Mad About . . .

How We Live and Work Now

22nd October 2020
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The last six months have dramatically altered how we live. Aside from the Government’s advice, neatly summed up by Matt Lucas as Go to work. Don’t go to work, it seems that many of those who can work from home are doing so and a survey in September found that 30 per cent of adults have changed their work location and are planning to carry on working from home. Sophie and I discuss all this on this week’s podcast and you can listen here.

home office designed by @home_at_brookes and built by @createescapeshome office designed by @home_at_brookes and built by @createescapes

home office designed by @home_at_brookes and built by @createescapes

With that has come, for many, a desire to either move house, or, in the case of renters, to change their requirements quite significantly.

Chatting to an estate agency in East Sussex, Sophie was told they had never been so busy with most of the demand coming from Londoners desperate to escape the city.

Sophie Robinson home office pre-decoration photographed by Alun Callender

At a (socially distanced) meeting with my publisher last week, the designer told me she had walked through Islington in north London and seen, what seemed like, entire streets with For Sale boards outside. Indeed one survey found that 12 per cent of us have considered moving to more rural or coastal areas.

In addition, I was sent a survey a couple of weeks ago from SpareRoom which has found that while the key priority for London renters used to be a small flat near a tube or train station, 53 per cent of flat hunters now want to be within a ten minute walk to a park, or some green space, and they also want bigger flats with outside space rather than proximity to the tube. Nearly a quarter (22 per cent) want to be no more than 30 minutes from open countryside with 28 per cent looking for properties within a half hour journey of family.

Large wooden dining table, rattan chairs, cobalt blue painted cupboards, large patterned rug in the home office of Sophie Robinson

Sophie Robinson office post decoration

There has been a 98 per cent increase in demand for gardens and 96 per cent increase in demand for balconies or patio with a 44 per cent increase in demand for rooms with en suite bathrooms.

This appears to be as requirements for housemates change as well. People used to want someone who would pay the bills or not eat their food out of the fridge, but now most want to share with people who are kind and empathetic – 56 per cent now look for that as top quality.

These big changes in requirements would also imply that we aren’t expecting things to change any time soon with 44 per cent saying a willingness to obey coronavirus rules was a key factor in how everyone got on and 55 per cent saying tensions had arisen when one or other flatmate broke the rules.

garden office via savills

garden office via savills 

That said, 29 per cent say that the experience of lockdown has made them more patient and understanding of behaviour that might normally cause irritation and saying a willingness to observe the rules was a make or break quality in hunting for new flatmates.

This comes on the back of the John Lewis Flexible Living Report which I shared a couple of weeks ago which found that one in five of us have crave spaces where we can be alone at home ranging from a simple chair in the hall to adding candles and plants in the bathroom to make it more relaxing and spa-like.

garden office belonging to Julian Roberts, founder of Irving & Co and designer of the Design for Diversity pledge sticker

garden office belonging to graphic designer Tim Webb Jenkins.

Now this was all very well while it was temporary and many of us have been hotdesking around our houses perching on a sofa here and a coffee table there but if this isn’t going to change any time soon we need to make some more permanent changes that will really help us work productively from home and not just camp in the hall while waiting for things to get back to normal. It may be a hackneyed phrase but this is the new normal so we need to make it work so we can work.

 garden office belonging to Julian Roberts, founder of Irving & Co and designer of the Design for Diversity pledge sticker

garden office belonging to Julian Roberts, founder of Irving & Co and designer of the Design for Diversity pledge sticker

We need long term solutions that can be reversed over the short term. By which I mean multi-functional furniture that can be easily set up in the morning and undone at 6pm. We need to be able to turn the living room into an office and back into a play room later on.

It may also be about changing our working hours. Sarah Tomçzak, editor of Red Magazine, where I write a monthly column, has written on Instagram about her new working day. She lives in Ramsgate and goes for a sea swim after drop off. She then works from about 10am to 3pm when she collects her daughters from school. They all hang out together, perhaps at the beach or at home until a family supper and the girls go to bed around 7.30pm. She then works again from around 8pm till 10.30pm. This new routine allows her family time and undisturbed work time as well as exercise and fresh air. The sacrifice, as she ruefully pointed out, is Netflix, but we all have to find a routine that works for us and her new way allows both work and family time.

home office shed for Em Gurner of Folds Inside by Shackadelic

home office shed for Em Gurner of Folds Inside by Shackadelic

I admit that I have sacrificed exercise for Netflix but, again, seeing that this appears to be more than a temporary situation, we have bought an exercise bike and I’m bringing that into my routine.

Sophie has a box of weights in her office and tries to do an online class before she settles at her desk every day. The key to making this work (and I’m still at the experimental stage so this is a bit do as I suggest not as I am actually doing) is to use the time you might have spent commuting to do a workout. Another app I have found and liked is the Nike Training App – you can set it up to create a programme for you which means (in my case) at least that you are more likely to see it through as the classes vary throughout the week). At the end of the day use that time to put your work away and sort the lighting out so that it’s a home again.

inside home office shed for Em Gurner of Folds Inside by Shackadelic

inside home office shed for Em Gurner of Folds Inside by Shackadelic

This is where the multi-purpose furniture comes in so I am going to redirect you to this folding console table which was out of stock but should be back soon.  If you want a proper office chair then consider having it reupholstered in a material that will fit better in a bedroom or sitting room.

The other thing you can try is to buy a vintage chair that might fit better into your interiors. Although when Sophie tried to do that for her husband’s office she was told by one antique dealer that he couldn’t source them fast enough so if you see one you like don’t hesitate because someone else might snap it up while you are thinking it over.

Because another stat to emerge from this is that 1m million of us have bought, built or converted sheds into home offices, called… wait for it… Shoffices. I know.. best to let that go I think. More to the point, because we looked into this, a further one million of us have plans to do so. This, I think, is because ready-made sheds are on long lead times. We tried to buy one in March, were told we would have to wait until July and assumed it would be all be over by then. Le Sigh.

Alara Natural Clear Glass

Alara Natural Clear Glass room divider from B&Q

So on that note, time to stop hot-desking round the house and sort yourself out with a proper workstation. And one final idea that floated into my inbox yesterday was from B&Q and is a sort of temporary wall or modular room divider that you can put up to section off an area. I asked if you can put them up and down daily and was told they are a bit more permanent than that but they do slot into place and are less hassle than building a stud wall. Might be worth a look? They are online now and instore from 2 November.

Alara White Fire-rated Modular Room divider panel

Alara White Fire-rated Modular Room divider panel from B&Q

You can paint or wallpaper them to suit as well. Prices from around £40 for a single panel but there are so many permutations that you should probably have a look yourself. Also watch the video – the look on the mother’s face when she’s lying on the sofa and the door blows open… and that, people, is probably why one in nine people are working in their bathrooms – it’s the parents of toddlers who have retreated to the only room in the house with a lock because they just need to send one quick email without 47 interruptions. And if that sounds familiar (and you do Instagram then do check out @kids_and_the_commute which never fails to make me laugh even though I’m well beyond that stage.

 

 

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  • Naomi | OurKiwiHomeschool 29th October 2020 at 12:32 am

    One of the silver linings of the pandemic is the increase in these beautiful at home offices and homeschooling setups. It’s nice that we are able to spend more time closer together as a family, though I’d go back to 2019 in a heartbeat!

  • Jim 28th October 2020 at 11:04 am

    Can we all quit virtue signalling and putting (socially distanced) in brackets, as if we’re naughty schoolchildren afraid to be dobbed in. This is a virus that is the same virulence as seasonal flu (WHO and CDC confirm this).
    Please everyone quit paying lip service to an increasing erratic government.

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 28th October 2020 at 11:38 am

      If you don’t mention it people ask so it’s there as a statement of fact/reassurance rather than a virtue signal and to pre-empt my inbox being clogged with comments on it.

  • Colleen Cairncross 25th October 2020 at 5:56 pm

    We used to live in a rural area but relocated to the city a couple of years ago for job opportunities and all the conveniences — great restaurants, shopping etc but have actually now bought a home back where we came from and are moving there next month (now we can work from home anyway and that’s unlikely to change much in the future). We understand what that life is like and that it will mean more driving to get the things we want but it’s worth it to us for the larger, nicer house that costs the same as a city home and the garden and wide open view of fields from our windows.

  • Catherine 22nd October 2020 at 1:11 pm

    Fab blog and podcast. Thank you so much!
    Viva walls!
    One thing though – am I the only person who misses your design crimes section?

  • Longdenlife 22nd October 2020 at 12:55 pm

    I am lucky that I live in a semi-rural area of Cornwall with a decent sized garden and an allotment. Being a key worker, I worked throughout lockdown (combination of working from home and in the office) which was very stressful but a different type of stress than the usual day to day in ‘normal’ times.

    My discoveries during lockdown? That I need to decorate my home office and make it somewhere lovely to be, not just a dumping ground for the laundry, washing basket and husband’s gym kit! That the small amount of time I got to myself was spent in the garden and on the allotment – this was alot more important to me than perhaps I realised. And that do I want to continue in a role that although I love, is incredibly stressful (most of the time) and that does affect my physical and mental health to some extent?

    I think alot of people will be reviewing their work/life/family/home balance over the coming months and years.

  • Anna 22nd October 2020 at 12:22 pm

    The recommendation for the dividing wall panels sold by B&Q is so useful. So many modern flats are open plan kitchen – sitting room but if there is the opportunity to divide them up it could make a big difference to how one lives.
    Thanks for that Kate.

  • Anne Currie 22nd October 2020 at 11:15 am

    Great post as always Kate. But please, please, please could office pictures show realistic solutions for integrating all the wiring for computers, monitors etc?? The Em Gurner home office appears to show the Mac just sitting on top of the desk which looks lovely but in the real world in needs to be plugged in. Having tried (and largely failed) to hide the wiring for a laptop and two monitors in our office, I found it impossible to find workable design solutions to this problem. Would love to see you write about this (apologies if you already have and I’ve missed it)!

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 22nd October 2020 at 2:37 pm

      I understand Anne but I imagine that for styling purposes all that stuff is removed as we all know it’s there but it’s not pretty in a picture. In my desk in the loft we have holes drilled to feed the wires up from the sockets so they go up the back rather than drape all over the desk. Cable ties and those tubes to bunch cables together are also useful. Buying office furniture from office companies also means you can source desks with built in cable management but for most of us the messy cables are just a fact of life.

  • Eve 22nd October 2020 at 9:36 am

    Exactly the same here in France. People are quitting Paris, and other large cities, for places with fresh air and green. Bravo for this article, very informing and also so funny.

  • Pat Hobbs 22nd October 2020 at 9:14 am

    Thanks for a great post . Please can you direct me to the folding table you mention even if it is currently out of stock ?

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 22nd October 2020 at 9:51 am

      It’s so annoying that it’s out of stock still but the pandemic has played havoc with production lines – here you are Diletta Console table

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