We were all raised with them: Billy bookcases, the Isamu Noguchi-style rice-paper lamps and the Alvar Aalto-esque armchair (the one that’s kept in a glass cage in-store and is being flexed over and over to show how durable it is). The mainstays of Ikea’s portfolio are in some ways as venerated and iconoclastic as the true design icons they were inspired by but these classics are decades old now. The company has struggled for years to create new classics – if struggle is the word, chances are they are not interested in doing so – to add to its portfolio alongside those aforementioned ones. Recent models have been perfectly practical pieces of household equipment, yes; but have there been well-designed, remarkable pieces of furniture that can resonate with Ikea shoppers worldwide? Not for quite a while.
That changed last week when London-based designer and interior-architect Ilse Crawford of Studioilse premiered her first, eagerly awaited collection for Ikea: Sinnerlig. The 30-piece range contains everything from stools to glass bottles, a daybed to lampshades and has been nearly three years in development. The pieces will be credited to Studioilse but will sit in Ikea’s main collection from August.
There is very little in the way of tricks in the new collection, very few frills, but that’s what makes its most enticing ingredient stand out: its rather astounding use of – and care for – natural materials. There is the slightly Abigail’s Party-esque bamboo lantern, beautifully rational saddle-shaped cork stools and wonderfully weathered ceramics. Bamboo, cork, seagrass; Crawford has brought back an element of tactility to Ikea, something it hasn’t been identified with for a while in its quest for a world of melamine and veneer. Who knew such earthy, underwhelming materials such as these could feel so pioneering?
Ikea has experimented with new lines regularly in recent years, though none have hit the mark as well as this. In 2013 it brought back its Stockholm collection, the high-end line it has released sporadically since 1984. There was much in the way of premium materials – good leather and walnut – but few pieces that were egalitarian or tasteful enough to be adopted by the public psyche. There was also its ongoing PS collection, a limited-edition range aimed at city dwellers short on space. There was lots of kooky space-saving devices such as corner cabinets and an A-frame wall shelf but little to induce a sense of want, want, want in all corners of the globe.
Where did these fail where Studioilse succeeds? Think about why you love Ikea, why we all love Ikea. You know that schlep to Wembley in London or Red Hook in Brooklyn or Chiba near Tokyo will always reward you with a blue bag full of durable basics. But you’ll also always find at least two or three non-essentials – objects special enough to want but nothing too experimental or kooky – we don’t go to Ikea for that.
This new Sinnerlig collection takes Ikea back to its original DNA and embraces the essential tenet of Scandinavian design; everyday pieces that don’t shout but quietly attract attention – in this case with an accomplished use of natural materials – and that will not date. Now that’s how to make a classic.
Tom Morris is design editor for Monocle.