Capturing the simple pleasures of life at home

Maybe you knew that Ikea’s largest franchisee, Ingka Group, annually conducts a comprehensive, global lifestyle and home survey and report, Life at Home, publishing it in the new year, but this came as news to me.

I stumbled upon this trove of survey data doing some basic googling on Ingka Group’s just-announced partnership with Annie Leibovitz, one of America’s best-known photographers notable for, among so many other things, her now iconic photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono for Rolling Stone magazine in 1980. I use her work in one of my college courses.

Leibovitz is the franchisee’s 2023 artist-in-residence, which, to even have an artist-in-residence, is fairly progressive for any furniture company. Respect.

As Ingka Group puts it in its press release, Leibovitz is renowned for “her ability to capture the inner life of her subjects” through her photographic portraiture, subjects she “engages in intimate spaces or moments.” To get these seemingly candid (but entirely posed) moments and the “truths” they seem to reveal, Leibovitz has exhibited a rare ability to explore “profound aspects of the universal human experience,” the release put it.

“I’ve been photographing people in their homes since I began,” Leibovitz said. “It’s a way to understand who a person is. The advice I give to young photographers is to photograph their families.”

Put another log on the fire

Ah, family. This is the centering concept or value for this year’s Life at Home report, a compendium of trend lines, sentiments and value statements as aggregated from a survey of more than 37,000 regular folks from 37 countries throughout the world.

Among the report’s provocative takeaways is the ranking of concerns as reported by the survey’s subjects. The economy is first, household finances are second, leaving climate change a distant third.

Also intriguing and, for furniture companies who advertise, rather important, is that nearly half of the survey’s respondents say their lives at home are not reflected in media. This is an opportunity for advertisers to better connect visually with the ways people are actually living rather than continuing to present idealized and, ultimately, disaffecting depictions of homes, families and families in their homes.

Ingka Group’s data indicate that 66% are worried about the general economy in their country, including and especially rates of inflation, and that 61% are concerned about their household finances. Climate change came in at 56%, which is still significant, but also surprising, at least to me as I write this, because as I write this, temperatures in the South, including my area’s 82 degrees today, vary from those in the North by 100 degrees. Oh my God!

Back to the economy, “after years of enforced lockdowns for our health, people will likely feel the need to stay at home once again to save on costs, meaning our spaces need to work harder than ever,” said Katie McCrory, who leads the Life at Home project at Ikea, now in its ninth year.

Juxtapose this felt need with the fact that nearly four out of every five respondents said they regularly feel frustrated by everyday household gripes such as mess, chores and too much clutter.

Getting real

These concerns are opportunities for advertising and marketing efforts to meaningfully address the home as it is lived in in contrast to the home as it is depicted in media more generally.

One in 10 said that what they describe as a “cost-of-living crisis” is affecting some of their more significant decisions, such as getting married, buying a home and having children. More than a third, or 35%, reported expecting to cancel or postpone home improvement plans.

It’s scary out there. Heck, it’s scary in here!

The outlook for people’s day-to-day quality of life, judging by the report data, is equally alarming, with around two in five of those surveyed expecting their hobbies and interests outside the home to be negatively impacted by money pressures. Hang up the crocheting needles!

So, following Covid lockdowns, many families are self-imposing a sort of financial lockdown.

Furnishings, floor coverings, outdoor products and accessories are going to have to last longer. And they are going to need to be more flexible and adaptable, because another implication of the data, which show 8% working from the bathroom – that’s right, the bathroom! – and more than one in five eating in bed during the last 12 months, is that the home is and will increasingly be looked to to be multifunctional spaces.

Head space

Let’s bring in psychographics, because those who believe that their homes accurately reflect or project their personalities are twice as likely to see their homes as sources of mental well-being. This helped boost the overall number of people reporting that they feel “more positive” about their home than they did a year ago, or roughly two out of five.

Ikea’s decisions to initiate Buy Back programs and to offer warranties between 10 and 25 years look pretty good.

To return to the concept of an artist-in-residence, what will Leibovitz be doing? Traveling the world, photographing people in their homes. Where can I get a gig like this? She’ll be visiting everyday people in the United States, Japan, Germany, Italy, India, Sweden and England creating a series of 25 portraits that seek to present the nuances of “life at home.” Hmm . . . I think I know what the centerpiece of next year’s Life At Home report will be.

Leibovitz is “a true artist and trailblazer” who will “turn her iconic lens to those lives at home we don’t always see, and [to] voices we don’t always hear,” said Marcus Engman, chief creative officer at Ingka Group.

After reading through the report, a few key words spring to mind: security, comfort, belonging and ownership, and privacy. The pandemic reminded us that enjoyment and accomplishment are emotional needs we look to in and from our homes to meet. More than half of respondents said that they believe the most important aspect in an ideal home is the ability to unwind and relax. Japanese respondents led on this metric (66%), which was reported lowest by residents in India (22%).

Home ownership

People sharing their living spaces report the biggest at-home deficits in enjoyment, accomplishment and belonging, which is counter-intutive, at least for those sharing homes with family. Those living in halls of residences, flat shares, rented rooms or parental homes “struggle to get a sense of accomplishment at home,” according to the report. This has implications for those of us who study or work from home.

Whether people own their homes not surprisingly impacts how well they believe their emotional needs are being met by their homes. Nine of 10 people say it’s important to feel enjoyment at home, but only half report getting it. For homeowners, the number jumps to 80%.

Finally, let’s take a look at reported sources of home inspiration. People are most inspired by

  1. TV home renovation shows (24%)
  2. Physical home furnishing stores (22%)
  3. Friends’ homes (19%)

However, when shown a list of common sources of home inspiration, including social media and TV shows, more than one in four reported “none of these.” So, when people are inspired, it’s most likely what “real people” are doing. Age matters, though. Older respondents were more likely to report feeling inspired by TV home-makeover shows, physical stores and magazines. Younger respondents report being most inspired by neighbors’ and friends’ homes, and, not surprisingly, were more likely to report finding inspiration in social media and podcasts.

Roll the credits

The quantitative research was conducted by YouGov, an international research and data analytics group. The study was conducted as an online survey among a national representative sample of people aged 18+ in 37 countries, where a total of 37,405 interviews were collected, according to the report.

The following countries were included: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States.

The data collection was completed in the period July to August 2022.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some work to do in, you know, the bathroom!

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll covered the international home furnishings industry for 15 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He chairs the Department of Communication at Berry College in Northwest Georgia, where he has been a professor since 2003.

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