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Part 1: Latest Trends Emerging From The COVID-19 Pandemic

We hear from Xiaojing Huang of Yang Design and Barbara Marshall of Marshall Design.

Editor’s note: This is the first part of the fourth story in a six-month-long collaboration we are doing with the Interior Design Confederation Singapore to examine how the industry can up its game. Read the second part here.

What form will the interior design industry take following the impact of COVID-19?

We get inputs from a Chinese futurist and an Australian trend-spotter, who each offer a unique perspective from their vantage point.

Four Trends From China

By Xiaojing Huang, Strategy Director and Partner, Yang Design

1. Unbalance

Competitive urban life almost overwhelmed our physical and mental health, and the sudden outbreak of COVID-19 made all of us get in to a whirlpool of tremendous impact. Under the consumption wave, people brought great discomfort to the world, and urgently pursuit the healthy life. We need to balance nature, health, and the world.

The epidemic delayed the overall sleep time by 2-3 hours. Smart products and food that helps sleeping are popular, e.g. both Apple and MI patent AI smart bed.

With the launch of national policies on carbon neutralization, plastic ban and plastic reduction in 2020, China's sustainable market finally began to be opened. Interior material trend is about the substitutes for plastic, and to recycle material. It can be applied to panel, ceiling and floor, and furniture pieces.

2. Digital Post-Mankind

The virtual world and human civilisation have become deeply bound together, and the digital world has become a realm in which we seek transmigration. Many Asian consumers especially are influenced by the fantasy world created by Sci-Fi movies and games. Interior design can merge the virtual and real worlds, especially in retail and entertainment. For instance, Argentine designer Andrés Reisinger auctioned 10 pieces of virtual furniture online during which he made more than US$450,000 in 10 minutes.

3. Nation Oriented

Young people are moving from a foreign-oriented to a locally-oriented cultural identity, and looking for inspiration in intangible cultural heritage. In 2020, more than 200 million users purchased intangible cultural heritage products online, of which post-2000s consumers increased by 50 percent. This cultural confidence will continue to be inspiring for interior design style, color and material. It can be widely applied to housing, retail and offices. As another example, Hermes’ luxury brand Shangxia combines Chinese traditional handicrafts with contemporary design and is very well-received.

4. Freeing The Body

Since 2017, certain parts of China have registered larger female populations than men, such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Chinese women rank high in the world in terms of professional and technical practitioners and enrollment rate of higher education. The work participation rate of Chinese women has reached 70 percent, ranking first in the world. With the improvement of income and education, Chinese women have a louder voice in the consumer market. When the beauty standard is simplified by social media, women can now tear off the labels that once overwhelmed them. Their new voices call for feeling of freedom, releasing their true nature, pleasing themselves. The trend is especially obvious in soft upholstery and interior decoration, e.g. mirrors in irregular shapes, sofas and beds with trim details, chairs and cushions in knitting, and soft but powerful colours.


Flexibility, Adaptation, Resilience

By Barbara Marshall, Director, Marshall Design


COVID-19 has shown that not only must our economies be flexible to deal with supply chain and labour disruptions, but so does our built environment.

Reliance on long and complex value chains for materials has crippled construction and blown building costs out of the water. The precariousness of supply has accelerated the search for alternatives.

Innovative materials and methods that are readily available and adaptable to local conditions are a global trend addressing both sourcing and sustainability.

Some of these materials are now emerging from experimental development to production at scale. Hempcrete, bamboo and bio composites like the rice hull/glass and mycelium bricks developed by RMIT University in Melbourne are all offering solutions to address sustainable and flexible construction.

Using additive manufacturing (3D printing), archimats, developed by Monash University, are part of the emerging field of “architectured” materials with interlocking internal structures that give them greater flexibility and freedom than conventional materials such as concrete.

Project leader Professor Yuri Estrin, an Honorary Professorial Fellow in Monash University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, said that a further benefit of archimats was the ease of assembly and disassembly they provide a structure, as well as the almost complete recyclability of the elements involved – a key requirement for future flexible construction techniques of both permanent and temporary building.

The drive for flexibility takes us further into interior design. Open plan living  has many advantages in the feeling of spaciousness but the changes in use thrown up by the pandemic have revealed some of the downsides.

Living and working in a single multifunction space has caused issues such as privacy and noise. Quarantining the unwell and conflicting activities can make us long for a few more doors to slam.

Quiet spaces that can be shut off by doors or screens are now recognised as necessary for respite and mental health. Allowing interiors to be reconfigured easily and quickly is a requirement in new builds that is going to continue for the foreseeable future.

Likewise, a built-in flexibility to allow for additional accommodation for extended families is a new demand for both planners and architects alike, as the pandemic has revealed how the separation of families and community support added both risk and stress.

Modular systems and the easy conversion of underutilised spaces to new functions has grown exponentially, not just for the home office but other activities that have been found necessary in times of isolation, such as art and creative pursuits, music practice and physical fitness.

The kitchen, once thought to be no longer necessary in modern apartments, is having a resurgence as social distancing has made restaurant dining less pleasurable. Even as hospitality venues reopen, the trend to home dining and entertainment will continue for some time.


Our cities have born the shock of COVID-19, revealing how poorly much of the built environment is designed to cope with seismic shifts in society’s needs. The flight from the city to the suburbs and regions has left swathes of retail and office space abandoned as work and shopping patterns moved online and to diverse locations. It’s not going to change any time soon.

City planners and the owners of buildings, especially high rise office towers, are facing the prospect of finding new uses for this very expensive real estate. Adapting these spaces will require considerable creativity. Traffic flow, density limits, air quality, bio active materials to prevent infection spread, access to natural light and air are priorities.

Companies such as Arup are finding opportunities in advising building owners and occupiers of new innovations in monitoring the building’s environmental performance and potential alternative uses.

Adapting interiors for residential occupancy is the easiest option but without a supporting street scape of vibrant mixed-use businesses and open, green spaces within walking distance, the success of this approach is doubtful.

Collaboration of owners and developers with city planners and designers to create  ecosystems of residential, office, hospitality, recreation and creative industries, or even urban farms, to transform under occupied office towers is an accelerating trend.


The hidden pandemic of COVID-19 is mental health. The OECD’s estimate of the global toll is enormous. Building resilience in terms of social support is the job of governments and communities. However, designers of the built environment can play an integral role in fostering mental and physical resilience.

Home and work spaces play a crucial role in our ability to concentrate, relax, sleep, learn and communicate. Natural light and air have been identified not just as desirable attributes to a room, but necessary to the health of the occupants.

New planning laws in Melbourne Australia are addressing the lack of opening windows and natural light in apartments, since this has been identified as a contributor to the spread of infection.

Access to green spaces for recreation is another requirement. For interior designers the choices of colour, materials and finishes can have a positive effect on the mood and emotional resilience of the occupier. The prevalence of the all-white interior should come with a warning. Visual exhaustion can be brought on by a lack of contrast of colour and focus.

Shadowed areas of retreat provide respite, as do changes in surface finishes to give tactile variation. We respond to surfaces that show the resilience of wear and healing as we do.

Biophilic principles are a good place to start employing design concepts from nature. Connection with the natural world is an inherent desire for all humans. This is the primary principle to relieve stress, improve productivity and creativity and most appropriately, post-pandemic, elicit a restorative response in health and well-being.  

Low Shi Ping
Top Image:
Yang Design
25 April 2022