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At-home Bars And Wipe-clean Furniture: How The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Impact Interior Design Trends

Our homes have played a pivotal role during the coronavirus crisis. No longer just a place to rest our weary heads at the end of a long day, since lockdown began they have transformed into makeshift offices, gyms and even classrooms.

But, with so many different activities taking place under one roof, cramped apartments and family townhouses alike have been forced to adapt to new functionality, and the way we look at these spaces is changing, too.

“For many people the start of lockdown was the first time they saw their homes during the [working] day and really had to spend time interacting with their decor choices,” explains Kate Watson-Smyth, founder of interiors blog Mad About The House and author of 101 Interior Design Answers.Download the new Independent Premium app

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“Aside from the obvious point of having to make space to work from home, we also had to try and find ways to create rooms where work wasn’t present – tricky when the coffee table was the new desk.”

While the strict stay-at-home orders have gradually lifted, the past few months have changed the way we collectively understand the concept of home and it is likely they will also impact how we design spaces in the future.

From the need for distinct zones with different decor to help create delineation between work and play, to materials that are easy to keep clean and mitigate the spread of disease, the future of interior design looks set to reflect a world that has been forever changed by the coronavirus.

Here, we speak to interior experts about the lessons that have been learned during lockdown and how the way we style our homes will evolve post-Covid.Flexible spaces

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The last few months have taught us that our homes not only have to look good but have the ability to wear several hats and morph from more social spaces, to productive home offices and home-schooling environments.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 70 per cent of Brits had never worked from home before the coronavirus but, fast forward to present day and an estimated 20 million people have swapped crowded offices for makeshift workspaces in their own homes.

While lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease, with schools, bars and gyms all reopening, many businesses are considering allowing their employees to work from home for the foreseeable, including Twitter, which recently announced it will allow some of its workforce to continue doing so “forever” if they choose.

So, what is the best way to make sure a room can be used for different functions? Lucy St George, co-founder of homeware emporium Rockett St George, says the key is to work with what you have and make the most of every inch of space with clever storage that ensures your home feels both chic and organised and can provide each family member the opportunity to bring out what they need at different times of the day and then hide it all away once the day is complete, so family life can resume.

Justin recently built a garden studio to create a designated office space (Justin Coakley)

“When it comes to storage, there are so many incredible options available for all price ranges. For example, bench seating with hidden storage is a great way to add more storage space to your home and fold-out workstations or ladder shelves with built-in desks provide a handy, space-saving solution that can be styled to blend in with the rest of your home,” she explains. “Working from a laptop is brilliant too as it provides you with the flexibility to work just about anywhere but, above all, it’s time to get creative with space and design your home around the new demands of everyday life.”

Ruth Wassermann, design director of furniture and homeware brand MADE, adds that this flexibility also has to extend to bridging the gap between a personal home and a professional home – as more of us give our colleagues a window into our living room through Zoom calls – meaning we feel pressure to curate (and keep clutter-free).

Ruth Wassermann, design director of furniture and homeware brand MADE, adds that people are even starting to design their homes for Zoom calls.

“I’ve noticed a lot of my colleagues choosing plants like monstera, because they’re particularly good as a backdrop on video calls. I’ve been a lifelong fan of houseplants, and large-scale ones like cheese plants, or rubber plants create a real jungle vibe as well as helping with video decor,” she says.

If you don’t have space for this, Wassermann recommends choosing smaller plants on elevated planters.Home is where the hygiene is

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Throughout the pandemic, hygiene has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds and this is something that Kelly Hoppen, interior designer and former-Dragon’s Den panellist, predicts will become a priority for people when designing their homes.

This, she says, will bring many interesting changes inside our homes, including a move towards germ-resistant materials, smart technology and easy-to-clean hard surfaces.

“We have to learn to live alongside this virus now and so I think we will continue to find ways to make homes more sanitised. Whether it’s making big changes like using materials which have antibacterial properties or surfaces which are easy to clean,” she explains, adding that people are also likely to incorporate more stylish bins and luxurious hand sanitiser containers to help such new necessities “feel integrated and not too clinical or out of place”.

“In guest bathrooms, soap dispensers that are sensor-activated rather than with touch will be more present and at the very high end, we are already looking at different ways to design to meet the demands of our clients who want a solution in their homes to the pandemic,” Hoppen says, explaining that some people are already requesting adaptations to their homes such as extra hand wash basins and outdoor areas to remove clothing like boots or outer layers that may be contaminated.

Watson-Smyth agrees, adding that she too has heard talk of people redesigning their spaces to include special “boot rooms” and porches to provide an area where outside shoes and coats can be removed and stored away from the main part of the house.Be our guest

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With impromptu meals out and trips to the cinema on hold for the time being, our homes are having to work extra hard,” says Goodger who predicts a surge in at-home entertaining.

After weeks of sheltering in place, the idea that home is a safe space has been cemented and, as such, people will look to create living environments that allow their lifestyles complete self-sufficiency with larger televisions, bars, and cosy seating areas all becoming significant factors, rather than unnecessary add-ons.

Duncan Campbell and Charlotte Rey, founders of design partnership and creative consultancy Campbell-Rey, suggest that the dining area is also likely to become a big focus for many people in the coming months. “The art of hosting was having a bit of a renaissance even before the pandemic and we believe this will only increase now,” they say, recommending people to invest in larger dining tables with multiple chairs placed around the room, decorative napkins, crockery, glassware and a well-stocked drinks cabinet.

As the weather gets warmer, patio get-togethers will also provide a safe way to enjoy the company of others in a private setting, with more people extending their living quarters outside.

“Home entertaining has become a really important factor for us to consider,” Coakley says. “It has been refreshing to see people take a keen interest in their gardens and create the ultimate outdoor entertaining spaces complete with home cinemas.

“The garden is now, more so than ever, being seen as an extension of the home and a hub for the family and friends to meet and enjoy one another company in a socially distant manner.”

St George agrees, adding that people can make their outside spaces feel more homely by treating it as they would any other room in the house with rugs, throws, cosy cushions and plenty of candles.The power of colour

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

It is often suggested that wellbeing and interiors go hand-in-hand, and even as we begin to venture outside more, many experts predict that people will be taking a closer look at their homes and how they can transform them into sanctuaries during these uncertain times.

For many, this starts with colour, says Lyndsey Goodger, founder of homeware boutique Rose & Grey. “It is important to create spaces that provide us with what we need as individuals,” she says. “Whether that be calming rooms with neutral tones and lots of natural materials to help relaxation, or bright and airy places that inspire productivity for home-working.”

If you’re looking to create a space that will inspire a peaceful mood and promote clear thinking, Justin Coakley, an interior designer and stylist, recommends opting for a muted colour-scheme and a move towards minimalism that won’t clutter the mind.

“There will be a big move towards cleaner looking interiors with more neutral colours and white being a big trend in interiors and one I see emerging out of the pandemic,” he says. “White has also traditionally been associated with cleanliness and hygiene so it only makes sense that in design we are drawn to it again in a rise to keep our spaces cleaner and better sanitised.”

Alternatively, if you want a room to energise you throughout the day, bright colours are the way to go.

“Much like a fresh application of red lipstick, the colour on our walls has the power to change how we feel,” a spokesperson for designer paint company Lick says. “The pandemic has been very tough and as a result we’ve noticed more and more people opting for brighter colours, such as yellows and blues to lift their mood and help keep spirits up. Particularly in communal spaces, where the whole family can benefit from a little lift. It’s amazing what a bright colour can do.”Bringing the outside in

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With lockdown making it harder for many people to enjoy some of their favourite outdoor spaces, there has been an uptick in the need to bring the outside in.

“We’ve noticed a new care for plant life during the pandemic,” says Sheena Murphy, founder interior design studio Nune. “Plants have a huge impact in a room and how we feel, and with so many people spending more time at home, extra care is being paid and there seems to be a growing appreciation for the act of enabling life and growth.”

Coakley aggrees, adding that at a time of such uncertainty more people are beginning to bring nature closer.

“It’s the one thing that we can rely on and makes us feel at ease and improves our wellbeing,” he says.

There has been a rise in people wanting to utilise their outdoor spaces during the pandemic (Justin Coakley)

“I have noticed a big move towards organic shapes and an re-introduction of earthy elements in the home. People are bringing the outside in and feel more connected to nature with greenery and plants in their immediate space.

“There has a also been a rise in people wanting to utilise their outdoor spaces more and incorporate garden studios or outdoor rooms that can double up as a workspace as well.”

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Medifast, Inc. Names Jim Maloney As Chief Financial Officer

BALTIMORE, July 20, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Medifast, Inc. (NYSE: MED), the company behind one of the fastest-growing health and wellness communities, OPTAVIA®, today announced that it has appointed James (Jim) Maloney as Chief Financial Officer, effective July 20, 2020. In his role, Mr. Maloney will be responsible for leading the finance function including all aspects of financial planning and analysis, setting Medifast’s financial and capital allocation strategies, and managing investor relations. He will serve as a member of the company’s leadership team and report directly to Chief Executive Officer Dan Chard.

“We are pleased to welcome Jim to the Medifast team as we continue on our mission to offer the world lifelong transformation, one healthy habit at a time,” said Chard. “Jim brings deep public company experience, a strong focus on capital allocation and an ability to manage the finance function of a fast-growing, dynamic and complex business. He has been responsible for managing large operations for global companies to support business objectives and growth. He also has a history of building value, which will be important as we aim to deliver long-term sustainable growth through our differentiated approach to health and wellness.”

“I am thrilled to join the team at Medifast. The company’s unique business model, collaborative culture and OPTAVIA’s robust and inspiring community provides the opportunity to drive significant value for stockholders,” said Maloney.

Mr. Maloney most recently served as Senior Vice President Chief Financial Officer of L.B. Foster Company, a publicly held global manufacturer and distributor of products and services for transportation and energy infrastructure.  Prior to L.B. Foster Company, he served as Chief Financial Officer of First Insight, Inc., a privately held company providing consumer data to leading retailers and brands, where he continues to serve as a Board Advisor. Before joining First Insight, Mr. Maloney held roles at the H.J. Heinz Company (“Heinz”), including Vice President of Global Financial Planning and Supply Chain Finance, Director of Finance for Supply Chain for Heinz North America, and Controller of Heinz North America.  He also held multiple roles in the U.S. And Europe at Ernst & Young LLP, including Senior Manager of the Assurance Practice. Mr. Maloney holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Clarion University and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Pittsburgh and is a Certified Public Accountant.

About Medifast: Medifast (NYSE: MED) is the company behind one of the fastest-growing health and wellness communities, OPTAVIA®, which offers Lifelong Transformation, One Healthy Habit at a Time®. Based on nearly 40 years of experience, Medifast has redefined direct selling by combining the best aspects of the model. Its community of thousands of independent OPTAVIA Coaches teach Clients to develop holistic healthy habits through products and clinically proven plans, the Habits of Health® Transformational System and comprehensive support from a community of like-minded people. In 2019, Medifast expanded the OPTAVIA movement globally, beginning with the Asia-Pacific region. Medifast is traded on the New York Stock Exchange and was named to Fortune’s 100 Fastest-Growing Companies list in 2019 and Forbes’ 100 Most Trustworthy Companies in America list in 2016 and 2017. For more information, visit www.MedifastInc.Com or www.OPTAVIA.Com.

Forward Looking Statements This release contains “forward-looking” statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, and the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.  These “forward-looking” statements are based on present circumstances and on Medifast’s predictions with respect to events that have not occurred, that may not occur, or that may occur with different consequences and timing than those now assumed or anticipated. 

Such forward-looking statements, including any statement of the plans and objectives of management for future operations and forecasts of future growth and value, are not guarantees of future performance or results and involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual events or results to differ materially from the events or results described in the forward-looking statements.  Such forward-looking statements are made only as of the date of this release and Medifast assumes no obligation to update forward-looking statements to reflect subsequent events or circumstances.  Readers should not place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements.

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In South Korea, No More Gangnam Style For Some As Top Officials Sell Apartments Amid Property Price Furore

SEOUL (Reuters) – As Seoul property prices soar, there’s a new apartment on sale this month: for the best part of an estimated $1 million, you could buy a piece of future Gangnam glitz from reluctant seller Noh Young-min – the chief of staff of President Moon Jae-in.

Noh is one of a group of senior government officials facing a public backlash over multiple home ownership in one of the world’s hottest property markets, where median apartment prices have rocketed more than 50% in three years, KB Bank data shows.

His move to sell his Gangnam crib, the size of about three parking spaces but worth about 1.1 billion won ($915,000) by current market prices, came just ahead of Friday’s government announcement that South Korea will further tighten property rules and impose heavier taxes on multiple homeowners in its latest effort to calm the market.

But more than 20 rounds of cooling measures in the past three years have failed to stop runaway prices. Effective or not, the new steps announced by finance minister Hong Nam-ki – including raising real estate taxes on multiple home-owners to up to 6% per year – will keep public focus an issue that is wiping out a surge in President Moon’s approval ratings from the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

His approval rating dropped to 47%, a Gallup Korea survey showed on Friday, down from last week’s 50% – the lowest in four months. In early May, Moon’s approval rating hovered around a lofty 70% after the ruling Democratic Party won an absolute majority in a parliamentary election.

“Today’s measures will not have much effect on stabilising the property market as the real estate tax hike will not be applied immediately,” said Kwon Dae-jung, real estate professor at Myongji University.

“The sale of high-ranking officials’ houses is them doing the right thing morally, but that will not directly contribute to stabilising the property market. It can indirectly affect the market by hinting that the government will strengthen its regulations but that’s about it – just giving signals.”

Anger over the failure to calm runaway home prices has extended to government officials with multiple residences, under pressure to sell second homes to show they are committed to policy focused on imposing heavier tax penalties and mortgage curbs for multiple home owners.

For some voters, frustration has already turned to resignation.

Park Byung-jin, a 40-year-old office worker in Incheon, west of Seoul, says he has lost hope in Moon’s policies.

“I’m not even angry. They have been keeping all the good homes, and telling us not to buy anything is extremely unconvincing,” he said.

‘DEEPLY ASHAMED’

Chief of staff Noh has found himself at the centre of the controversy, because he hadn’t sold his Gangnam apartment – small at about 46 square metres in size, but in an ageing building with huge development potential – some six months after instructing senior government officials to unload second homes.

Noh, who didn’t immediately answer calls seeking comment, announced the sale in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “With this opportunity, I will try to look back on myself and treat myself strictly going forward,” he wrote.

His statement came the day before Finance Minister Hong – announcer of Friday’s new taxes – himself committed to selling a second property.

“As a cabinet member, I’m deeply ashamed of myself in front of fellow citizens, and my acquaintances, amid controversy over multiple homes owned by public servants,” Hong said in a Facebook post.

Of 64 senior government officials required disclose their assets, some 18, or 28%, owned more than one property as of June this year, according to data analysed by the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice, a civic group.

Apart from Noh, at least five other officials in top government posts own homes in Gangnam and other expensive districts, according to the group.

The sales announced by Noh and Hong this week came after a stark warning by Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Wednesday, ordering government ministries to look into homeownership status among senior officials.

“Our policies won’t win people’s trust if senior officials own multiple properties,” Chung told a meeting of top government officials.

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Drogheda Social Housing Scheme Wins National Architecture Award

A social housing development for families and elderly people in Drogheda, Co Louth has been named the winner of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland’s (RIAI) 2020 public choice award.

Designed by Drogheda-based architecture practice McKevitt King on the site of a former fire station, the Tooting Meadow social housing development consists of 15 homes and was commissioned by the north and east housing association.

It is located on Scarlet Street and is named after Tooting Tower, which formed part of the nearby walls of Drogheda.

Kylemore Abbey interpretation project in Connemara, Co Galway designed by Axo Architects.

 Kylemore Abbey interpretation project in Connemara, Co Galway designed by Axo Architects.

RIAI president Ciaran O’Connor described the development as “the perfect example” of quality housing which “addresses the country’s changing demographics while also creating sustainable neighbourhoods in our towns and villages”.

Tooting Meadow “transformed a derelict site in the town centre into a mixed-unit development with community at its core,” said Mr O’Connor.

Tooting Meadow was one of 33 projects completed in 2019 and designed by RIAI-registered architects to be shortlisted for the public choice award.

Scoil Mhuire National School in Monivea, Co Galway, designed by SJK architects.

 Scoil Mhuire National School in Monivea, Co Galway, designed by SJK architects.

Kylemore Abbey interpretation project in Connemara, designed by Axo Architects, was awarded second place followed by Scoil Mhuire National School in Monivea, Co Galway, designed by SJK architects, in third.

RKD architects received the fourth place award for Roe and Co Distillery – the former Guinness Power House – in Dublin 8. Buildings across Ireland and abroad were shortlisted for the award with projects in Cork, Dublin, Galway, Tyrone, London and France considered for the prize.

An RIAI statement said the public choice award helped build awareness of the “important role that architecture plays in delivering Ireland’s societal and economic infrastructure”.

Roe and Co Distillery. Designed by RKD architects, at the former Guinness Power House in Dublin 8.

 Roe and Co Distillery. Designed by RKD architects, at the former Guinness Power House in Dublin 8.

The RIAI distributes architecture awards across a range of categories including sustainability, cultural/public buildings, learning environments, public spaces, urban design and innovation. The full list of award winners will be announced in the autumn.

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Meet The Style Influencer Changing Fashion For People With Disabilities

Beating the Odds profiles people who despite their physical and health challenges, have pushed on to pursue their dreams and accomplish some incredible things. 

Lauren “Lolo” Spencer, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, otherwise known as ALS, when she was 14 years old.

But the initials describing her condition are not how she describes herself. Instead, she uses adjectives like “authentic,” “fearless,” “passionate” and “appreciative.”

“I had made the decision a long time ago to not let my disability overcome anything that I’ve ever wanted to do or pursue in my life,” Spencer told In The Know.

And she’s stuck to that decision. Spencer is now a model, actress, style influencer and public speaker who sees her disability as an honor, not a hindrance.

“I figure if the good Lord put it on your life to have a disability, then that means he knows you can handle it and you can thrive,” Spencer told In The Know.

Spencer is definitely thriving. She’s appeared in award-winning films, developed a major social media following and even attended New York Fashion Week. Now, she’s focused on making sure people see her for what she’s done, not the disability she was diagnosed with.

“Are people gonna accept that I am a talent with a disability, and [that I] will be treated as just talent?” Spencer asked In The Know. “Because that is the goal — to see people with disabilities as people first.”

4 feel-good movies to stream while social distancing

If you liked this story, check out this previous episode of “Beating The Odds,” with ultramarathoner Amy Palmiero-Winters.

Other Posts From In The Know: 

Everlane’s first sitewide sale is happening right now

More than 80,000 Sephora shoppers love these exfoliating pads

Make your own cozy essentials with these trendy crochet kits

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Watch The D&AD Awards And Festival On Adobe Live

As we reported last month, Adobe has recently launched a series of live shows from the UK – “a daily dose of creativity” – as part of its Adobe Live service. But while that’s exciting enough, turns out that was just the start.

This summer there’ll be even more inspiration for creatives to enjoy, as Adobe teams up with D&AD, the global association for creative advertising and design. As a result of the new partnership with this global organisation, Adobe Live’s livestreams will now also include the D&AD Awards 2020 and the D&AD Festival keynotes.

We’re not just talking about awards announcements either. Adobe Presents: D&AD Awards will feature a series of in-depth panel discussions and live Q&A interviews with the D&AD judges, as well as behind-the-work live talks with winners, to explore the components of creative brilliance, uncover why the winning work was awarded, and reveal how it was made.

In addition, ‘Adobe Presents: D&AD Imagine Everything’ will see creative innovators take to Adobe Live to present their D&AD Festival keynotes, including speakers from NASA, Headspace and MoMA. This means everyone at home will be able to enjoy this inspirational series of talks, aimed at driving forward creative thinking, for free.

Want to be the first to know when the livestreams will launch? Subscribe to Adobe Live for free now. You’ll also be able to catch on-demand recordings of every session and keep up to date with all the latest Adobe programmes on the horizon, including its popular ‘Live from the Sofa’ series.

Adobe’s focus on online events to support its communities and customers follows the recent announcement that Adobe MAX, the world’s largest creativity conference, will for the first time be a fully digital experience, available to everyone for free.

The recent success of Adobe’s virtual Summit and its digital content activity, which attracted more than 450,000 attendees across the world, has underlined the strong demand for this kind of high-quality, digital content.

“At Adobe, we’re passionate about enabling creativity for all, and through our partnership with D&AD, are delighted to celebrate some of today’s best creative minds,” says Simon Morris, senior director of marketing at Adobe. “Times like these show us the power of creativity, its impact on the way we think and live. We’re incredibly proud to have a hugely active creative community on Adobe Live, and can’t wait to use this platform to inspire and engage them even further.”

Tim Linsday, D&AD Chairman, commented: “Each year, the foremost thinkers and practitioners from across the global creative industries submit outstanding work to D&AD Awards. 2020 is no exception, despite the extremely difficult situation the world is facing. Our exciting lineup of insight sessions, Q&As and ‘Behind the Work’ series will continue to give exceptional creative thinking the platform it deserves.”

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Museums Embrace Art Therapy Techniques For Unsettled Times

That museums are taking art therapy more seriously than ever is due in large part to a program at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts that allows physicians to prescribe free access to its galleries. The museum was also one of the first in North America to hire a full-time art therapist in 2017.

Stephen Legari, who took the job, normally sees about 1,200 participants each year, but demands for his services have increased as Montreal — the epicenter of Canada’s coronavirus outbreak — reopens. “In quarantine, you’re looking at the same things in your apartment every day,” he explained. “The repetition is grinding down your capacity to concentrate. By contrast, museums are places for wonderment, beauty and awe.”

Katerine Caron joined the art therapy program about three years ago. For much of her life, the 52-year-old writer has dealt with neurological damage and severe trauma after being hit by a speeding car while walking her children across the street. She eagerly awaits Wednesday group sessions. “I hadn’t created art since I was a child,” Ms. Caron said, “but art therapy has helped me externalize what I’m feeling and express my gratitude for life.”

For her, the therapy has created a space outside the pandemic for her to process difficult emotions. “I’m less anxious and agitated,” she said, adding, “When I see the works of other artists, I know that I’m not alone.”

When sorting through the museum’s collection for inspiration recently, Mr. Legari has shied away from contemporary works. Instead, he is drawn to images of natural beauty rendered by the Romantics and Impressionists. He also likes to incorporate more abstract works by artists like Henri Matisse and Georges Braque into his sessions.

Looking at what Montreal has accomplished, Sally Tallant, executive director of the Queens Museum, hopes that her institution can replicate that same sense of refuge for people. In the meantime, the museum’s educators are testing out a variety of initiatives. There are weekly conversations with homebound seniors about the institution’s collection, a program for caregivers to learn about art, and several live-video artmaking sessions for recent immigrants who don’t speak English, which are also offered in Mandarin.

“This is a time to consider museums as places of care,” Ms. Tallant said. “There is a need to develop porous cultural institutions that are open, inclusive and empathetic as we recover from living through a prolonged period of isolation and loss.”

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Westchester Interior Designer Cites Growing Demand For Multi-Functional Living Spaces

As New York and Connecticut reopen for business and companies prepare for a return to the workplace, many residents are taking a fresh look at their “home” offices and weighing their options for living in a post-pandemic world.

“People are starting to consider their homes as multi-functional spaces,” said Denise Balassi, owner of Spaces of Distinction, an award-winning interior design firm in South Salem. “Can the spare bedroom second as a gym? Can the dining room double as a home office? Can the kitchen be transformed into more of classroom for the kids?”

This “multi-living” style also involves a new perspective on the uses of outdoor space – think Zooming on your veranda – as well as incorporating new safety modes into home designs. “We just received a request for mudrooms that allow people to sanitize themselves,” said Balassi, whose firm is celebrating its 25th year in business. “The pandemic has really prompted people to rethink their homes.”

It also has prompted New York City dwellers to consider heading north and as many people flee Manhattan for more open space in the suburbs, they are going to either buy, build or renovate – and they are going to need local talent. This presents opportunities for designers to be even more creative and fits in perfectly with Spaces of Distinction’s unique approach. “Interior design is about people, lifestyle and the functionality of living space,” Balassi said.

The iconic design firm, formerly Interior Consultants, recently unveiled a new name – Spaces of Distinction by Denise Balassi – to reflect its evolution into a new breed of interior designers. The firm, which specializes in luxury homes, boutique hotels and vacation properties for clients locally and nationwide, is marking its 25th anniversary milestone with its own redesign.

Established in 1995, the firm takes an integrated approach to meet clients’ goals and visions of their ultimate “dream home.” Technological advancements, new tools and techniques, easier access to information and changes in consumer mindsets all have contributed to an evolution of interior design. Sophisticated clients know what they want, and Spaces of Distinction knows how best to fulfill the demand. The tech-savvy team uses the latest CAD and 3D modeling software and is exceptionally skilled at space planning, architectural detailing and interior design, from creating initial floor plans to placing the last decorative detail. Using a team-centric method that includes the homeowner, designer, builder and architect, Spaces of Distinction provides efficient and cost-effective results. This comprehensive design technique offers a precise course of action, guiding clients through a seamless process from design concept to project completion.

“We are thrilled with our reinvention,” said Balassi. “We selected this brand to capture the essence of what we do. We are more than consultants and decorators – we are designers and creators, who offer our clients a timeless home environment.”

About Spaces of Distinction by Denise BalassiSouth Salem-N.Y.-based Spaces of Distinction is a multifaceted design firm specializing in high-end, luxury residential and hospitality design. The firm serves clients throughout the tri-state region and also nationwide.

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Congress Flying Blind: Why Now Is The Time To Revive The Office Of Technology Assessment

Last Sunday, the Trump administration delivered its COVID-19 testing strategy to Congress. The policy, which delegates most responsibility to the states, claims that “existing testing capacity, if properly targeted, is sufficient to contain the outbreak.”

Various experts disagree. Last month, for example, a study released by Harvard University pegged the daily testing need at ten times what the administration recommends — a conclusion that differs by a startling order of magnitude.

So, to whom should Congress listen? Or at the very least, what questions should Congress ask to evaluate such significantly different claims?

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In 1995, Congress defunded its Office of Technology Assessment: an internal team of science and technology experts that aided members and their staff in moments precisely like these. Exclusively in service of Congress, OTA helped the institution to navigate technically complex domains, from nuclear power and bioterrorism to, as it happens, influenza pandemics. OTA gave Congress its own source of internal expertise, helping it to sort through the many competing claims made by industry, academia and the executive branch — and to push back when appropriate.

When the Carter administration proposed a novel basing scheme for nuclear missiles, Congress turned to OTA, which found significant risks and uncertainties with the plan. When the Reagan administration declared AIDS its top health priority, OTA found that it was behaving much to the contrary, neglecting to use funds appropriated for public health emergencies. OTA, free of executive influence and captive only to Congress, equipped lawmakers with smart analysis to question executive branch policies. The result was more informed congressional debate and a check on executive power.

Perhaps now more than ever, Congress requires its own experts.

At a high-profile Senate health committee hearing this May, Congress heard exclusively from a panel of executive branch officials on issues urgent to its lawmaking, from economic recovery to vaccine development; both Democratic and Republican senators voiced frustration with potentially misleading witness claims. Tightening access to information, the White House notified Congress that all members of its Coronavirus Task Force would be barred from testifying absent permission from the president’s chief of staff. Now, with historically low staff capacity, Congress will be responsible for wading through the administration’s latest report, making sense of dizzying epidemiological models on its own.

Each administration, regardless of party, has a habit of fitting science to its priorities. Overreliance on any executive, then, weakens Congress’s policymaking capabilities. Congress should be equipped to do its own math. Momentum has long been building for lawmakers to bring in the nerds, as one group put it, and various options exist for designing a modernized OTA. No matter the new form, any body of experts in exclusive service to Congress will mark needed progress in rebalancing our titled branches.

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Congress has been at this crossroads before. As the executive branch ballooned in the postwar period, it amassed an army of experts. Congress, meanwhile, did not. This left the legislature–an ostensibly co-equal branch–at the mercy of executive claims. By the 1960s, the executive was negotiating complex arms control treaties with the Soviet Union; promoting controversial supersonic transport investments; and developing novel regulations in response to pollution.

In 1972, Rep. Charles Mosher (R-Ohio) complained that Congress was “flying blind… constantly outmanned and outgunned by the expertise of the executive agencies,” and called for experts “entirely responsible to us.” Soon after, Congress authorized an Office of Technology Assessment.

Congress is once again outmanned and outgunned. But it has rearmed itself before, and it can do it again.

Grant Tudor, a Policy Advocate at Protect Democracy, and Justin Warner, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Federal Reserve Board, are the authors of “The Congressional Futures Office: A Modern Model for Science & Technology Expertise in Congress,” a report from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.

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Major Housing, Commercial Uses Get OK At Long-closed 500 Blake Street Cafe Property In New Haven

500 Blake Street Cafe, a popular upscale restaurant and wedding reception venue, closed in 2006 in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood. The property remains vacant.

500 Blake Street Cafe, a popular upscale restaurant and wedding reception venue, closed in 2006 in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood. The property remains vacant.Photo: Hearst Connecticut Media File

Photo: Hearst Connecticut Media File

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500 Blake Street Cafe, a popular upscale restaurant and wedding reception venue, closed in 2006 in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood. The property remains vacant.

500 Blake Street Cafe, a popular upscale restaurant and wedding reception venue, closed in 2006 in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood. The property remains vacant.Photo: Hearst Connecticut Media File

Major housing, commercial uses get OK at long-closed 500 Blake Street Cafe property in New Haven

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NEW HAVEN — It looked like all of Westville had shown up — virtually, of course.

A dense housing and commercial development project with views of West Rock won over traffic concerns when some 75 people came to a Zoom meeting of the City Plan Commission, with approval of the transformation of the long-closed 500 Blake Street Cafe and large parking lot that has been dormant for almost two decades.

The site plan was approved unanimously by the commission that heard testimony for four hours on Ocean Management’s proposal for 129 units of housing and an improved public walkway along the West River, which was negotiated by City Plan staff.

Approval was contingent on submission of detailed traffic and sidewalk approvals by the city’s engineering office and Transportation, Traffic and Parking before building permits are issued, with special attention to the intersections of Blake and Valley streets and the site plan along Tour Avenue.

A special permit that also gave the commission more control over design elements in the village was approved 3 to 1, with commissioner Elias Estabrook voting against the look of the building along Tour Avenue with its metal clad facade he said did not fit in with the surrounding buildings.

Melissa Saint, who represented the owners, said they were trying to bring in a small, modern touch, such as Yale University does with some of its buildings, by using a mix of materials “in a sophisticated way.”

“In the big picture here, while we all may have … Different views of what kind of material should appear on this building, I think it is enough for the developer to consider, but I think if we start getting into whether or not this is going to ride on the materials on one portion of one building … We are going down a road I don’t think we want to go to,” said attorney Jim Segaloff, who represented the developer.

Commissioner Adam Marchand joined the 3 to 1 vote on the special permit even though he felt the proposed apartment buildings were somewhat out of scale with the surrounding village district structures. “I’m not 100 percent convinced that it fits in super neatly as some of the diagrams make it seem it does,” he said.

Marchand asked the developers “in refining the design to explore materials and techniques to reduce the visual impact of a building that is bigger than what is around it.”

He explained his vote to approve, rather than table, given the current situation with the country in partial lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic that has stalled the economy.

“I think that supporting development, and development happening soon, is absolutely essential policy for our city to pursue when we have an economy in a coma and we are trying to figure how to get our economy relaunched. I feel there are some tradeoffs here and for me the most important thing is the safety of pedestrians, but I just want to acknowledge that the design is still rather big,” Marchand said.

Saint said she hopes construction starts this summer with completion by early 2022.

The general opposition to the development came from residents of Tour Avenue who asked that the vote be put off for more discussion and review of the traffic plan and some tweaking of a design element, but even they were happy with the general intent of the project, the density and walkability.

The housing will be a mix of studio, one-bedroom, one-plus apartments that add some space, and two-bedroom apartments. The project also features more than 7,000 square feet of new commercial space.

Along Blake Street, according to the narrative accompanying the development, there will be a 3,900-square-foot restaurant, while closer to the West River, some 3,400 square feet of retail space will feature a small market in a public plaza with outdoor seating next to the existing boardwalk. In addition to the pedestrian walkway, there will be a bike path. Parking is available for around 120 cars.

Saint said they are looking to bring in more foot traffic that would support not only commercial space at the development, but existing businesses in Westville, as well. She said they will seek to add essential retail so residents will not have to drive someplace else for such things.

Patty O’Hanlon, who runs the Westville Community Nursery School on Tour Avenue, asked for a good faith discussion with the developers about residents’ traffic concerns. She said there are preschool-age children on that street and she is worried about their safety and particularly the egress onto Tour Avenue which she fears many will use, rather than Blake Street. She also asked for traffic calming efforts for the street.

Her concerns were echoed by Adam Lopiano, Muffy Prendergast and Thea Buxbaum, who favored tabling approval for more discussion.

On the other side, architect Keith Krolak said previous developments done in this area have left much to be desired. He said this one respects the scale and urban fabric of the neighborhood and provides connectivity with the current retail establishments.

Krolak said he feels the traffic issues can be solved with the right amount of engineering. He said the solution could be outside the site due to the traffic moving through here, rather than being part of the neighborhood, and it shouldn’t penalize a good development. “All indications are that this is going to be an excellent catalyst for the neighborhood,” Krolak said.

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