Change the way we design new homes

January 26, 2021 PR Officer

By Adrian Plant, Shared Ownership Director

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many of us to reconsider the way we live and the homes we live in. Following months of lockdown, the property sector saw vastly increased demand for more space, bigger homes, gardens and additional rooms to work from home.

According to Rightmove’s property trends, for example, the most in-demand property type in London in autumn 2019 was a studio flat, followed by a two-bedroom house. Just 12 months later, during the 2020 pandemic, that shifted to a larger house, with studio flats falling seven places in their housing index. Meanwhile, Zoopla has found that demand in three-bedroom houses has risen by seven percent year-on-year, outstripping the demand for flats.

These shifts in the housing market have been fuelled by people’s desire to have an extra room to work from home in. And that’s likely to continue in 2021 and beyond, with many UK companies, such as RBS, set to have up to 49,000 staff still working from home full-time next year.

As a result, pandemic thinking is clearly continuing, leading many homeowners to favour fewer open spaces – where you can be interrupted while on Zoom calls – and instead adaptable living areas or additional rooms that can be used for a home office; where you can shut work away for the night; alternatively as an exercise area, or somewhere to home-school children.

Home design is catching up to our living demands

The design of shared ownership properties must therefore catch up and provide the extra space that buyers require and desire. Homes will have to adjust, new designs must offer more rooms, and larger space standards must be considered. Homeowners will also expect increased ventilation and more natural building materials, a move which will also help targets set by the Government to create a more sustainable industry.

It is now up to architects to reflect this demand in new-build house designs. In the growing shared ownership sector, housing associations must request these development changes to ensure that the next generation of homes reflects how we want to live. It is no longer good enough to build homes for the short term; we need to build to suit people’s evolving needs long-term.

A growing demand for gardens

This includes the need for outdoor space which has become an essential for many. As noted by the Financial Times, eighty-three per cent of surveyors in the UK anticipated demand increasing for homes with gardens over the next two years. Not only are current parents and parents-to-be eager to have space for children to play outside, but 62% of millennials have also reported that having access to an outdoor space has been vital to their wellbeing during the pandemic. This shift will need to be a key consideration regarding plans for new-build developers and architects.

Alongside the need for more space, house planning should also consider easily adaptable spaces, something that has already been seen worldwide – particularly in Japanese planning, where every inch of space is taken into account. Other ideas, such as slidable panels to separate rooms, are also used globally and could transform how people use their homes.

The need for larger space standards

This, in turn, would require larger space standards to be implemented in order to be successful. The minimum space recommended for a three-bedroom family home in the UK is 84 square metres, although the average UK home has an average floorspace of 71.2 square metres – making our homes the smallest in Europe by floor area. That’s compared to Italy’s average 108.2 square metres and Germany’s 92.7 square metres.

The UK housing shortage means that the average size of new homes has only continued to shrink from this baseline. Given the changing need for more space, and separate living and working areas, space standards in new developments and shared ownership properties must expand to make room for our new post-COVID lifestyles.

Building better for the future of housing

The changing nature of the design of homes must be considered when building for the future, to give homeowners the flexibility and space they need in a post-COVID world. It’s now time for architects and developers to work together to make UK homes a more adaptable place to work, live and relax to reflect our new way of living, once lockdowns and the pandemic are firmly behind us.