How IKEA is changing the way we live
Good design in the home is subtle: it's the seductive glide of a drawer, technology humming quietly throughout the house, a chair which doubles as storage space. But how will clever design shape and inform the homes we inhabit just around the corner, in 2030?
THE SMART HOME GETS SMARTER
Marcus Engman - known as the "Bono" of the design world - leads the team who dreams up, develops and delivers the IKEA products that shape our lives. At this week's "Democratic Design Days" event in Sydney, he said homes in 2030 will look a lot different.
First of all, we can bid goodbye to the romanticised post-war picket fence home complete with 2.5 kids and golden retriever.
"Your apartment and living situation will probably be smaller due to urbanisation, and thereby your home furnishing solution will be more versatile to cope with the smaller space," he says. "More things than today will be connected."
Smart, connected technology is already infiltrating our homes. Already, we can install doors which automatically lock according to programmed commands, lights which turn on according to your geo-location and virtual assistants like Google Home to keep you up to date with daily news headlines and weather.
Mr Engman says the next step for smart homes is to go beyond command and control style technology and provide greater connectivity and intelligence.
"It's a home connected to all of your senses. Scent, sound, light all at the same time in a tangible way," he says. "Think of it as a Spotify for your home experience."
Tomorrow's smart homes will apply machine learning to anticipate your daily patterns and automatically adapt to changes. Your fridge will identify when everyday supplies are running low, and order replacements on your behalf; your lighting and aircon system will automatically adjust when it's time to go to sleep, and your armchair will adapt to fit perfectly to your body.
It might be weird to think about furniture responding to human touch, and weirder still to imagine them as ubiquitous furniture pieces, as familiar as the BILLY bookcase, POÄNG chair or LACK table. But the same scepticism was shared back in 1923 when Edward Hallstrom introduced the crazy, newfangled invention, the 'Silent Knight' refrigerator in Australia. Today, few of us could imagine living without one.
THE TELEVISION WILL DISAPPEAR
How we watch television will also change. No longer will a giant screen dominate the living room and family life; screens instead will be inconspicuous and hidden away to encourage human connection.
Tiffany Buckins, IKEA Australia's head of interior design says technology should integrate with the home in a way that brings people together.
"I think it's important to be more present in your home," she says. "Technology can actually reconnect you with your loved ones. It doesn't have to be a barrier if you're using it in a good and healthy way."
In the future, we might roll a digital screen from the ceiling or watch a projection on the wall.
"Are people even thinking about televisions as televisions anymore?" Mr Engman asks. "I see the future as screens, actually. I think we're going to have a lot of screens: small ones and big ones. Television, as such, might not be that important."
FOOD WILL BE ON DISPLAY
Some innovations are simple. Transparent fridges, for example, might solve the problem of food wastage within the home.
"Something that's come out of our research is visibility in the kitchen," Mr Engman says. "If you have your groceries visible, you have the tendency to know what you have to eat, so you cook with what you have, and you don't buy so much.
But it's not just technology driving the most significant change in our homes. Mr Engman says human behavioural change is fueling the biggest shifts.
"I think the table will be even more important," he says. "Food and socialising are on the increase, and this is the place where friends and families come together. And if you work from home, this is the place. All and all, the table is one of the most versatile places in your home."
Future homes will offer a rich, sensory experience. IKEA believes the home is defined by much more than just its physical location - all the five senses work together to create a sense of belonging, comfort and happiness.
In an unlikely collaboration, IKEA is working with ultra-minimal, super-expensive Swedish fragrance house Byredo to create an 'Eau de IKEA'.
"When people are talking about their homes, or their mother's homes, they often start off by describing it from a scent point of view. So scent is very important," Mr Engman says.
Andreas Fredriksson is leading the collaboration with Sonos, aptly called SYMFONISK, which includes a collection of wi-fi speakers designed to fit beautifully and seamlessly with home furnishings. Still in prototype stage, the speakers have been created with a dual purpose in mind.
"You can hide it, or you can display it. It becomes a shelf if you mount it on the wall thanks to a bracket, so it's great for small spaces," Mr Fredriksson says. "These are small details that make a home smart. You can furnish your rooms with different sounds."
The collaboration ties in with IKEA's democratic design philosophy, making built-in sound accessible for everyone.
Sonos' Rennie Addabbo says a home without sound is like a home without light.
"It's dark, lifeless; merely a structure lacking in the emotional comfort that is key to the very concept of home," he says. "Listening should feel natural and easy which is why we strive to create speakers that fit seamlessly and almost invisibly into everyday life."
Mr Addabbo says smart speakers in the home are becoming increasingly important as we transition from an internet governed by swipe, click, type and read, to one where we simply ask and listen.
"In this new era, listening becomes a central means to access all of the content the internet has to offer and smart, connected speakers can become the gateway for the whole family to this rapidly expanding world of sonic culture," he says.
The IKEA TRÅDFRI (translation: "wire-free") smart lights, not yet released to the Australian market, will work a bit like Philips Hue, enabling people to create the right ambience according to their mood and activity. Home lighting will be ridiculously easy to control on a whim or turn on and off automatically as you move throughout the house.
"Design includes scent, sound and lighting. Maybe we can connect those three in the future," Mr Engman says.
BUILD IT YOUR WAY
Although technology has enabled mass production of furniture, individuality and personalisation are still possible at mass scale. Internationally renowned designer Tom Dixon recently collaborated with IKEA to develop DELAKTIG (the Swedish word for "involvement"), a modular, customisable bed/ couch offering more than 97 different configurations.
Underpinning the collaboration is the idea our homes should be as creative and unique as the people inhabiting them. IKEA even launched a "haute couture" cover made from luxe materials like velvet and mohair for DELAKTIG, encouraging customers to "hack" their furniture.
Ms Buckins says furniture should be changeable and adaptable to different situations.
"Just take our VALLENTUNA range - it's a modular design so you can take it apart or bring it together to spend time and connect with your family. It's relatively easy to reconfigure and has a high back for when you want some alone time," she says.
While technology is becoming more intertwined with our everyday lives, Mr Engman says future homes won't look like some kind of shiny, soulless utilitarian pod. Even though technology will continually redefine how we experience and value the spaces we inhabit, he believes the home will always remain primitive in its function.
"I don't think it will be some kind of dystopia," he says. "I think that the home will be even more important in the future. The starting point of a home is, after all, a shelter and most people see it as a feel-good place."