I‘ve been staring at these same walls for a year and a half, and I went a little nutso,” says Molly Milano-Rifkind, an Amelia homeowner whose lockdown project was constructing a window bench atop storage drawers with built-in, ceiling-high bookcases flanking it. So many of us have experienced the same pandemic emotions: boredom with our current house and a desire for a more organized, functional, and attractive interiors.
Milano-Rifkind installed the seating and cabinetry in her “she loft,” originally a retreat for reading and crocheting, that turned into her remote-work office in 2020. She also kept an eye on her baby in the room, so the storage drawers house toys. The project was one of many happening across the city, reflecting how the pandemic reinforced some renovation movements already underfoot and prompted new ones.
The kitchen is the most renovated room in a house, and always has been. Increased cooking at home over the past two years has most influenced trends in that space. If we’re forced to become the chefs we used to depend upon, we want nice equipment and surroundings for the job. Built-in appliances are in vogue, says Lisa Meeks of Rock Island Realty, which builds and renovates houses, as are multi-functional appliances like a microwave doubling as an air fryer. Layout and cabinetry choices are shifting away from fussy details and natural-wood colors, adds Mark Vise, whose eponymous LLC rehabs properties. The preferred look, he says, is “modern, sleek, clean, and minimal.” Since open shelving has retained its Insta-fueled popularity, a separate spot in the room hides the less display-worthy everyday dishes.
Many of Vise’s revamps have no upper cabinets to speak of, and the base cabinets are in colors such as blue, gray, green, or even red. Faucet and pull hardware is often black; adieu silver, brushed nickel, and oil-rubbed bronze. Islands remain the locus of the kitchen, if not the entire house. Like our pandemic bellies, they just keep getting bigger (the last two that Vise built were 5-feet-by-8-feet). Dining rooms continue to be converted to other purposes, some of which require a remodel, like a pub Vise built for a client, for which he added brick to one wall.
Bathrooms are the second most popular rooms to be revamped. Think large tile (up to 4 feet square) and curbless step-in showers with a glass enclosure or stationary panel of glass. “People love heated floors,” says Rick Pouliot of EP Investment Group, which flips West Side properties. “If you’re retiling a floor, it’s a rare opportunity to put one in.” As showers take up more room, soaking tubs are being relegated to the guest bathroom, says Meeks.
Traditional vanities are falling by the wayside, too, replaced by floating vanities and those with glass tops. As for vessel sinks, buh-bye. Ditto traditional vanity light fixtures with frosted sconces. Think linear, geometric LED lighting. “We take out medicine cabinets and replace them with mirrors that have integrated lighting,” says Richard Rodier of Renovations by Rodier. Let’s not forget the toilet! Contractors are often asked to install outlets near them for electric bidet add-ons.
In the flooring category, clients are souring on carpet—even in bedrooms, says Meeks—and opting for hardwood, engineered hardwood, and luxury vinyl planks. “Now everybody wants LVP,” says Rodier.
Layouts and room use are evolving. In larger houses, kids’ play spaces are often no longer relegated to the basement or den. Vise frequently sees a spider-like configuration on top floors, in which a central room is a playroom, “like how a common area in a dorm would be used,” he says. As for the basement, it’s more than ever the COVID-safe workout area.
The outside of the house is functioning more as a gathering place, especially when guests come over and even in cold weather. For Rodier, this means building or extending decks. Fire pits and outdoor flat-screen TVs help COVID-weary homeowners fend off cabin fever. The trend puts contractors to work constructing overhangs, pergolas, and other enclosures.
With entertaining and relaxing areas spread throughout the house, the living room no longer needs to be the size of a football field. Cozy is the new operating word there.
“I would love to make our living room more homey,” says Milano-Rifkind, emboldened by the success of her home-office project. “Cabinetry and floating shelves framing our fireplace to give some more storage for books and to display some pretty things. All this home time has allowed my brain to go bananas!”