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Working at home, schooling at home, exercising at home, cooking at home, Zoom cocktails at home, Netflix at home. Because of the pandemic, home is our entire world. But once this crisis has passed, how will our ideas of “home” change? Are there technologies that will become standard? As a residential architect, I’ve designed a lot of homes for clients, and now wonder what might be different for future projects. Certainly maximizing wifi power and coverage will be on everyone’s mind. It’s not something that impacts the design, but it’s a feature that will be expected.

I think back several years when I first had a whole-house generator installed as part of a major renovation. Two months after completion Hurricane Sandy hit, my clients had power and a fully usable house throughout that ordeal. They told me it was the best investment they made in the house.

When it comes to the design of the home, many of the features I already try to incorporate take on new meaning:

I’ve been encouraging having a bedroom/ bathroom on the first floor. Great for aging parents who visit, or come to live. Great for anyone injured who is unable to use stairs for weeks or months. Great for aging in place, not having to move to another home because you can no longer use stairs. Great when self-quarantine at home is called for.

Home offices have increasingly become integral in home designs. No longer just a desk tucked into a living or bedroom corner, we need a dedicated space where we can spread out to work long hours in comfort, without distraction, nor distracting others with phone calls and video meetings. And if those video meetings become a norm, more attention might be paid to the background and lighting.

I’ve seen an increased demand for walk-in pantries. This is very timely as we recognize the need for more substantial reserves of food, paper products and household goods.

This is the first floor plan for a home I started designing just before the coronavirus situation hit. It happens to illustrate many of the features mentioned. Bedroom suite, separate office space, walk-in pantry, easy flow between living areas even while maintaining separate living and kitchen spaces. A generously wide hallway services the more private areas of the home.

Open-plan living has become the default style of communal spaces at home. And now in this stay-at-home era, more than ever families cherish the opportunity to be together while still engaging in separate or group activities. The larger space becomes adaptable to a variety of functions when the outside world shuts down.

When your whole life is at home, outdoor spaces become doubly enjoyable and important for maintaining sanity. With better weather on the way, exercising and those laptops will be moving to the porch, deck or patio. As will meals and coffee breaks. A house designed for easy connection to outdoor living will be highly valued. A screened in porch takes outdoor living to another level, providing protection from bugs and sun, a true outdoor extension of the home. A ceiling fan and infrared heater can greatly extend the useful season of such a space.

This screened porch was added adjacent to the kitchen as part of a renovation project.


I predict a new awareness of spatial dynamics, how critical they are to create a sense serenity in a home. Well proportioned rooms and flow between spaces are the the key starting points. A large space with low ceilings, or a small space with ceilings too high create anxiety and disorientation. Think of the difference between being in Grand Central Station or Penn Station in NY. At Grand Central, the lofty open space is bright and uplifting, you can see where to go easily, and even with all the activity, there’s a sense that all is well. Penn Station on the other hand is a nightmare of low ceilings, chaotic spaces, poorly proportioned passages and tight bottlenecks that create a palpable anxiety.

Even the main hall at Penn Station has low ceilings relative to the size of the space.
The hall at Grand Central welcomes the passenger in a grandeur.

In a home, a double height space works if the size of the room and function is appropriate, but when the space is too small, there is an imbalance. A clear flow between spaces, visual connections that align, simplicity of forms, along with balance or proportion, are essential ingredients to creating a desired serenity and functionality.

Similarly, I’ve been in many houses that make me uncomfortable, frustrated and occasionally anxious due to poorly proportioned spaces and an unharmonious flow: narrow hallways with randomly spaced doors, bedroom doors that open against a closet door (so you always have to close the bedroom door to use the closet.) Unnecessary hallways between living spaces, flow between rooms with obstructions or wasted space. Odd angles in rooms that make it hard to furnish the space easily. Rooms with evenly spaced lighting recessed in the ceiling that feels clinical or corporate. The list could go on. Bad design will always be felt by the inhabitants, even on a subliminal level.

I like to think I’ve given clients homes that are successful by any measure, and particularly in this era of stay-at-home. I sent an email to a client whose whole house renovation project was completed last year, checking in on how they were doing, and got this great reply:

At least twice a week, Kush and I reflect on how happy we are with our home and how fortunate we are to be riding this crisis out here, with our high ceilings, beautiful kitchen, spacious bathrooms and calming landscape. We can’t thank you enough!!”

The following day, I receive this unsolicited text from another client who had also recently moved into their new house:

“Hi Gary, just want to let you know that your design of my house keeps my sanity. This sheltering situation is a big test on how my family functions while staying together 24/7. The house provides space for each and we are able to WFH while kids get their work and play done. I cannot imagine doing this in my old house. Thank you a million again.”

Testimonials like these are deeply gratifying for me. The family that lives in a well designed home will never stop reaping the benefits.

I sometimes refer to split levels and ranches as “The Other Mid Century style”. They may not quite call to mind the classic mid century modern houses that have become so desirable, but with a little imagination, they do offer a great opportunity to create a modern home for this century.

I grew up in a 1958 split level house in suburban Philadelphia, and I remember even as a child recognizing the distinctively different feel from my friends’ traditional colonial houses. The more open plan, cathedral ceiling in the living room, and the 50’s decor seemed so cool by comparison. And the half flight up to the bedrooms and half flight down to the playroom seemed so easy compared to the conventional three level configuration.

Split levels and ranches became popular during the post WWII suburban expansion and reflected a desire for a more modern style home. The splits worked well on sloped or smaller sites, offering an open layout, yet more compact than a spread out ranch. In some homes, the arrangement allowed for cathedral ceilings in the living room since there was not a second floor above.

Somewhere along the way, split levels became something of a pariah. These houses generally lack both the design sophistication of a classic mid-century modern house from the same period or the character and charm of a traditional Colonial or Tudor. When found in neighborhoods with high land values, they often become tear downs that make way for more conventional Colonial style mansions. But from my experience and what I hear from local realtors, there is a growing demand for more modern homes, and these splits and ranches may be the best bet short of building a new house from scratch.

The split level modernization projects I’ve done have mostly included additions and exterior “curb appeal” makeovers. A common addition is adding a level above the one story portion, usually for a master suite and other related spaces. Addition on the back can create a larger kitchen or family room space. One project completely re-conceived the idea of a split level, and resulted in a dramatic home with the different levels intertwining in unexpected ways.




Englewood Cliffs, NJ

This client had hired an architect who completed the plans for a second floor addition. However, the client wasn’t happy with how the outside was looking, and asked us to re-design the exterior without making any big changes to the plans. The biggest design change we made was to change the gabled roofs to hip roofs, which immediately created a better resolution between the two wings of the house, and established consistent horizontal lines to the wall surfaces. The entry was given a cantilevered canopy, the bay window squared off, and the break up of materials further accented the horizontal connection between the volumes.

Tenafly, NJ

In this project, the client wanted to add a larger kitchen and family room to the back of the house, along with a new deck. This freed up space for a powder room and large pantry area at the living level. At the upper level, the space was reconfigured to provide a more generous master suite, eliminating one bedroom. A new bedroom and bathroom was added to the lower level in the area that had good window exposure. The existing entry sequence from driveway to front door was unwelcoming and included an un-needed circular driveway that was too close to the front door. Our design included a re-working of the front landscape.

This house already had hipped roofs, and our window and material choices helped to further modernize the overall look of the house.

These elevations show a different approach to material choices that I had presented, but the client opted for the black and white approach. 

Summit, NJ

The owners of this house had outgrown the space and embarked on an ambitious plan to enlarge the home and create a more modern expression. The neighborhood was full of these same style homes, but one by one, they were being torn down and replaced by the traditional style homes that developers were putting up around the state. For this project, we kept the original foundation and basic premise of the split level, and proceeded to create a modern home more in keeping with the mid-century spirit of the original. We had to submit for a variance to move the garage entry to the front of the house, and among the comments from various township departments was this very gratifying observation.

“The Historic Preservation Commission commends the owner and Architect for their proposed transformative design of one of the tract mid-century split-level homes- typical of the neighborhood- into a modern home in keeping with it’s mid-century influence. As an expression of its own time, the diagnosis is properly scaled to the neighborhood, and successfully addresses the site conditions, and utilizes material appropriate to their proposed use. We also like that the proposed design resists the common ersatz new-traditional inclinations that are becoming common in this neighborhood. No objections.”

The stair down was reconfigured to make a better flow from the new mudroom off the garage as well as new basement space under the rear addition. Setting the master suite second floor addition back from the front allowed a high ceiling area in the living room.

Scotch Plains, NJ

These owners lived in the neighborhood and were looking for an opportunity to create a modern, larger home nearby. This property met their need in terms of the location and the property size and character, and included a forlorn split level house that could easily have been a candidate for a tear down. Instead, we decided to retain some of the basic structure and proceeded to make additions and reconfigure space to create a home that took advantage of the various levels in ways that added to the interest of the architecture- resulting in a design that couldn’t have been achieved if a new two level house had been built instead of retaining the split level structure.

The two patios at the back also reflect the split-level nature of the house. The connecting stair follow the interior stair form the kitchen to the lower level dining/ living/ guest room spaces.

The lower level now has two stairs down, one from the entry foyer, one directly from the kitchen. The balcony space above acts as a private congregating space for the family, with a piano tucked in.

See this full project here.