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Ikea attempts to co-opt Ikea hacking

A splashy new collection with Dutch studio Scholten & Baijings celebrates the popular consumer pastime of hacking IKEA products.

Ikea attempts to co-opt Ikea hacking
[Photo: Ikea]

An ironic, artsy collection of rugs and tote bags; a micro-living collection inspired by a NASA Mars simulation; and a venture into audio gear for home entertainment: Something funky has been brewing over at Ikea for some time. The Swedish furniture giant is continuing the trend toward experimentation with its next collaborative release, timed to its 75th anniversary. To announce the collection, the brand went all-caps: “WE HACKED OURSELVES.”

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Working with Dutch studio Scholten & Baijings—known for bringing a conceptual, candy-colored touch to established modern brands like Herman Miller, Maharam, and HAY—Ikea invited the designers to revisit a few of its salient classics. The studio’s limited-edition collection, Lyskraft (Swedish for “Luminosity”) brings a refreshed, edited take on the ubiquitous Poang lounge chair and Klippan sofa, with features that include new colored, textured seat covers and geometric, screw-on sofa legs that one might normally seek out on a site like Pretty Pegs, Bemz, or any number of cottage-industry specialists that have made a business model of selling niche, Ikea-specific accessories.

[Photo: Ikea]

There’s certainly a significant market for those looking to add an easy and affordable twist to Ikea’s mass-manufactured designs, and indeed, the Lyskraft collection was “inspired by people’s creativity that is seen in Ikea-hack communities,” says Ikea’s creative lead, Michael Nikolic. “Hacking and DIY are trends that continue to grow. More and more people take creativity into their own hands, loving to remake and renew. And so we do at IKEA. The hackers are an inspiration to us, and with Lyskraft, we feel it’s our time to show we got inspired by them.”

[Photo: Ikea]
The marketing strategy behind Lyskraft recalls the brand’s recent collaboration with British designer Tom Dixon, who designed a simple modular daybed. In its quest for product longevity and relevance, the team sought not permanence but flexibility, actively inviting college students to further “hack” the design in new ways. The development process speaks to a shift in how large furniture companies can approach mass-manufactured designs.

But is “Ikea hacking” truly hacking when it’s been commissioned, issued, and stamped for approval by the brand itself?

There’s a sense of agency and originality lost when the choice of accessories comes readymade alongside the factory issue. When I think of the internet-born breed of Ikea hacking, an irreverent and newfangled collage of inelegant yet humorously and (sometimes) ingeniously fitting elements come to mind: A coffee table made into a bar trolley with the addition of bicycle wheels. An Expedit bookshelf made into a hamster cage. A children’s bicycle made from Frosta stools, or a hanging chandelier made from colanders. Heck, even the luxury world has taken a nod from the wild and wacky world of Ikea hacking, with upscale, tongue-in-cheek takes on everyday classics.

[Photo: Ikea]

While Scholten & Baijings’ vibrant, scalloped designs are surely an alluring and handsome take on old Ikea best-sellers, in truth, more than the aesthetic or approach of Ikea hacking, the Lyskraft collection reminded me of a recent limited-edition collection from the legacy Finnish furniture house Artek. For its 80th anniversary in 2015, Artek also tapped a Dutch design star known for color, Hella Jongerius, who gave a colorful new look to several of Alvar Aalto’s canonical designs made from bentwood, long acknowledged as the source of Ikea’s inspired Poang lounge and Frosta stools, which sell for fractions less than the original.

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An affordable and easy-to-add set of style accessories are clearly more marketable to most—and when said product comes with build-it-yourself instructions, calling it “hacking” might just be good business.

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About the author

Aileen Kwun is a writer based in New York City. She is the author of Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations On a Lifetime in Architecture and Design (Princeton Architectural Press), and was previously a senior editor at Dwell and Surface.

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