After Years of Open-Plan Living, How Has Covid Affected Floor Layouts?
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After Years of Open-Plan Living, How Has Covid Affected Floor Layouts?

Long-term working and schooling from home has made privacy a higher priority.

By Virginia K. Smith
Mon, Jan 10, 2022 1:14pmGrey Clock 5 min

Though some luxury buyers will always prefer a formal dining room or a classic six, loft-like open-floor plans have been trending for years, with kitchen and dining room walls being torn down in service of spacious great rooms that connote a more casual style of living and entertaining. But as with so many other aspects of day-to-day life, the way people use their homes has changed dramatically since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Dining rooms became home schools, or sometimes prep areas for cooking at home,” said Nikki Field, founder of The Field Team at Sotheby’s International Realty in New York City. “There was a lot of adapting spaces in order to [accommodate] this group [family] effort that was going on for almost a year.”

As such, many buyers now have highly specific needs in mind when it comes to the floor plan and flexibility of a home.

“One of the things that has really changed is how involved buyers are in the floor plan even before they’ve seen the apartment,” said Stan Ponte of Sotheby’s International Realty in New York City. “We’ve had many examples where a client, before making an appointment, will reach out directly and already have scanned the floor plan, and have circles on walls, ‘X’s in certain places, asking if this wall can be broken down, can we put pocket doors here, expand this room, contract that room.”

In addition to sheer square footage, additional rooms—as well as the option to divide larger spaces up at a moment’s notice—are now essential features on many buyers’ lists.

“Overall, floor plans have become more important than ever before,” said Bianca D’Alessio of NestSeekers International in New York City. “Kitchen and kitchen storage have become way more important. People want space, generous layouts, room for a king or queen size bed in all bedrooms, and a home office in addition to that. That changes the dimensions of bedrooms.”

As the real estate market navigates the stop-and-start reopening and the prospect of another long stretch of working and schooling from home, here’s what the future of the floor plan might look like.

‘Extra’ Rooms Are Now Essential

The resounding housing trend to come out of the pandemic was the sense that “bigger is better,” and whatever a buyer’s preferred layout, extra rooms are now at the top of their wish list.

“In my experience, the vast majority of buyers do [still] prefer the open floor plan, because we’re all living much more casually,” said Nicole Hechter, a New York City-based Corcoran agent. “However there has been a real trend towards needing at bare minimum a home office or extra bedroom—for people working from home with kids doing homework at home it’s critical. So where we used to have people looking for a three-bedroom, they now need a three-bedroom plus a home office or fourth bedroom.”

In many cases, Ms. Hechter said the extra bedroom “wasn’t going to be a bedroom, it would be an office, room for a Peloton, a room for people to go and make their phone calls or just decompress from being with everyone.” Some affluent families have also sought apartments with extra room for live-in nannies and baby nurses, Ms. Field said, preferring that they not have to commute on public transportation in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.

“I think multi-purposes rooms are the way to go,” said Angela Kessel, an agent with Houlihan Lawrence in Westchester, New York. “I represent a lot of builders and advise on new construction, and that’s what we’re doing. They’re still doing the center great room and open kitchen, but have these dedicated spaces that serve many functions.”

Ms. Hechter added, “I think many people still want that great room where everyone can be together, but there is also a longing for privacy.”

Interior view of an apartment at 555 West End Ave., a new development in New York City. 555 West End Ave

Keep the Open Plan, But Make It Flexible

While there will always be exceptions to the rule, for American luxury buyers, the pandemic largely hasn’t dampened the craze for an expansive open entertaining space.

“What we’ve seen coming out of Covid is that clearly some division of space and rooms is required,” Ms. Kessel said. “However, the open-concept kitchen, great room and family room is here to stay. People still want the open family room to entertain in and to be able to watch the kids while they’re in the kitchen.”

In certain properties, an open-plan design may even be integral to the building’s overall appeal. “Where we’re building here [in Sarasota, Florida] tends to be in areas that are near the water and very view-centric,” said Dan Kaplan, managing partner at developer PMG. “So having an open floor plan accentuates those external features. Specifically where we’re building, we haven’t thought to change our floor plans or how the buildings necessarily function.”

Instead, the potential to make those shared spaces adaptable has become a selling point for some properties.

At The Woolworth Tower Residences, Pavilion A—a $23.3 million five-bedroom listing in Manhattan that was featured on the most recent season of HBO’s “Succession”—Mr. Ponte said, “It’s a great floor plan because we pre-designed it so that the open kitchen could easily accommodate pocket doors or folding doors to separate it from the great room.”

An entertainment area in Pavilion A at the Woolworth Tower Residences in New York City. Travis Mark

“That’s been a real key for buyers, to be able to know that if they’re cooking dinner and on a Zoom and the kids are in the living room, they can just shut the door for 20 minutes,” Mr. Ponte added. “People rarely sit at desktops.”

At 555 West End Ave., a new development in New York City, “We have 13-foot ceilings in the apartments, so it’s very big and loft-like, but the kitchen is also closed off,” said Alexa Lambert, a New York City-based agent with Compass. “If you look at the floor plans they’re like open kitchens but with pocket doors that can close—it’s the best of both worlds. People are looking for bigger, sunny spaces so that they don’t feel claustrophobic, and they’re also looking for little nooks and private areas. They want both.”

Interior view of an apartment at 555 West End Ave., a new development in New York City. Amanda James

Particularly as the Omicron variant surges in the U.S., sending many businesses and schools back to exclusively remote setups, the push toward flexibility—and the ability to have every possible option contained within one home—is likely to continue.

“It’s an interesting mix of uncertainty for buyers of all ages on how they want to live their lifestyle right now,” Ms. Field said. “Are they going back to the office? Do they still have to maintain a home professional space? Because we are in such an unknown moment regarding the pandemic, I think people are looking for flexibility to be able to pivot if we need to.”

Reprinted by permission of Mansion Global. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: January 9, 2021.



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A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now

Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

By CALLUM BORCHERS
Fri, Jun 14, 2024 5 min

Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.

MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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