Home & Leisure

As homes become offices, gyms and more, COVID-19 has upended how we think our living spaces should work

By Lauren Leazenby, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

CHICAGO - Your home is working overtime during the pandemic. For many, what was once just a dwelling has become classroom, office, restaurant, gym, movie theater and more. COVID-19 has not only kept most of us confined to our quarters for the past six months - it has also altered the very definition of home.

As homebuyers increasingly seek out pandemic-friendly features like home offices and expansive outdoor space, Chicago-area real estate developers, designers and agents are helping them find the features they need to live in this new normal.

In a survey of 1,000 respondents who have bought a home during the COVID-19 pandemic, or plan to by the end of 2020, 40% said the pandemic changed what features they look for in a new house, according to the home listing site One in four say they want a home with larger square footage or an enclosed backyard, while 15% no longer find an open floor plan desirable, according to the survey results published July 29.

As the remote workforce becomes a more permanent fixture in Chicago, one-third of those surveyed said they want a home office. That's a big change from pre-coronavirus priorities, said Kate Marengo, founder of design firm Interior Chicago.

"Home offices are something that has never been a huge part of (what clients want) in the past," Marengo said. "I have people contacting me saying, 'My office is going to be closed through summer next year, and I can't work at my kitchen counter. What can we do to make the space work so I'm not totally cramped in my apartment?'"

Briana Cox bought and moved into a condo in Lakeview during the early days of the pandemic in April. Though her relocation wasn't directly due to COVID-19, it did factor into her home search. Like many pandemic home hunters, Cox's top priority in her new place was having adequate space to work from home.


"I really wanted to find a space that had a lot of light, and then had a space for me to set up something close to a home office, a place that I could sit and do work," she said. "I was definitely coming in and assessing whether or not I could put some extra tools in there - can I fit a desk and a chair?"

If she had known before April how much time she would be spending in her condo this year, Cox said she would have picked a place with central air conditioning, bigger windows and more lighting.

"It was a tough decision to really decide if this place was where I want to spend 24 hours a day," she said.

The lockdown complicated the process further, putting all home renovations - from painting to fixing the leaky faucet - on hold. That's something many homeowners are going through, Marengo said.


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