Kitchens haven’t changed radically since the refrigerator took off in the 1940s. But in the next decade, as food prices go up, water and energy become more precious, and Internet-of-things tech proliferates, there might be another big shift in kitchen design. That’s the prediction, at least, of Ikea, which worked with the design firm Ideo and a group of design students from Lund University and Eindhoven University of Technology to design a prototype kitchen for 2025.
“This project allowed us to explore our curiosity around food,” says Marcus Engman, head of design for Ikea. “There is so much more to food than food. And 10 years in the future, the world will be a very different place. What does that mean for us, for the design of kitchens, and the people who make them–and how will we be able to live a sustainable life at home?”
The design students spent months researching people’s attitudes about cooking and eating and how the world of food might change over the next decade. After the students came up with more than 20 visions for future kitchens–from a shared community kitchen for city neighborhoods to an interactive chef’s hat that teaches kids to cook through games–Ideo built a working prototype.
Thanks to pressures on agriculture and swelling populations, the cost of food may go up as much as 40% in the next decade. That fact–along with growing awareness of water shortages–led designers to focus on a simple way to reduce food waste: If you can see the groceries you brought home, you’ll be less likely to forget about them. The shelves are shallow enough that nothing gets hidden, turns moldy, and ends up in the trash. Instead of putting food away in a fridge, you put it in a clear storage box on an induction-cooled shelf.
The system doesn’t take up as much space as traditional storage–but you’ll also have less food in your kitchen at any time, since drones will make it simple to get instant delivery of whatever you need.
Under the sink, any organic waste washed down the drain is blended and the water is squeezed out, so you end up with tiny odorless pucks of compost instead of a smelly compost bin. The waste water can be reused to water plants hanging above the sink.
A recycling system with sensors recognizes materials, crushes and seals them for recycling, and then keeps track of how wasteful you’ve been, giving energy credits if you’ve managed to conserve.
Since drought is likely to become more common in many parts of the world, this sink is designed to help force reuse. Tip it to the left if it’s clean enough to water plants, and the water will drain into storage or directly into the garden above the sink. If the water’s dirty, tip it to the right to send it down the drain into traditional water treatment.
Though the table in the Ikea’s kitchen is a little less obviously focused on sustainability than some of the other features, it also helps reduce food waste–throw a few random ingredients on the table, and it will instantly recognize them and suggest a recipe to use them up. A camera above the table watches as you cook to offer suggestions, while a projector streams tips. The table doubles as a cutting board (with projected lines to help you cut straight) and as an induction cooktop.
While the kitchen tried to embody several themes, like helping people get more creative as they cook, or bringing people together around food as a social activity, the designers built sustainability into everything.
“One of the key things we tried to do with Concept Kitchen 2025 is design things that hopefully help people adopt more sustainable behaviors, but that are still a natural part of everyday life, and don’t feel like you’re having to do something extra,” says Juho Parviainen, design director at Ideo’s London office.
Is it possible that these cabinets and tables will show up at your local Ikea with unpronounceable Swedish names? As conceptual designs, the form may be a little different–but the designers say that future products will be focused on solving the same problems the project uncovered.
“What we aimed to do with Ikea was to discover the behaviors we want to be designing for,” says Parviainen. “These behaviors are definitely realistic to design for. What the solutions look like, and even how exactly these design challenges might be addressed will probably change.”