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See the collection Ikea designed for tiny apartments–by studying Mars

How do you say “claustrophobia” in Swedish?

Last month, we wondered if Ikea was refocusing its brand with a slew of aggressively arty collabs with fashion figures like Virgil Abloh and Bea Akerlund. That theory was all but confirmed last week, when the company announced news of more upcoming projects with Solange’s Saint Heron, Sonos, Lego, and Adidas at its Democratic Design Days conference. At the event, the Swedish not-just-furniture company also shared a peek at another much-hyped and otherworldly release: Rumtid, a collection of homewares for urban micro-living, inspired by a cryptic research trip Ikea designers took last year to NASA’s Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.

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In 2017, a crew of Ikea designers visited the simulated Martian habitat for three days, where they experienced what life on Mars may be like and glean insights on designing for small spaces on Earth. “For us, in Ikea–especially in Scandinavian design–it’s form following function,” Ikea designer Michael Nikolic told Co.Design at the time. “Designing for a spaceship is actually quite good for us, for finding out the function for a few pieces. When you produce an industrialized thing, it has to be efficient, both in production and how you use it.”

The Rumtid collection is, in part, the result of that experience. The range, which is coming to stores in 2020, centers on four elemental themes—time, space, water, and air—and takes cues from life in space, with many of the items taking on a survivalist bent, practically packaged for highly stylized, high-tech efficiency.

[Photo: Ikea]

The collection includes Rumtid Garden, an indoor terrarium with a space-age aesthetic, as well as a series of air purifiers in a trio of sizes and colors, all sleek rectangular boxes featuring geometric cutouts. The company also shared plans for an innovative textile that will have air-purifying properties, which could potentially find widespread application in the home, from upholstery to curtains, and make life in polluted cities more habitable for us Earthlings.

[Photo: Ikea]

In addition to sending a team off to NASA’s Mars simulation, Ikea’s researchers also spent some time in Tokyo’s famously dense capsule hotels, where every inch of space is put at a premium. To that end, Rumtid also includes a DIY kit of joints and parts that are made for modularity and mobility, and can easily be customized and assembled into a variety of configurations, much like scaffolding. The parts are also extremely lightweight and durable, made from rolled veneer in a manufacturing process that yields little to no waste. “By cutting the tubes into different lengths and clamping them together we can build just about anything, be it sofas, wardrobes, beds, or something else completely,” Nikolic says in a statement. “This is a high-tech, efficient way of using our natural resources.”

So far, these peeks of Rumtid cover two of the four themes stated, space and air—but what about water and time? Two years is a long time by tech standards, and we’ll be watching to see how the design team will address these mercurial elements. With Elon Musk racing to send humans to the Red Planet by 2020, Ikea might just come out with something that’s useful for actual life on Mars.

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About the author

Aileen Kwun is a writer based in New York City.

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