From fixtures to fabrics, Marshall Erb Design weighs in on the antiviral design trends that are taking hold in the luxury sector—and gives us all some room to breathe.
Out of all of the things that the pandemic has brought into focus, perhaps the thing that hits closest to home is, well, our homes. “Over the last nine months, people have gone from adjusting to working from home to really analyzing how their spaces function and make them feel,” says Marshall Erb, lead interior design at Marshall Erb Design in Chicago. “It started with evaluating how our homes worked while we sheltered in place—an office, a homeschooling space, sanitizing stops—but has since evolved into a larger conversation about all-encompassing, long-term design solutions for our shared new reality, one where ‘quality of life in a pandemic’ is actually a thing.”
You can almost see the cultural shift taking place... With a heightened awareness surrounding health and safety protocols, and a widespread fear of germs, comes a demand for (in the simplest of terms) cleaner homes. And, according to Erb, materiality and air quality are the topics du jour. “Science isn’t sexy, but it can help keep you safe,” says Erb, who has been busy engaging his vendor reps for fixtures and finishes that repel and, in some cases, attack viruses. “There are myriad steps that can be taken through smart design to better safeguard your home against the spread of harmful bacteria.”
As logic would suggest, high-touch surfaces like door handles and drawer pulls are some of the worst offenders when it comes to collecting bacteria and becoming a breeding ground for living microorganisms. “Copper-containing metals like brass and bronze have antibacterial properties—a selling point for copper-containing doorknobs, sink handles and other fixtures,” informs Erb. “The ions in copper alloys are both antiviral and antibacterial, able to kill more than 99.9 percent of bacteria within two hours.” And for those who aren’t keen on golden accents, alternatives do exist. Douglas Mockett, for example, the California-based purveyor of fine architectural hardware, sells a clear antimicrobial lacquer that can coat any hardware (and is said to kill 99.9 percent of germs using FDA-approved materials).
Another touch-surface category that’s getting a lot of attention right now is our walls and, therefore, our paint. And while antimicrobial paint isn’t new to the market, the offerings are expanding—fast. “Antimicrobial paint has additives that make the painted surface resistant to microbes such as fungi, viruses and bacteria,” informs Erb, pointing out that nasty stuff like mold and mildew fall into this category, as do bacteria such as Staph, MRSA and E. coli. “The most widely available antimicrobial paint is Sherwin-Williams’ Paint Shield, which kills 99 percent of bacteria. It’s available in more than 500 colors! And now luxury paint brands are getting in on the antimicrobial action, too, including Farrow & Ball with its Modern Emulsion line. Paint that was once reserved for hospitals, long-term care facilities and other health care settings, is now being used in residential applications—and not just in bathrooms and laundry rooms anymore.”
Microbe-resistant fabrics are also gaining in popularity—and, these days, are looking more tony than tough. “Bringing outdoor fabrics inside for high-traffic areas and kitchens is nothing new, especially when kids and pets are part of the equation,” says Erb. “But now we’re seeing companies like Knoll, a brand that's best-known for creating durable textiles for office environments, unveiling lines of antimicrobial fabrics, while others are now offering to pre-treat their fabrics with solutions that block the growth of mold and bacteria. I definitely think we will be seeing more and more fabric houses adding this option to their lines in the near future.”
As for the appliances industry, the future is now. For example, all of LG Electronics’ refrigerators now come equipped with sterilizing ultraviolet lights while Whirlpool washing machines feature built-in heating that removes germs and allergens from clothes. And Beko Electrical Appliances, a Turkish manufacturer, has created an entirely new category: a cleaning cabinet. Resembling a microwave in size and shape, the stand-alone appliance is designed to disinfect high-touch everyday items such as wallets and mobile phones courtesy of the company’s “HygieneShield” technology. Beko also boasts refrigerators and ovens equipped with disinfection drawers.
Air quality is also a hot topic of concern, one that Marshall Erb Design is putting front and center for clients. “HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] systems aren’t sexy either, but they are an integral part of a healthy home’s infrastructure,” says Erb. “And when it comes to airborne pathogens, humidification is huge.” According to a recent article in Health magazine, dry indoor air (meaning air with less than 40 percent humidity) can impact the chances of catching a virus in three ways: impairing the respiratory immune system’s defenses, increasing the virus’ “float” time, and elongating the virus’ survival time. “Maintaining a standard relative humidity level indoors that’s between 40 and 60 percent is recommended,” adds Erb.
So while the impact COVID-19 is having on design products is undeniable—air purification systems, appliances, building materials, decor and textiles—Erb is also predicting that the pandemic will have a lasting effect on architecture, too. “For the last five years, all anyone has wanted is open-concept living,” says Erb. “But now that families are working from home—and the companies that they work for are realizing that WFH scenarios can actually be productive with less overhead—having the entire brood in one large room, all within earshot of one another, isn’t productive for anyone. Having more defined spaces is coming back in a big way.”