Housing in a COVID World

Housing Before and After COVID

At Williams + Paddon, we’ve been observing how living spaces have been reconfigured during this time of shelter-in-place, but we are especially interested in what this means for the future of multi‐family housing. Urban dimensions of shelter are typically more compact than suburban and rural homes. A studio apartment needs to be a ‘transformer’ literally. It’s a sleeping space for 8 hours, a working space for 8+ hours, and social/relaxing space for the balance of the day.
Although vastly different in geography and constraints, we find ourselves coming back to these three key concepts when designing for ‘transformer’ spaces:

Functionality: Challenging ourselves to design elements that serve more than one purpose.

Natural Elements: Incorporating open space, daylighting, and natural ventilation.

Delight: Focusing on materiality and unexpected finishes to create the “it” factor 
(approachability + livability).


The ‘Transformer’ Home
Over the past six months, we have all been spending more time at home than usual. During this period, our homes have been asked to stretch and ‘transform’ to include home offices, classrooms, and yoga studios, to name a few. Some of these new functions of the home overlap at any given time, which can ask a lot of traditional home design.

“What if we were to think of housing with a compact footprint as a “transformer,” creating modularity that can be utilized in a variety of ways, combining all the elements that matter.”

 – Jack Paddon

This challenge is compelling for Williams + Paddon. While many still prefer the urban lifestyle, there is an evolving flight from urban to suburban and more rural as we embrace the virtual connections to work, learning, and entertainment. Response to climate, solar orientation, tree canopy, passive design, zero-combustion all-electric, induction cooking, passive orientation, natural ventilation, and many other ancillary considerations are now coming to the fore as we design for Functionality, Natural Elements, and Delight in new living spaces.


Selecting elements that serve more than one purpose is especially important, as work-from-home seems to be gaining permanent traction. A bed that can fold up into the wall and transforms as a couch or work desk makes 300 square feet live like 900 square feet. Even the hallway, a traditionally utilitarian space for moving between rooms, can be folded into the volume of a larger open flex space when walls become modular.

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Functionality in Housing


Natural Elements
Access to nature in the urban setting means walkable access to a neighborhood park along a tree-lined street. That access to nature is beneficial inside the home as well. Access to daylight and natural ventilation is critical for healthfulness and a sense of well-being. Even small balconies are outdoor rooms that can provide living options tuned to solar orientation and time of day. The place for that early morning cup of coffee catching up on your favorite social feed, that mind-clearing spot for creative problem solving, or the perfect evening wind-down perch with a refreshing beverage.

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Natural Elements in Housing


Shelter is a basic human need, but that does not mean our homes have to be basic. More than ever, as time is becoming slippery, and the worlds of work and home life are blurring, delight can play a heroic role in keeping life vibrant. Ordinary elements can inspire with just a bit of deliberate focus on materiality. When your kitchen walls can become tables and the walls of your bedroom slide to make way for your own private yoga studio, your home can delight no matter phase of day.

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Delight in Housing


While the team here at Williams + Paddon has enjoyed ideating about what the home of the future might look like in a Post-COVID world, we are committed to finding practical, actionable solutions for our clients and end-users in the short-term. We should be careful to introduce new ideas that will fit this new paradigm without losing connection to our communities.

While the ‘transformer’ concept will make time in our new living/working/schooling space more fulfilling, we want to avoid the temptation to “castle” in or homes. Shelter is a necessity, but it is good to remember what enriches our lives just outside our front door, even in a pandemic.

Jack Paddon, AIA, LEED AP