On the same day that we learnt that supermarket titans Tesco are launching a rival online shopping service to compete with Amazon, we also heard that flat-pack giants Ikea are making a bid to take their furniture into the electronics market. When it comes to diversification, no-one does it like the Big Boys of Commerce.
Since I have a pet hate for Tesco but am a big fan of Amazon, the latter have nothing to fear regarding my (colossal) personal custom. But my feelings about Ikea are a little less well-defined, as I hinted at in my recent blog: Bequeathing your flat-packs. Yet the question that’s most interesting for me here relates to the marriage prospects of furniture with technology. It’s the bit that goes “will you remain true to one another as long as you both shall live” where it gets a bit tricky for me… For how long realistically could either the veneered MDF structure or the embedded electronic component really live happily ever after?
Probably for the mass market side of things it’s a fairly inevitable progression, and I for one was a little surprised that Ikea hadn’t gone down the iDesk or the eBilly route long ago. But for the higher end of the furniture market, I am definitely ambivalent.
In a recent article in the New York Times, some great examples were shown of cutting edge furniture design incorporated with, or accommodating the latest technologies. I wholeheartedly embrace good and innovative design but where some of these furniture pieces fall down in my view is that they are inextricably linked to, and indeed wholly reliant on the validity and currentness of the technology in question. Take, for example, the chair with the iPhone dock built into the arm. It’s cool, bang on trend, looks fab and is probably beautifully made, but we all know that the iPhone in its current incarnation is highly unlikely to be around just a few years from now. Which is fine and acceptable when you’re talking about mobile phones or plasma-screens… but when you’re talking about a really great piece of furniture suddenly becoming redundant, obsolete way before its natural end of life, then that just doesn’t sit very comfortably with me. Wind back a decade and imagine how pissed off you’d have been if you’d bought that same chair with a built in set of MiniDisc speakers!
A lot of contemporary furniture accommodates more generically the integration of technology, as well as the ergonomics – the changing ways we are using our furniture. Laptops and tablets make our large workstations rather redundant as our sofa becomes our new office in many cases. But designing specifically around an iPad, a flat screen TV or a Kindle is a dangerous game in my books: design fads come and go, and technology is racing ahead at such a pace that no-one can predict what we’ll all be carrying in our pockets or have on our desks, if indeed we still have desks, in six months’ time, let alone seven years from now (the average lifespan of a piece of furniture in the UK!).
In terms of longevity…. (and please forgive the commercial break here but it’s true and relevant!)… Tree Couture furniture, as I’m always so proud to say, will outlive every single one of its owners. And that’s because it is handcrafted from solid hardwood (never veneers and MDF) and is designed to sit just as comfortably in a minimalist contemporary environment as amongst a salon full of the finest antiques. It will still look gorgeous, relevant and be fully functional a century from now. (If not, come and see me)…
OK, little (cordless) plug over.
The article in the NY Times argues that furniture has been the slowest aspect of our life to respond to changes in the way we go about our daily business. But that’s maybe because we largely like to think of our furniture as more long-term fixtures in our life (even if the reality proves otherwise), different from our accessories or gadgets and gizmos. And while that may well be true, I must admit to loving the fact that there are some young furniture designers out there thinking outside the box, wanting to reinvent or re-conceptualise a staple in our homes or workplaces and embrace all the wonders of new technologies – as that is what drives us all forward. So sit back on whatever it is that is supporting you, take a look at the images and I shall leave you to decide on how successful you feel these clever new designs are… and time will do the rest.
The iCon Bed from Hollandia has a headboard equipped with speakers, an amplifier and docking stations for two iPads.
Left: Think Fabricate’s Fleur de Noyer chest has a built-in charging station for electronic devices, shown here with the iPad.
Right: Spell’s Nomad table is designed for those who have migrated away from their home offices toward their couches.
Left: The Scene XXL Chair from M2L has an optional tablet table and an upholstered high back for privacy when typing or making phone calls.
Right: Lovegrove & Repucci’s Concerto table has an iPod dock.