How design pros changed their own homes during the pandemic


A lot of us made design changes to our homes during the pandemic to accommodate more people in the family living, working and studying in the house nearly 24/7 for months on end. Interior designer Melissa Benham of Studio Gild, who works on projects in Chicago for BGD&C and in Los Angeles, where she lives, is no exception.

“I definitely did make a couple of changes,” said Benham. “Being able to be outside a lot in Los Angeles really helped, so I amped up my outdoor space. I purchased new furniture—an outdoor sofa, lounge chairs, side tables, and a plethora of new planters and plants to cover every inch of space. It’s been wonderful to be able to bring my laptop outside and take work calls while getting fresh air and a dose of vitamin D. My pups enjoy it too!”

Pictured above: Designer Melissa Benham added plants to green up her outdoor space.

Pictured above: Melissa Benham converted her dining room into an office.

Since the local nursery was one of the few retail outlets open during the pandemic, Benham says she visited every other week. “I went for a little dose of green,” she says. “It was therapeutic and calming.”

Another change she made? Converting her dining room into an office. Before the pandemic, she had a small, closed-off room she used as an office, but she didn’t enjoy being in it much, using it only to check emails. In her new dining room-turned-office, however, “I sit there for long periods of time,” because it is open and “more integrated” with the rest of the house.
“I updated my dining room with a 1970s vintage Italian table,” Benham says. “I also shuffled all but one dining chair throughout other rooms in my house, so it didn’t feel like I was camping out at a dining table, but rather more purposefully enjoying a gorgeous, statement desk in a legitimate workspace. It’s easy to stash my laptop and work materials away and bring back the other chairs when the table needs to function for dining. It’s also brought a lot of joy to introduce such a sculptural piece that I can enjoy even when it’s not in use.”

Because she found herself on a lot of Zoom calls during the lockdown, she also put some effort into a backdrop in her new office. “I already had some really beautiful shelves behind the table,” she says, so she spruced it up, adding some new accessories.

Will the changes be permanent? “I feel like we’ll continue working remotely quite a bit. And I feel like I wasn’t really enjoying the dining room that much before. Now I enjoy it every day instead of twice a year.”

A mood board shows ideas for a teen hangout space.

A new hangout space for teens

Benham has several clients who enlisted her to make changes to their homes due to the pandemic and lockdown.

“People are looking to create special places for their kids,” Benham says. “They want to be the cool house on the block where people want to hang out.” She’s creating Ninja rooms, home theaters, teen hangout rooms, and other creatively programmed spaces for homes.

In the unfinished attic space of a BGD&C home in Lincoln Park, Benham is creating a gaming zone for the owners’ three teenage boys, “a very specific design for computer and TV gaming.” She’s also creating a teen lounge (sans bar) in the basement, transforming it from a space that worked for their younger selves.

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