your veggies, a space for outdoor activity or a cute hammock corner, its an outdoor space that can be beautifully utilised and enjoyed.

So, visiting all parts of the home and seeing them from the perspective of a design opportunity for helping the community, I hope I have sparked some ideas and given some direction. To sum it up, 1) the entrance of the house should be where disinfection part is taken care of 2) different corners of the house should be treated differently encouraging one to make interesting routines and thus act like anti-depressants 3) The ‘work from home’ space needs to be addressed creatively 4) storage is an essential part of the covid situation and thus must be organised and 5) our wonderful outdoor spaces, no matter how small, should not be under-utilised and be used to explore gardening, physical activities and soak in some Vit-D.