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Silicon Valley Architect Says the Pandemic Brought Design Back to Basics, Comfort and Functionality

Even in the biggest open-plan houses, people now want to a small, cozy space to unwind with family, Mary Maydan says

By Beckie Strum | Mansion Global

The pandemic triggered an unprecedented shift in people’s lifestyles, which suddenly demanded that homes work overtime as offices, schools, entertainment and, of course, comfort in a time of crisis.

It meant that above all, people needed their spaces to be flexible, said Mary Maydan, founder and principal of Maydan Architects, whose ultra-modern aesthetic is well at home in the Silicon Valley tech hub of Palo Alto, California, where she’s based. Over the past year, Ms. Maydan, said she’s worked with a number of clients not on remodels, per se, but on “reshaping” their houses to fit the moment at hand.

“One of our clients in San Francisco, we had designed for them a beautiful library, a statement piece,” Ms. Maydan said. During the pandemic, Maydan Architects went back and “redesigned the room a little bit, so there could be a standing desk for their college-age daughter, who was studying at home.”

Ms. Maydan, who launched her firm in 2004, said she looks at each house she designs as an artistic challenge, incorporating open spaces, clean lines and harmony with the outdoors into each project. We caught up with her to find out more about how the past year has shifted her clients’ design needs.

Mary Maydan: The first few months were really difficult, especially with everyone’s kids being at home. We really slowed down.

But I will say the last year has really made everyone more technologically savvy, from carpenters to show room managers. Many suppliers updated their websites and made it really easy to see merchandise online and even conduct showroom visits. But you know there’s only so much you can do—you can’t really check if a sofa is comfortable. We’re grateful that suppliers were so helpful, but I am so eager to go back to showrooms and to design fairs and everything we’re used to because for me, traveling is really a source of inspiration.

We kind of got used to our new normal, and it’s surprising how well the market is doing now in our area.

MG: Has the health crisis changed how people want to live in their spaces?

MM: Definitely.It seems like everybody is going back to basics, which fits with how we think at our firm. We never like to design houses that try to be ostentatious. We always look for serenity and not for noise. And I think that, in general, this is the direction that architecture and design take today.

Being sheltered at home for months made us realize that what we really need from our house is to make it our sanctuary and be comfortable. It’s not flaunting wealth or gold-plated door knobs. It’s comfort and tranquility, and a well-designed layout that really works for us 24/7.

MG: What are some of the things clients have asked for?

MM: Maximum connection among family members while still giving everyone a sense of privacy. That’s basically what I see our clients asking for right now.

The principles of modern design are really shaping the current situation, so lots of natural light, clean lines, seamless flow between indoors and outdoors—everybody wants to feel connected to nature right now.

Funny enough, one other thing that I noticed a lot of people asking about is the HVAC. In the past, clients spent many hours selecting the perfect light fixture, but if you tried to talk to them about the mechanical systems, they were very bored. Now, ventilation is now at the top of everyone’s list.

MG: We’ve heard of a shifting preference away from open-plan homes to ones with more defined spaces. Have you seen that affect your own work?

MM: Absolutely. In our experience, clients still want an open floor plan. They still want the kitchen to be connected to the living room and the dining room, everyone likes these big spaces. But they want it to be flexible, so it will be functional all day long for the different things that come up during the day.

Two things we’re doing are first, working on making spaces multifunctional. In many of our projects, we have a small area off the family room that can be enclosed either with a beautiful glass door or a really neat screen so you have privacy, but it can also be open and be part of the big space. Also, the trend of home offices is here to stay. So we are definitely making a priority to add home offices or a separate private room for our clients. It doesn’t have to be very big, it just needs to be comfortable with lots of storage.

MG: What is your dream home?

MM: My real dream property, it would be an apartment or a penthouse in New York, ideally on the Upper West Side—where I lived when I was in my 20s—and with large windows overlooking Central Park and the New York skyline.

MG: What is your favorite room in your current home?

MM: This is actually something I notice with all our clients. I think every home should have a small space. It’s really interesting to see that at the end of the day, even people who chose to build huge mansions, love to relax and wind down in a cozy small space that feels more intimate. I remember reading in Michelle Obama’s biography that her favorite place to sit and relax at the White House was in her walk-in closet.

We are eight people in my house, including my parents. It’s a big house and you will often find my four kids, followed by my husband and me sitting in my parents cozy family room [in the guest house]. We have such big spaces, but we all crowd in there.


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