Making the mass-produced unique
When you think about mass-produced furniture it’s easy to imagine big machines spitting out glossy new products, each one identical to the one before. By its very nature there doesn't seem the possibility to make something unique without the whole process coming to a whistle-blowing halt.
The INDUSTRIELL collection is our way of turning mass-produced uniformity on its head by building a beautifully imperfect, human quality into a product without raising its price. It’s an ambition that had us completely rethink how we can make furniture.
Mass-produced vs handcrafted
On the surface of it mass-produced and handcrafted furniture can seem like exact opposites. Both have their benefits; mass production lets you work out the most efficient, high quality way to make something and drastically cut the cost, whereas handcrafted furniture can be as individual as the person making it.
Making handcrafted furniture in a way that as many people as possible can enjoy it is something we talk about a lot at IKEA. By happy coincidence Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek was thinking the exact same thing.
An exciting collaboration
“When I graduated from design school there was a great drive for perfection in design,” Piet says. “If you made a thousand copies they had to be identical, and there was nothing in the design that hadn’t been put in there by the designer. I wanted to strip that idea away and let the material take the lead.”
Piet is famous for using salvaged material to create beautiful furniture that is found in hotels and galleries around the world. While presenting a collection at the Milan Furniture Fair, he bumped into IKEA creative leader Karin Gustavsson and the idea of a collaboration began to grow.
“It turned out that IKEA and I had thought about the same thing for ages,” Piet says. “To make objects feel more human and more personal while still having an industrial production process.”
The challenge begins
After a meeting in Älmhult, the Swedish town where IKEA products are designed, Karin and Piet decided INDUSTRIELL should span from wooden furniture to glass, ceramics and textiles.
“The biggest challenge was how to keep the imperfections that give craft objects their individuality,” Piet says. “It was very difficult to persuade people in the factories to suddenly embrace what they usually perceive as mistakes.”
Each type of product meant finding a new approach to making it. For the ceramic vases in the collection, handcrafted moulds were designed so that there would be different shapes to choose from. For table and glassware, symmetrical designs were tweaked to create subtle variations. Textiles received similar treatment, skipping straight-line embroidery for hand-drawn like designs that pushed the capabilities of the machines making them.
Yearning for the unique
One of the biggest challenges came with creating a pinewood chair.
“We made it a point to use as much of each tree as we could, keeping what you could call imperfections like knots and changes in the grain and colour,” Karin says. “Our supplier has something like a thousand workers who usually shape white unblemished pine furniture so we were asking them to work in a completely different way.”
The final result is a collection designed to bring a warm, human feel to your home.
“I think INDUSTRIELL is beautiful because you can feel a personality behind the products,“ Karin says. “They’re made to mix in with what you have and last for a long time, so hopefully they become part of your personality too.”