14 August 2010

Ikea Future Kitchen debate / The Surreal House

Having this blog means I get invited to things such as openings, events, seminars, etc. Most invites have nothing to do with anything on my blog and often it's evident that the person who emailed me has not even looked at the content but has just seen the 'London' in the title. But every now and then something good crops up, as it did when I accepted the was invite to the Ikea-sponsored Future Kitchen debate at the Barbican Centre last Thursday. Yes, I know this site isn’t about kitchens, but I was interested to hear what the interesting panel of eight had to say about how we might be cooking and cleaning and living in 2040.

It didn’t start well. The word ‘topline’ kept being used. As in “I want to topline to you…” i.e. the first thing on the bill. Oh dear, I thought, it’s gonna be Jargon City. Then Gerry Dufresne of Ikea told us that in the future we will have more individual needs and Ikea could help us with that. Begs the question how a multi-national company can give us our own individuality. And he boasted that some Ikea products are now half the price. So, were they over-priced in the past? Or is this down to supply and demand? If the latter, then where’s the individuality?!

But moving on… The panel discussed the various issues and I became really engaged in it all, though not necessarily in a positive way. I learned that the new designer trend of ‘upcycling’, making new products out of old ones, is expected to take off big time. They said people between the ages of 18 and 44 have developed a throwaway disposable attitude to consumables and aren’t genned up enough re recycling. What a sad state of affairs.

A recurring theme was that it should be our own individual responsibility to become more aware of the environment, our surroundings and our impact on the future. I wondered that if people today had been made already more aware of the issues then we wouldn’t be in such a mess now. The 'debate' was starting to make me feel I was at a middle class dinner party*.

The poorest areas of the planet are the areas suffering with the most waste and its repercussions. Out of sight; out of mind. The average man eating his fast food on the street really doesn’t give a shit about any of this. He just wants everything now and cheap cheap cheap. Hence the rise of the pound shops. There is too much waste and packaging. When I was a kid it was normal to take a bag with you to the shops; you didn’t come home with six plastic bags. Today's average shopper has come to expect plastic bags as some kind of divine right. I reckon supermarkets provide them because they know they will sell more produce if our bags aren’t a pre-specified size. The government needs to better educate people about the future implications of all this.

Managing our utilities sensibly was another point for discussion. Water will become scarcer so we must come up with ways of getting Joe Public to be aware of this and not waste it. The engaging eco-friendy and smiley Oliver Heath said he has pedal-operated taps in his house. Top idea! Why, in this country, are we cleaning all our water to drinking standards and then washing our dogs, cars and windows with it? And to better control and manage our use of gas and electricity, in 11 years' time, all household will have Smart Meters.

I loved a lot of what the cute and interesting Martin Raymond said. I liked his ideas for staying light-hearted, keeping the humour. Though I am still trying to work out what he meant by “the future will look like the past”, because it won’t… will Tescos implode? Will we have a return to unique little shops and women scrubbing doorsteps with rollers in their hair?!

A comment Martin made at the end rankled me; that we need to have vegetable ripening cabinets in our kitchens. No we don’t Martin; what we need are vegetables that don’t go off in less than a day – like tasteless bananas that go black, carrots that go bendy and potatoes that go soft and green. None of this would happen if fruit and veg wasn’t kept in huge refrigerated sheds prior to sale. It’s daft how, due to this, we have to now keep these items in the fridge. Again, when I was a kid, you bought your mis-shapen earth-covered potatoes from the greengrocer and then stored them in an open vegetable rack in the kitchen where they lasted for weeks. Oh, and they didn’t have sell-by dates on them either – we used our eyes and noses to work that out! Why do we ‘need’ to have every kind of fruit and veg all year round? Seasonal vegetables are the way forward. Again, more education is needed.

The panel went on to discuss the future of communal living and neo-villaging, no less. But if you refer to this piece I wrote about the Isle of Dogs, it’s gonna be very difficult now to just introduce a community vibe where it’s been absent for so long. And Charlie Luxton, eco architect, said that in the future we will be able to design our kitchen and change it later. Well,what have we been doing all these years? And how is ripping out and changing things, as and when we get fed up with the colour or finish of the doors, an eco-friendly thing to do?

And finally, to the organisers of the event, I suggest it’s not a good idea for the girls who walk round with the mikes for the (all too short) Q&A session to wear stilettos!

*Jasmine Birtles assumes that every house on a suburban street has its own lawnmower. Really?

After the discussion I drank lots of red wine and scoffed lots of Ikea-style canapés inc mini hot dogs, and I chatted to some nice people, including Martin, Jon & Stu and Grahame, and had a quick peek around the Surreal House exhibition, which was really good – I must go back before it finishes on 12th September – and after another drink at Mary's lovely Barbican flat, I went home with the bag of mini Daim bars from my Ikea goodie bag.

All-in-all an excellent and thought-provoking evening. Thanks Cakegroup.


  1. Lovely to meet you too Jane. Here's to the next one!

  2. I enjoyed the Surreal House too. I spent way more time in the exhibit than I thought I would.


Please note that comments are vetted by me personally to check for relevant content before they are published, so don't panic when your feedback isn't immediately visible.
If you write anything perceived to be an ad, spam or self promotion, your comment will be deleted and/or marked as spam/blocked.
Thanks, Jane