Like most Singaporeans, architect Siew Man Kok was surprised at how crowded the parks were during last year’s Circuit Breaker period. “Suddenly everyone felt a need to be outdoors and near nature,” he says.

The co-founder of MKPL Architects adds: “The pandemic reaffirms that what I felt was good to have is now very much a necessity.”

His award-winning firm advocates incorporating nature into its projects, and close access to greenery where possible.

He expects that in 2021 and beyond, developers and architects will be putting into more greenery and wellness features into buildings.

“Developers will no longer be able to sell a project based on square footage,” he says. “Consumers shouldn’t be looking for just that; they will also consider the quality of the communal spaces.”

While he designed the upcoming One Holland Village, a mixed use development, before the pandemic hit, he already included features that make living in a post-pandemic world more comfortable.

For example, the residential blocks boast a variety of communal spaces, both in the form of sky terraces and gardens on the ground, and in different sizes.

One Holland Village Residences
Close proximity to nature at One Holland Village Residences.

Developers too will also have to build homes that allow for more flexibility, so homeowners can easily convert rooms into home offices if needed. “For example, if there is access to the helper’s room from the main living area, that room can be converted into a study, if needed,” he suggests.

The need to be near greenery extends to office design as well. “I won’t be surprised if, in the near future, offices will have windows that can be opened and the space is naturally ventilated instead of being air-conditioned boxes,” he says.

Industrial designer Wendy Chua, co-founder of Forest & Whale design firm, says that with borders shut for some time in 2019, countries had to find ways to be self reliant, from food production down to mask making.

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“Look at how much we relied on the seamstresses who sewed the first masks in the early days of the pandemic. The fall of fast fashion; the return of autonomy of production to the hands of the consumer; the need for local designers to balance international materials and technology; and localised crafts and industries will be pertinent in our next decade of transformation,” says Ms Chua.

Interior designer Emma Maxwell also believes that “a return to the hand-crafted and an emphasis on quality will rise in 2021”. The founder of her eponymous firm adds: “After being forced to slow down, everyone has become more mindful about what surrounds them. Part of her job involves creating bespoke furniture pieces, and for her studio’s projects for 2021, she is experimenting with techniques such as Shou Sugi Ban, the ancient Japanese practice of preserving wood by burning it black. “We also embrace techniques that involve hand carving and inlay for a lot of furniture pieces. This year is about creating objects designed to last for decades that have meaning and resonance,” says Ms Maxwell.

Shou Sugi Ban
The ancient Japanese practice of preserving wood by burning it black.

With working from home continuing in 2021, interior designers say that there will be more emphasis on making the home a sanctuary. “Homeowners will place a bigger emphasis on quality of life as they spend more time at home,” says Terence Neo, founder of Eighty Two. He sees minimalism returning in a big way. It will no longer be about going to Pinterest to see and follow what’s trendy, but “a focus on timelessness, ergonomics, and comfort”.

Mr Neo says: “Earthy tones and muted colours will take centre stage as they create a tranquil living space that is easy on the eyes, as compared to other transient design trends or colour schemes.”

Dennis Cheok, founder of Upstairs_, also agrees that comfort in the home will be top priority. “We have become much more attuned to the environment that we live in, and our conversations with clients and homeowners always point towards colours, lighting, and sounds – essentially reflecting a heightened sensitivity and awareness of what contributes to their personal sense of comfort.”

He says that spaces are leaning towards softness, calmness, neutral tones, connections to daylight and nature, transformative lighting, and natural, tactile material palettes.

“More so than ever, we want our homes to adapt to a multitude of functions, especially in a city where a home’s footprint is often limited and constrained,” says Mr Cheok. “It will be interesting to observe how homes continue to transform and adapt to the way we live; and especially to observe the spaces that reflect the home dweller’s personal sense of comfort and well-being.”

While the kitchen was more utilised in 2019 as homeowners started baking frequently, Antoine Besseyre des Horts, Asia’s leader at LIXIL Global Design, says there will be a focus on bathrooms for 2021.

“Bathrooms are a place for rejuvenation and relaxation, where one can escape to and recuperate from the daily stress of work or in today’s scenarios of working from home,” he says. Today, this trend is further amplified as the bathroom is typically the only space at home where one can be isolated, especially in smaller homes.

He adds: “Bathrooms will begin to see functions and products that emulate a spa-like experience for improved physical and mental sense of well-being.”

Mr Besseyre des Horts suggests that homeowners can craft a unique statement in their bathrooms by going white for a clean, minimalist and timeless look. “New textures such as woodgrain and earthy tones are best applied to vanities, fittings and ceramics, adding warmth and softness while balancing out the overall tone of tiles and faucets,” he recommends.

(Related: Floating structures: Architecture for the post-climate change era)

This article was originally published in The Business Times.