Ikea is predicting the future of homes with their newest ventures.
Ikea breathed new life into home furnishing with their stylish and affordable flat-pack furniture. Now, the Swedish interiors giant is reimagining the future of home life with conceptual explorations and new offerings.
As part of the brand’s endeavor to design the future of living spaces, Ikea collaborated with London’s Design Museum to present Home Futures: Living in Yesterday’s Tomorrow, an exhibition exploring the elements that determine how we move through and interact with living spaces. It tracks a journey through the 20th and 21st centuries where architecture, technology and daily habits have become increasingly intertwined. Prominent themes in the exhibition include smart living, transient living and multi-functional living, which are explored through conceptual artworks and projects from the last hundred years.
By looking to the past for answers about tomorrow’s future, Home Futures uncovers the fluctuating needs of individuals that have driven innovation in living space from brands like Ikea. The rise in new family units compared to the traditional nuclear family and transient living as opposed to conventional home owning means that the needs of homes are changing. As a result, the concept of ‘home’ is in flux – and Ikea hopes to help redefine it.
Just as Rosie the robot maid was one of the family in the 1960s animated show The Jetsons, so too is Amazon Alexa becoming an indispensable personality in our homes. The exhibition offered commentary on our desire to assign human characteristics to smart devices in the video installations created by London design agency Superflux. In the first, titled Our Friends Electric, a curious smart speaker named Eddy asks questions to understand human habits and better anticipate human needs. The second, Uninvited Guests, explores the downside of the smart home, including a series of connected smart devices tracking diet, health and sleep and intrusively offering advice on self-improvement. This vision is creeping closer to reality as brands are introducing ranges of connected products; for example, Philips now offers a scale that provides a fitness assessment, a toothbrush that communicates with dentists and mirrors that provide a health analysis. As the industry moves forward, brands will be called to task on issues around privacy and whether the ease of ‘smart living’ trumps personal boundaries.
These conceptual questions underscore Ikea’s deliberate entry into the smart home market. The retailer is slowly introducing smart homewares into their product range, with three relatively benign connected products to date: app-controlled light bulbs released in 2017, voice-activated blinds released in early 2019 and smart speakers slotted to launch later in 2019 in partnership with Sonos. These products, while decidedly less flashy than other smart home solutions, offer a refreshingly tempered approach to technological integration. “IKEA is positioning itself as a key enabler in the smart-home space. It’s a go-to retailer for younger, tech-savvy consumers who are a key demographic for smart-home adoption,” says Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight.
The exhibition also explored new nomadic lifestyles. Artists Bêka & Lemoine’s film Selling Dreams shows a former tax inspector who earns his living by renting out beautiful flats, while he lives in different hotel rooms with a new address every day. While artist Hans Hollein proposed inflatable mobile offices in 1969, the possibility of working anywhere is now materialising through the proliferation of connectivity. With more young professionals choosing to work and live remotely, brands can explore products and systems that enable a lighter, more adaptable lifestyle.
Ikea is facilitating this transient lifestyle with their newly announced furniture rental program. “We will work together with partners so you can actually lease your furniture. When that leasing period is over, you hand it back and you might lease something else. And instead of throwing those away, we refurbish them a little and we could sell them, prolonging the life cycle of the products,” Torbjorn Loof, chief executive of Inter Ikea, told the Financial Times.
As micro-apartments become increasingly necessary in overflowing cities, we see the shape of the home entirely shifting. Artist Gary Chang’s work Domestic Transformer apartment in Hong Kong caters for the modern imperative of flexibility and economy of space as it can be redesigned in 24 different layouts. Artist Iftach Gazit’s speculative project Sous La Vie proposes an approach to living with less by using home appliances in new multifunctional ways, using a washing machine to cook food using sealed bags.
Ikea’s innovation lab, Space10, has taken multi-functional living one step further, extending the home onto the road with their ‘Spaces on Wheels’ concepts. The designs combine living spaces and vehicles to reimagine how space is used for an increasingly urbanized future. “The day fully autonomous vehicles hit our streets is the day cars are not cars anymore. They can be anything,” explained Simon Caspersen, cofounder of Space10. “The primary function of transportation disappears to give rise to other functions. It could be an extension of our homes or our offices or our local café, so we want to trigger a broader conversation on what we would like it to be.”