There’s no denying that life has changed quite a bit over the past 10 months, and as much as we would like to, we can’t predict how things will look moving forward. After all, if there’s one thing that 2020 has taught us it’s that we need to take things one day at a time. Beyond that, well, anything can happen. One thing we do know? We’re spending more time at home than ever before (working, playing, living oh-so-close together each and every day), and chances are that’s not likely to change anytime soon. With that new reality in mind, if you’re spending so much time at home sweet home, “you need the space that you live in to feel good,” says Ross Clark of Clark Construction in Ridgefield. “Having a home that works for you,” Clark adds, “is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.” Just what works may look different for every family, but there are certain design trends that have emerged because of our new normal, and show no sign of slowing down. Herewith, Connecticut experts’ takes on some that just might help you live your best life in 2021 — and beyond.

A separate peace

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“Balancing open and private space when you are all together 24/7 is big for all of us,” Clark says. “It’s important to balance the hustle and bustle of life with time to relax.” Not to mention the fact that, “creating a space in the home for a retreat, even if it’s just a small corner of a room, designed for quiet thought or a relaxing activity can help maintain your mental health.” Even making a few minor changes to your home, such as giving each person a spot of their own, will give you peace of mind, Clark says. It could be something as simple as a window seat to curl up in to read a good book, adding wing-back chairs that hug you or creating an alcove play space under the stairs in which your little ones can while away the hours.

Muddy waters

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“One of the big questions for all of us is how to stop germs at our front door,” Clark says. Kids, packages, groceries, takeout … there’s a lot to handle coming into the house and the constant threat of hitch-hiking germs (COVID-19 or otherwise) trying to breach the security barrier of the sanctuary we call home. Thus, “mudrooms are more important than ever,” Clark says. To consider: Is there a sink in your mudroom? “It would be an ideal place to wash your hands without bringing germs into the kitchen and getting in the cook’s way,” Clark says. Plenty of counter space where things can be wiped down? Cubbies where the kids can safely leave their backpacks? Special drawers for masks? Shelves for shoes? How about a washer and dryer? “Adding even a small set is becoming increasingly popular,” Clark says. Potentially contaminated clothing can then be stripped right in the wash. Just remember to designate a cabinet to keep some spare sets of clothes — you never know who could be on a Zoom call should you decide to streak through the kitchen! Speaking of which …

Kitchen livin’

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It makes sense that “kitchens are even more important than ever,” Clark says. After all, “People are home and cooking more,” and, as Kaufman points out, “there are more people at home doing the cooking.” As for the trend toward modern, simple and clean in the kitchen, “we’ve been going in that direction for years,” Clark says, but that, too, is even more important with so many people sharing the same space on a regular basis. Understandably, “hands-free and/or voice-activated faucets and switches, smart appliances with touch screens, and adding an extra dishwasher drawer unit for breakfast dishes, or an undercounter refrigerator drawer unit for snacks are some hot kitchen additions,” Clark says.

Nesting instinct

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“One box of oatmeal used to be enough,” says Jeff Kaufman of JMKA Architects in Westport. Now, however, we tend to order two or even three boxes of oatmeal and just about everything else. Needless to say, going forward we’re (all) gonna need a bigger pantry. “This winter is going to be tough,” Kaufman acknowledges, but having the space to organize your stockpile of food and supplies could ease the burden. “We all have been shopping differently,” Clark agrees, and as a result are “craving” additions like larger walk-in pantries and chest freezers, and are expanding food storage into other areas, whether it’s a garage upgraded with nifty cabinetry systems or a basement lined with sturdy racks that offer a place for everything in its place. “Anything to stay organized and feel a little more in control,” Clark says.

Feel the burn

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Is your gym open or closed — and if it’s open will you even make the cut to get in the door when you get there? The good news, Clark says, is that there are some pretty great “smart” home-exercise equipment options out there whose time has come. Think Peloton bikes with immersive live classes, Tonal digital-weight systems that deliver up to 200 pounds of resistance in a device smaller than your flat-screen, and Ergatta rowing machines that challenge with video game-inspired workouts. As for where to put them, “if you have room for a dedicated exercise room, that’s great,” says Clark, who is converting a client’s attic into a dedicated space for a Peloton and has recently added golf-simulation rooms for two others, but let’s not forget that “multipurpose spaces with sliding doors and screens allow us to bring things out when we need them, too.” Thiel, meanwhile, is in the midst of turning a backyard tool shed in New Canaan into what she describes as a “style-driven, in-the-garden home gym,” and helping a family from Middlebury “maximize space” by designing a basement that will include a gym, of course, but also an art room, wine room, playroom, game room and workspace for the client to produce his podcast. Ah, life 2021.

Something old

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“Repurposing is getting its day,” says Thiel, who theorizes that it may be because COVID-19 quite simply “shook us up.” It’s “nice to have something with a history,” Thiel says, whether it means purchasing an antique piece instead of a new one or “actually using some of your parents’ furniture that you had previously ignored.” We’re going solid. Sustainable. Besides, Thiel says, “you can take an old and dowdy piece and paint it a glossy white and it becomes totally different.” Such purpose also fits in with the current move to juxtapose the old with the new. Heck, “even Art Deco and ’70s are starting to creep back in,” Thiel says. Even — gasp! — wall coverings.

Take it outside

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Yes, we know life is better outdoors, especially when being out in the wide open means that we actually get to (safely) socialize with humans other than the ornery ones we live with. Thus, the trend to dream up and design bigger, better and more efficient outdoor-living spaces is, in a word, “huge,” Kaufman says — and the simple fact that it’s winter isn’t going to stop us. We’re talking elaborately landscaped fire pits to cozy ’round (Kaufman, who lives in Woodbridge, has put in three fire pits of his own over the past 10 months), portable patio heaters, loggias with radiant heat built into their ceilings, even heated furniture. Check out the gorgeousness that is Galanter & Jones smooth-as-river-rock cast-stone Helios Lounge if you like to dream. Next up: expanding the outdoor kitchen in the spring.

Work it, baby

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“Rethinking the home in terms of office space,” seems to be at the very top of everyone’s to-do list these days, according to Nancy Thiel of Thiel Architecture + Design in Weston. And if you’re not “carving out space for a home office,” Clark points out, you’re looking for a nook to commandeer for distance learning for the kids. Every little bit of square footage is fair game — as long as it takes into consideration what those in your virtual world can hear or see in the background. Clark himself is building a shed in his backyard to take the place of his bedroom/home office/place to interrupt dad with questions. “Having a clear division between work and home helps with the ability to focus,” Clark says. Never mind the fact that “when there’s no division you end up working too much” — and life, as it has been recently emphasized to us, is far too short for that.

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Bring it in

As for when we are inside … we kind of want it to feel like we, well, aren’t. “Everyone wants light and bright today,” Clark says. That innate urge to connect with nature (called biophilia, if you want to get fancy) means adding more windows to bring the outside in. Incorporating the warmth of wood in projects like the rich, brown walnut countertops Clark Construction recently installed in a home in Ridgefield or some live-edge shelving. Adding houseplants. Lots and lots of houseplants, which, if you haven’t noticed, are rapidly becoming quite the collector’s items (just go online and try and buy a variegated monstera if you don’t believe us). Maybe even consider repainting a room a warm, grounding Urbane Bronze, Sherwin-Williams’ 2021 color of the year said to “encourage you to create a sanctuary space for mindful reflection and renewal.” We’re in, how about you?

This article appears in the January 2021 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.