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Ikea Shares Glimpse of a Very Different Future in Crowded Cities

The furniture retailer laid out a vision of an urban future where multiple families share kitchens, hallways and dining areas.

(Bloomberg)—In a crowded urban future, kitchens, hallways and dining areas will be shared by multiple families, furniture will be robotic and closets can be shrunk when not in use.

That’s according to the world’s largest furniture retailer, Ikea, which laid out its vision on how to house and furnish a world that’s becoming more urbanized and more crowded during its “Democratic Design Days” on Tuesday in the small town of Almhult, Sweden.

Ikea, along with developer Ikano Bostad and design lab Space10, has embarked on a project to help solve the challenges facing cities confronted with growing urbanization, aging populations, soaring housing prices and a lack of natural resources.

“We’re going to have to share much more in the future,” Evamaria Ronnegard, development leader at Ikea, said in a phone interview, pointing to estimates that 70% of the world’s population will want to live in cities by 2050.

The size of the homes could range from two-family households to large hotel-like complexes featuring hundreds of bedrooms depending on need and cultural preferences. Responsibility and management of the facilities would have to be built into the design to avoid creating unnecessary friction around things like cleaning, she said.

Residential compounds could feature joint kitchens and dining areas and places for fitness and play activities. Bedrooms, toilets and closets would still be separate since studies have shown people are less open to sharing these spaces, according to Ronnegard.

Ikea envisages the project to spark new ideas for the home, such as more modular refrigerators that can be adapted to suit certain foods or robotic furniture that can save space in small rooms.

Together with Boston-based startup Ori, Ikea is planning to launch robotic storage -- walk-in closets that can be minimized when not in use -- in Hong Kong and Japan in 2020, it also said Tuesday. It’s working on similar technologies with BumblebeeSpaces, a San Francisco-based startup that uses the ceiling to store furniture when not needed.

Still, communal living may not be for everyone.

"In some cultures people are very open to sharing and live in large family constellations whereas we, here in Sweden, are used to having our own private sphere," Ronnegard said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anna Molin in Stockholm at [email protected] To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jonas Bergman at [email protected] Tasneem Hanfi Brögger

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