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The Flexible Living Report: How Working From Home has changed our houses

22nd September 2020
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It’s not news to say that the way we use our homes has dramatically changed over the last six months as we learn to work from home, school from home and get used to all being within the same four walls all the time. And John Lewis & Partners published a report yesterday which reveals how we have adapted our homes over the last six months to help us live more flexibly, as we have tried to find space to work, exercise, play, cook and just be on our own. While they don’t claim to be the first it’s certainly one of the earliest, and most extensive, reports I have seen on how our homes have changed this year and it makes fascinating reading.

wall desk by westelm at john lewis and partners

wall desk by westelm at john lewis and partners

“The Flexible Living Report: Redefining The UK’s Homes For a New Chapter in Twenty-First Century Living” found that we have ditched open plan living which is the first major change in how we use our homes since the 1970s when open plan living first took off.

Of course these changes were sparked by the necessity of families all having to be together 24/7 (and at the time of writing it doesn’t look like that is going to change back any time soon) but the survey of 2,000 people found that this  modular and flexible approach to living is here to stay. The report found that one in five of us have reconfigured an open plan space to accommodate multiple activities throughout the day – such as working, exercising and home-schooling.

john lewis wycombe dressing table 

Well over half (57 per cent) of us expect to work from home in the future and indeed I have spoken to several people recently who have said they aren’t expecting to return to their offices until the New Year and in some cases until the Spring of 2021.

More than one third of those who took up a new hobby during lockdown have made space for it in their home, with a further fifth planning to make a permanent space to carry it on on a permanent basis. Three quarters of those surveyed who said they were saving for their home during lockdown are now planning to spend up to £5,000 to make improvements.

serax plant rack acts as storage and room divider

serax plant rack acts as storage and room divider

Now, of course John Lewis is a shop so they have shared some of their insights into what people have been buying during this period and the top item – I think this may surprise you – is dressing tables; searches for which are up by 400 per cent. I suspect this is about people having to work in their bedrooms and perhaps wanting a table that can double up as a work space with the drawers used for a mix of make-up and stationery.

Sales of carpet cleaners are up by 433 per cent as a result of the extra mess at homes. Plants, by 419 per cent (which is good as we know how they can detoxify the air) and artwork by 35 per cent. Is this about improving the background for all those Zoom meetings?

hairpin leg desk can be both dressing table and desk

But, apparently, we have also fallen back in love with letter writing, with a rise in sales of calligraphy pens  up 406 per cent) as well as notebooks and journals (up 207 per cent).

Anyone who has tried to buy an exercise bike recently will know that they are out of stock for long periods of time and is backed up by the report which found that the closure of gyms has led to an increase in sales of fitness machines (+122 per cent), yoga accessories (+45 per cent) and foam rollers (+ 43 per cent). And some 17 per cent of us have reconfigured a space for a home gym or yoga area.

marcell desk bureau from made.com

this blue bureau from made.com closes to hide work and fits into a living room

Parents of young children (and truculent teens come to that) will be aware of the desperate need to find a corner they can call their own. Forget a whole room Virginia, these days 20 per cent of us are happy with a cushion on a window sill, or a chair in the hall.

anglepoise desk lamp mini in linen

anglepoise desk lamp mini in linen

But when we have to work where have we been doing it? Well, the report found that two thirds of us are lucky enough to have a home office or a dining room (John Lewis customers remember) while 22 per cent of us are in the kitchen and 32 per cent on the sofa (that’s me!). Only ten per cent of us have sheds – I wonder if that will change over the next six months while a poor nine per cent of us have been relegated to working in the bathroom.

Johnathan Marsh, of the home department at John Lewis, said: ‘For many years now, modern life has been so busy it felt as if people spent more time away from the home than within. Before the pandemic, open plan living provided welcome moments of togetherness for families and friends in otherwise hectic schedules.

margaret howell for anglepoise

margaret howell for anglepoise 

“Lockdown has changed everything. There was immediate pressure to adapt open plan designs to maximise space for work, exercise, home-schooling, play and dining. Modifying spaces in this way has brought about a change in mindset, with customers reflecting on the full potential of their homes to serve multiple functions.”

And as the situation looks unlikely to change over the winter, there are reports of spikes in outdoor heaters and firepits and the virus doesn’t seem to be so easily transmitted outside.

So I have to ask – comment below if you’ve been working in the bathroom and do share any ways you have modified your homes to be more WFH friendly.



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  • Amy 27th September 2020 at 10:00 pm

    I had a home office already–but then my husband had to work from home too, and as his work requires constant Zoom conferences, he needed to be in the space closest to the WiFi router. Which meant my home office became his home office. So I turned my sights on the guest room.

    I sold the bed that was in there and purchased a high-quality sofabed. Not so great for guests, but we only have them a couple of nights a year, so I’m not too worried about it and am glad to still have some way to put someone up. Then I installed a Murphy desk, which can fold up flat against the wall when the bed is needed (or just for cleaning, etc.) This one is very high quality wood, with a pushpin board and some shelves inside, and I absolutely love it. My old desk chair made the journey with me. (You can have my office, hubbs, but NOT MY CHAIR.) We also bought a treadmill for exercise’s sake, and put it in a corner of this room, but I didn’t want it sitting there staring at me all the time. Happily, my parents readily gave me an old wooden etagere (from about 1980) that had been dusty and forgotten in their storage area. I polished it up and put it between the treadmill and the rest of the room. The etagere looks great in here–I always loved the piece, even as a small child–and also acts as a shelf for all my books, notebooks, a few potted plants, etc. Plus the treadmill is successfully hidden.

    I took the color scheme from the rug that was already in here–a cream-background floral with wine red, dark green, and mustard yellow in the pattern. While I longed for Farrow & Ball’s Green Smoke on the walls, I couldn’t afford that, and attempted a color match with Sherwin Williams Basil. While Basil is both darker and a bit warmer than Green Smoke, I actually love it. It’s a peaceful, restful color, deep without being dark. Finally, I had two old stained-glass panels I’d found in a thrift shop years ago, and I rested those on the windowsills. So now I have both privacy and sunlight.

    Long story short (too late), I love my new office so much more than I ever liked the old one! It may be my favorite room in the house. There is really something to having a dedicated workspace that you actually enjoy being in–it improves the energy of the whole day. And if it’s a little less convenient for our very occasional guests, too bad, they should’ve come to see us more often.

  • Saurabh 23rd September 2020 at 4:51 pm

    I too had to make space for a workstation in our living room! Assuming Covid would be shortlived, I preferred renting the working table and chair instead of buying. I think I should have bought it 🙂

  • Suneiah 23rd September 2020 at 1:26 pm

    Our home is largely open plan – apart from our tiny closed off kitchen. For once I’m thankful for delaying our Reno plans (generally due to lack of organisation) as Catherine M put it – broken pans – might be the next big design.. I am contemplating this in a couple of our spaces downstairs already. Something I would have never considered pre covid – despite’s Kate’s warning about when your kids begin to grow up you want to build your walls back up.

  • Tola / Detola and Geek 23rd September 2020 at 9:06 am

    Hi Kate

    I still and do work from my living room dining space. There’s an invisible divider between where I am and the “seating/tv” area. I have a floor lamp with one of my handmade lampshades behind me to jazz up my zoom meetings too.

    But my views from the other end of the spectrum (as a maker & designer of handmade lampshades & homeware) I have experienced a sharp increase in customers wanting vibrant & bold African inspired lampshades.

    My happy customers’ feedback generally were to “improve” the backgrounds of their remote working zoom meetings. Others use my small table lampshades on ther office desk-cum.-kitchen table. Most were happy to be able to add that extra lighting to their homely-created work spaces.

  • Ellen Reed 22nd September 2020 at 1:45 pm

    While, I am retired, my husband’s business has taken off over the last 6 months. Fortunately, when we built our home (4 years ago) we knew he would be working from home for several additional years so the third bedroom has always been his office. My volunteer work involves 3-4 Zoom meetings per week, so I have turned part of my closet into my office. Our builder insisted that we should have a massive master bedroom closet ( maybe 150 square feet) so that the house would retain it’s “market-ability”. I am not a “clothes horse” and use only a fraction of the space for clothing, shoes, luggage, etc… So, in March, once I understood the necessity 0f Zoom, I cleared out a corner of this closet and arranged an appropriate picture wall as background. Lighting was a bit of an issue, as the overhead lights were glaring. So I scrounged around for a couple of table lamps that were unused, and I don’t turn on the overheads during Zoom.
    My only issue with this long term, is that I tend to be a bit claustrophobic and there are no windows in this space. Leaving the doors open and having a fan blowing seems to help.
    I have enjoyed your articles about how we have adapted our spaces, thank you!

  • Leslie-Anne 22nd September 2020 at 12:24 pm

    Our oldest daughter has moved back home and into her childhood bedroom. She is now doing Zoom College from my sewing room. We are renovating the basement into a suite with a bedroom, sitting room and bathroom so that we can all have a bit of grown up privacy. Also, I want my sewing room back.

  • Longdenlife 22nd September 2020 at 12:02 pm

    As a key worker (senior Admin in a School) I have mainly been working in school since the end of March – even throughout the summer holidays (thanks Boris). On the odd day I have worked from home I have been using our boxroom. We are mid-renovation and dont have any spare budget to do the ‘home/office’, other areas of the house are taking priority so when taking part in conference calls I had to strategically angle my phone to leave out the laundry and pile of ‘stuff’!

    Interestingly, a colleague used to take our zoom meetings from his camper van as he has two small children running around the house and said it was alot quieter! On our first zoom call I did wonder why he had carpeted the ceiling in his house until he confirmed where he was!

  • LN 22nd September 2020 at 11:29 am

    I teach at a British university and this term, I will be teaching exclusively online. As the ground floor is completely open plan and I have two of my (big) kids at home, this means working from the desk in the corner of my bedroom with a virtual backdrop. This is not great really. What I miss most though are the colleagues I normally share an office with. We have a whatsapp group but it is not the same.

    • Catherine 22nd September 2020 at 11:38 am

      Oh how I miss my colleagues too! In that respect WFH is terrible.

  • Annie 22nd September 2020 at 10:55 am

    Well we have one of us working in the bedroom and I’m in our front room (mercifully we didn’t open it up to the kitchen but kept it separate so while I can still see and hear the children, I am physically separated). We are nearing the end of our loft conversion, which always had an office planned and boy are we grateful, it will come into its own now! Speaking to family who work in the construction industry, I understand that several developers are now reconfiguring projects to provide a working space which I thought was interesting – people are definitely demanding space to be able to work from home going forwards. As others have said though – this is not the occasional day at home so the desk and chair need to be up to the job, while fitting into the space. I’m fortunate to be using my grandmother’s dining table, which has flaps so it is very solid and easy to work from, while not looking too aesthetically out of place (although I am also using a table cloth to protect the table from all the screens, constant writing etc so it could look better!!). I definitely need to invest in a better chair, the similarly antique chair is lovely for dinner but not necessarily the most supportive for working all day. If anyone know of any aesthetically pleasing but back supporting office chairs that would be great!! Kate can you do a longer post on home office equipment perhaps?! Anglepoise already on the shopping list 🙂

  • Catherine Middleton 22nd September 2020 at 9:59 am

    It’s interesting how all this will affect open plan living. We live in a 1930s house and as a family of 4 during lockdown we really appreciated having separate rooms in which to work and study, esp as working from home involves so many virtual meetings. Friends and colleagues with a more open plan layout often struggled to find a separate room to work in.
    I am going to be working from home until at least the new year, so this is a long term situation. I wonder whether it will result in more houses embracing separate rooms or at least a broken plan design and use of internal pocket, sliding doors to allow you to break up spaces?

  • Deborah Byard 22nd September 2020 at 8:29 am

    I started WFH at the kitchen table, moved into the living room and then completely refigured my spare room bought a 4ft bed, new wardrobe chest of drawers matching desk and good supportive office chair and now have my own space so I can finish work at a reasonable time and close the door on it.

    I found when I worked from the sofa I was working until 9 to 10 o’clock at night, now I make sure I finish no later than 7pm.

  • Sarah Gilmore 22nd September 2020 at 8:24 am

    I’m still trying to work through it. I’m an academic and therefore very used to working from home – just not to this extent. What I’m looking for is a work table I can fold away at the end of the day/working week accompanied by a chair that melds into the room. The desks featured here are lovely but way too small/fragile. Also, most employers might pay for a larger screen etc. but they’re not shelling out for a desk so these items are being purchased by us and they’re not cheap.

    • Amy 27th September 2020 at 10:03 pm

      Have you looked into a Murphy desk? They mount to the wall, fold up flat when not in use, but are super sturdy and stable when extended. Even a good quality Murphy desk isn’t insanely expensive.

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