Better Living Through Ikea

Multi family house, Sweden, modell Gteborg grey.

So, the question is, amongst the red brick terraces of Wimpey houses and Barrett homes, does the modern Scandinavian take on house building have any place? The answer is yes apparently, in Gateshead, just over the Tyne from Newcastle. Ikea’s numberless solutions for home living may fill the inside of some, or all, of the surrounding urban dwellings, but the 36 flats in St James Village were the first builds for the Swedish firm’s answer to low cost housing.

Ikea had already built some 3500 of their BoKlok designs across Sweden and Norway when they applied for planning permission to build in the UK, back in 2007. Since then BoKlok, which is pronounced boo-klook, apartments and houses have progressed on to version 7.0, with each revision aiming to make the most innovative use of restricted space, while being as energy efficient as possible.

From an architectural point of view, the simple box design is very clever. While Ikea and their partners in construction, Skanska, are not keen on the term ‘flat-pack housing’ it is true that the main components of each build are pre-fabricated and shipped to the site semi-assembled with the interiors usually already in place. They are then bolted to a roof, plumbed and wired, and the exterior stone cladding is added. Designs vary from one, two or three bed apartments and houses but, apart from an increase in size, each is very similar.

To get away with a small overall footprint, each design comprises of an open plan living and kitchen/dining area, opening out onto a terrace, that the stairs or bedrooms lead off from. The homes include an Ikea fitted kitchen and appliances, and make use of high ceilings and large windows to create the feeling of light and space.

Economically speaking, the quick and simple construction system enables them to be offered as low-cost housing solutions. Ikea’s original brief, when they started work on the first models back in 1997, was to create a comfortable, modern home for a school teaching single mother with one child and no car that she could afford and still have money left over each month.

When targeting the UK, Ikea noticed that the British construction industry was only building upper mid-range and above houses, yet the need was for cheap homes above all else. This motivated them to bring their designs to England. The original apartments built in Gateshead were able to be priced around £100,000, more than expected because of the price of land in the UK, but still affordable for lower income families.

Some concessions were made to the UK market. The typical Swedish black wood and white window style, that puts one in mind of an alpine ski lodge, was re-engineered to look a little more British, but there is still no mistaking the difference. They certainly have an appeal that sets them above the usual terrace builds, while that clever use of space definitely makes them feel like you’re getting more house for your money.

How many more BoKlok houses will we see in the UK? As yet the is no firm answer. Since 2007 they haven’t exactly been shooting up all over the place, though there are over 5000 now throughout Europe, and the usual UK manufacturers, like Barrett and Wimpey, have been forced to modernise their designs. After all, BoKlok is Swedish for smart living.

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