You don’t need us to tell you that Covid 19 has had a major impact on what people want from their homes right now – there can’t be a year in living memory where we spent so much time chez nous. Plus, unless you’ve been living in 2019, you’ll know that there’s something of a mass exodus from city to country as people yearn for a better quality of life. “Buyers are looking for more space, ideally a detached house with a garden and to get away for built-up areas – a certain amount of seclusion” confirms Simon Neville-Jones of Lodestone Property’s Dorset office. But how exactly have the past nine months influenced tastes and needs of country homeowners – and are these new trends here to stay? We spoke to several property experts working in the South West, for their insider opinion on how we’ll be living in 2021 and beyond.

1.     Connectivity

“The single biggest factor [people are looking for ] now is internet access” says George Wade, from Property Vision, an independent buyers’ advisor which sources homes for clients in the South of England. “People still want a nice house in a nice spot with a nice garden, but now they’ve got to have enough bandwidth.” According to George, most buyers won’t even view a house if the internet is weak and if they do visit, they’ll test the connection on their phones. “I’ve had clients that’ve rung up the internet provider and made sure they can upgrade it if necessary.” Says George. Whereas it used to be a good excuse to get away from it all if the mobile signal was patchy, now it’s a dealbreaker if tech isn’t up-to-speed. Country House connectivity has arrived.

Country Houses, like Well House in Doulting (on the market with Lodestone Nov 2020) need to have great internet service

2.     Multi-Functional Rooms

Another consequence of spending more time at home is the need for your space to work hard. “Some households had a shock about how many desks they have had to squeeze in,” says Tamzin Newby of Heliotrope Design Ltd. “Now every space has to work harder and be multi-functional. If you live in the country,” she says, “you’ll be going for long walks and ideally need a utility room and a boot room, but you might not have that luxury. So you need clever thinking – by organising communal spaces carefully you can keep the mud and the clean apart. Another example is how reception rooms are used. These days you want to incorporate an uncluttered table with a good backdrop so that someone can set up a screen and be on a video call from a living room, rather than it just being a place that the family goes into in the evening to watch TV or light the fire.”

3.     Home cinemas, offices and gyms.

“I know it sounds a bit over-the-top” says  Simon Charles from RSJ Project Management which upgrades houses to owners’ requirements across the South of England. “but because cyber has come to the countryside, my clients are putting cinemas, offices and gyms into their properties.” They are also converting outbuildings and seeing the benefit of providing Air BnB space, whether in the form of annexe extensions or adding Shepherd’s Huts, seeing the potential of extra income streams through Staycations.

4.     Japandi

As lockdown drove home the importance of functionality, it also spotlighted our yearning for wellbeing, a combination of which is now being amplified in design. According to interiors expert Tamzin Newby, the biggest trend is Japandi which places an emphasis on creating calm and feeling good, combining uncluttered, elegant Japanese style with the Scandinavian hygge cosy-and-comfortable movement. “It’s about clean lines, nature, plants, natural materials, using texture more than colour, earthy tones and soft edges –  all combined with minimalism” she explains. “It’s easily achievable, because it’s sleek but also incorporates throws in natural materials.”

Lisa Lewis, an interior designer who lives in rural Dorset and offers a virtual design service, backs up the benefits of Japandi style with scientific research. “Academics in the 1980s researched the link between health and workspaces and discovered the concept of biophyilia, which is the innate human need to be connected to nature.” She says we will be using increasingly more natural materials and nature motifs in our country home interiors, for example, by using landscape pieces of art and tree images.

Natural textures & colours are still very much en vogue in 2021

5.     Reuse not refurbish

Japandi also incorporates the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi. Explains Tamzin Newby from Heliotrope,  “it’s about how it’s ok for a home not to be perfect, which has a nice countryside-feel to it, because I think there is something quite imperfect about living in the country. I mean, you come in and kick off your shoes and it’s difficult to keep things pristine like in a London apartment.” It’s a look that places an emphasis on using what you already have and not being too contrived.  So to be on trend, you can keep your old squishy sofa, succulents and favourite rug but declutter your space and add calming colours – although Tamzin does recommend adding splashes of bright colour (rather than block bold hues) at this time of year.

Designer Lisa Lewis agrees that there’s a massive movement towards using what you already have. “It’s about being clever and adapting where you can to create the scheme and image you want for your own home. Be mindful when you are doing any amendments to your home to look at any environmental impacts. So, if you are in an old property, you look at how you can improve the insulation, making the most of the natural light which will help make the spaces warmer.” Which is what everyone wants this Winter.

This feature first appeared in the Sherborne Times in November 2020 (below)

 

 

 

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