Designing Homes for People and Pandemics

Advice from the experts at Charles Cunniffe Architects, post-COVID-19
High Tech Elements

Elk Peak Ranch. Photo: David O. Marlow/Charles Cunniffe Architects

Home is your haven, the place where you find comfort and where many of your most important moments happen. From gathering around the kitchen table for dinner with loved ones to watching your baby take her first steps, home is, in fact, where the heart is.

The novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has effectively confined us to our homes for months. More time is spent in this space than ever before, and like you, architects and home designers are rethinking the way we make a house a home.

For over 40 years, Charles Cunniffe Architects have designed legacy homes with a focus on sustainability and socially responsible design. “Many of the homes we have designed are essentially mini-resorts, with amenities that make being isolated more enjoyable,” says Charles Cunniffe, FAIA, Principal.

We spoke to Mr. Cunniffe and Chad Molliconi, Senior Project Architect, about how the pandemic has affected their approach to designing homes.

Mountain Living: What do post-pandemic homes look like to you?

Charles Cunniffe: The general health of the home is of utmost importance. Designing sophisticated HVAC systems that utilize HEPA filters and ultra-violet light technology, assist with air filtration. For home offices, we aim to design spaces that you can comfortably and safely work from, while not losing productivity. Elegantly outfitting the office with the technological, desk and storage needs, while also providing an abundance of natural light and access to the outdoors when possible. Incorporating art, books and sculptural objects is another way to infuse the space with inspiration. In several recent designs, we have designed separate ‘his’ and ‘her’ offices, as well as a ‘home command center’ near the kitchen – for home related office needs.

Chad Molliconi: We would stress the importance of transitional spaces, like garages. The garage and mudrooms are oftentimes the homeowner’s primary entry point into the home, and we want those spaces to be functional, beautiful, well-sized and easy to clean.

ML: Let’s talk about transitional spaces, like mudrooms and garages. Since it’s often the first arrival place in a home, what are some crucial design elements to incorporate in this space?

Transitional Spaces

Elk Peak Ranch Mudroom. Photo: David O. Marlow/Charles Cunniffe Architects

CC: For someone who is an essential worker or more likely to be exposed, having a space where they can safely transition back into the privacy of their home is important. A well-equipped mudroom with a sink and washer & dryer will help minimize spread. We typically design well-appointed mudrooms for the sake of recreational clothing and storage; and have been pleased to see that the spaces have also benefited our clients in this new era.

Expanded storage is also important. Many of our clients’ homes are in more remote areas and their grocery store visits are less frequent. We augment those homes with expanded kitchen storage, increased pantry sizes, butler pantries and built-in garage cabinets with an additional refrigerator and/or freezer. With the reduction in grocery store visits, this is becoming a desired design element in many homes.

ML: Connection to wellness spaces (green, outdoor, spa) is so important, especially now. What are some ways we can enhance these spaces, design-wise?

Robert Singer & Assoc. Red Butte House, Aug. 27, 2015

Fourteen Sixty outdoor patio. Photo: Steve Mundinger/Charles Cunniffe Architects

CC: Having well designed outdoor spaces where you can relax, or possibly work while watching your children play is increasingly important. Our clients’ active lifestyles are often enhanced by a pool or spa area, outdoor living spaces and kitchens, indoor/outdoor gyms, and amenities like gardens, sport courts and play structures. Plants and green space in your home, however small, are beneficial for air exchange and biophilia.

CM: For an increased focus on wellness, make sure that your home has proper daylighting. In situations where that is not possible, new circadian lighting systems can simulate the natural daylight progressions, so you’re not exposed to the bright blue lights when your body is trying to wind down and prepare for sleep. When you are confined to your home all day, we would look at ways to make your space simulate what should be happening naturally.

Also, find a space in your home that can become your personal retreat. Adding spa amenities in your bathroom, like new rain shower heads with integrated lighting and massage jets, can be a great way to detach momentarily and reduce stress.

ML: We love the idea of dedicated “maker spaces” for creative pursuits. What do these spaces look like to you?

Maker Office Spaces (1)

Desert Oasis office. Photo: Mark Boisclair/Charles Cunniffe Architect

CC: Many of our homes have been designed for clients who, in addition to recreational pursuits, also have creative interests. When it comes to maker spaces, the ideal design is similar to a workshop with ample natural light, ventilation and lighting, work benches or tables, storage cabinets and even a kiln – depending on the hobbies.

During shelter-in-place periods, maker spaces can double as homeschooling rooms. A dedicated place for schooling at home with a computer station, and storage space for books and art supplies is a thoughtful way to create a positive atmosphere for children.

CM: Versatility in a maker space is crucial. Whether it’s a second bedroom or an office space or an oversized garage, it can become a studio for a maker when the need is there, and the time allows. Having a flexible space that can meet the needs of your passions now and transition into your passions tomorrow is important.

ML: If someone is currently in the process of designing a home, what is your most important piece of advice for designing for wellness and extended stays at home?

CC: Think about how you want this space to look and feel if you won’t have the opportunity to go outside for an extended period of time. What sort of spatial qualities and physical attributes do you need to have at hand to be comfortably sequestered for that time? Each home is unique to the needs of its residents. What do you need for you and your family to live and be well?

CM: The Stay at Home and Shelter in Place orders have shed light on the importance of our home environments. Ask yourself, if you were taking an extended vacation, what would you want that time to be like and how can you have that at home? It is important to prioritize what is most important and beneficial to the homeowner.

Lastly, when designing a home, try to support your local economy with local craftsmen and locally sourced food, goods and art. Utilizing the local artisans, whenever possible, will help support our local communities.

Categories: Architects