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IKEA On Why Shared, Multi-Functional Spaces Are The Future Of Sustainable Living And Working


PSFK founder and president Piers Fawkes speaks to Evamaria Rönnegård, leader of IKEA's Better Living project, to discuss designing flexible dwellings for consumers' increasingly fluid lifestyles, merging work, home and play in sustainable shared spaces

For a series of articles, I have been interviewing experts to investigate scenarios and signals that suggest the ways in which we will live by 2030. One theme that I’ve been looking at with the Future of Home+Living project is the rise of Communal Compoundsresidences where people live together and share much of the space, resources and products. 

To explore this concept further, I spoke to Evamaria Rönnegård about the development of these community-led residences. Evamaria is an expert leading development of the Better Living project at IKEA, the Swedish based home-design company. She believes that we need to rethink how we design, finance and build our future homes, neighborhoods and cities to tackle some of the urgent challenges we face while creating more livable, affordable and sustainable homes for the many.


Piers Fawkes: There are several factors driving the future of how we will live. What’s your opinion on some of the key drivers?

Gig Economy / Last Mile Employment
Evamaria RönnegårdThis could mean that more people will use their home and neighborhood as their work space, not only for a smaller part of the week but also as their more or less permanent work space. Many people already live more fluid lives, and it will become even more common to work not only from home but also from public spaces, such as cafés, parks and squares.

This will result in new requirements for products, solutions and services. For example, products will need to be designed for flexibility, multifunctionality or to be transformable–meaning that a product can have multiple functions or change appearance. We will continue to see even more products with built-in smart technology. 

Banks, financial establishments, governments and other institutions will also probably need to change their business models and mindset about how they calculate creditworthiness of people without classical full-time employment. 

The Shared-Economy’s Displacement of Where People Live (and Play)
Evamaria: We need to rethink how we design, finance and build our future homes, neighborhoods and cities to tackle some of the urgent challenges we face in our current urban realities. This will allow us to create more liveable, affordable and sustainable homes for the many.

A shared economy does not only mean that people share things: It also means that people will share spaces to a higher degree. Former private spaces might become semi-private or shared, whereas newly built neighborhoods, houses, apartments and other spaces (like offices) will be designed to function as shared spaces from the beginning.


Being Single as a State, Not a Stage
Evamaria: The traditional nuclear family is no longer a must for everyone. Today, we see many different types of family constellations, which means that there is a need for a different approach when it comes to a lot of things—urban planning, how neighborhoods and homes are built as well as how products and services are designed, just to name a few. We need to build more small apartments as well as design home furnishing solutions, products and services specifically for single households.

From research, we see that living alone often leads to a feeling of loneliness. According to the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, city dwellers have a 40% increased risk of depression. And 22% of adults in the U.S. and 18% of adults in Europe are socially isolated, meaning they only meet with friends or family once a month.

That is one of the challenges we are looking into in our project. IKEA is exploring how we could enable a better everyday life through the multiple benefits of living in communities, with access to shared facilities and services like communal dining, transportation, fitness, retail and urban farming, all while offering a sense of belonging—which is proven to boost health and happiness, especially for singles

Piers: In my research, I'm looking at the rise of communal compounds—buildings (and networks of buildings) that offer people opportunities to live, work and play in one central place. In an interview with Bloomberg, you seemed to be tracking the same theme. I'd love to explore the multi-room experience further:

Specifically, who are the people who will choose or need to live in these establishments, and what will the division of public and private spaces within them look like?


Evamaria: There is room for everyone in integrated neighborhoods. By sharing responsibilities, meeting each other and doing things together, the community thrives. Doing so also strengthens diversity and inclusion, which leads to an increased quality of life for the people living there.

We believe in a community that has diversity and equality in the forefront. We are curious about how we could create neighborhoods that appeal to different kinds of people looking to live their lives more fully— a place that is attractive for people with different cultural backgrounds, lifestyles, income levels, genders, sexual identification and ages. It could be two families sharing a home, but it could just as well be two generations from the same family, two friends, or any other cohabiting constellation. We use the word ‘family’ in its broadest possible sense, and do not exclude singles.

Public vs Private
Evamaria: We will see different solutions to solve for different needs and preferences. At IKEA, we are exploring various solutions at the moment, where for example the sleeping, dressing and bathroom areas are private, but the cooking, eating and socializing areas are shared.

We are still just exploring, however, so there is still a lot to learn! We are currently conducting home studies in a number of bigger cities around the world to get an even better understanding of how people live in shared spaces. We are looking to answer questions such as “What are their motivations? What frustrations can occur? What advantages does shared space give to them? 

Piers: Will there be a new set of services that helps the residents of these shared spaces tap into the city? Today, we’re already seeing the proliferation of food delivery and car-service ordering—tomorrow, could it be gig-finding?

Evamaria: We believe in services that ease up, spice up, prolong and enrich people’s lives. People in shared neighborhoods have the need for a wide range of services. They take care of themselves by sharing, and get help by posting on a task runner app. Examples of other services would be health and child care, laundry, cleaning, food, repairs, transport, co-working and much more. We believe that services for upcycling, recycling and repairing will become more common, in order to save resources as well as money.


Piers: How will this impact the design of the objects and appliances we use

Evamaria: We are exploring this area at the moment and there is still much to learn. These are the questions we currently are researching: Is sharing a better, more sustainable and affordable way of living? Can shared spaces bring us closer together and make life easier for everyone? How can sharing prolong the life of products? How might communities come together to repair, reuse and repurpose the products we all own? 

Living within the limits of the planet will require us all to rethink the meaning of ownership and how we design our communities, services and products to make collective ownership a better reality. In short: We need to design for circularity!

Evamaria Rönnegård is the development leader of IKEA’s Better Living project, where she explores urban living and how we can design more affordable, sustainable, inclusive and diverse homes and neighborhoods.



For the full article on Communal Compounds, the second installment in the Future of Home+Living Series, click here.

Lead image: IKEA