In 2016, I did a TEDx Talk, Homes That Make Us Happy, based on my blog article, Characteristics of Homes People Love.
I look back at those insights to show that the characteristics of homes people love were apparent even before the pandemic. However, the pandemic made us focus on the elements of the homes that make us happy living, working and playing in a home 24 hours a day.
Certain Elements of Homes Are What Makes Us Happy
Many of these elements seem obvious, but five years ago they were mostly ignored by homebuyers. Homeowners like open rooms that still have well-defined and even private spaces, sunlight that comes into a room from three or four different directions; homes that relate to their neighborhoods and nature. The pandemic realigned our priorities closer to the natural rhythms of our lives.
Wall Street Journal—May 15, 2020
Nancy Keates, in this WSJ article, discussed how architects are thinking about their homes and the homes they design for their clients differently now that everyone is thinking about what makes us happy living, working and playing in a home every day.
TEDx Talk Examines Characteristics of What Makes Us Happy In A Home
My TEDx Talk examines what homeowners who really love their homes have told me over the years. This talk also predicted how our priorities will evolve in the future, making the elements of what makes us happy in a home a greater priority. The pandemic accelerated these predictions that are coming to fruition.
Dwell 2020—March 26, 2020
Duncan Nielsen interviews 17 architects and designers that mentioned that their clients were now looking for many of the same things I discussed on what makes us happy in a home in my TEDx Talk in 2016.
Highlights of Thoughts From Video on Homes That Make Us Happy
Everyone knows everything about homes, except what is most important—homes that make us happy every day.2016 TEDx Video – (00:12-00:22)
Actually, in 2016, people did know what makes us happy in a home, but they had not yet focused on it. The pandemic made them focus on the characteristics of homes that makes us happy, because now they are living, working and playing in the home 24 hours, every day.
Some may think the idea of homes that make us happy is shallow. Others understand the impact of homes on us and the community is profound.2016 TEDx Video – (00:25-00:33)
I inserted this line in my talk in response to the TEDx SMU organizer and the SMU engineering department, which tried to prevent me from presenting my talk. The reason the engineering department was so adamant that I not present my talk was because an engineering school donor complained that the topic of my talk on what makes us happy in a home was superficial.
When I shared my talk with many of the longtime and highly regarded TED speakers and patrons that I knew from the main TED conference, I received much encouragement and validation that what makes us happy in a home was an incredibly important topic. One of the things I love about the main TED conference is the interdisciplinary insight that the phenomenal TED attendees and patrons possess.
Some People Really Love Their Homes
Some people really love their homes. When I ask them why, the same characteristics come up over and over. So you would think that when we are searching for a home, we would look for characteristics that make us happy. No, we don’t.2016 TEDx Video – (4:09-4:13)
Homebuyers Have Been Preoccupied With Statistics and Amenities And Not What Makes Us Happy In A Home
Instead of looking for what makes us happy in a home, we look for a list of amenities or a set of statistics or cosmetic preferences or a good school district.
This sounds perfectly reasonable, but have you ever had a friend say to you they just love their home because it’s in a great school district, or because it has five bedrooms, or because it costs $187 a square foot. Probably not!2016 TEDx Video – (4:39-5:11)
Over the years, I discovered when I spoke with people who really loved their homes, if they lived in a historic home or a modern home, they would relate the same characteristics that made them happy. However, most homebuyers were preoccupied or seduced by statistics and amenities and weren’t paying attention to what the most important aspects of the home were—the characteristics of what makes us happy. The pandemic changed all of that. When people were spending time in their home sheltering in place, the amenities and statistics were no longer as important as a home that would make them happy.
Pandemic Has Been Like A Gigantic Hammer Deconstructing Our Superficial Views
The pandemic has been like a gigantic hammer that has deconstructed our superficial views towards homes. This is the reason that in 2020 there have been the greatest number of home sales in cities like Dallas. People are reprioritizing their choices of homes and reshuffling the homes they live in.
Homeowners Love Homes When They Live In Every Room
But I bet you’ve heard, “We only live in half our house, or there are some rooms we never enter.2016 TEDx Video – (5:13—5:15)
Pre-pandemic, when styles and cosmetic preferences prevailed, people were not fully living in or enjoying their homes. However, there were still some people who really loved their homes, which gave us a clue to what homeowners would be looking for in the future. The pandemic accelerated the question of what makes us happy in a home.
Good Design Creates a Thrilling Space, Regardless of How It Is Used
People who passionately enjoy their homes say they live in every room, and I hear this not just from those in small homes but those with over 10,000 s.f. Good design creates a thrilling space regardless of how it is used.2016 TEDx Video – (5:50-6:04)
Homeowners Now Consistently Desire Flexible Rooms For Multiple Purposes
Great spaces that can be transformed are much nicer than a strict hierarchy of rooms with only one prescribed purpose.2016 TEDx Video – (6:06—6:12)
Washington Post—September 17, 2020
How The Pandemic Has Put Flexibility Front and Center In Home Design, by Michele Lerner.
But please don’t confuse rooms with the potential for many uses with bonus rooms. A bonus room is just a euphemism for leftover space with no real purpose.2016 TEDx Video – (6:53-7:00)
Forbes—September 30, 2020
Five Ways The Pandemic Has Influenced Interior Design Trends In 2020, by Amanda Lauren.
What makes us happy sheltering at home? Architects and interior designers have discussed in articles how they were rethinking their own homes during the pandemic. The next wave of articles about homes discussed how homeowners wanted spaces they could use for multiple purposes. By the end of 2020, even realtors were touting flexible spaces in homes they advertised, when previously realtors had emphasized bonus rooms that had no purpose.
Being In The Best School is Better Than Being In The Best School District
“We couldn’t really find a home we loved in our school district,” explaining why they lived in a generic box that served primarily as a school dormitory for their children. The rapidly increasing number of charter schools, talented and gifted schools, and magnet schools is a game changer, because they can broaden our search for a home. Don’t you agree, it’s better to be in the best school than the best school district?2016 TEDx Video – (5:20-5:47)
The pandemic brought this point home. What is the point of your children being enrolled in the best preparatory school of Los Angeles if it is shut down and classes are sporadically held online? What is the point of living in the best public school district when the schools are closed down? Homeowners are realizing they want to move where schools are open or where they have the best home environment for the children as education is taking place increasingly online. If your children are learning online, you can live anywhere. If there are good charter schools, magnet schools, or private schools nearby, or you are homeschooling, you can live anywhere.
Paul E. Peterson in the January 10, 2021, Dallas Morning News wrote in his op-ed article about the increased use of learning pods where a small group of families hired private tutors, students using tax credit scholarships and vouchers, vocational and exam schools, private schools, homeschools, charter schools, and a magnet concept to include every school in the district. He explains that every year educational choice for students is expanding and satisfaction in the choice schools is increasing which further eliminates the need to buy a home next to the right school or in the right school district.
Dallas Morning News, January 10, 2021
Covid-19 Could Be The Moment We Turn To School Choice As A Road To Equal Opportunity, by Paul E. Peterson.
An op-ed article by Jeremy Newman references RealClear Opinion Research shows that 40% of families are more likely to enroll their students in home schools or virtual schools once the lockdown ends, with the largest positive response coming from black, Hispanic and Asian groups.
Dallas Morning News—May 30, 2020
We Need to Think Differently About Our Homes
We need to think about homes differently, not as a list of amenities or a set of statistics or square footage, but as the characteristics that will make us happy living in a home every day.2016 TEDx Video – (7:50-8:02)
Dwell—October 19, 2020
How the Pandemic Is Reshaping Interior Design So Far, by Anna Squier
In my Dallas Morning News op-ed piece, “Is your Home your Castle—Or An Obstacle?” I wrote that after weeks of sheltering in place, it is easier to see what makes us happy and what we truly love about a house. One of the benefits of sheltering in place is that living, working and playing in one’s home 24 hours a day allows us you to realize what makes us happy living in a home every day.
Understanding What Makes Us Happy In A Home Is Transformative
Understanding that there are specific characteristics of homes that make us happy is transformative.2016 TEDx Video – (8:01-8:05)
While esteemed architecture critic, Philip Kennicott, discusses, evaluates and explores futuristic urban structures and analyzes ways forward offered by renowned architects. Homeowners are findings ways to simplify their lives and the simple pleasures that make them happy in their home every day.
Washington Post Magazine, July 13, 2020
Pandemic Has Shown Us What Future Architecture Could Be, by Philip Kennicott
It is almost like a million lightbulbs went off in 2020 as people across the country were saying, “Now I know what I really want in a home.” This restricted time prompted this very liberating thought. Because of the pandemic, architects and interior designers for the first time in years were re-evaluating how they should think about homes, what makes us happy in a home, and the way people could best live in a home every day.
When A Home Relates to A Neighborhood …
When a home opens up and relates to a neighborhood, the increased interaction and visual relationship with the neighbors creates a more secure and happier environment and, even better, the happiness generated in a home and amplified in the neighborhood is contagious and spreads.2016 TEDx Video – (8:13-8:28)
Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2020
The Forgotten Front Porch Is Making a Comeback, by Spike Carlsen
I observed during the pandemic that residential high density creates isolation and single-family neighborhoods generate interaction. Many people in older neighborhoods like Highland Park or Old East Dallas mentioned to me that they had never seen their neighbors more than when they were sheltering in place. It is easy to understand why. Homeowners were spending time on their front porches waving and speaking to neighbors. I would see people walking and riding bikes through the neighborhood, stopping and saying hello to each other.
Interior Space Can Be Liberated by Boundless Exterior Space
Villages with treehouses, teepees, sod houses or simple huts demonstrate how a small core interior space can be liberated by boundless exterior space where the majority of everyday living takes place.2016 TEDx Video – (8:39-8:55)
Whether one is in a small rudimentary structure or a small urban apartment, residents desire to be outside in nature or nearby parks. The pandemic has heightened this understanding of what makes us happy.
Lincoln Institute, October 7, 2020
Pioneer Homes Inspired Texas Modern Homes
We see this influence on the Texas Modern homes by David Williams and O’Neil Ford. These architects in the 1930s understood and identified the most magnificent sites for their pioneer inspired homes.2016 TEDx Video – (9:00-9:08)
When people were able, they abandoned their large city houses and luxury apartments for much smaller country cottages or cabins during the pandemic and had the time of their lives while immersed in nature. Also we saw in 2020 how there was a heightened appreciation for the original Texas Modern-style home David Williams designed in University Park, along Turtle Creek. This home had been on the market for seven years. The qualities of this pioneer inspired home that opens to and relates to nature brought heightened interest and reverence as the larger community started seeing the merits of this home in a whole new way, precipitating its purchase.
A Magnificent Site Is More Than A Good Location
A magnificent site is more than a good location. It’s what is nearby, or in the distance—a meadow, a park, a lake, topography, trails, or a dramatic urban landscape.2016 TEDx Video – (9:09-9:24)
Bloomberg City Lab, April 9, 2020
The Power of Parks in a Pandemic, by John Surico
We acquired a better understanding of what makes us happy. Prices of small condominiums dropped. Prices of homes on acreage or next to acreage or parks went up. Homes next to a lake or forest soared in price. We now have a greater desire for nature than density.
People Love Homes That Open to Nature
Dynamic settings beg for bridges, balconies, porches, screened-in rooms to push us further into nature and the environment. Here windows framing great views can become our artwork and the low winter sun raking patterns across the floors and ceilings often generate a smile. We love our homes when it is a private sanctuary and it opens to nature and the neighborhood.2016 TEDx Video – (9:30-10:01)
Sebastian Salvado emphasizes how people, “…had to use their porches and lawns as informal social spaces as gathering places like cafes have shut down.”
Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2020
Home Design for the Post-Covid-Pandemic Age, by Sebastian Salvado.
During the pandemic homeowners have reacquainted themselves with the joy of outdoor rooms by spending great amounts of time on their porches and balconies, enjoying the fresh air and nature. In 2020, lumber prices doubled primarily for all the home projects that people were doing while they were sheltering in place. One can only imagine how many decks were built, porches expanded, and outdoor rooms screened to make the home a happier place to live, work and play in on a daily basis.
Realtor.com – September 24, 2020
Lauren Sieben wrote that the number one upgrade buyers want in the COVID-19 era is an upgrade in your outdoor space.
What Makes Us Happy – Nature
Much has been written by me and others about our need for nature to be happy in our homes and lives.
In pandemic, people are turning to nature—especially women, by University of Vermont
Top 5 Inspired Homes to Shelter in Place, Fall 2020, by Douglas Newby
Organic Urbanism Encourages Community, Embraces Nature, by Douglas Newby
A Home Is the American Dream—But We Forget to Dream
We have been taught that owning a home is the American dream, but we forget to dream. We all know that America and our culture is founded on the pursuit of happiness, and yet so often I see we put happiness on the back burner when we built or buy a home, robbing us of the rich experience of living in a home that makes us happy every day.2016 TEDx Video – (10:01-10:21)
The mad rush for homes despite the crash of the stock market, and at the height of the pandemic, showed how true this statement is that buyers had previously put happiness on the back burner when they built or bought a home. Then, during the pandemic, homebuyers put happiness in the home on the front burner, which motivated them to buy a new home. The people that loved their home and were in a home with the characteristics of what makes us happy, loved being at home when shelter in place was enforced. The majority of people, when they were forced to live, work and play in the home 24 hours a day, every day, couldn’t stand their home and quickly tried to find another one. This is the reason Dallas had the strongest real estate market in 50 years and people were on the move across America.
Vanity Fair, September 2, 2020
A Home Is Our Greatest Design Decision
We are told our home is our greatest design decision, and yet a home’s design is often reduced to a style or an architectural facade representing how we want to be perceived.2016 TEDx Video – (10:28-10:34)
Styles Come and Go but Great Design Is Forever
We need to remember that styles come and go, but great design is forever.2016 TEDx Video – (11:03-11:10)
Prior to the pandemic, people often bought a home to reflect how they wanted to be perceived. However, during the pandemic, personal happiness and peace of mind took priority over appealing to the perception of others. A homeowner no longer cared about what style home they were in, whether it was a Tudor or a midcentury or a modern space. They cared that the home had the characteristics and environment of what makes us happy. Styles became irrelevant. Great design became paramount.
Darkness of Pandemic Shined Light on Desire for Sunlight
People love sunlight. Whenever I visit a home an owner really loves, it usually has sightlines into several rooms. I find it remarkable how I can stand in one room and am able to see sunlight in three or four different directions.2016 TEDx Video – (11:16-11:27)
Why The Sun Makes You Happier, by Jillian Billard
It is not a new idea that people love sunlight in their homes, but we have never had people talking about sunlight in a home like they have during the pandemic. Architects talk about it, interior designers talk about it, realtors tout it in their MLS remarks, and homeowners desire it. The darkness of the pandemic shined light on the desire for sunlight.
An Expensive Neighborhood Does Not Guarantee A Lovely Site
An expensive neighborhood does not guarantee a lovely site, while an inexpensive neighborhood might provide a glorious site.2016 TEDx Video – (11:40-11:47)
I have found people obsessed with the best neighborhood are often indifferent to a site when the worst site in the best neighborhood rarely creates as much happiness as the best site in a bad neighborhood. This is probably the reason derelict neighborhoods become the most fashionable over time.2016 TEDx Video – (11:48-12:08)
As expensive beautiful single-family neighborhoods like Highland Park held their value or went up in value during the pandemic, niche neighborhoods, like the tree-lined streets of Northern Hills or the estate homes of White Rock Lake outside of the prestigious Highland Park Independent School District, soared in value. People put a priority on land and views and homes that make us happy over the prestige of a sought-after neighborhood. There are many reasons people are fleeing San Francisco and New York, but one of the reasons is the allure of these high-priced neighborhoods do not match the happiness created by less expensive homes surrounded by nature in more affordable parts of the country.
Everyone Loves Architect-Designed Homes Which Contribute to What Makes Us Happy
Still, we need more architect-designed homes. Everyone loves architect-designed homes.2016 TEDx Video – (14:15-14:17)
When people become more thoughtful about their homes, they like homes that have had more thought put into them.
Raised in an Architect-Designed Home Inspires Own Architect-Designed Home
I’ve noticed when someone grows up in an architect-designed home, some day they have an architect design their own home. I recall one woman who was raised by her parents in a stately mansion, designed by the great architects Otto Lang and Frank Witchell on the grandest boulevard in Dallas. When it came time for her own home, she found a hidden ravine at the end of a street, where her architect James Pratt designed a modern home, where you entered the home over the ravine on a footbridge, to the roof, and from there you descended into the living room.
Regardless of these being two very different houses, they share what makes us happy: great design, a strong architectural point of view, a beautiful setting relating to nature and the neighborhood, sightlines into several rooms, sunlight pouring in from many directions, pleasing proportions, and many other architectural triumphs and transformations that make us happy. Good locations come and go, but a great site is forever.2016 TEDx Video – (14:19-15:29)
For decades before the pandemic, those familiar with living in architect-designed homes and homes that made them happy purposely sought out a house later in their life with characteristics that would make them happy. For generations, architect-designed homes were for an elite club of people in the know.
Architects didn’t advertise their services. Wonderful homes were only open to the owners’ friends. The majority of people have never been exposed to thoughtful design. Twenty-five years ago, the internet made architecture and design more readily available. Architectural tours replaced generic home tours. The pandemic has intensified our interest and accelerates our knowledge and understanding of what makes us happy in a home. At one time only people who grew up in an architect-designed home had the pleasure of knowing what makes us happy in a home.
Amusing to Look Back at MLS Books and Preoccupation with Statistics
I think in a few years, just like MLS books, we will look back at 2016 with amusement, as a time when we were consumed with a home’s statistics and data instead of understanding what is most important—homes that make us happy.2016 TEDx Video – (15:30-15:54)
Now We Need to Look at What Makes Us Happy
We have seen a total shift in the market. Homebuyers are looking beyond the latest appliance, style or school district and are looking for homes that their family will enjoy living, playing and working in 24 hours a day.
We Needed A Revolution – We Got A Pandemic
We need a revolution.2016 TEDx Video – (15:55-15:56)
We got a pandemic. This pandemic forced a revolution on how we thought about homes.
Now Is the Time to Stand Up for Good Design – This is What Makes Us Happy
Now is the time for us to stand up for good design, to applaud good design, and insist on good design for ourselves, our friends, and our community.2016 TEDx Video – (16:00-16:03)
The pandemic isolated us and brought us together. Inferior design and sites were shunned. The triumph of good design was shown by the vibrant marketplace and the premium people paid for lovely sites with architecturally significant homes on them expressing what makes us happy.