Home. It cocoons us from the outside world, simultaneously shaping the way that we think and feel when we choose to exit the front door and venture into it. Housing, as Vitra CEO Nora Fehlbaum points out, is central to some of the most pressing issues of our time, but the domestic interior is curiously ‘increasingly lacking in serious discourse’. At Frame Awards 2020, Fehlbaum dedicated this necessary stage time to the residential domain, charting recent shifts in home design and offering her insight into where we’re headed next.
We've come a long way since Le Corbusier called the home a “machine for living"
‘We certainly have come a long way since Le Corbusier called the home a “machine for living”,’ she remarked. Noting the impact that the likes of IKEA, Andy Warhol and Mies van der Rohe – as well as the rise of household appliances – had on the transformation of the residential sphere in the 20th century, Fehlbaum questioned how our perception of home began to similarly change in the 2010s. ‘In the last decade – despite all the talk about micro-living and urban density – our houses have, on average, grown larger,’ she said. ‘They contain more bathrooms, larger living rooms and more space in general. At the same time, our houses have grown softer, lighter and warmer, and contain more – but less visible – technology than ever.’
The biggest domestic trends to come out of the 2010s? The need for multi-use functionality is one. ‘Individual rooms for individual functions have disappeared,’ Fehlbaum pointed out. ‘The introduction of fast and cheap broadband in our home in combination with increasingly mobile devices have been the trigger for a change in how we use the spaces we live in: the setup or layout of the home per se has not necessarily changed, but what we do there has.’ Our tendency to actually be at home is another: ‘After the turmoil of the financial crisis – which was caused by housing – our homes not only became political, but relevant to the entire economy. We started spending more time at home: on average, Americans spent eight days more at home in 2012 than in 2003.’ Interiors thus became ‘styled and decorated for cosiness.’
Whether we know it or not, how we live or want to live is influenced by commercial ideas
But to Fehlbaum, the most disruptive trend of all has been technology’s merge into domestic life – and the role it has played in promoting a more utilitarian, transient understanding of the home. Netflix, Amazon, Uber Eats, Instagram, Pinterest, Airbnb and even Peloton: they’re all responsible for shifting how we operate in our private lives. ‘The home has become the ultimate hub from which we can operate our entire lives.’ What’s more? It is now ‘increasingly driven not by individual preferences or even functional needs, but by financial incentives’ – ‘it’s known that certain elements lead to an increase in value. Whether we know it or not, how we live or want to live is influenced by commercial ideas.’
Of course with a new decade comes new priorities – in this one specifically, Fehlbaum believes pragmatism and common sense will rise to the surface. For starters: environmental consciousness will ‘guide every decision made by an architect, designer or consumer’ – the scale of houses and consumption of new products will shrink. The current mental health crisis implores us to factor in spaces for digital detox and disconnection. Epidemic loneliness will spur communal development, and biophilic design and craftsmanship will inform our aesthetics.
We tend to forget how long lasting well-made interiors can be...it is irresponsible to run after a trend
Fehlbaum’s talk ended with a call-to-action for designers everywhere. ‘We tend to forget how long lasting well-made interiors can be – they remain for decades, in some cases centuries. It is irresponsible to run after a trend. Create optimism for a new generation by creating environments that point to a future that we can all get excited about rather than simply remembering the past. Build purpose and long term values into what you do. Build the spaces for future generational bridges and communities rather than pleasing the fleeting Instagram culture. Answer the problems of the world by giving humanity comfort in owning fewer, but better things and living on less, but better space.’
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