By Lutz Dietzold.
You are bound to have noticed that the queues for recycling depots keep growing longer. In the past, the hordes usually gathered there in spring or on rainy weekends. Now, however, people are cleaning up, clearing out and making space on a permanent basis. There are many reasons why, but the Covid pandemic has proved a highly relevant reason to reassess our worlds of living and working.
Liberation through emptiness?
Living spaces have been evolving for a long time. Many renters in large cities settle for continually shrinking flats or solve their housing problems with co-living, which purports to be the future for digital nomads. The Germany-wide trend, on the other hand, is heading in the other direction. The country’s Federal Statistical Office reports that living space has increased to an average of 47 square metres per person. Nevertheless, decluttering – which can also include downsizing or minimalism – seems to encompass all areas of life. Things that are unneeded are disposed of or sold online. This also applies to the inherited porcelain dinner sets which were only retrieved from the cupboard depending on the level of family celebration. At Villeroy & Boch, consumers can now lease the latest trends in porcelain and return them six months later. They no longer need a huge cupboard at home, as a sideboard can take its place.
The above applies to offices, too, where fax machines have frequently bitten the dust. The need for printers also continues to decrease, not only because of digital transformation and permanently available data, but also because businesses have made reducing their carbon footprint part of their corporate social responsibility. Many people these days only need a laptop or tablet to work, and some people can make do with just a smartphone. Shelves for dusty old files have been consigned to history. This will likely be a challenge for furniture manufacturers, who will have to adjust their portfolio to the new worlds of living and working.
New living – new work – new furniture?
One thing is clear: new living does not mean that we are all going to spend our time in empty, impersonal spaces in order to keep our mind nice and tidy. No, our mind yearns for beauty, comfort and peace. This is good news for the furniture industry, which has so far got off lightly during the pandemic. After all, it was during lockdown that people took notice of some of the visual eyesores in their home. Homes are now receiving a makeover, old sofas are being dumped, balconies and terraces done up, and to anyone who cannot stand the word “hygge” any longer, may I just warn you, things are about to become even more hyggely! Home furniture will even make its way into offices so that workers feel good during co-creation and recreation. The worlds of living and working are increasingly merging. New mobile work-from-home furniture that can disappear with a flick of the hand is already being created.
Thanks to remote-working legislation, employers in Germany are required to provide staff with suitable furniture, equipment and communication devices for their home workplace and to carry out a risk assessment. It comes as no surprise that most companies therefore prefer a mobile-workplace concept, for which there are no additional regulations and staff are responsible themselves for setting up their domestic workspace. This is likely also the preferred solution for most employees. Who wants to have an office set up and controlled by their employer in their home? Who even has space for it? Theoretically, a laptop can be set up anywhere – on the balcony, terrace or rooftop, or even in the basement. Recent months have shown how flexible we are in this regard. Moreover, most people who work from home would rather have an ergonomic chair from their employer instead of a desk – and a chair can be placed anywhere.
Activity-based living – recreation in the hobby room
If the worlds of working and living continue to converge, there may be activity-based living in the future. Like in modern office environments, the spaces at home would also be divided according to different activities so that people do not rub each other the wrong way during lockdowns, quarantine and working from home. The living room would host co-living with family and friends, the kitchen and dining room would be for co-eating, and the kids’ rooms would house co-gaming and free thinking, while work could be done from anywhere. All that is missing is a place to withdraw to for recreation and relaxation. A look at the hobby rooms of the 1960s and 1970s may help here, with some basements still containing model railways, workbenches, billiard tables and bars. Maybe the good old hobby room is the blueprint for future living – cheery, comfortable, versatile and definitely good for the mind, even if it is not perfectly tidy. We will see.
Lutz Dietzold, CEO German Design Council
Lutz Dietzold (*1966) is CEO of the German Design Council. He studied art history, classical archaeology and German language and literature in Frankfurt. After working as a freelancer in the area of design communication for national and international clients, he was appointed as the managing director of the Deutscher Werkbund Hessen (German Association of Craftsmen in the federal state of Hesse) as well as the managing director of Design Zentrum Hessen (Hesse Design Centre), where he was responsible for the strategic reorientation of design promotion.
In 2011 he was appointed deputy chairman of the Stiftung Deutsches Design Museum (German Design Museum Foundation) and member of the advisory council of the Mia-Seeger-Stiftung (Mia Seeger Foundation). Mr. Dietzold publishes articles on a regular basis and gives national and international lectures on a variety of topics relating to design. He is also a member of numerous juries as well as of the project advisory board of the German Federal Ecodesign Award of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety.