Millennials want 'meaningful' interior design

What do millennials want? That’s the million-dollar question. When it comes to what they want from their jobs, there’s a lot of research available.

According to the global recruitment company Robert Walters, millennials want their jobs to mean something. “Unlike the prototypical clock-punchers of the last century, who were satisfied by merely putting in their time from 9 to 5, the millennial workforce looks for a higher purpose in their work. … Providing them with meaningful projects inspires them to work hard.”

That’s based on an Employee Insights Survey that asked professionals born between 1980 and 1994 what mattered most to them in their work lives.

Research into what millennials want in interiors comes up with similar conclusions. Millennials want meaningful stuff. Ikea’s new Markerad collection is based on extensive research into what young people want in their first homes.

“Millennials expect you to solve the function as a basic thing, and they want you to create that added value, that emotional attachment to the product,” says Henrik Most, Creative Leader at Ikea, who designed the collection with Virgil Abloh.

Abloh is a legend. He’s the artistic director of menswear for Louis Vuitton, the first African-American man to be given a directorship in a fancy French fashion house. He’s also the founder of the streetwear label, Off-White.

“There’s always an underlying message in my creations. A little bit of irony – and a human connection,” he writes. “The essence of the project we’re working on is about the millennial spirit. Function is specific to every individual, but the ethos of the collection is to add an artful quality to anonymous objects.”

This is a convoluted way of saying that it’s not enough for an object to function; it also has to mean something. And meaningful objects are what that generation wants.

Abloh is known for designs that incorporate quotation marks. He’s famous for using them in fashion. He’s even tried to copyright them for his Off-White collection. His work for Ikea includes a high-pile green rug (€229) marked “Wet Grass”; carrier bags marked “Sculpture” (from €12); and a wall clock (€25) with the word “Temporary” painted on the glass. The clock is witty, but the others are trying a bit too hard. Witness the low pile Markerad rug (€85) that is made to look just like a receipt from Ikea. It’s part of the new Markerad collection, which is geared for young adults moving into their first home. “The receipt is a trademark in itself that has been transformed into art,” says Abloh.

In some ways, the simpler items in the collection work best. The Markerad table (€279) references 1950s Scandinavian Modernism, but has legs that click into place without tools. The Markerad chair (€115) is a simple beech wood chair with a doorstop on the leg, in the way that you might prop an uneven chair. “It’s about elevating the anonymous, everyday icons that we use without noticing. When we put a doorstop on one of the legs of an ordinary chair, we create something unexpected – an interruption,” Abloh writes.

It’s easy to imagine a future where this, or another item in the collection, has become a design icon, but it’s hard to tell what will become a collectible classic and what is only funny in the here and now. The Ikea receipt rug is hilarious. “Ikea receipt – I wipe my feet on you!” But my concern is the joke will wear thin long before the rug does. It’s made of 100pc nylon and will be in the world for a very long time.

But a generation of young people, at the stage of life where they can’t afford expensive designs, are looking for an element of individuality in their homes and you have to respect Ikea for trying to translate that into mass-produced homeware. Equally, there are smaller and more localised companies doing the same thing.

The Dublin-based printmaking studio, Jando, was founded in 2015 by the husband-and-wife team Julie and Owen McLoughlin. They specialise in prints inspired by architectural landmarks. My favourites are the Poolbeg chimneys and Liberty Hall, mainly because I’ve loved those buildings since childhood. Because the landmarks are meaningful, so are the prints. The selection also includes conventionally prettier buildings like St Patrick’s Cathedral and the Ha’penny Bridge. They’re not expensive. Currently, an unframed A4 print from Jando costs €20 and a framed A1 print costs €300.

“We started out just after the recession and one of the things that we wanted to do was to make prints that everyone can afford,” Julie explains. “A lot of our customers are millennials who have just moved into their first homes. They want a piece of art that resonates with them, but they don’t have a lot of money to spend.”

The prints are affordable because of clever use of digital technology. They are designed by Owen and screen-printed by Julie. This is a skilled process done by hand. Then, the screen-prints are digitally reproduced. When I point out the prints don’t look like digital reproductions, Julie credits the quality of the paper and pigment-based inks. “They will keep their colour over time,” she says. “And all the frames are made in Ireland from sustainably sourced wood. Everything is local. It’s really important to us.”

Buying affordable art is the same as buying affordable anything. If you love it and it resonates with you, nobody is going to care how much it cost. Audenza has just launched a collection of wall-hung prints. This too is geared towards those who want objects with personal resonance, but don’t have a lot to spend.

Audenza has an extrovert maximalist aesthetic that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but art is a personal thing.

Prices range from around €17 for a Dionne Warwick Pink Art Print through €42 for the Pablo Pink Parrot Print to €220 for a Princess Leopold Canvas Print (all prices for unframed prints). With Brexit pending, there’s an end-of-the-world-party atmosphere around online shopping from UK-based companies. It’s still straightforward – for now – and the exchange rate is in our favour. But who knows what the future holds?

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