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In March 2022, for the first time worldwide, entire populations were forced to confine themselves to their homes. An unprecedented situation that raised awareness, highlighted inequalities, and prompted many people to take a fresh look at their homes. So what were the consequences? And what changes in usage? We ask these questions with Monique Eleb, Honorary professor, researcher at the Architecture Culture and Society 19th-21st centuries laboratory (UMR/CNRS/MCC no.3329) of the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Paris-Malaquais, qualified to direct research (HDR), psychologist, sociologist, specialist in housing design and correspondent for LEROY MERLIN Source*.

A contrasting panorama

In April 2020, an Insee study [The French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies] points to unequal confinement conditions depending on the type, size and number of people occupying the home. As such, nearly two-thirds of the French population live in a house with, for 95%, a garden. The remaining third live in flats with limited or no outdoor access. In addition, 5 million people live in over-occupied housing (mostly families with children) and 10 million live alone. The COCONEL study (coronavirus and lockdown) conducted by the Ined [French National Institute of Demographic Research] over the same period adds further insight. The French have on average 48 m²/person, a surface area which has risen over recent decades. But one in ten households lived in overcrowded housing during the lockdown (compared to only 8% before the pandemic) and 11% of people have no outdoor access.


A change of perspective

For Monique Eleb, one of the main effects of lockdown on the use of housing lies in a form of heightened awareness: “Nobody had ever stayed inside the home for so long without being able to go out freely”.
This experience gave rise to people wanting to do DIY and to reorganise the home. It also sparked a desire within many people to get away from it all. In reference to this, Monique Eleb recalls one of her credos, “the outside internalised”: “I have been campaigning for forty years for flats to have an outdoor space so that occupants can see a piece of sky, observe the change in the seasons, have their hands in the earth, a relationship with nature. This was terribly lacking during lockdown for those without”.


Forced cohabitation with sometimes detrimental effects

In one out of four households, the lockdown introduced a new living experience, with the constant presence of two members of the household and children. “Many conflicts arose because people were getting in each other’s way, recalls Monique Eleb. This brought to mind the moment when a person in a couple retires. All of a sudden, the other is there, all the time, the relationship status changes”.
Although numerous couples faced this situation together, 12% were considering breaking up at the end of the lockdown period (Ifop* study July 2021 for YesWeBloom.com) [*French Institute of Public Opinion].
But the most significant element remains the dramatic increase in domestic violence, exacerbated by forced promiscuity in cramped housing that offers no means of escape: an increase of 400% in calls received by the dedicated line for victims, domestic violence, between 9 March and the week of 20 April, and an increase of 89% in calls received via 119, the national help line for children in danger.


When outside activities take place inside

For families with children, school at home represented a real challenge. Children of management executives were more likely to have a separate room to study in. But half of office employees and workers had to share a room with their children. As Monique Eleb points out, “Certain families took on the task of home schooling quite easily, facilitated by their own level of culture and education. Others found themselves in distressing situations that will leave a mark”.

The attitude to teleworking was also dependent on the living conditions in the home. “Before, when we worked at home from time to time, we could set up in a corner of the home, perhaps with a table on wheels and a few small adjustments, explains Monique Eleb. But with sustained teleworking, this was no longer possible, it was necessary to establish a permanent set up, ideally in a separate room. This transformed the organisation of many homes”. The researcher reminds us that the size of bedrooms in France represents an obstacle for this type of arrangement: “bedrooms are on average 9m², which is too small for placing a desk”.


Some lessons to be learned from the lockdown experience

One of the primary observations involves the selection criteria for housing.
In the past, the major criteria was the location. Nowadays, it is the luminosity in the home and the presence of an outdoor space. More globally, the layout of homes may change in the future, taking into account the lessons learned from the lockdown period.


Monique Eleb provides us with some recommendations:


● Reestablish a foyer in homes, to hang up coats and leave shoes,… and as such, create a kind of anteroom
● Abandon the day/night division of spaces, which places certain rooms next to each other
● Have a room separate from the others, close to the front door, to accommodate grand-parents or home-help, etc.
● Put an end to the myth of the open-plan kitchen, which adds to the workload of women who, more often than not, do most of the cleaning.
● Have an outdoor space, which represents an additional room


To go further on this topic
– “La maison des français” [The French home] by Monique Eleb and Lionel Engrand, published by Mardaga (2020 – 286 p.)
– “Ensemble et séparément, des lieux pour cohabiter “ [Together and apart, spaces for cohabitation] by Monique Eleb and Sabri Bendimérad, published by Mardaga (2018 – 396 p.)
– “Logement contemporain, entre confort, désir et normes” [Contemporary housing, comfort, desire and norms] by Monique Eleb and Philippe Simon, published by Mardaga (2013 – 358 p.)
– an article quoting correspondents for Leroy Merlin Source in the press

* Leroy Merlin Source, a network and resources
Since its creation in 2005, the network for research on the home from Leroy Merlin France conducts a number of projects with correspondents, associate researchers, research laboratories from universities and national colleges of architecture. Thanks to the expertise and power of its network which combines human and social sciences, design and artistic approaches, Leroy Merlin Source endeavours to create and disseminate to the general public its original knowledge and unique perspectives on new ways of living in the home.