Last week, Ikea shared a plan much bigger than a new veneer. It was the Uppleva, their first foray into consumer electronics (if you don’t count all those lamps and discount batteries). The Uppleva is a Scandinavian home-theater cabinet with a twist: A 40-inch TV, sound system and Blu-ray player are built in with discreet wiring, all controlled with a single bundled remote.
Uppleva will work similarly to other Ikea products. Buyers will go to a store, customize their furniture, and assemble it at home. Different finishes will be available, and shoppers will even be able to decide between a straight, angled, or swiveling neck on the TV, which will be available in a "limited but meaningful" amount of sizing options beyond 40 inches. The cabinetry itself will require a screwdriver, glue, and patience, but the electronics—manufactured by TCL—come fully assembled, minus facade. No soldering irons required.
It’s a good idea. Electronics are only becoming more integrated into the home, and televisions are ugly commoditized products. Still why is Ikea doing this now? We asked Francis Cayouette, lead designer of Uppleva, to find out.
"As you know in the '50s and the '60s it was quite normal to see a TV or a radio built into a cabinet, probably because it was easier to bring the technology into homes," Cayouette tells Co.Design. "Then the electronics came out of the box to become products on their own, expressing more and more the performance and the technical features with fancy and sometimes over exaggerated details. This probably due to the fact that the electronics are normally sold on a shelf, competing side by side for their technical and hi-fi design features."
But now "technology is so much a part of our everyday life that we don’t need to see it as a separate technical product," he says. "The electronics don’t need to look technical anymore."
Whereas most electronics bathe themselves in blinding LEDs, Uppleva opts for clean lines and plenty of white space. It’s even less technical and more furniture-like than Dieter Rams’s classic, appliance-like electronics from the '60s—you know, minus the unignorable 40-inch television staring you right in the face.
"The feedback we got is that people consider their TV as a piece of furniture. Why does it need to look like a spaceship then? It just doesn’t fit in most people’s home!" writes Cayouette. This problem with
"spaceship" design doesn’t just apply to the exterior, but all the way to a TV’s UI. So Cayouette worked closely with TCL in Ikea-izing the experience. "For instance, Ikea uses a lot of pictograms on their packaging. I wanted to bring this here and create a very clean and simple interface."
If Uppleva is priced for the masses—and Cayouette indicates that it is—the product will be a runaway success. How many of us furnish a new living room, complete with a new television when we move? How many of us love everything about our home theater but the ugly stand and the tangle of cables excreting from its back? And what showroom can sell us on a chic, uncomplicated lifestyle better than Ikea’s?
Don’t be surprised if Uppleva influences a renaissance in cabineted TVs after it’s released abroad this June, with competitors from powerful retailers like Target, or even style-oriented electronics manufacturers like Samsung. (Best Buy could transform into a furniture store overnight.) And Cayouette agrees. "Considering the enormous interest, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other manufacturers follow this route in the future," he writes.
And we wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing a whole lot more electronic options in Ikea products soon.