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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Why Prices of the World’s Most Expensive Handbags Keep Rising

Designers are charging more for their most recognisable bags to maintain the appearance of exclusivity as the industry balloons

By CAROL RYAN
Tue, Mar 5, 2024 3 min

The price of a basic Hermès Birkin handbag has jumped $1,000. This first-world problem for fashionistas is a sign that luxury brands are playing harder to get with their most sought-after products.

Hermès recently raised the cost of a basic Birkin 25-centimeter handbag in its U.S. stores by 10% to $11,400 before sales tax, according to data from luxury handbag forum PurseBop. Rarer Birkins made with exotic skins such as crocodile have jumped more than 20%. The Paris brand says it only increases prices to offset higher manufacturing costs, but this year’s increase is its largest in at least a decade.

The brand may feel under pressure to defend its reputation as the maker of the world’s most expensive handbags. The “Birkin premium”—the price difference between the Hermès bag and its closest competitor , the Chanel Classic Flap in medium—shrank from 70% in 2019 to 2% last year, according to PurseBop founder Monika Arora. Privately owned Chanel has jacked up the price of its most popular handbag by 75% since before the pandemic.

Eye-watering price increases on luxury brands’ benchmark products are a wider trend. Prada ’s Galleria bag will set shoppers back a cool $4,600—85% more than in 2019, according to the Wayback Machine internet archive. Christian Dior ’s Lady Dior bag and the Louis Vuitton Neverfull are both 45% more expensive, PurseBop data show.

With the U.S. consumer-price index up a fifth since 2019, luxury brands do need to offset higher wage and materials costs. But the inflation-beating increases are also a way to manage the challenge presented by their own success: how to maintain an aura of exclusivity at the same time as strong sales.

Luxury brands have grown enormously in recent years, helped by the Covid-19 lockdowns, when consumers had fewer outlets for spending. LVMH ’s fashion and leather goods division alone has almost doubled in size since 2019, with €42.2 billion in sales last year, equivalent to $45.8 billion at current exchange rates. Gucci, Chanel and Hermès all make more than $10 billion in sales a year. One way to avoid overexposure is to sell fewer items at much higher prices.

Many aspirational shoppers can no longer afford the handbags, but luxury brands can’t risk alienating them altogether. This may explain why labels such as Hermès and Prada have launched makeup lines and Gucci’s owner Kering is pushing deeper into eyewear. These cheaper categories can be a kind of consolation prize. They can also be sold in the tens of millions without saturating the market.

“Cosmetics are invisible—unless you catch someone applying lipstick and see the logo, you can’t tell the brand,” says Luca Solca, luxury analyst at Bernstein.

Most of the luxury industry’s growth in 2024 will come from price increases. Sales are expected to rise by 7% this year, according to Bernstein estimates, even as brands only sell 1% to 2% more stuff.

Limiting volume growth this way only works if a brand is so popular that shoppers won’t balk at climbing prices and defect to another label. Some companies may have pushed prices beyond what consumers think they are worth. Sales of Prada’s handbags rose a meagre 1% in its last quarter and the group’s cheaper sister label Miu Miu is growing faster.

Ramping up prices can invite unflattering comparisons. At more than $2,000, Burberry ’s small Lola bag is around 40% more expensive today than it was a few years ago. Luxury shoppers may decide that tried and tested styles such as Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull bag, which is now a little cheaper than the Burberry bag, are a better buy—especially as Louis Vuitton bags hold their value better in the resale market.

Aggressive price increases can also drive shoppers to secondhand websites. If a barely used Prada Galleria bag in excellent condition can be picked up for $1,500 on luxury resale website The Real Real, it is less appealing to pay three times that amount for the bag brand new.

The strategy won’t help everyone, but for the best luxury brands, stretching the price spectrum can keep the risks of growth in check.

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