The Big Picture
The pandemic has turned a great many of us into homebodies, and given that Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), recently warned that we shouldn’t expect to return to “some semblance of normality” until at least the end of 2021, the coming year will see us continuing to invest in our homes. That may mean taking the leap from couch desk to proper desk, perfecting your living room gym, buying more plants to add a little nature to your space, or trying out any other number of strategies to bolster the comfort, functionality, and boundaries of our living spaces.
“The changes to our homes brought on by the pandemic fall into two categories: stopgap measures that involve short-term updates and adjustments, and lifestyle changes that will likely stick with us in some form,” says Eve Epstein, vice president content, media, of the home and design website Hunker. “Of course, most people don’t have a bunch of extra rooms lying around, just waiting to be converted into offices or classrooms or yoga studios. So another big storyline has been solutions for multi-functional spaces.”
For many, simplifying our spaces will allow us to view our homes as retreats from, rather than sources of, stress. “People are taking the time to clear out all those extra items that they realize they don’t really need and focus on what makes them happy in their home,” says Bobby Berk, interior designer and co-host of Netflix’s Queer Eye. Not only will people seek to declutter, but they will be more mindful about the products they buy, investing in quality over quantity.
“People are taking the time to clear out all those extra items that they realize they don’t really need and focus on what makes them happy in their home.” Bobby Berk, Co-Host of 'Queer Eye'
In fact, investing in quality items for the home has perhaps never been more important than now for those who find themselves newly working from home—and needing to cultivate a remote office environment from which to log on. "Working from home—for those of us fortunate enough to be able to do our jobs remotely—is here to stay,” says Epstein, who notes that Hunker has seen a huge demand from its audience for desks, so much so that retailers have been struggling to keep them in stock. To address demand, office furniture suppliers have pivoted from fulfilling bulk orders for companies to small orders from weary workers sick of typing from their couches, beds, or baths.
“There’s a new wave of dual-purpose furniture, and I’m seeing more investment in the crossover between good, well-built staples, like a dining table, to anchor a room that can also be used as a desk,” says Larry Cohn, principal architect at Shadow Architects in New York. “If your space is really tight, or you have the opportunity to create a separate room for work by installing a fold-away bed that can be a desk area during the day, then go for it.” Indeed, the wall bed market is expected to grow from nearly $1.45 billion to $2.34 billion by the end of 2026, indicating that we can expect rooms to continue prioritizing their multi-functional, transformative potential.
By maximizing the square footage in our homes with functional furniture intended to serve our varying needs (like by working in the same room where we sleep and talking to our therapists at the kitchen table), the struggle to maintain boundaries between the workspace and personal space is real. That’s why next year, we’ll be using technology to create a mental barrier between work and rest when a physical one isn’t possible. “You can engage all five senses to create boundaries for a clear separation between work and life,” says interior designer Laura Britt, president and managing principal at Britt Design Group in Austin. One way she recommends doing this is by “scene setting” with light. “Lighting can be used to signal your brain that work is done for the day, or that it’s time to sleep,” she says. A slew of new smart lighting products slated for a 2021 release from Dyson, Philips, Lutron, and Bios Lighting will make it easy to flip the switch to “relax mode” when the time is right.
In addition to tech, many folks are investing in art as a way to set a calming mood in their homes, says Jeanne Anderson, senior vice president and general manager of online art gallery and artist network Saatchi Art, which saw an “enormous increase” in sales this year. “A well-designed, harmonious environment can absolutely contribute to overall mental health. Abstract art, in particular, is popular for that reason—gentle shapes, brushstrokes, and soft colors can be deeply soothing and help you relax in your room,” she says. To help clients find the art to best meet their emotional needs, Saatchi launched the Art for Your Mood collection this fall.
“2021 will continue the trend that started in 2020 with people investing into renovating and decorating their spaces,” says Julie Matrat, senior vice president and general manager at global art marketplace Society6. The past year has led many to view the home in a different light (perhaps even literally with lighting upgrades). Into 2021, we’ll continue thinking creatively about how to transform the spaces where we spend so much of our time—pandemic or not—into the sanctuaries that truly support our multifaceted lives.
That WFH Life Will Bring Wellness Back to the Office
The pandemic has driven a record number of office workers to a fully remote setup (an estimated 42 percent of the labor force, according to Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom), and while the flexibility has been a win for some, it has proved incredibly challenging for others (hello, parents). With that in mind, 2021 will see employers adopting remote working as a permanent fixture rather than a pandemic Band-Aid, and will take measures to evolve company culture accordingly. So into next year and beyond, expect to see a shift away from “fun office” perks like ping-pong tables, unlimited snacks, and kombucha on tap in favor of more meaningful strategies to benefit employee health and facilitate balance, boundaries, and connection.
Even though it took a pandemic to spark widespread acceptance of remote-working flexibility, for those of us lucky enough to do so, the benefits of the setup are not new. Research suggests remote working helps with productivity, improves mental health, and saves you money. And that could be why remote-working options will remain available long after the pandemic ends—at least in some form. Tech companies, known as early adopters of workplace wellness programs, have been the first to announce plans for more flexibility in perpetuity. Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai told Time, “We firmly believe that in-person, being together, having a sense of community is super important when you have to solve hard problems and create something new so we don’t see that changing. But we do think we need to create more flexibility and more hybrid models.”
Remote working, of course, isn’t without its challenges—disconnected and disengaged employees; lack of privacy; juggling parenting duties with work responsibilities, to name a few—and companies will need to find creative solutions to solve these issues. First, as flexibility becomes the norm, companies will need to find ways to integrate technology more seamlessly. Janine Pelosi, chief marketing officer of Zoom, describes the company’s mission as “to make communications as frictionless as possible.” To this end, the platform added enhanced security features to prevent “Zoombombers” last month. Google Meet, meanwhile, is rolling out the capability to have 100 breakout rooms per call and the workflow management platform Airtable just added the ability for users to customize the program by adding their own apps and integrations.
Next, as Pichai points out, the social aspects of office life can be crucial to creating strong partnerships and increasing productivity and teamwork (and employee satisfaction at work), which means employers will need to “invent the virtual watercooler,” as a McKinsey & Company report on the future of remote work put it. With perhaps the biggest bet to date that remote work is here to stay, and that social interactions need to be replaced by digital alternatives, Salesforce recently acquired the ubiquitous communication platform Slack for an eye-popping $27.7 billion––Slack offers plugins like Donut to help facilitate random virtual encounters between employees and launched Slack Connect this fall, which makes it easier to chat on the platform with people outside your company.
To address limitations as schools reopen and remote work continues in 2021, a number of companies have taken action.Amazon and Netflix, for example, now pay for services like Care@Work, which added some 800,000 people to its network in recent months, to help working parents. Other benefits that have been adapted to fit a WFH lifestyle include stipends for lunch from online delivery services, and companies that once offered unlimited paid-time off now mandate vacation for rest. Slack gives employees one Friday a month to reset, signaling a potential trend toward the four-day work week. (In December, Unilever New Zealand went all in on a year-long experiment with the once revolutionary idea.)
According to a 2019 study from Owl Labs, 80 percent of employees want to work remotely at least some of the time. In 2021, as companies continue to revise and evolve their remote-working policies, we may see greater job satisfaction overall. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Trend Photo: Stocksy / Maahoo Studio
There’s a Bright Future for Light-Based Wellness
Open a curtain, flip on a light, check an email—the light we’re constantly interacting with plays a key role in our overall health and well-being. This is because light impacts our circadian rhythm (or internal clock), and a strong circadian rhythm not only helps us sleep, but also can also benefit our alertness and mood. “If you’re not getting the right light at the right time of day, that can really affect how you feel and function,” says Karen Dawe, PhD, senior research engineer for Dyson’s lighting team.
When we’re forced to spend most of the day indoors, Russell Foster, CBE, FRS, a professor of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford, says we need artificial light that provides the circadian stimulation we’re not getting from the sun. The next class of light solutions, therefore, build upon the task lights and light boxes that gained in popularity in recent years: In 2021, you’ll see wake-up lights that kickstart your internal clock as you rise and always-on fixtures that give you the same benefits as a day spent outside.
Brands are aware that the sleep crisis in this country is in part due to the light we’re missing in our mornings and allowing into our nights, so they’re working on solutions that adjust our lighting during those times. Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light ($100)—a new version of which just hit shelves—simulates the sunset and sunrise for a restful night and energetic morning. (And Philips’ director of Healthy Sleep Solutions, Tom Catalano, says this is just the first in a slate of light-based wellness products to be released in the next few months.) Meanwhile, Neil Parikh, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Casper, says the brand plans to expand beyond the Glow ($129)—its flagship wake-up and wind-down light—in 2021, introducing light products that aid the sleep-wake cycle outside of the bedroom.
Two new launches from Dyson and Bios Lighting build on this idea with lights that strengthen your circadian rhythm by staying on all day. Bios’s SkyView Wellness Table Lamp ($750) cycles through four different lighting “modes” in a 24-hour period—think, a cool blue-white in the morning and a glowy orange-purple in the evening. Each mode uses different temperatures and wavelengths of light to increase alertness and improve your mood throughout the day. Next year, says Robert Soler, PhD, vice president of biological research and technology at Bios, “We are looking at the next evolution [of products] to be more cost friendly and cost competitive.”
Dyson’s new Lightcycle Morph ($650 to $850) uses a daylight tracking algorithm to adjust your light exposure based on the time of day and where you live. And since you need more light as you get older, the light can also be customized for your age (more customizable options will become available in future products). As an extra boon to your health, Dyson’s line of light products (which includes the Morph and Lightcycle Task), emit a glare-controlled light that helps combat eye strain. Having lighting that prevents eye strain not only improves comfort but also productivity, says Dr. Dawe.
As lighting products become more sophisticated and in tune with our biological processes, we’ll have even more tools in our feel-good kits. More dynamic lighting products will drop in 2021 to mold our everyday light interactions into thoughtful wellness routines.
Trend Photo: Casper
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Our Indoor Spaces Will Go Green—Literally
Research has repeatedly shown that nature—even just looking at it—has a positive impact on one’s mental health. And during a year rife with mental turmoil and limited time outside the home, accessing nature and its benefits has required taking the outdoors inside: “People are more willing than they have been in the past to bring live plants into their space,” says Bobby Berk, interior designer and co-host of Netflix’s Queer Eye.
“People who've never owned plants before are not only getting into them for the very first time, but getting deeply into them,” adds Eliza Blank, founder and CEO of direct-to-consumer plant retailer The Sill. Blank notes that both average order size and order value at The Sill have increased since March: “We've had customers tell us, ‘I bought my first plant in April, and now I have 70.’” (That’s not an exaggeration, she assures.) Instagram data supports this piqued interest in plant parenthood—use of the hashtag #houseplants grew 40 percent from August to September, and plant-fluencers have seen exponential follower growth; @plantkween (Instagram handle of plant-focused community builder Christopher Griffin) has added over 223,000 followers, amounting to over 429 percent growth in 2020 so far, while @hiltoncarter (handle of plant and interior stylist Hilton Carter) has seen a 68 percent growth in follower count.
This interest in indoor greenery is expected to grow to new heights in 2021: A report by the market research firm Technavio projects the flower and ornamental plant market will increase nearly $29 billion between 2020 and 2024. Accordingly, Blank says The Sill has plans to expand its offerings in the new year to meet increased demand. “A lot of people have gotten really comfortable and confident with plants. So, in 2021, we’re introducing more rare, unique plants; plants that don't have so much resilience to neglect,” says Blank.
In addition to a variety of options, 2021 will also bring literally bigger plants to the home. Both The Sill and New York City-based subscription plant retailer Horti will make larger plants available for sale in 2021, with Horti revamping its infrastructure to be able to support a greater range of offerings and also planning to move to a bigger brick-and-mortar space in early 2021. Bloomscape, another plant e-tailer, meanwhile, will launch an outdoor plant category next year.
In the coming year, Berk says, our need for green will also be reflected in our home decor palettes. “Earthy tones and nature-inspired colors have really saturated the design world this year and I think will continue to get more popular as we move into 2021,” he says. To this end, the paint brand Dulux named a tan hue called “Brave Ground” its color of the year for 2021. “It’s a color that echoes the fabric of the earth—soil, clay, stone, making even an urban space feel rooted and part of the natural world,” the company’s website says. Blank says that The Sill also plans to introduce a few earthy tones into its line of planters next year. “I think that speaks to, again, just trying to create a calm, safe space,” she says.
Trend Photo: Stocksy / Lumina