IKEA Knows

Ikea aging in place

 The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes.
–Frank Lloyd Wright

Aging in Place

It was a sunny Saturday morning in Portland (rare event) and I found myself in the parking lot of the mega-home furnishings store IKEA. If you’ve never been to the store it’s really kind of a fun place to shop. The design is European and unique, the prices are affordable, and the layout is like a giant maze of visual delights.

Enticed by one of those IKEA flyers which found its way to my front door; I now coveted some new flatware. Seems I was not the only one as a line of fellow shoppers formed before the store formally opened. Like Catholic grade school kids on our way to recess (filled with the anticipation of getting a deal), we marched single file to the back of the store. Soon we were rewarded for our early arrival with a box (or 2) of shiny silverware.

Next, I made my way to the register to pay for my newfound treasure. In no-time I was headed for the exit with that little dopamine lift that comes from buying something (and the perception of getting a deal). Nearing the egress, I glanced over and noticed a display of irresistible IKEA catalogs; so, I picked one up, tucked it under my arm and left for home.

IKEA Knows

IKEA is successful in my opinion because they understand 3 key things:
1. Home is the most important place in the world
2. The Aesthetic Imperative
3. Affordable small indulgences


What immediately caught my eye on the IKEA catalog cover was this text:

Home is the most important place in the world.

They not only get it; they state it on the cover and have built an enormously success business on this emotional appeal.

Home for younger people acts as a kind of psychic anchor reminding one of where they came from. For older adults attachment to home is linked to preservation of a sense of personal identity; and acts as a “fulcrum” to the rest of the world.
This attachment to home is described by Rowles (1984) as a sense of physical “insideness,” and being psychologically melded into the environment stemming from years of rhythm and routine of using the space over many years. IKEA seems to understand this.

The Aesthetic Imperative

We live in the age of Aesthetics; meaning items not only need to work well but they need to dazzle the eye. Products can’t compete solely on function anymore; most things made today will do the job they were designed for very nicely.

So, to gain advantage the product must now be aesthetically pleasing—Target has traded on this idea for years. Hiring Michael Graves to design simple everyday products gives an edge if you’re selling trash cans or fly swatters that function equally well.

IKEA is delivering multi-sensory aesthetic experiences, or what Virginia Postrel calls “immersive environments.” This brings the home experience into an almost intangible realm—which is important for boomers as spirit will come to dominate matter.

Affordable Small Indulgences

Futurist, Faith Popcorn nailed this one over a decade ago and she is still spot-on. Small indulgences, or the trend of thinking highly enough about yourself to treat yourself, is alive and well in boomers.

When the economy is doing well one might splurge on a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne; but as things tighten up the small reward might be an Ellan rocking chair designed by Chris Martin for $39.99 (page 108). Popcorn says this has to do with some deep sense of deprivation as we grow up thinking each generation will have it better than the one before; it’s a perceived quality of life issue. For a reasonable price IKEA can scratch that deep psychological itch (for a while anyway).

Aging in Place and Universal Design Market

The home not only has a supportive function of shelter, cooking, rest, storage, etc; but it has a psychological function of meeting emotional needs like the desire for beauty and sensory stimulation. IKEA knows this well and I would add a number 4 to the list; they would be wise to tap into the aging in place and universal design market…because for boomers around the globe, home is the most important place in the world.


Rowles, G. D. (1984) Aging in Rural Environments. In Altman, M.P. Lawton, and J. Wohlwill (Eds.), Elderly People and the Environment (pp. 129-157). New York: Plenum Press.

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