Zoom rooms and Zen zones - what buyers and tenants want post-pandemic

Cinema rooms are being replaced by home offices, while relaxation zones are superseding the guest room, with the coronavirus pandemic prompting a seismic shift in what homeowners and renters want from residence.

Modern home interior
The concept of a Zen zone isn't restricted to one room, rather it's a philosophy that applies to the entire home. Photo: Stockland (Image source: Shutterstock.com)

Cinema rooms are being replaced by home offices, while relaxation zones are superseding the guest room, with the coronavirus pandemic prompting a seismic shift in what homeowners and renters want from residence.

Independent research commissioned by one of Australia’s biggest developers, ASX-listed Stockland, revealed that the pandemic has moved the goalposts for people’s expectations not only of their home, but also their neighbourhood.

The research showed that more than 80 per cent of respondents said they were now more conscious that their home and environment was intrinsically linked to wellbeing, and it has resulted in an explosion of demand for the services of interior designers and architects.

Stockland Communities general manager of sales Stephanie Mackenzie said lockdowns and social distancing requirements had forced people to spend more time than ever in their homes and their surrounding communities.

“This new way of life has seen people think more critically about whether their current home and neighbourhood meets their needs and lifestyles and, importantly, the impact of these on the health and wellbeing of their families,” Ms Mackenzie said. 

“A new trend has emerged, with Australians now wanting the convenience and services of the inner city but the space and community living of the suburbs.

“People don’t want to settle for one or the other.”

Further findings of the survey included 38 per cent of those surveyed saying they were less satisfied with at least one aspect of their home or neighbourhood, with the most common grievance a lack of indoor and outdoor space.

More than 60 per cent of prospective buyers said they would be more likely to consider space-related features than they were before the pandemic, with storage, home offices and outdoor space top of the desires list.

Heralded interior designer Megan Morton said she and many of her peers and colleagues were busier than ever, responding to homeowners demand to revamp their spaces in line with the post-COVID reality.

Ms Morton said the work from home phenomenon, which she expected to be a permanent transition for many, had created in demand for ‘Zoom rooms’, but the need for a comfortable home office environment was not the only impact of the pandemic.

“The whole idea of people needing Zoom rooms is a really obvious one, but as a counter to that and what I found really spectacular, is for every Zoom room, we need what I am calling a ‘Zen zone’,” Ms Morton told Australian Property Investor Magazine.

“Because as we all know, working from home, it can cost time and cause many practical issues. 

“Of course you can put your washing on while never being late, but it also means there is a real drain on the space itself and it means that the work energy never leaves.

“I’m feeling the next phase is to have a space where people can truly deeply relax and have nourishing conversations and nourishing relationships and all of those community-minded things that the Stockland research shows us.”

Ms Morton said a Zen zone need not be solely located in one room like a home office, rather it is a design philosophy that works best in the larger areas of a house.

“My main focus is natural light. It’s the most important aspect in any room, but when you are trying to relax or meditate, or even watch Netflix, it is really beautiful to see outside, have the oxygen coming in," she said.

“It’s a real anti-action to what was that really over-plumped media room.

“It felt like everybody building new houses were going underground with big double garages and putting in a big media room that had no windows, no air, no light, and I feel like the way that we digest our media now is probably more in line with something that is a prettier room.”

Ms Morton said the other shift was people seeking spaces to entertain and dine, with many states’ coronavirus response creating a need for local community interaction after many hospitality venues were forced to close their doors or operate at reduced capacity.

“As the research suggests, these days we all want more storage, we all want extra rooms, but at the end of the day we want to be entertaining and interacting with the people in our community, which tells me we want so much more from those bigger spaces," Ms Morton said.

“It’s access to light, access to the beautiful treescape or access to the garden, whether it’s a beautiful bit of lawn or looking onto the neighbourhood full of trees.

“That’s where all of our energies should be spent now.”

Many of those same principles are as valid for property investors as they are owner-occupiers, Morton said, with tenants seeking the same characteristics from their living arrangements as those that own their homes.

But she said there’s not necessarily a need for costly renovations such as knocking down walls or completely revamping a kitchen or a bathroom.

“It can be done in really simple ways, ways that aren’t necessarily spatial improvements but are decorative improvements,” Ms Morton said.

“Artwork, posters, all that sort of non-verbal messaging that tells us this is a place of peace and quiet.

“I always recommend people when they are dealing with their rental opportunities and homes to take a colour that isn’t bright white. 

“Maybe it’s a light sand colour or a dull grey, because plants and greenery look so much more spectacular up against that base colour.

“I also find it to be easier for wash and wear and maintenance. 

“The life of a tenant is usually one to three years, and you’ll need to paint it every single time you change a tenant if you go for that bright white. 

“There are ways to do it decoratively without taking walls down, without building new and without being very dramatic or drastic.”

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