The Future of Home Furnishings: Integrating Tech While Saving Space

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Changes in global lifestyles are posing new opportunities and challenges for manufacturers of consumer products. Shifts in where people are living and how they are living their lives, as well as the growing centrality of technology, for example, have altered their relationships with the objects in their homes, redefining what they want and need. What will happen over the next decade?

The design of home furnishings will increasingly reflect these shifts, adapting to better suit the evolving needs of their owners.

The next decade and beyond is likely to see expansion in the global market for furniture and other home furnishings. In the US, the Millennials—soon to become the nation’s largest cohort—range in age from their teens to their early 30s.

Whether renting or owning, many of these young adults will either establish homes for the first time or expand their families, joining the nearly half of adult Millennial women who are already parents.

Globally, the middle class is expanding rapidly, from 1.8 billion people in 2009 to a projected 3.2 billion people in 2020 and 4.9 billion in 2030. This, too, will greatly increase the population of consumers establishing—and furnishing—new homes.

In 2015, Fast Company interviewed Marcus Engman, head of design for IKEA Sweden, who offered forecasts on what home furniture will look like in 2020. These forecasts reflect trends in both technology and lifestyle that have implications not only for the home furnishings industry, but for many other businesses as well.

3 DRIVERS OF HOME FURNISHING CHANGES

Several different trends are driving the changes to home furnishings that will appear on the market over the course of the coming decade and beyond. In particular, four factors are exercising a significant impact on present and future home needs.

  • Urbanization. The world is experiencing the largest wave of urban growth in history. Already, more than half of the world’s population lives in towns and cities, and the UN projects that the world’s urban population in 2030 will reach 5 billion.4 As a result of growing population density, more people are living in relatively small spaces: apartments, for example, rather than houses.
  • Connectedness. Increasingly, the most important and valued possessions that most people own are electronic devices, and a growing share of these devices are handheld. One of the most prevalent problems of handheld devices—and one of the most common complaints about them—involves short battery life. The desire to remain connected 24/7 (or at least, to have the ability to be connected) is creating a growing need for charging stations and a rising demand for more convenient ways to charge batteries. In addition, the Internet of things (IoT) is projected to connect 50 billion objects to the Internet by 2020.5 The pervasiveness of the IoT will further heighten consumer demands that almost everything—from home systems through home appliances and home furnishings—deliver some degree of connectedness and smart functionality.
  • The new global middle class. The middle class population is expanding rapidly and becoming more geographically diverse. PwC estimates, for example, that in 2015, the middle class in the Asia-Pacific region will outnumber that of Europe and North America combined.6 This new global middle class will have needs and preferences that differ from those of the middle classes of the developed world.

HOME FURNISHING FORECASTS

Taking these important drivers into account, Engman foresees rising demand for home furnishings that will make the most of limited space, providing more multi-functionality; that replace storage space with display space; and that enhance the ability of consumers to remain connected at all times.

3 BUSINESS IMPLICATIONS

  • Wireless charging technology will provide a means of differentiation for all kinds of products that feature it for several years to come. By 2020, however, wireless charging will likely become an expected feature in many products. Consumers will increasingly demand that wireless charging capacity be incorporated into a variety of flat surfaces: furniture and other home furnishings, built-in kitchen counters, automobile interiors (e.g., dashboards, consoles, glove compartments, etc.). Manufacturers of everything from bedside clocks and flatscreen TV sets to tables, couches, desks, and office furniture may want to consider incorporating inductive charging pads into their products. To appeal to the widest range of consumers, these charging pads should employ both the Qi and PMA charging standards. In addition, the ability to accommodate upgrades will allow such furnishings to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change.
  • Electronics will increasingly be embedded in bedroom furniture and bedding, too. Given that 90% of Millennials say that they sleep with their smartphones, furniture and bedroom accessories that provide connectivity, charging capacity, or other electronic functionality will likely appeal to young adult consumers.27
  • To accommodate charging and connectivity on the go, hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, and even some retailers may find it worthwhile to make available to their customers tables that offer wireless charging and connectivity technologies. By the end of the decade, such amenities may become a consumer expectation.