If you spot an earth-toned ceramic vase at Ikea that looks misshapened, don’t complain at the nearest information counter just yet. The vase is part of a collection by the Swedish furnishing company called Industriell that was developed in collaboration with established Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek.
The collection moves away from “mass-produced uniformity” and banks on creating imperfect, human-quality products without raising prices.
“It turned out that Ikea and I had thought about the same thing for ages; to make objects feel more human and more personal while still having an industrial production process,” Eek says in a press release.
Working with Eek, Ikea developed new ways to work with wood, glass, ceramics and textiles that complement the principles of sustainability and offer handcrafted designs to the masses.
“When I graduated from design school, there was a great drive for perfection in design,” Eek 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,” he says.
Finding value in resources that might otherwise go to waste was therefore at the forefront of the collection’s philosophy. The Industriell shelving unit is a good example of trying to discard as little material as possible – “Only the wood removed by saw cuts and by creating holes is taken away or burned,” he explains.
However, developing the various products in the collection was not all smooth sailing.
“The biggest challenge was how to keep the imperfections that give craft objects their individuality. It was very difficult to persuade people in the factories to suddenly embrace what they usually perceive as mistakes,” Eek says.
Each type of product required a new approach to making it. For the ceramic vases, the team designed handcrafted moulds so that there was a variety of shapes to choose from.
When it came to tables and glassware, symmetrical designs were tweaked, resulting in subtle variations. For textiles, straight-line embroidery was ditched, replaced with hand-drawn-like designs.
One of the biggest challenges came from creating chairs from pine wood.
“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,” says Ikea creative leader Karin Gustavsson in the same press release.
“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,” she says, adding that by 2020, all the wood used by Ikea will come from more sustainable sources, which they define as either recycled wood or Forest Stewardship Council-certified.
Ultimately, the Industriell collection aims to give a warm, personal touch to living spaces.
“I think Industriell is beautiful because you can feel a personality behind the products,” says Gustavsson. “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.”