Redesigning houses in a COVID world

House design changes in a COVID-19 world


Ways to adapt homes for work, study and privacy are being considered.


The COVID-19 pandemic is changing how people see their homes, prompting new ideas about the best ways to use space to suit living and working.

With families spending much more time together inside their homes, many have been rethinking how space in the home can be used differently and put to better use.

Houses are being adapted for work, study and - with more people at home more often - an increased need for privacy.

"The big question that's been asked of houses is whether or not they're capable of doing that," University of Newcastle senior lecturer and architect Chris Tucker said.

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As pandemic life continued, people began to appreciate "which parts of their houses work and which don't because they've spent more time in them".

"They're starting to think about renovations in a more calculated way," said Dr Tucker, of the School of Architecture and Built Environment.

Changes being considered include adding a second kitchen and extra bathroom or ensuite.

Dr Tucker said more flexibility was needed in the planning system to make homes more functional.

While some people have the land and money to build second homes on their property, others don't have this option.

Dr Tucker likes the concept of secondary dwellings inside houses, allowing family members or relatives to live independently. This wouldn't mean such areas could be sectioned off and sold. They would remain under one title.

"The essence of city living is more people living with each other in more compact ways that don't irritate."

Re-organising homes to make them work better, without necessarily changing their size or outer appearance, would reclaim spaces that "weren't being used as well as they could".

This would enable accommodation in areas that were "otherwise unoccupied".

While planning laws should maintain respect for neighbours and privacy, Dr Tucker believes the system needs to change to suit the times.

He said the NSW government had been "quite proactive" in allowing secondary dwellings such as granny flats amid the need for more affordable homes.

Nevertheless, he said more changes at the state level - which filter down to councils - should be considered to cater to new times.

Asked whether it was looking at any changes to planning rules to enable more flexible homes to suit life during the pandemic, the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and the Environment said: "Homeowners can gain approval to build a granny flat or secondary dwelling under complying development within 20 days if it complies with planning provisions".

"Otherwise they can submit a development application to their local council," a department spokesperson said.

As well as considering renovations, people have embraced practical ways to divide rooms, such as using bookcases or temporary walls for privacy.

"I think COVID shows us we can be quite adaptable. Necessity is the mother of invention," Dr Tucker said.

"I'm working from home and I have my 18-year-old son downstairs who's doing the HSC and a partner who's running an architectural practice. This is such a positive thing because we're putting our houses to really good use."

For a decade or so, Australia had the "dubious honour of having the largest houses in the world".

"The Americans have only just crept by us in the last couple of years," he said.

"We have these big houses, but they're kind of big and dumb. Perhaps they haven't really worked for us."

Many homes aren't ideal for running a business, working from home, or enabling a relative to live with a separate toilet, shower and possibly a kitchenette.

As well as the pandemic, this has been a factor in the housing affordability crisis.

Even if vaccines are developed for COVID-19 sooner rather than later, some believe work-life culture will change for good as people and companies realise the possibilities of the home.

"COVID has shown our houses can be more useful to us," Dr Tucker said.

The story Redesigning houses in a COVID world first appeared on Newcastle Herald.