Remodeling for What’s Functional in the ‘New Normal’

What was once a temporary change is becoming long-term, maybe even permanent, as our lifestyles adapt to work-from-home and learn-at-home. We’d probably like it more if our home was up to the challenge.

The kitchen island has long been a gathering place for family and a common homework area for kids. As students continue remote learning and adults spend more time working at home, adaptations to the island will help to increase functionality. (Advance Design Studio photo)

A home remodel is always driven by lifestyle and these days, we’re all noticing a few changes in how we use our homes – and how much we’re there. Improving and adapting to this “new normal” is top of mind for many families, especially as we transition into the colder months and the inevitability of more time spent inside.

Christine Jurs and the team at Advance Design Studio, 30 Railroad St., in Gilberts, are embracing these unusual times.

“The question we’re asking is: How has your lifestyle changed, and how can we design for it in your new space? Where do you think things will go for your family?” she says. “Remodeling was always about lifestyle, but now it’s hyper-focused because lifestyle has shifted in ways no one ever imagined it would.”

Over the past six months, the Advance Design team has seen more people investing in home entertainment while adapting the spaces where parents work and children learn. What once was a temporary change is now becoming a long-term, perhaps even permanent, change to families’ lifestyles. And the reality is that some people actually prefer the new normal – if only their home was up to the challenge.

What’s Working?

Before beginning a design, Jurs and her team like to sit down with the homeowner and review the family’s current lifestyle.

They try to compare the current space with how it’s actually used. Are there things that add friction to the family’s lifestyle?

“Sometimes, thinking about what you want in a remodel is easier if you think about what’s not working,” says Jurs. “I think that’s key right now, because it’s not like we have to imagine how we want to use the space. We’re actually using these spaces and saying, ‘Ugh, this doesn’t work well,’ or ‘This just isn’t convenient.’”

Perhaps it’s a dining room or kitchen cluttered with extension cords and computers. Maybe it’s a cramped and dysfunctional master bathroom or an inadequate, makeshift home office. As the problems reveal themselves, solutions start to emerge.

A work-at-home husband might have his office modified as into a his-and-hers workspace.

“In the case of a bathroom, they need more space, so we can focus on the walk-in closet,” says Jurs. “We put makeup tables in the walk-in closet all the time, so that way the woman isn’t in the bathroom when she’s doing her makeup and hair.”

Extra nooks in the kitchen can also prove helpful for work-at-home parents or remote-learning children. (Advance Design Studio photo)

A Better Home Office

Long gone are the days when Mom kept a small desk in the kitchen for paying bills or housing the family PC. Today’s workstations demand a dedicated space that can better handle the demands of working from home.

“I think setting up a makeshift office was fine for people before, but now a lot of people are probably going to be facing that as an almost permanent thing going forward,” says Jurs.

While you establish a more permanent working spot, it’s important to understand how you want to work. That lifestyle will affect everything from design to cabinet choices – and yes, cabinets can make a difference in the home office.

“Probably the biggest challenge people have in a home office is lack of storage,” says Jurs. “And lack of storage can be addressed with beautiful cabinetry design.”

In fact, office design with cabinets isn’t so dissimilar from kitchen design. Just as garbage cans and appliances are hidden inside cabinets, so too are unsightly tools like hard drives, printers and wires. Combine base and wall cabinets with a sleek countertop and super-functional pieces like cubby holes. Mount a large monitor on the wall and it looks just like a TV, sans cables.

It’s true that cabinets will raise the budget, but for a lasting approach to work-at-home, it can be an investment worth making.

“It’s definitely an investment, and I think more people are going to be willing to think along the lines of, ‘I’d like this space to be more functional and more pleasing to be in all day long, because I’m home all day long now,” says Jurs.

Where you put an office depends on many factors, but one of the most common determinants is the age of your home. Within older homes, a spare bedroom or a corner of the basement are ideal. Homes built within the past 20 years probably have a good space near the front door.

“It may or may not have a French-door type entry,” says Jurs. “If that room is open, a lot of times people want to put doors on it, because they want to be able to close the doors and get away from the rest of the house.”

Regardless of the home’s age, the formal dining room is a common target for home offices these days, especially if those rooms are scarcely used. More often, the formal dining room’s functions are moving to large islands in the kitchens or designated zones in a great room.

“I happen to have a home office that used to be our dining room, and then we moved the dining room to another space in our house, when we did an addition,” says Jurs.

School at Home

It’s no secret that the island has become a central gathering spot in your kitchen. Over the past decade or so, it’s become a must-have in any remodel.

A year ago, it was common practice to think of children doing homework at the island while mom and dad cook. It used to be merely a good idea to add power outlets for the kids’ gadgets. Anymore, it’s becoming mandatory.

“I suspect enough kids are doing remote learning at a kitchen island that one of the most functional things you can do is have a charging station with electrical plug-ins,” says Jurs. “That’s something that’s becoming overwhelmingly important. Everyone’s plugging in these devices, and so nobody’s happy if you have just one outlet. We can build them right into the islands, whether in a cabinet, under a ledge, in a drawer or in a pop-up right in the countertop.”

The island isn’t the only place to station busy students. Jurs finds her own children, who are homeschooled, sometimes need separate zones for studying – especially on the occasions when their cousin joins them and does remote schooling. So, Jurs has set aside space upstairs, just off the foyer, where there’s a semi-open loft. It was a play room when the kids were younger, but it now has bookcases, a marker board, a bulletin board, and a countertop-height table where they can spread out.

“A number of newer homes, built in the past 20 years, have spaces like that,” Jurs says. “Some people turn them into reading nooks. Some turn them into play rooms. We thought it just made sense to make this a school room.”

The changing nature of family gatherings is driving increased demand for entertainment spaces including sunrooms, wine cellars and movie rooms. (Advance Design Studio photo)

Family Entertainment

With the kids home more often these days, family time is more important than ever, and a basement buildout can ensure the kids have a safe place to gather.

In planning an entertainment space, Jurs goes back to the essential question of lifestyle. What does your family do together? How are you using this space, and how will you use this space in the future?

Earlier this year, the Advance Design team finished a souped-up buildout with a movie theater, a fully functioning kitchen, built-in bunk beds and a playroom. It was designed intentionally for family gatherings.

“The homeowner told us that, not only were they spending more time with their kids every week, but the kids’ friends were coming to their house,” says Jurs. “She told us, ‘I know where my kids are. As they become teenagers, I can keep a close eye on them, because my house is the hangout house.’ This was before its time. Gatherings were important then, but now it’s going to be magnified.”

At the same time, Jurs and her team have built golf simulators, home offices, movie theaters, wine rooms, game rooms and many other hangouts within the footprint of a wide-open basement.

Jurs thinks this desire to connect with family and friends is also driving an explosive demand for sunrooms. Whether designed to last three seasons or year-round, these rooms combine the best of indoors comfort and outdoors enjoyment. A fireplace in this room can help to extend the season even longer than usual.

“People are really investing in their homes right now,” Jurs says. “They’re going crazy and building these backyard utopias instead of going to Disney, because they couldn’t go on vacation this year. Going forward, what is COVID going to do to the way we vacation and travel? We’re not all going to just snap back. So, how else are we going to entertain our families when our choices are limited?”