Picture this: It’s 1999, and you just got home from carpool. You have a book report to finish, so you power up your desktop Macintosh (the orange one) to exercise those Type To Learn skills. Instead, you get distracted updating the status of your AIM profile (R.I.P.).
Now, jump back into the present. I’m writing this very sentence on a laptop in Google Docs, while forcing my eyes away from the addicting abyss that is Instagram. I’ll most likely finish writing this piece from my bed, or the kitchen, or maybe even the tub — who’s to say? In sum, we take our technology everywhere, and this is the new norm.
The last decade brought on a technological boom that revolutionized the way we work, communicate, and, well, think. Tech mobility and instant communication altered the way we move throughout our homes, leading us to ask a few questions: Have our living spaces changed with the times? Do people even have computer rooms anymore? How can people be present in their spaces with so many tech-driven distractions? We tapped three interior experts, all of whom worked on projects throughout both eras, to understand how technology actually influences our homes. Martha Sweezey, Jennifer Jones, and Amy Storm weigh in on the evolution of home design.
"Before starting a project, it’s our job to ask clients questions like, Do you read at night? Do you work from home? How many and what kind of devices does the family use?" explains Amy Storm, lead designer and founder of Designstorms. "All of these factors play into how we design each space, room, built-in, and more."
Clients’ devices could range from tablets to laptops to phones, all tools that can travel from room to room. What happens when everyone is moving throughout the house with devices in hand? Walls come down. “A lot of homes are leaning to the open space design,” adds Martha Sweezey, cofounder of Collins & Sweezey design firm. “This is especially true with a combination of a kitchen and living space that can accommodate dining and or sitting areas.” Along with the emergence of open spaces, computer and recreational rooms are slowly fading out. Individuals now prefer to have to option of dining or working from a variety of spots in the house, as long as it gets natural light and WiFi — the two bare necessities. Not only do open floor plans maximize mobility while freeing up square footage, but they also leverage both a property’s value and a family’s at-home together time.
Another positive outcome of tech-accommodating homes is the inevitable modern aesthetic that goes along with the transformation. As clunky landlines and desktop computers disappear (along with paper piles and file drawers), sleek surfaces and The Jestons-like gadgets take their place. Jennifer Jones, principal designer and founder of Niche Interiors clarifies, "We still frequently design dedicated home offices, but they are becoming less utilitarian and more bespoke and relaxed." Because working from home is incredibly more common today than in the nineties, individuals are requesting spaces that marry home comfort and productivity. Jones adds, "Most clients ask for lounge seating for two people, allowing for casual laptop work and conversation."
So, what’s happening to all of the home offices designed around stationary computers and file cabinets? Reconceptualization. In a recent design debacle, Storm needed to completely rethink a room. “I was just at a house that had an extra bedroom, which was set up as an office, and never used. The house was built with an office space connecting the living room to the family room, which is also never used by the homeowner. We spent a good amount of time talking through how we could rework the spaces into rooms their family would actually use.” A common solution for a get-with-the-times remodel is the multipurpose room. Instead of assigning computers and work to one single space, many individuals prefer to create rooms that can transform with our needs — exercising, kids’ entertainment, guest accommodation, you name it. When a complete remodel and floor-plan update isn’t feasible, the melting-pot room is the new office.
While our homes are transforming to meet our ever changing requests (and our decreasing attention spans), it becomes more difficult to find quiet time, spent unplugged. The home is meant to be a refuge — a space to find alone time, rest, and refueling. With the constant need to recharge our devices, are we still getting a recharge, too?
"The truth is, all we really need to function is a power source close by," Storm confirms. But, there is a strategic way to approach design for devices. If phones, tablets, and laptops all need to charge, perhaps that is the time to put them away. "Installing charging stations in the kitchen is an easy way to encourage family members to park their devices during meal times," explains Jones. "In our house, we don't even bring phones to the table, which helps foster conversation."
According to the designers, home design is a reflection of the human condition — social habits and thought processes impact our living spaces profoundly. By taking a look at our homes, we can also see how far we’ve come. "Ten years ago, we had a desk in every kitchen, with a place for phone, calendar, are paperwork," concluded Storm. "That space took up a good portion of valuable property and eventually became a dreaded drop zone for everything." If we can leverage our technological advancements and understanding of how we function in our homes for the better, perhaps we can live better, too.