People have always been obsessed with what the world will look like in the future. Cast your mind back (forwards) to Back To The Future II, when the gang visit the McFly household as imagined in the far-flung future of 2015. The family dine on tiny packeted food that grows magically into a giant pizza in a matter of seconds in the voice-activated hydrator oven. The kids spend all their time wearing outlandish versions of Google Glass, calls are taken on a big TV screen and the older Marty McFly inexplicably wears two ties.
Architects and designers love to take the future home to task. For years we've been imagining what our houses will look like in the world of tomorrow. This work is the subject of a new exhibition called Home Futures at the Design Museum in London's Kensington, which examines prototypes of imagined future homes and homeware from the 20th century and compares them to what we actually have today, in the "future": 2018.
It's a fascinating exhibition. From Gary Chang's Hong Kong Transformer Apartment (a 1988 wall-shifting space which can be transformed into 24 different rooms) to Ettore Sottsass' Home Environment – a home that can be moved from space to space. It's clear the designers of the past were predicting the nomadic lifestyle currently favoured by many, and the space-starvation issues that are growing more and more problematic as urban living continues to increase.
The exhibition has been done in conjunction with home giant IKEA, a store consistently at the forefront of comprehending modern living. The now infamous PS 2014 collection was one of the first ranges to feature products suited to those who rent; products were modular, or easy to move, small in size and – most importantly – visually exciting. Perfect for young people who don't want to, or are unable to "settle down" in the traditional suburban-house-with-a-family sense.
Every year IKEA produces a Life at Home Report that takes a look at the modern home. For the 2018 report, they spoke to over 22,000 people in 22 different countries to find out what "home" means for people today. And in a twist that literally every millennial and Gen Z-er saw coming, researchers found out that "home" means something very different from what it meant to our parents.
We sat down with lead researcher on the report, Maria Jonsson to find out what the word "home" means in 2018, and how our living situations are going to change in the future.
Home doesn’t just mean "a house" anymore
The home used to constitute the "shelter" part of our basic needs alongside things like food, drink and sleep. It was the four walls in which we lived. However, as the researchers found, that is no longer the case. "There is a shift from within the four walls to beyond the four walls," explains Maria. "The people we spoke to during this research live in a different way. It’s more about this network of different places and spaces that can be part of the 'home' in an emotional sense."
In order to feel "at home" now, we have five basic needs that must be met
The report found that these needs are: privacy, security, comfort, belonging and ownership. Shockingly (or not, depending on how clued up you are about young people and their living situations), a lot of people aren’t getting these from their current residences. Perhaps your house is too small to get any privacy; perhaps it’s too small for comfort. Security in a houseshare or a big city can be iffy, belonging can be tough when your housemates aren’t well known to you, and ownership? Well, many of us will never be the proud owner of a set of house keys. "There has been universal change," says Maria. "With more people moving to urban areas, that puts a strain on housing resources. You could be living with people who aren’t family, you might have to compromise on space."
Even though we can't buy houses, we're figuring out how to meet these needs in non-traditional ways
So you can’t afford a home. The only bit of the house that is "yours" is your bedroom. How to feel like you "own" that area? This is where our obsession with Pinterest, interior design Instagram accounts and houseplants comes in. "If you live with housemates, leaving your mark (aka ownership) can be hard," Maria explains. "You don’t want to put in that effort if the people you live with don’t care as much." Hence the need to curate your own area – or as Maria says: "Being able to identify your space and show your individuality."
And it's not just the "ownership" need we're fulfilling in this way...
Feeling a sense of "belonging" in a houseshare of strangers is much tougher than if you were living with family. But being adaptable, we’re fixing that. One person the researchers spoke to lived in a collective. Carl told them he won't ever be able to afford a home in London so he was figuring out other ways to "create stability in a very transient world", especially once he realised how important stability was to his mental health. For most of our lives, we as millennials have imagined that we’ll get married, have kids, own a house just like our parents. But if we can’t, then we need to rethink what home means. "For Carl, his belonging is connected to his online presence," Maria explains. "He gets belonging from his WhatsApp groups, he plays an online game and there's the community in that. It’s the things he can acquire that make him feel like that’s his identity."
And what about comfort, security and privacy?
Some people invest in nice bedlinen, explains Maria. "Just because you don’t own your house doesn’t mean you can’t have a good night’s sleep and then wake up in the morning and go out into the world and be your best self." When it came to privacy, Maria told of people fulfilling that need by taking themselves to the park and sitting with earphones in. Yes, there may be people around, but the anonymity the park affords is far more private than if you're living in a busy household. "For some people, 'my home begins at my front door'," Dr Alison Blunt, co-director of Queen Mary University's Centre for Studies of Home, told the researchers. "For other people, 'my sense of home begins when I am within this area, around the estate within which I live'. It’s that sense of a wider, more expansive notion of home." That reason you feel more "safe" and secure as soon as you turn onto your road? It's because you're "home".
So what does this mean?
For some, this new idea of "home" may be disruptive and unwelcome. Yes, the reasons why we're living in smaller residences with more and more people are less than ideal. But in the age of connectivity, as we shed more and more physical "stuff" (remember your huge collection of DVDs from just a few years ago?), perhaps we're better placed to seek alternative sources of comfort and belonging beyond the four walls we sleep within. Humans are remarkably adaptable, and it's to our credit that many are managing it. As Sarah from London told the researchers: "The extended home adds the seasoning and spice you can’t get at home. Using the extended home imaginatively helps you get the home you want and need, no matter what your home is."
So as your floorspace shrinks, look out of your windows at the network of places and spaces around your neighbourhood, on your phone and elsewhere, and fingers crossed you'll be able to feel at "home".