A house is a structure made of concrete, wood, and metal. It becomes a home when it is livable and allows a family to thrive and sustain a lifestyle. In this new normal, more than a hundred days after the lockdown, a home becomes a multifunctional space, ready to be “flexible,” readily adjusting to the needs of each member of the family.
As days blur (Mondays and Sundays feel the same), a home’s function is also blurred. A home is not where you just sleep or take a bath, it has now become your office, your gym, your laundromat, your restaurant, your church, etc.
For those with kids, a home has now become a daycare center. For those with teens, it has now become a school (or a detention center if you have unruly ones). These are interesting times indeed, and you are not the only one changing with new habits and forced routines as your home is also “morphing” into a different entity.
Allowing the home to “change,” however, is not easy. There is the issue of space, of location, and of course, of a family’s economic standing.
“This is indeed a new normal, especially among Filipinos who are known all over the world for their social skills,” said Florence Ang, an interior designer who also took up psychology. “The long quarantine has affected a lot of people, as anxiety and stress rise among the population.”
So how can design create a more conducive space (and promote harmony among family members) in this time when a home’s function blurs into so many parts?
“As we are confined most of the time in our home, we must make sure to bring in a sense of ‘normalcy,’ even though it is quite hard. Aside from normalcy in the routine, there should be ‘normal’ spaces,” said Gelina Ocampo, an architect who has done office and residential apartment projects. “For example, if your house is sectionalized well, a dining area should just be a place to eat. There should be no office supplies, laptops, or documents occupying the table. The subtle cues from this are that it is just a normal day.”
Ang agreed with this observation as she said that, due to limited spaces and with every member of the family present at home, an “activity of one becomes the activity of all—and this can cause undue stress.”
“It is important to communicate properly at this time. If not, small arguments can turn into shouting matches. Communicate directly if what you are doing is for ‘you’ alone, or if anyone can ‘share’ it. If you are working from home and typing on your laptop, you don’t want your little brother tinkering the laptop’s mouse beside you,’ said Ang. She added that there should be a “sign” that you can do or announce to show that it is time (or the place) for “work,” “play,” or “relax” or else blurred tasks will lead to miscommunication.
If possible, each family member must have routines and responsibilities. Ang suggested to assign each one a task—cleaning, cooking, washing dishes, etc. If there are no tasks, everyone will fall into a “boredom black hole,” not knowing what to do and feeling useless. Then, restlessness ensues.
In terms of the home’s surroundings, Ocampo suggested bringing in light and more light. “As we are indoors most of the time, we don’t get to receive the benefits of the sun, such as improving our mood and giving us vitamin D.”
So, for Ocampo, it is now time to open those windows and doors. Ditch the air-conditioner for some fresh air. Listen to nature, to the birds, to the silence of the night. These “natural remedies” can ease your anxiety.
As major home renovations are discouraged at this time, a few fixes here and there can do wonders. Ocampo said there are a lot of things that can be done at home that can promote harmony among members of the family.
“Paint a wall. If you don’t have paint, hang pictures. Or have a specific wall where anyone can draw or doodle. There is power in art to relieve tension,” she said. “Or if you are interested in gardening, start filling your space with indoor potted plants. There are free online tutorials to teach you that.”
For Ang, an “object of comfort” should be present at home which is not necessarily food (such as ice cream) or more food (chicharon, maybe).
“Introduce a blanket in the living area where anyone can wrap themselves while watching a film, or fill the sofa with cute and colorful throw pillows. Bring out the old rocking chair, clean it, and let anyone use it to relax. Serve dishes using lola’s porcelain plates for a ‘fine dine’ meal. These may be ‘small’ things but these objects can convey a sense of comfort and nostalgia,” said Ang. “And we all can use a little comfort in times like this.”