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What Today’s Coliving Spaces Get Wrong

Ikea’s research lab asked people what they want from coliving. It’s the opposite of what many coliving startups are offering.

As cities get bigger, housing gets more expensive and spaces get smaller. These trends make coliving, where you live in a larger space with a larger group of people and share amenities, far more attractive. It’s a trend that companies like The Collective, Common, and WeLive are already capitalizing on by building large communities with private living spaces and shared common spaces.

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But what do people really want from coliving? Do they want to share their bathroom? Do they want to share the costs of food? Who would they want to live with?

For the Swedish furniture company Ikea, answering these questions is part of understanding what people will want from their furniture in the future–making it a crucial part of the company’s business strategy going forward. To find out, Ikea’s research lab, Space10, launched an interactive website and survey called One Shared House 2030 in November of 2017. Framed as an application to a shared house that one would move into in the year 2030, the survey asked for people’s preferences in a coliving house–from what spaces they’d want to keep private to what types of utilities they wouldn’t mind sharing.

[Image: courtesy Space 10]

Now, the results are in. More than 7,000 people from 147 countries answered the survey. As it turns out, people really don’t want to share bathrooms–or bedrooms for that matter–but are fine with sharing kitchens, workspaces, gardens, and the internet. People were most open to living with childless couples and single women, and would prefer not to deal with teenagers or small children. The biggest concern is privacy–except for people over 65, who are most worried about having arguments and dealing with other people’s messes.

But most interestingly, the survey revealed that respondents were most interested in living in shared houses of between 4 and 10 people. That’s really small–and not something that today’s coliving companies offer. Instead, those companies are going the opposite direction, building giant skyscrapers that can house hundreds of people and calling it coliving. The Collective has a giant tower in west London with 550 beds, WeLive is building a skyscraper in Seattle that will have 384 apartments, and in 2018 the U.S. company Ollie is launching a coliving house with more than 470 apartments in Queens, New York.

That’s a pretty big disconnect between what companies in this space are doing and what people want–likely because of economies of scale. If you can pack 300 people into a single building, you can be a lot more efficient than if you have only 10. As a result, today’s coliving houses are more like shared skyscrapers than shared houses.

The survey shows that the main reason people are interested in coliving is because they want to be social. But no one wants to live in a giant hotel–which sounds just as isolating as living in an apartment. Instead, they want to connect with people in a meaningful way. Sharing some space with strangers is becoming a more acceptable paradigm for city dwellers looking for connection. Based on the results of Ikea’s survey, it seems like no coliving company has really figured out the right balance between an economically feasible scale and a scale that favors human connections.

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The results also showed that people were most interested in furnishing their own private spaces and relying on designers to furnish and decorate the shared spaces–something that you wouldn’t find with most of the current coliving companies, which fully furnish each apartment.

Of course, the survey isn’t scientific or representative and should be taken as a gauge more than anything else. But if these companies and the designers who work for them want to take coliving from an idealistic concept into a widespread reality, they’ll need to pay a lot more attention to what people actually want.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.

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