Luxury home designers create ‘online rooms’

The founder and owner of Synergy Sotheby’s International Realty, Gene Northup, prides himself on recognizing upcoming trends within the luxury real estate market. One, in particular, caught his attention early last year.

Northup recognized an increased desire among luxe buyers for a dedicated private space within the home, known as a “Zoom room,” or an room for online conferences.

“When you look at corporate America, they’ve learned they don’t need the amount of office space they once did,” Northup said. “Their people can be productive and work from home, so I think Zoom rooms for homes are going to continue to be of significant importance.”

Northup relays a comedic example illustrating the need for privacy after his client had a mishap during a Zoom meeting.

“My client called asking for help finding a larger home,” Northup said. “She says, ‘You can’t believe what my husband did.’

“She was doing an early-morning Zoom call in her bedroom,” he continued. “Her husband came out of the shower and walked in front of the Zoom call naked.”

Before the COVID pandemic, Northup noted, luxe buyers wanted large, open great rooms. Now, his buyers are searching for separate spaces and more square footage.

“Square footage is becoming the currency in the luxury market,” Northup said. “There’s more demand for bedrooms because they’re converting bedrooms to the spaces they need.”

Besides converting a bedroom, Northup has seen nontraditional spaces such as laundry rooms and a corner of a kitchen used for online calls.

He embraced the trend himself by completely gutting his casita and renovating it into his personal Zoom room last year.

“When you’re a high-producing Realtor, you work a lot of hours,” Northup said. “So, you need a place. It’s quiet, and I can get away from the family and have a Zoom call. It works really well.”

Luxury Broker Ivan Sher, owner and founder of The Ivan Sher Group, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Nevada Properties, finds more properties are featuring high-end offices fitted with enhanced technology including multiple monitors and remote control online cameras.

“It’s funny because up until very recently I hadn’t seen a need for Zoom rooms,” Sher said. “But I am starting to see those trends. There definitely is a trend for a more organized thought-out technical Zoom experience, like a game room almost.”

Las Vegas headliner and female impersonator Frank Marino, star of “Divas Las Vegas” and “Legends in Concert” at the Tropicana, designed three different Zoom areas in his 15,000-square-foot luxurious Summerlin home.

“I learned how to do Zoom and the strategy behind it during the pandemic,” Marino said. “Now, going to work means going on Zoom.”

Every Zoom space Marino designed plays a significant role for television audiences he interacts with virtually. From talk shows to fashion reporting, Marino learned to create a depth of elegance and interest for every scenario.

“I like it (the background) to fit the narrative of what I’m trying to talk about on the show,” Marino said. “If it’s something to promote my career, then I want my stuff behind it. If it’s something for the award shows, I want the elegance of it.”

He humorously adds the importance of a decluttered background when hosting a Zoom call.

“My pet peeve is I don’t know how everybody seems to have that brown bookcase from Pottery Barn,” Marino said laughing. “My bigger pet peeve is when the books are all disheveled. I know people want to look busy, but that’s just messy.”

The shift into the virtual world significantly changed the way local designers approach home office design and its applications.

The founder and owner of NVS Design, Tammy Minton, has several clients seeking to renovate a traditional home office into a virtual friendly space.

“COVID accelerated us into the virtual age,” Minton said. “Normally, you’d have an office that all you cared about was the layout of the furniture. Now, we have to think about computer placement, lighting, backgrounds and decluttering.”

Minton transforms her clients’ home offices from a casual space into a professional setting using soft, comforting colors and artwork. Heavy pieces of furniture, extra books, clutter and embellishments are removed, lightening up the space.

“The room has to be laid out very purposeful,” Minton said. “So, it can be displayed on a screen. It’s not so much an office anymore. It has to be easy to look at.”

Minton works with architects on window placement for offices so the natural lighting entering the room is optimum for computer placement and online calls.

“We’re going to have these rooms set up for Zoom whether the clients want to use it for that or not,” Minton said. “That is going to be my future mindset. That has to be part of the design.”

Blue Heron Interior Design Manager Ashley Rogers said she sees an increased preference by luxe homebuyers for office space while designing custom floor plans.

“We’re seeing offices selected more often in the floor plan selection process,” Rogers said. “Having an office equipped with fast internet, privacy, storage space and so on is even more important, now. Clients have been making sure these items are selected and finalized prior to moving.”

Blue Heron Director of Design Logan Ziegler explained how current designs include large screens for video conferences, wide-angle specialty cameras to capture multiple people in the room, integrated speakers and soft materials to reduce audio echoes.

“Our clients are more sensitive to the quality of their homes in general since COVID,” Ziegler said. “Buyers are looking for more functionality and purpose in each home space.”

Northup shared how the pandemic and integration of online calls changed the way luxe buyers interact with their listing agents.

“They like to Zoom when we are doing update calls or just talking about real estate,” Northup said. “It’s interesting. Video calls were not a thing two years ago.

“I don’t think working from home is ever going away,” he added. “We may go back to a blend of working from home and working in the office.”