When Beverly O’Mara and Mark Uriu converted their loft in Jersey City, N.J., into a live-work space in 2015, they envisioned an airy, open apartment where Ms. O’Mara could have an art studio and Mr. Uriu could work from home on occasion.
They added elements that made sense at the time, installing shoji screens that provided privacy and light, but no sound barrier. And for a while, it worked beautifully.
Then Covid changed everything. Suddenly the couple found themselves working from home full time, trying to come up with makeshift solutions for a space that had already undergone a $250,000 renovation.
For millions of Americans, the pandemic ushered in an era of remodeling, as they used the time at home to remake kitchens, bathrooms and living spaces to accommodate a more domestic lifestyle. (Year-over-year spending on home remodeling grew by more than 9 percent from the third quarter of 2019 to the third quarter of 2021, to $357 billion a year, according to the Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.) But what if you renovated before the pandemic — and spent a lot of money on it — and now you had to redo it to reflect a new reality?
Like many others, Ms. O’Mara, 66, and Mr. Uriu, 65, found themselves running headlong into the limits of a design imagined for a prepandemic lifestyle and wondering what modifications, if any, would make their home more functional.
“We’ve seen these interesting new demands put on our spaces, and they are absolutely a byproduct of the shifting lifestyle,” said Jeff Jordan, a Rutherford, N.J., architect who designed the couple’s renovation and is seeing a shift in how homeowners think about renovation.
For those considering remodeling now, Ms. O’Mara and Mr. Uriu’s project offers some useful lessons.
The creative, cost-saving strategies they adopted early on, like choosing affordable building materials, are even more valuable now, as material and labor costs are high. And dedicating more space to family life proved to be a prescient decision during the first year of the pandemic, when the grandchildren often visited, using the open living space as a playroom, a respite from their small, cramped Brooklyn apartment.
Other decisions did not hold up as well, particularly putting Mr. Uriu’s office directly above Ms. O’Mara’s studio, with no wall to act as a sound barrier. Desperate for more space and quiet, he turned the 4-by-7-foot closet in the guest room into his office. To enter, he has to duck under a beam.
Two years into the pandemic, he finds himself working in a space that Ms. O’Mara likens to the dwarfed 7½ floor in the 1999 film “Being John Malkovich.” When he is seated, Mr. Uriu can look out under the beam and see across the apartment and out the windows to the street below. “When you’re sitting down,” he said, “you don’t feel like you’re in a closet.”