MICRO LIVING Amy Bradford
ELLE Decoration’s looks at how the property crisis and technology are conspiring to scale down our idea of home
When an interiors trend appears as a big sell in the annual Ikea catalogue, it’s safe to say it’s hit the mainstream.
Which is why the 2017 edition’s focus on compact (read: ‘cramped’) living has alarm bells ringing in my head. Among the suggestions from Ikea’s living experts are buying a sofa that doubles as a bed; hanging your chairs on the wall to save space (it’s ‘wall art’, you see); and packing in a micro fridge beneath the sink of your three-foot-wide kitchen (which, being composed mostly of boxes and shelves on wheels, feels as precarious as can be). Presumably the latter holds the same Pot Noodles and cans of Coca-cola that you lived on as a student – for that is what this is, student living for the perpetual ‘ kidults’ that London’s spiralling property crisis is forcing us to become (not that the problem is unique to us; Ikea is Swedish, after all, and publishes the same catalogue in every territory). And it’s not just young singletons who are feeling the squeeze, according to Ikea: it counsels young families to pack a bunk bed into their living room (‘a stylish set-up that lets kids be kids and adults be adults’) and even empty nesters to rejoice in the intimacy of small, cosy corners (perhaps they’ve downsized, like the government asked them to). The message is clear: shrinking living quarters are the future we all face.
A survey by Opinium Research for the capital’s Fifty Thousand Homes campaign revealed some disturbing facts. Forty-two per cent of the twentysomethings polled were putting off starting a family because of soaring housing costs. Four out of five of the 520 respondents were considering leaving London altogether. If they do, they may well be hit with huge transport costs in order to get to work back in the city. Perhaps, if they’re lucky, their finances will stretch to one of the new ‘coliving’ developments that are springing up across the capital, such as The Collective (thecollective.co.uk), a place where everything except the bedrooms is communal, or Welive, the new concept from collective workspace pioneer Wework that will soon allow lucky workers to reside in pods above their offices. The same technology that liberates us to work flexible hours at home is also eroding the barriers that used to separate work from leisure.
Over the past few years, this magazine has documented how fast-paced lifestyles and the recession have prompted people to spend more time at home, retreating from stress and strain. In the long term, could the ‘micro home’ phenomenon change that? Spending your downtime in a tiny space where there’s no opportunity to entertain friends is hardly an attractive prospect. Maybe we’ll develop richer social lives, as we venture beyond our own four walls. But we may sacrifice closer, deeper bonds in the process. We can’t blame Ikea for wanting to put a positive spin on a decline in our collective fortunes, but if this trend continues, they should be as worried as we are.
‘Ikea encourages you to buy a sofa that doubles as a bed and hang your dining chairs on the wall (it’s “wall art”, you see)’