Furniture and other home accessories sale has gone up in the three months preceding June in select high-end stores in Nairobi. More people are making orders to furnish their houses even as effects of the coronavirus bite, says Muthoni Ngugi of Gaze Furnishings, an interiors store owner.
Besides furniture, enquiries on potted plants, artworks, and other décor items, both online and offline, have gone up as people seek to add a little spark to homes.
Before Covid-19, many people did not realise how drab, dysfunctional, and uncomfortable their homes were. While most spaces offered enough comfort for a few hours every day, spending weeks and months indoors and working remotely has not only been a nightmare to many during the lockdown but also a major awakening.
Ken Kanyingi, a marketer, discovered that his house was poorly lit only after he started working from home. Making video calls with his clients was a challenge without proper lighting.
“It was embarrassing for a client to say that they couldn’t see me clearly during the video,” Ken says. He started scouring the web for lighting ideas.
Ruth Wendy, a science teacher from Nakuru, says that she had neither a desk nor an extra room at home that she could easily convert into a study.
“I had to transform a section of our living room into an office. A local carpenter made a desk for me although I had to wait for nearly two weeks,” says Wendy.
While she is now able to offer lessons to her learners via video with ease, Wendy says that installing a desk in the living room has significantly decimated the space for her family’s comfort and convenience.
Whenever city-based human resource professional May Nyaga is working, she locks herself up in a room to hide from her two sons “because they can’t let me work in peace.”
In many ways, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the shortcomings of interior design in homes, not just in Kenya, but across the world.
Interior Designers Association of Kenya president George Washington Karani says that “dealing with a pandemic that would confine people indoors was never a factor in design processes.”
“Home designers didn’t anticipate such a crisis,” Karani says.
Covid-19, he says, brought to the fore the lack of involvement of interior designers at the concept stage of home design.
“Architects do all the work. The right process should be to engage interior designers throughout the journey to handover. When you bring them to do fittings and finishes only after the building has been put up, this limits their control on how the interior space is planned,” says the workspace design expert and lecturer at the Technical University of Kenya.
“The work of interior designers is to ensure that spaces are functional, safe, and healthy for use by the residents. Decoration constitutes a small area of what interior designers do. We must cease looking at interior designers merely as beautifiers or decorators of space,” he says.
In the coming days, homes, restaurants, shopping stores, schools, and hospitals will undergo a major redesign that incorporates lighting and soundproofing and also to accommodate the need for social distancing.
“Going forward, soundproofing in homes will be more pronounced. This is to allow people with children or those living in noisy neighbourhoods to work without distractions,” says Sophie Gai, an interior design artist and consultant in Nairobi.
She adds that spaces will be bigger and more ventilated with large windows and doors. “Some people may choose to shift to the countryside,” Sophie says.
Additionally, restaurants and other public places are likely to adopt technology in their booths to allow people to work.
“Booths such as those at supermarkets will be in increased use, especially at building entrances,” she says.
“There will also be more work parks such in designated residential areas complete with social amenities where employees (for particular countries) live and work,” Sophie says.
Already, a few developments such as Enaki Town that borders upscale neighbourhoods of Nyari, Kitisuru, and Gigiri plans to offer such services.
Sophie notes that instead of the current arrangement where different individuals invest in such properties, companies will take up such spaces for their employees.
But what five specific areas are expected to transform in the design of homes going forward? Karani outlines the following:
Entry foyer: This space will be returned to the design of residential homes. With the new hygiene measures becoming the new normal, there will be a need to have a foyer space as a transition area into the house to clean hands, remove and store away dirty clothes, shoes, or even shopping bags. Some foyers can have a bathroom/changing room extension where one takes a shower and changes before interacting with the family.
Modular furniture: For those with smaller spaces, modular furniture, which is multifunctional, will be adopted. This may include a seat and table or sofa during the daytime that can be converted into a bed/storage space at night. This comes with the advantage of saving on space.
Domestic Servant Quarter (DSQ): There will be a need for live-in house helps as opposed to those who come and go. To that effect, DSQs which have been a hard sell a few years ago, according to a Kenyan Bankers Association Housing Price Index report, will appeal to many homebuyers.
Visitor spaces: As a precautionary measure, there will be a need for a space for visitors who come and go and who can only sanitise without changing their clothes.
In his view, Karani says the design of the entry point of any home will be critical, to ensure the safety of its residents. He also predicts the rising popularity of the ‘do it yourself’ (DIY) domain in interior decoration.
“Most people will want to learn how to paint, to decorate and to do other minor fixtures such as plumbing to minimise the number of people coming into their homes as a way to reduce exposure to bugs,” he says.
Besides comfort, functionality, and safety, Karani argues that other areas will have to be reconfigured. To start with, he proposes ridding interior spaces of concrete permanent walls. “Concrete walls make it difficult to execute a layout change. Our interior spaces become a fixed part of our houses. We need to appreciate the use of flexible partitions in our interiors,” Karani says, adding that this will also influence how architects design homes.
“One has to think of the various transformations that can happen in the same space allowing for flexibility.”
Such modifications will obviously come with cost implications.
“The cost will be higher for homes that will require to remodel and or restructure their design than new houses that will consider these features from the design concept,” he explains.
The crisis though has come with multiple lessons for designers, and according to Karani, the need for deeper research into the design of homes and other buildings could not be overstated.
He observes that searching for information on previous pandemics and how they affected the construction industry is a good place to start.
“Pandemics can range from diseases, war, floods, terrorism, and earthquakes. Deeper insights into this area will help us to change how we design our homes and buildings.''