Having succeeded in filling homes around the world with affordable Swedish design, furniture giant Ikea has taken the logical next step: making the homes themselves. Ikea has built more than 3,500 apartments and houses across the Nordic region and is now planning its first UK developments.
An effective use of space in Swedish BoKlok houses allows for maximum functionality. Photo: MediaBanken 1.2 2007
In the late 1990s Ikea teamed up with Swedish construction company Skanska to develop BoKlok (which means Live Smart in Swedish). The concept aims to provide stylish but inexpensive new homes for low and middle income families, and is said to be popular with Ingvar Kamprad, Ikea’s notoriously thrifty billionaire founder.
BoKlok’s marketing manager Ewa Magnusson says: “We want to create better homes for the people, which is an extension of the Ikea vision of creating a better life for the people.”
Single nurse, one child
When the BoKlok project started, they used the same basic process used in the design of any other new Ikea product. Magnusson says the first two questions they asked were: who is the customer? And how much can they afford to pay? They decided that their target customer was a nurse who was single with one child.
“Then they asked a bank to calculate how much this nurse could afford and still be able to pay for the other things she needs, save some for a vacation and still live a good life,” says Magnusson.
According to marketing manager Ewa Magnusson, BoKlok “is an extension of the Ikea vision to create a better life for the people.”
Buyers have a choice between models, though the basic idea remains the same. The exterior looks surprisingly solid and sturdy and belies its low cost. Inside, it doesn’t exactly scream top quality, but it is light, airy, well-planned and functional.
Allen keys not needed
Marie Christiansson, 36, lives in a BoKlok apartment in Malmö with her partner and two children. When she moved in two years ago, she spent the SEK 3,000 Ikea voucher given to all new tenants on bedding and bits and pieces for the kids’ room, and got free advice from an Ikea interior designer on color schemes. She loves her apartment. “It hasn’t been built with lots of dead space – you can use every spare meter,” she says. “But it could be a bit bigger.”
The houses and apartments come complete with oak floors – sorry Britain, no fitted carpets –Ikea kitchens and tiled bathrooms. In Scandinavia the houses are built indoors and then transported to the building site on the back of a truck.
In the UK, where they do not yet have the volumes to make indoor production feasible, they will use a procedure familiar to Ikea shoppers the world over; the homes will be made in flat pack sections and assembled on site. But banish all thoughts of exasperated workmen with picture instructions in one hand and an Allen key in the other – the builders will be experienced professionals.
The airy interior is the result of open spaces and natural light in every room. Photo: MediaBanken 1.2 2007
The designers have had to make a few minor adjustments to the Scandinavian models to account for British tastes: there will be a bathtub rather than a shower, and instead of a full wooden façade which requires painting from time to time – a chore that is part of Swedish life but unpalatable to the British – it will be part rendered and part low-maintenance wood.
But Scandinavian standards will apply for other areas, such as the laundry facilities. Common practice in the UK is to have the washing machine in the kitchen, but BoKlok said no. “We pointed out that clean clothes and cooking don’t go together in the same place,” says Magnusson.
The homes will also feature Swedish building techniques – which could prove popular in these energy-conscious times – such as insulation in the walls which is three times as thick as the British norm.
The original Swedish BoKlok houses underwent some minor adjustments prior to their UK introduction. Photo: MediaBanken 1.2 2007
The great Ikea camp-out
Ikea is well known for queues, camping and commotion outside its new stores, and BoKlok has been no exception. When the first apartments went on sale in Stockholm at a city store, people camped outside for two days. BoKlok came up with a typically egalitarian Swedish solution.
“Our target group is small families, and do they have the possibility to camp outside an Ikea store for days? Probably not,” says Magnusson. “So we felt that the lottery was a democratic way to ensure that everyone has the same chance to get an apartment.”
It has been estimated that one in ten babies in Europe is today conceived in an Ikea bed. Should its homes prove as popular as its bookcases, those children could soon be growing up in Ikea houses.
1997 The first BoKlok apartments built in Sweden.
2002-4 BoKlok expansion to Norway, Finland, Denmark.
2005 Villa BoKlok launched in Sweden.
2006 The first BoKlok apartments built in the UK.
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David Wiles is a British journalist living in Sweden. He thinks the Swedes could teach the British a thing or two about equipping their homes with ample storage space, but feels that the British are more advanced when it comes to placing their homes near pubs.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
© Photos 1 and 3–5: MediaBanken 1.2 2007
© Photo 2: BoKlok
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