Interior Design Influenced by a Pandemic

Michelle Harrison-McAllister

With home design heavily relying on functionality, every pandemic has left its mark. Infectious diseases such as typhoid, tuberculosis and cholera have long influenced the way we view and design our homes and COVID-19 is no different. Signs of how designers responded to these diseases have become standard practice in homes today, but not many people even realize it. Changes happening today will continue to evolve over the next decade. Here’s a look at pandemic influences you might not even be aware of and a look into the future.              

The History of Design

References of the impact infectious diseases have had on interior design can be seen as early as mid-19th century London when the outbreak of cholera resulted in certain textiles being perceived as collecting germs, so materials went from textured to smooth. The Victorian era was also impacted by typhoid. The opulent fabrics and wall-to-wall carpets of this time were found to be a breeding ground for dust and disease, causing the shift towards surfaces like linoleum for flooring and white subway tiles that show dirt easily to the naked eye. The early 20th century saw the introduction of the half-bath which was a result of offering a place for delivery workers and guests to wash their hands. By the mid-1920s, coat closets began replacing bulky furniture like armoires that were difficult to move and collected dust.

Looking Toward the Future

Jefferson at Carmel Mountain Ranch. Image courtesy of Michelle Harrison Design

COVID-19 is the latest infectious disease to impact the way we design our homes. Apart from once again bringing awareness to the importance of cleanliness, this pandemic has helped us realize how important our relationship with the outdoors is and the role our home décor plays in our overall happiness, health and spirit. Over the next decade, I predict home design will be focused on our relationship with the outdoors, and improving our health, vitality and mindfulness.

In general, we will begin to see a more organic and holistic approach to our home, paying closer attention to materials, artwork and the incorporation of greenery and plants. Our recent appreciation for the outdoors will be reflected through décor that resembles outdoor living, constructed from natural materials such as wood, marble, brass and rattan, all in their natural finish.

Materials

When we look at materials, not all are treated equally. In fact, some even have antimicrobial properties. Copper, brass and bronze have long been proven to destroy a wide range of bacteria and microorganisms within two hours of exposure, making them the perfect materials to introduce into your home. Apart from their hygienic properties, these metals are also a great way to introduce warmth whether it be through faucets or hardware.

For countertops and other surfaces throughout the home, quartz is one of the most durable materials and is completely nonporous, making this material stain and scratch resistant, as well as antimicrobial. We will also begin to see people embracing wood paneling, in various pattern designs, made out of bamboo, oak or cork which stop bacteria and microorganisms from growing. This is such a great way to add interest to a room in different angles or even adding wall covering and molding details to a room without windows and natural light.

Spacing

COVID-19 has also influenced the way we view spacing within our homes. We have realized how important it is to have specific places for certain activities, with home offices being more necessary than ever before. As many continue to work from home, having a designated area to work in peace is essential. The type of work the person does will also dictate the overall design of the home office, so it will be important to design a space that offers the flexibility to be personalized. A space that is more dramatic with dark colors and wood accents is perfect for those who have to read documents and numbers all day. Whereas a more vibrant and textural design promotes creativity and productivity.

Natural Elements 

Broadstone North Park. Image courtesy of Michelle Harrison Design

The way we decorate and accent our space will also change as we look for a new, “fresh” perspective. It will continue to be important to create an environment that improves relaxation, reduces stress and anxiety, and stimulates our senses. Biophilic design, or bringing in elements of nature, revitalizes us and brings us a new sense of serenity and peace. This is accomplished through the use of plants and greenery that aid in the removal of harmful volatile organic compounds that are usually found in the paint, carpets and furniture of most buildings. Lastly, personalizing the space with the use of pastel tones with bold art and accents also refreshes our mind for a more relaxed and productive experience.

While we work to introduce natural elements into the home, private outdoor spaces are also going to be one of the top essential needs for achieving a well-balanced life. The outdoors are now our refuge and happy place to help us feel connected to earth and enjoy some reprieve. We are more apt to have healthy plants with lush green leaves and color. Patios, balconies, or small yards will be one of the most important spaces and will be furnished with lounge chairs and small dining tables for morning coffee or afternoon tea, perfect for reflection and escape. These outdoor patios also increase the amount of natural light within the home. Natural light gives vibrancy to the interior, with finishes that reflect light while also giving us a healthy dose of vitamin D.

While COVID-19 may be disrupting our daily routines and habits, it has also allowed us to really realize what is important in our lives and establish what type of life we want to live. Our homes have gone from a place we need to live in to a place we want to live in.


Prior to founding Michelle Harrison Design in 2000, Michelle Harrison-McAllister worked in marketing and design development for model homes, multifamily developments, restaurants and remodels. However, her love and passion for luxury led her to the world of design. What matters most to Michelle is getting the design right and making the client happy regardless of cost. Her aim is to create communities she could see herself living in and uses this mindset when creating her design vision. 

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