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‘Zoom rooms’ and Dutch door offices show how remote work is changing the way we build new homes

INSIDER

March 11, 2023

The first thing Andrea Valeria did after buying her apartment in Mexico City last year was sort out her backdrop for her Zoom calls.

She hired a local artist to paint a bright, inspiring mural she could sit in front of for virtual meetings. “It was the first thing I did, even before I had a fridge or a washer-dryer,” the 34-year-old careers consultant said.

Having a dream home office was Valeria’s priority when she moved, and she’s not alone.

While many of us threw together workspaces on our dining tables and beds when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a place to work has become a priority when homes are designed and built, architects and designers told Insider.

The real-estate site Zillow told Insider offices were mentioned in 11.5% of all listings in February 2023, up 4.5% from February 2022.

Listings that mention a home office or a “Zoom room,” which is set up for video calls, can sell for 1.6% more than expected and six days faster than similar homes without one, according to Zillow’s latest annual review, from March 2022.

Amanda Pendleton, Zillow’s home-trends expert, told Insider a home office was no longer a “nice-to-have luxury.”

“It’s becoming a must-have essential for today’s home shoppers and increasingly a standard feature in new construction homes,” Pendleton said.

A house “needs to work for us,” rather than “us working for the house,” Dafna Ben Porat Akiva, a cofounder of the construction-technology company Veev, said.

These are the four big trends architects and designers are seeing:

Keeping work and home divided — but connected

Remote workers often struggle to transition into home mode at the end of the day, said Jessica Hester, the CEO of Verdant Studio, an Arkansas architecture and design firm.

So architects like her are building spaces “that allow for a physical segue between your workday and your personal life,” she said.

Verdant Studio is adding interior Dutch doors to its latest constructions. These doors — which are split in half so that the bottom can remain shut while the top opens — divide a workspace from the rest of your home but also allow you to “still hear your kids in the other room,” Hester said.

They also create workspaces set at a higher or lower level within a room, separated by a step. Something as simple as moving up or down to get to the desk area can make you feel like you’re in a different space, Hester said.

2-office homes and nooks

Hester has noticed a rising interest in family homes with two offices — one for each partner — and she’s confident they’ll become the norm for anyone who can afford it.

And people with smaller homes are converting areas they don’t use much into offices.

“When people don’t have enough space or cash for two full-sized offices, they’re replacing rooms,” Hester said. She’s been asked to convert laundry rooms, pantries, and even closets into small workspaces or “office nooks.”

Amir Salihefendić, the CEO of the remote-first company Doist, is based in Barcelona. He told Insider that a home office was “critical” when his family was house hunting last year — but his wife is making do with a nook.

“I’m the lucky one because I have actual doors,” Salihefendić said. “It’d be a real luxury to have two offices — but real estate in Barcelona is really expensive and we have three kids.”

‘Flexspaces’ are getting more clever

When people can’t convert a space, the space they have needs to get flexible.

“The reality is that people are calling in from their bedrooms, their kids’ playroom, their lounge,” Veev’s Akiva said.

She said that worked but warned people to watch out for the “big design mistake” of putting a desk right in front of a bed.

Valeria’s home office has a foldout couch for guests, rather than a bed. “If you put in an actual bed, it instantly looks like a bedroom. And that doesn’t give you working vibes,” she told Insider.

Veev is building multipurpose rooms — or “flexspaces” — that can switch between, for example, a daytime office and an after-school playroom.

These rooms need to be light and open — and accessible from a corridor, rather than through a bedroom or bathroom, Akiva said, adding: “You don’t want someone to have to walk through the room while you’re on a video call.”

Alexander​​​​ Briseño, the principal design leader at the global architectural firm HKS, is used to working with small spaces. He designs multifamily-apartment blocks in big cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee.

He likes kitchen islands that are height-adjustable: They can be lowered to be a desk or raised to be a kitchen counter. Some have built-in storage to hide away your laptop in the evening.

Lighting is everything

The rise of videoconferencing means that “lighting is a big deal,” Akiva said.

She told Insider Veev’s homes had LED strips around the edge of the ceiling to make even lighting that works well on camera.

You can adjust the color and intensity of the lights to make it look like it’s daytime if you’re making evening calls, Akiva said, adding: “If you’re like me and you’re working with people from a different country, where it’s a different time of day, they don’t necessarily need to feel like you’re talking to them in the middle of the night.”

When designing for videoconferences, it’s important to “cut out the noise” of any objects in the background, Akiva said. So she makes closets or trunks of kids games unobtrusive by matching their color to the room’s walls.

“Something fantastic” came out of the “chaos” of remote work’s rise, Hester said: People realized that architecture could “genuinely improve” how we live and work at home.

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