Second Sight

Retreats become primary residences as homeowners seek more breathing room during shelter-in-place
Very large upscale open concept living area with open wall out to deck overlooking mountains.

Above Image: A St. Helena residence by Jennifer Robin Interiors. Photo by Paul Dyer.


A year of COVID-19 lockdown has motivated many who own second homes to spend more time—or, in fact, reside—in formerly occasional dwellings, where breathing room and outdoor space are more plentiful. This migration has generated an uptick in requests for enhancements to these retreats and refuges. From expanded super-offices to soaking tubs, these improvements emphasize functionality and wellness.

Two images one of an outside beach view room and one of an inside room with view of beach.

Lauren Nelson created a serene living room and terrace for a Stinson Beach getaway. Photos by Aubrie Pick.

San Francisco interior designer Lauren Nelson is helping her clients navigate the shift. Adaptability matters more than ever, as do elegant solutions that keep dual-function rooms from feeling ad hoc, Nelson points out. For example, she cites a recent client request to merge home-office and guest room functions into one space. “Instead of a workspace with a standard bed in it, we’re doing a custom Murphy bed that turns into a beautiful paneled wall and feels integrated when not in use, almost like a hidden library door,” the designer says.

Home-office needs are of course top priority for everyone. Chloe Redmond Warner, founder of Oakland-based Redmond Aldrich Design, notes of one current project, “We were lucky enough to be at a point in construction where windows could still be added to accommodate the client’s request for flattering Zoom lighting on the desks.” In another client’s bedroom, she says, “What was once a bedside table is now a desk.”

Artisan style open floor plan home.

According to Jennifer Robin, founder of her eponymous Marin-based firm, whether perched by the sea in the South Bay or tucked beneath oaks in Wine Country, second-home adaptations primarily involve enhancing indoor-outdoor features. “People are investing in outdoor living more than ever as it’s the safest way to be social right now, and immersion in nature is so crucial to our well-being,” Robin says. “Pools, basketball courts, bocce—these have always been big for vacation homes, but even more so now,” she adds, referring to a South Bay client who is envisioning an outdoor entertainment compound around a barnlike structure with a full kitchen, dining area, and fire pit.

But the chief challenge in Robin’s view is mindful division of work and relaxation. “I appreciate keeping home offices and school spaces out of bedrooms, and trying to solve those demands in other zones when feasible,” she says. For example, she created a child’s study area in an existing family room by adding a stylish console and comfortable chair, thereby ensuring that her bedroom remained dedicated to sleep. Says Robin: “Design now requires getting more creative in incorporating evolving needs in a thoughtful and discreet way.”

Cleansing Body + Soul

With travel curtailed, a soothing bath offers a home-based escape. Five designers share that a tranquil tub is the new in-demand accessory.


“Most people I know are used to being able to escape to the gym or a spa, and these days, when we all have a greater appreciation of home, my clients ask me to create private zones where they can meditate, exercise, pray or generally unwind. Japanese soaking tubs, which are generally unlined and constructed from aromatic cedar or cypress wood, are less about simple bathing and more about the ritual of cleansing.”


“We invested in a Japanese soaking tub when we built our house—a component that has become a part of daily living. That soak at the end of the day each night rejuvenates, restores, heals, and resets us.”


“I have a client we’ve worked with on two homes, and she has never requested a tub until now. It’s that feeling of relaxation, and having a little bit of escape from stresses.”


“Showers are getting bigger, soaking tubs are now a must-have.”


“We are putting an amazing Japanese soaking tub into a project right now. When you can’t go to your gym or take a spa vacation, you want a taste of these experiences at home.”  

Above image: A serene bath at the St. Helena residence designed by Jennifer Robin Interiors. Photo by Paul Dyer.

“People are investing in outdoor living more than ever as it’s the safest way to be social right now, and immersion in nature is so crucial to our well-being.”

– Jennifer Robin

Formal living room with open beam ceiling and stone fireplace.

In St. Helena, a space for relaxation and restoration designed by Jennifer Robin Interiors. Photo by Paul Dyer.

Redmond Warner notes another development she’s observed in secondary residences: more care in selecting art. “Usually clients are not putting their splurgiest pieces on display in second homes,” she says. “As they’re being eyed for more than seasonal use, people are cultivating that extra layer of beauty.”

Two Henry Adams Street, Suite 2M-33
San Francisco, CA 94103