Home Design Should Be About Solving Problems

Home Layouts Should Be About Solving Problems, Says Design Firm Founder

Mary Cook talks about how flow and function can benefit both property sellers and buyers


Rather than catering to individual clients, Chicago-based interior designer Mary Cook collaborates with real estate developers on creating model homes. 

Ms. Cook is the founder and president of her eponymous design company, which specializes in multifamily, senior living and student housing developments. Developers provide Ms. Cook with the demographics and psychographics of the intended end user, and Mary Cook Associates produces the model units and amenity features in the buildings. Notably, Ms. Cook completed the model units at the Tribune Tower Residences, the neo-Gothic skyscraper that dots the Chicago skyline and once was the home of the Chicago Tribune.  

By considering the likely values, attitudes and goals of the buyers, Ms. Cook proactively aims to solve their design challenges. She wants them to imagine themselves living in those spaces rather than getting hung up on where to position the kitchen table, how best to work from home or what to do with a large foyer.

Moving into the third year of the pandemic, developers and home buyers continue to want more functionality and comfort from their properties. Designers can accomplish this without compromising on aesthetics, Ms. Cook said.

Mansion Global caught up with Ms. Cook to learn about her approach to interiors, her expert tips on hosting guests and home buyers’ shifting priorities.

Mansion Global: When it comes to designing interior spaces during the pandemic, what guiding principles influence your process the most?

Mary Cook: Our approach to interiors is different from other marquee-name residential designers in that we specifically work with builders and developers. Rather than have a signature look or style, we bring an approach that allows us to dig deep into the psychographics of the intended end-user demographic. When developers build new communities, they have an idea of who might want to live there. Psychographics are values, attitudes and aspirations, and we curate design solutions that allow that intended demographic to envision themselves living well there. Our objective is to demonstrate to potential buyers how they can live better in the space.

MG: When you worked on designing interiors at the Tribune Tower Residences, what were the intended demographics there?

MC: We designed five units, ranging from one bedroom to three bedrooms. We knew we’d have a diverse set of clients, from affluent empty nesters looking for pieds-à-terre to single professionals. It’s a landmarked building, so we knew a lot of the clients would love city life, the theater and the history of this iconic building. By understanding those demographics and their different needs and priorities, we can demonstrate how well they can live here by solving lifestyle problems in advance. In one of the units, we created a bedroom targeted to an adult child who might return for a weekend. 

MG: With the new year underway, how are home buyers’ aspirations evolving and luxury residential spaces changing?

MC: Since the onset of the pandemic, home has taken on greater importance and become more

meaningful for many. They are our oasis, our office, et cetera. We are looking for functional solutions to the added duties of home, but people won’t compromise on aesthetics in the name of function. With all the time we’re spending at home, aesthetics are more important than ever. 

The other thing I’m seeing is that mental and physical well-being are in the forefront of people’s minds. We should be prepared to respond to that with creative design solutions. Going forward, homes are taking on new meaning. We’re asking them to do more, and we want them to be beautiful because it impacts our well-being.

From the physical standpoint, if we’re at home doing the work we used to do in an office, we’re talking now about ergonomics, seating and standing options along with lighting, fresh air and natural sunshine. From an emotional standpoint, we’ve been shut down from friends and family. We want to be back together. In order to be back together, we have to feel safe and comfortable in our spaces. 

MG: Building on the last couple of years, how do you see entertaining at home changing?

MC: Entertaining at home has been the primary driver during the pandemic of many more

outdoor living and dining spaces. We’ll see more of that this year. People feel more comfortable there. It’s more relaxed, and they feel safer and healthier. It’s a more casual, comfortable way to be with people. Fresh air, natural light, fire pits and places and shelter from the elements all contribute to the safer-at-home entertaining that’s popular now. In many of our multi-family projects, we install retractable walls that allow spaces to open up to the outside, with a big focus on outdoor dining.

MG: Can you share your best tips for hosting overnight guests as we ask our homes to do more for us?

MC: Privacy is what makes great temporary, functional spaces. Designing flexibility into any space starts with privacy. Whether hosting an overnight guest, or working or schooling from home, sliding, swing or pocket doors allow you to compartmentalize a space for sleeping, working or whatever function is required. You must consider voice trespassing and light trespassing to have the best-performing privacy for all parties.

The information contained, and the opinions expressed, in this article are not intended to be construed as investment advice. The Lux Dwelling Group, LLC. does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information or opinions contained herein. Nothing herein should be construed as investment advice. You should always conduct your own research and due diligence and obtain professional advice before making any investment decision. The Lux Dwelling Group, LLC. will not be liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on the information or opinions contained herein.

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