Hard to imagine anything positive coming out of the escalating COVID-19 pandemic but what if a few prized design trends fall away once we emerge from sheltering with our peeps and pets? Will Quarantine Clutter drive a stake in the heart of the must-have decades-long home design trend of Open Concept Living?
Hey I love the concept of Open Concept Living as much as anyone with half a design gene and a Pinterest fetish. Thumbing thru the impeccably aloof and spartan layouts of a Restoration Hardware catalogue makes my eyes salivate. Nothing like a sophisticated wilderness of uncluttered marble countertops, Saarinen tulip tables, sleek Italian sofas and Platner wire chairs so uncomfortable guests leave early to get my heart racing.
Pandemic protocols (work-live-do-everything-at-home) have exposed the madness behind living day-to-day in an Open Plan home emulating an Elle Decor photo-shoot. Thanks to a lethal virus we’re glimpsing the inanity of living in pristine stylish homes just to keep up with the Insta Joneses. But these days who cares what a trendy design-savvy bad-ass you are cuz shit is getting real.
But I get it. Not too long ago (during the Era I call LBCv - Life Before Coronavirus), I got my daily fix of Open Concept scrolling through Pinterest, devouring hundreds of pics of clean-lined contemporary great rooms furnished with Scandinavian Arctic restraint.
As much as I luv the post-modern prairie aesthetic, I ended up living in a 95-year-old one-story craftsman cottage with solid doors, thick walls and a warren of small rooms. Not the sleek gleaming open concept house from the pages of Dwell I’d dreamt of, but it’s what I could afford.
Since moving in my “fancy friends” (the ones who married well and divorced even better) keep telling me what walls I need to rip out to make it an “Open Concept Craftsman Cottage” as if I haven’t thought about all the improvements I’d like to make but for the fact my scant DIY fix-it-up budget gets eaten up by no-show handymen and unlicensed electricians who seem to know what they’re doing. Despite being always-in-need-of-repairs, I love this little house cuz it fits like an old suede glove. I sleep in a bedroom the size of a pocket and feel safe at night tucked into its corners.
Yet sometimes ... I look around my home where I spend beaucoup hours working and wonder if my writing would be better if my home were the equivalent of a blank page (Open Concept) so instead of looking up from my writing table to see rumple-eared dogs and unfolded laundry sharing a second-hand sofa, I’d look out onto an immaculate horizon of creamy leather sectionals and gleaming slabs of repurposed redwood where new ideas would rise with the majesty of the sun at dawn.
Instead where I live/work/shelter-in-place is more akin to an active volcano exploding with random and necessary clutter than a Vogue photoshoot of some to-die-for Open Concept casa hanging off a cliff in Patagonia.
During LBCv I’d visit my fancy friends in their gorgeous open concept homes ....sometimes I felt envious of their Architectural Digest lives. All that artful organization and svelte splendor made me question my choices. But recently some of my chic friends have confessed to a momentary desire to ride out the pandemic quarantine hunkered down in a house like mine with a warren of rooms and privacy to spare ... anyplace, they confide, but their pricey, high-maintenance, no-where to hide and now insanely cluttered and loud open concept once-glam Restoration Hardware homes where they’re hunkered down 24/7 with their not-so-loved ones.
That got me thinking: Does Open Concept Living function best when when you’re not living at home all that much?
Answer: Open Concept living never looks so good as when you’re not living there.
Let’s do the math: Sharing a photo-op-Insta-post glossy great room with loved ones works best when you live there a few hours a day or night e.g., after work/school/gym when everyone eats takeout, binge watches whatever, showers, crashes, leaves early the next day for work/school. In LBCv weekends were for entertaining/showing off your awesome pad, heading out with partner and kids to parks, playgrounds, farmers’ market, the gym, trying out fab new eateries, attending sports events, concerts, movies, museums and plays (remember the ole days?)
Fast forward to Covid 2020: Everyone and their stuff are home 24/7 living, working, cooking, eating, exercising, entertaining together at the same time in the same Open Concept space.
Result? Homes everywhere are suffering from multiple personality disorders: What used to be just a dining room table is now a sourdough kneading platform, a kids’ classroom and a Zoom conference room. The kitchen counter is part library, a kids’ art gallery, a mega-charging station for an explosion of personal devices, and a conga line of bowls filled with soaking beans and grains now that everyone’s experimenting with “frugal but fun” pandemic recipes like lentil buckwheat burgers and curry tuna melts. Any remaining kitchen/dining surfaces are covered with pandemic staples we’ve been advised to stock up on to survive RDA. (Recession. Depression. Apocalypse.)
Goodbye Great Room
Your once beautiful open concept “living area” punctuated by a form-conscious Casamilano sectional sofa and a knock-off Eames Chaise Lounge has morphed into a family camping ground and cineplex. An 8’-foot Giocometti-style bench has been commandeered as mini-office, covered with supplies, files, a spare printer and a iMac desktop. A blaring 50’ screen toggles between Maddow, HGTV house porn, Robot Chicken reruns, Pilates Zoom, Daily Presidential Briefings from Cuomo, and Netflix.
Thanks to Quarantine Clutter life is splashed and splattered on every surface. In the blink of an eye open concept living has morphed into a Rorschach test for
diagnosing domestic chaos.
The Noise Factor
Everyone working/living/playing at home makes the Noise factor (always an issue with open concept even in good times) reach mega-decibel levels because open rooms and high ceilings make sound reverberate like a Covid-echo-chamber until you wanna scream: STFU!
Sound from any source (voices, music, barking pets/people, blaring news, pontificating podcasts, grandparents shouting on FaceTime, plus the hiss of a stove-top pressure cooker making magic out of all those random beans) love bouncing around an open concept home.
Whoever thought living in one big circus tent so we could all see and hear each other and our guests all the time was a good idea?
Don’t Blame Yourself
No way you could’ve known your open concept bunker with all those sexy architectural lines inspired by Le Corbusier you mortgaged to the hilt cuz it impressed the sh** out of your BFFs would become a design nightmare during a worldwide pandemic. Who knew any of it was coming? And it’s getting worse with infection rates
and hospitalizations multiplying! WTF?
The Good News
Since no-one’s entertaining at home (except for Zoom dinner parties where you’re basically a Driver’s license photo but with lots of wine), there’s no need to worry
about what your home looks like. Skip the stress of what anyone thinks and let go of judging yourself and those you love who are doing their best. If achieving the Zen of Quarantine Clutter is too stressful, try a hot bath, a few tokes and a Martini.
Actionable Stuff Unless You’re Too Depressed To Care
You can’t sell or redecorate but you can:
_ Roll with the chaos like the Polar Bears are doing in the Arctic as their open concept living space disappears all together;
_ Cut everyone you live with (including yourself) some slack; and
_ Be thankful for each other and having a safe if insanely cluttered loud place to call home.
When you find yourself hankering for the pre-COVID days when your home was a temple to open space, when you take the dog out tonight, look up at the sky. If you don’t have a dog, go out anyway and look up. Check out the beauty of all that open space and see how effortlessly the stars, galaxies and planets are social distancing in the ultimate open concept of Eternity.
If you feel like it, say a silent prayer for someone you might not even know who’s struggling tonight to stay alive.
We’re all in this together. Let’s get through it and then decide if a simpler future has halls, walls, small rooms and doors where we can live together but apart in peace.
Let me know how you're getting on in your house or apt. living with everyone at the same time. Battling Quarantine Clutter? Share in comments! Look forward to reading your thoughts. Peace. _ Didi Balle
Upcoming Blog Posts: Excerpts from the Lazy Ass Host Handbook by Didi Balle.