Homes have taken on new significance during the COVID-19 pandemic, transforming into offices, classrooms, recreational facilities and, of course, places to rest and recharge. As we spend extra time in our yards and interior spaces, comfort and safety are more important than ever.
Here, six local architects, designers, garden experts and other professionals share tips on making home feel a little sweeter—whether you rent, own or are dreaming about the next big move.
Harlan Bradley, Masterwork Builders
Carmel custom home builder Harlan Bradley saw demand for larger lots and residences soar as COVID-19 unfolded. Since local housing supply is limited, he got creative. Bradley has converted garages into offices, installed outdoor showers and pet-washing stations, and created clutter-busting storage solutions by recessing cabinets into walls.
“We’re putting a lot more thought into where to add built-ins or how to make kitchen and laundry spaces flow better. We are enhancing workplaces and adding more privacy in certain areas of the home,” he says. “The end result will be improved design and quality of life, for permanent residents and vacation homeowners, long after the pandemic.”
Bradley’s plans often draw on the Danish concept of hygge, which he describes as “creating a sense of warmth and comfort through simplicity.” His simple suggestions include integrating natural stone, organic textiles and rich textures into furnishings and decor.
“Maybe it’s using extra-cozy blankets when you’re lounging at night or choosing nice window coverings that create a cocoon-like atmosphere,” he shares. “It’s all about making a healthy, healing, nourishing environment and being kind to yourself when you’re at home.”
Masti Brett, Poppleton’s
Business has been brisk at Poppleton’s, a design center and furniture showroom in Monterey, since COVID-19 started keeping people at home.
“The desire for remodeling has gone up, partly from the frustration of seeing the same thing, and partly because people have the time to focus,” says senior designer Masti Brett.
She and her Poppleton’s colleagues work with architects, builders and homeowners to plan and furnish individual rooms, large homes and everything in between. Because designing and updating spaces can feel overwhelming, Brett encourages clients to consider one detail at a time.
“Let’s put together priorities. Can I help you find the right paint color? What’s the most important room to work on right now? I break things into pieces and help find solutions that work for every budget,” Brett says.
She can also coordinate the reupholstery of well-loved furnishings, and happily helps customers mix cherished pieces with recent purchases.
“A lot of people have antiques or don’t want to completely redo everything,” Brett says. “We help them integrate the old with the new, and we make it look good.”
Noelle Micek, Noelle Micek Interiors
Noelle Micek believes that homes should reflect who people are and how they live.
“We want our clients to use their spaces. We never want to design a room where people think, ‘We can’t sit in there with a glass of wine,’ or, ‘Our kids can’t play on that sofa,’” she says.
With homes currently doubling as offices, classrooms and gyms, many of Micek’s clients are investing in built-in storage and custom cabinetry. They’re also rethinking how they use their spaces.
“Before you try to solve storage needs or add furniture to address what might be missing, it’s always good to measure your room and do a top-down space plan,” she says. “Be really thoughtful about what your needs are.”
Micek’s California-inspired interiors blend coastal style and classic, functional materials. During the pandemic, she’s also applying indoor concepts to the outdoors.
“We’re designing outdoor spaces with chandeliers and plush sofas and rugs and side tables, plus heat lamps and fireplaces. These spaces feel like they’re indoors, but have the benefit of fresh air,” she says.
Cooper Scollan, Native Coast Landscapes
Cooper Scollan builds dynamic, sustainable gardens, incorporating California native plants, Mediterranean classics and clients’ sentimental favorites into his designs. The Native Coast Landscapes owner works on everything from lush living walls to large-scale estates, and lately, he’s seen an uptick in renovation requests.
“Everyone’s home, looking at their yard and thinking, “I want to do something more,’” says Scollan. “I’m busy making more outdoor spaces for living, dining and social distancing.”
Interest in edible gardens is also growing.
“People want fruit trees and veggie beds to tool around with in their spare time, or they want to teach the grandkids to grow carrots and strawberries and things,” says Scollan.
When designing a landscape, he starts with the bones—think patios, pathways, fences or boulders—and then narrows down the colors, textures and types of plants suited to a particular microclimate.
He adds interest with water features and a palette of plants that bloom in different seasons.
“This way, you’ve always got some color and you’re attracting birds and beneficial insects. The garden doesn’t ever just shut down,” says Scollan.
Mary Ann Schicketanz, Studio Schicketanz
Sophisticated, sun-splashed spaces, sustainable materials and sweeping views have long defined the work of architect Mary Ann Schicketanz.
While her Studio Schicketanz residential clients have always sought out scenic natural landscapes, the rise of remote work has refined their priorities.
“Now we’re seeing that yes, we do want to be close to nature, but we also need high internet speed and a cell tower close by,” says Schicketanz. “People are putting a lot of thought into their homes and making them not only places to sleep and spend time with family, but also places where everybody is afforded some sort of privacy to learn or study or work.”
Schicketanz appreciates the needs of her work-from-home clients, in part, because her own team moved to permanent remote work early in the pandemic.
“As people spend more time at home, they are paying real attention to how they use those homes. They’re paying attention to the practicalities, they’re organizing differently, and they are finding more smart space-saving solutions. I think more care and attention is being given to all aspects of the home,” she says.
Kimberly Mozal, Dirty Girl Plant Co.
Kimberly Mozal’s budding business took root in a pandemic-era pop-up.
She launched Dirty Girl Plant Co. at Monterey’s Union Yoga last fall and moved into a permanent Soledad Drive spot just weeks later. The lifelong plant enthusiast sells ferns, snake plants, pothos plants and other potted indoor gems, plus handpicked pots, watering cans, soil and accessories.
She also repots houseplants, diagnoses struggling greenery, and does home consultations—in-person or by video—to assist container gardeners with all levels of growing experience.
“I want people to be successful in their plant parenthood. I ask a lot of questions to find out what plants would be perfect for their surroundings, space and light,” Mozal says.
She sees the popularity of pandemic plant collections growing as shelter-in-place orders stretch on.
“Customers’ offices are at home now, and some people want to brighten things up or filter the air. Others get plants for their children to take care of while they’re learning at home,” Mozal says. “I say go play with your plants. Cut pieces up. Put them in water. Try some experiments and see what you can do.”