The Challenge

Help IKEA envision how people's behaviors will shape the design of the future kitchen.

The Outcome

A full-size prototype—including a pantry, table, sink, and disposal—that reflects the social, technological, and demographic forces that will impact how we behave around food in 2025, all while preserving the tactile pleasures of the kitchen.

Of all the rooms in our homes, the kitchen is the center of energy, activity, comfort, and creativity—the beating heart of any dwelling. In the coming decade, as our environments and habits change, the kitchen as we know it will evolve drastically. More people will move into cities, and our living spaces will become smaller. Natural resources will become more scarce, food more expensive, and waste an increasingly urgent issue. Near-instant grocery delivery will alter how we shop for and store food, and technology will be embedded in every part of our homes.

What will the kitchen of the future look like, and, more important, what will it feel like to cook, eat, and socialize there?

For IKEA, the world’s biggest furniture store, the time to start designing the kitchen of 2025 is now. So IKEA asked IDEO London and a group of students from Lund and Eindhoven universities to explore the social, technological, and demographic forces that will impact how we behave around food in 2025. The students spent months researching people’s attitudes and ideas about cooking and eating, and IDEO designers guided them as they built concept kitchen products.

The Concept Kitchen 2025 exhibition, which debuted at the Milan World Expo, is just one part of an ongoing investigation by IKEA into how people’s relationship with food is changing.

IKEA Concept Kitchen

To bring these future concepts to the present day, IKEA asked IDEO to design and build a full-size concept kitchen for 250,000 visitors to test out during the Salone Del Mobile in Milan and a six-month stint at EXPO Milano.

Mindful Design

Crucial to the success of the project was preserving the tactile creative pleasure of the kitchen. Technology could easily make the space feel robotic and sterile, but this project was guided by the need to use tech to enhance the kitchen’s warmth.

The Concept Kitchen 2025 doesn’t automate away personal choices, but rather facilitates mindfulness with embedded cues throughout the kitchen that subtly guide people toward being conscious of their actions and making informed decisions. In designing the prototypes, the following few concepts emerged.

The Modern Pantry encourages us to have a closer relationship with what we eat by storing food in transparent individual containers on open shelves rather than hiding it at the back of the fridge. The design makes it easy to be inspired by what’s on hand rather than going out to buy more, and it also saves energy: Induction-cooling technology embedded into the shelves responds to RFID stickers on the food’s packaging in order to keep the containers at just the right temperature.

Multifunctional, modular, and inexpensive to produce, these storage containers allow food to be wirelessly cooled to just the right temperature.

IKEA fish storage

The Table for Living is designed to inspire people to be more creative with food and throw away less. At a loss for what to do with that leftover broccoli? Just place it on the table and a camera recognizes it and projects recipes, cooking instructions, and a timer directly onto the table's surface. Set the timer for how long you want to spend preparing the meal, and the table suggests recipes that can be completed in the window you have available. The table is a nifty solution for a smaller urban dwelling because it’s multimodal: Hidden induction coils instantly cool the surface when not in use, so it’s adjustable for working, cooking, or eating.

The Modern Sink pushes us to be more conscious of our water consumption with a pivoting basin. It must be tipped to one side to drain toxic, or “black,” water, and to the other for safe “gray” water, which is not drinkable but can be filtered and used in a dishwasher or as nourishment for the cooking herbs that grow above the sink.

The Thoughtful Disposal system is a response to the overuse of landfills, and reminds us of exactly what we’re throwing away. Users manually sort recycling from rubbish, and recyclables are then crushed, vacuum-packed, and labeled for pick-up, earning credits for the conscientious (and debits for the wasteful).

IKEA’s kitchen and dining range manager, Gerry Dufresne, explained that the Concept Kitchen 2025 is not really a functional kitchen, but rather “a tangible communication of what the behaviors of the future will be.” It’s just the start of IKEA’s journey toward understanding how those behaviors will shape the company’s future, and Dufresne says the findings will be carried forward into future product development.