How will the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated impacts change the way we live, work, and design? Experts everywhere, including entrepreneurs, interior designers, and architects, are weighing in on changes we can expect to see over the next few years. Some might be temporary, but others are likely here to stay.
With so many physical stores closed around the world for prolonged periods, many people have been buying furniture online without ever performing a “sit test.” This has led Lombardia-based Molteni & Co to launch “Molteni at Home,” a digital consulting service that gives advice and remote assistance to end users and architects “by sharing screens, sending free samples, and sharing mood boards.”
“In September we will present an e-commerce project in the United States; and we will present the 2020 collection in June with a virtual tour,” Giulia Molteni, the brand’s head of marketing and communications, tells Domus. “Buying furniture takes time, but thanks to augmented reality and innovative technologies, we will be able to rebuild a relationship of trust with the end customer.”
Walter E. Smithe, a Chicago-based furniture company, began offering virtual interior design a couple years ago, but it didn’t really take off until the pandemic struck. Now working from home, the company’s designers are learning how to coach customers through creating new floor plans and purchasing furniture virtually. People are still eager to redecorate, adds director of advertising Colleen Smithe in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.
“If anything, some people are sitting in their homes and thinking, ‘I hate my sofa,” she says.
Some companies are taking this opportunity to pivot towards more sustainable, environmentally friendly business models and materials. For instance, Italian furniture company Moroso is experimenting with the use of innovative materials for both the upholstery and padding of its seating systems.
“We have started to collaborate with Italian startups that were established just a year ago and are looking for valid alternatives to polyurethane and polyester,” says Moroso art director Patrizia Moroso. “For us, this is a priority, and I am sure that our clients, even more so in the post-COVID era, will be much more aware. We can’t change everything in one day, but if we start using ‘good’ materials more, their cost will soon be lower.”
Pennsylvania-based Hanover is taking a similar approach. “We are realizing that we have only one planet, and that we need to be united and work together,” says CEO Gregg Buchbinder. “But above all, we believe it’s important to be transparent and say exactly what our furniture is made of: the clients will want to know what they’re taking home. For quite some time now we have chosen to use recycled materials to preserve the environment, and we test our materials extensively because we want to be sure that our products can be used in any context, from schools to hospitals.”
Office furniture will be another area of speedy innovation as companies adjust to more of their employees working from home. Facebook, for example, is moving toward a “mixed reality” office environment, and has already started experimenting with augmented reality desk set-ups that feature floating virtual screens.
We can probably also expect concepts like the “Six Feet Office” to catch on. It’s based around elements like spacious desks, distancing signage, one-way office walking paths, and the daily disinfection of surfaces. The idea is that, since it’s not possible for every single person to work from home, we’ll just have to find ways to work in-office more hygienically.
As designers and brands adapt to the pandemic by producing goods they normally wouldn’t, like masks, ventilators, easily assembled cots and quick-deployed intensive care units, they’re also learning to broaden their own manufacturing practices and abilities. It’s also possible that more will choose to produce goods in facilities closer to home instead of halfway around the world, potentially leading to a smaller environmental footprint.