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April 13, 2017, 12:34 AM

Ikea's appeal and the English housing crisis

By Michael Morel

West London mews Mike Morel

London West, UK - Trouble in the antiques trade is often assigned to the quintessential corporate villain of furniture: Ikea. Earlier this year BBC broadcaster and antiques authority Judith Miller went so far as to blame the popular company for the death of the antiques industry.

But Ikea is not forcing its products on anyone. What underlying factors draw people to short-lived, mass produced furniture?

Affordability is an obvious explanation. Among the top three selling items at Ikea today, one of them, a lightweight LACK table, starts at just 5! Appearance matters too. Readers of SalvoNews may not agree, but many Brits are clearly fond of Ikea designs. Even Ms. Miller concedes Ikea's style is "very good".

That said, perhaps a deeper economic circumstance underpins Ikea's popularity, something beyond any single item's price tag. Could renters be more drawn to the impermanence of Ikea than homeowners? Could the sense of investment that comes with owning a flat enhance our distaste for the disposable?

This hunch comes from my own recent experience. Having rented most of my life, I never gave much thought to furniture until a few years ago when I was lucky enough to co-inherit a house. The sense of investment that came with owning awakened many dormant "settle down" instincts within me. Along with a sudden interest in gardening and cooking, not to mention unprecedented thoughts of starting a family, I soon began to care more about furniture or anything for the house.

Importantly, my income did not have to increase in order for my preferences to change. Indeed rents can easily be higher than mortgage payments. It was the sense of investment or permanence that was new.

This theory may help explain why England's housing costs seem to increase along with Ikea's success. A recent study by housing charity Shelter says the vast majority of families throughout England are unable to afford new homes in their area. Defying stereotypes, the areas with the highest percentage unable to buy were in the Midlands and the south-west, not London or the south-east.

Government funded schemes are increasing the housing supply gradually, but prices will remain out of reach for a long time to come.

As if to make the point, Ikea announced plans this week to build affordable flats for its employees in Reykjaivk, the notoriously expensive capital of Iceland. The rents may be low but I doubt there will be an option to buy. One thing is certain; the make of the furnishings.

Ikea to build affordable housing to combat high rents
Judith Miller on the antiques trade

Story Type:  News

ID: 99753

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