Jul 20, 2022

Designing for Cleanability: How Interiors Are Changing Post-COVID

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ore than ever before, clients with a vision for designing their own commercial-use space are having to focus that vision to consider the durability of materials – particularly when it comes to cleanability. How often will this surface be cleaned, what type of cleaners will be used, and – importantly – how will that alter the lifespan of the materials?

Five years ago, these may have been minimal concerns, but in a world still feeling the effects of COVID-19, the consequences of ignoring such questions could mean that your thoughtfully curated spaces become faded and frayed much sooner than anticipated, leaving you to absorb the cost of replacing materials that are worn out before their time.

While the aesthetics of a space may always be a top priority for clients seeking professional interior design services, durability and ease of cleaning have emerged as a close second, even for businesses who wouldn’t have given it a thought pre-pandemic. According to ADCI director of interior design Dustin Struckmeyer, this is just one of the ways the industry has changed since 2020.

“It has already taken a toll on some facilities that cleaning practices have become more aggressive,” he says. “Some products weren’t necessarily designed to be cleaned in the way they have been, so we’ve seen some issues with bleach solutions causing damage to fabrics that weren’t originally intended to withstand that. I think they’re also finding that materials have always been cleaned one way are more difficult to clean using the more stringent methods.”

When materials and surfaces are cleaned using methods other than recommended – those that are specified in the product cleaning codes – it can result in discolored fabrics and other damage ranging from mild: it just doesn’t look as good, to severe: the product needing to be immediately replaced.

Those cleaning codes are gathered by the interiors team and presented to the building owner along with the finished design, ensuring that all the correct information is passed on to allow the building to be maintained in good condition for as long as possible. With COVID, some of those recommendations were superseded by other mandates.

“Hospitality and healthcare have obviously been impacted the most,” he says. “Because of their high rate of turnover, those industries are a little bit more aware. In offices, you typically have the same people in the same areas, so it has been a little bit less impacted – but any space that has a concentration of human beings shares a level of concern.”

In some cases, the cleaning solutions used are out of the business owner’s hands. “There’s no real way to control what cleaning products guests may bring in with them, whether it be because they have a high level of anxiety about the virus or just about cleanliness in general,” says Struckmeyer. “The best you can do is to think ahead about the possibility that guests will clean the room themselves, and maybe implement signage or seals showing that a room has been cleaned using a certain method.”

When businesses first began to return to work after the initial shut-down, the interior design studio at ADCI did some research into which materials could stand up to the intensified cleaning practices. While cleaning code considerations have always been a part of the process, suddenly they were on equal footing with aesthetics and durability.

Fortunately, suppliers in the industry soon responded by putting together collections of finishes that were easy to clean and could withstand a many-times-daily cleaning with a relatively harsh bleach solution. That team effort helped our designers – and the whole industry – to get back to doing what they love.

The overall increase in awareness, from industry professionals and guests alike, has already resulted in some visible changes to commercial environments. For example, you may see more luxury vinyl tile (LVT) flooring in guest rooms, rather than being uniformly carpeted. Clients who may have shied away from the trend prior to the pandemic are now recognizing the value in a product that is easy to clean, stands up to aggressive cleaners, and doesn’t trap food, odors or spills – even if it’s less traditionally homey than carpet. You may also see more faux leather coverings on furniture, rather than woven upholstery, for the same reasons. Public mindset about what creates a comfortable environment has shifted – maybe for good.

“I don’t think that concern is going away,” says Struckmeyer. “As we return to the new normal, things will slowly taper off, but I think you’ll see a continued level of caution about cleanliness. People are moving through the world differently still in terms of touching railings, using hand sanitizer and social distancing. Things have changed quite a bit.”