What makes a home?

What makes a home?
The world is changing and so are our lives at home. More and more people move to cities and live in smaller spaces with fewer rooms. New household structures have an impact too. Our lives have become more diverse. More of us live alone, lodge or live together with roommates and many children live in single-parent homes. We also travel abroad more than ever. And we are always online – ready to share our meal, purchase or latest discovery with the rest of the world through social media. Still, for many, the longest journey is the one to the local market, the living room is still dedicated for special occasions only, and the phone is just a tool to make a phone call. Many of us choose to seek happiness in big cities. Others are forced to leave their homes for an unknown life in a new country. Regardless of the reasons, it’s clear that we have to get used to new ways of living, and think again about our approach to the home.

Understanding our lives at home is helping us realise the IKEA vision: “To create a better everyday life for the many people”. That is why we are always curious of what makes a home. In a world that is changing faster than ever before, it becomes increasingly important to understand the challenges we face and the needs we want our homes to fulfil.

We are now starting our journey to find out more about people’s real needs, aspirations and dreams when it comes to the home today. Our aim is to make this a part of our long-term business development. Hopefully, our exploration will make us even better at making people’s homes more meaningful.
We know about many of the important aspects of how people connect with the idea of the home. But we also know that life at home is constantly evolving and that the ever-changing world around us affects our lives at home – not least when it comes to our feelings.

To find out more about how people feel about their homes today, we started this study by asking some fundamental questions: What is a home to you? What do you need to experience in order to feel at home? We found that the homes of today still inspire feelings of comfort, safety and belonging – essential needs that appear to be constant. We need our homes to physically protect us – to provide roofs over our heads. But we also need the emotional aspects of having a secure base to return to. To many of us, home is a personal haven where we can recline, reconnect and revitalize after a long day.

Different as we are, our feelings of home are strikingly similar. People all over the world use similar words to describe the essence of what makes a home to them. Comfort, cosiness, relaxation and warmth are among the first words mentioned. The feeling of home is described as a feeling of being myself, a feeling of safety, a feeling of belonging and even that home is the feeling of love.

When we combine our previous knowledge with the insights from our quantitative survey and our experiences from talking to people in their homes, we get a picture of how people want to feel in their homes. We can also see what they need from their homes and how they create meaning in their lives at home. It seems our requirements of our homes can be summed up like this: it has to be comfortable, it has to be safe, and it has to provide familiarity. Relationships, love and belonging have to be balanced with room for privacy, relaxation and recovery. And we like our homes to be personal and express who we are.

But how are these feelings and needs challenged in our new, urban way of living? To understand life at home, we want to review the changing conditions for our homes. In order to do so, we want to look at the development that comes with urbanization and find out more about how it impacts our lives.

Let’s have a look at what makes a home from four basic perspectives of the home: Space, Things, Relationships and Place.
At IKEA we have years of experience, knowledge and insights about people’s lives at home from listening to the needs and dreams of our customers. With the IKEA Life at Home Report we want to share our knowledge, raise awareness and interest, spark debate and contribute toward creating a better everyday life.

This is the third consecutive year we have published the IKEA Life at Home Report. In previous reports, we have looked at morning routines and at how people meet and eat in and around the kitchen. This time, we dig into what actually makes a home for people. We have conducted a new quantitative survey in twelve cities around the world – resulting in more than 12,000 respondents. The survey was conducted in collaboration with Swedish business intelligence agency United Minds, using online panels in Berlin, London, Moscow, Mumbai, New York, Paris, Shanghai, Stockholm, Sydney, Toronto, Zurich and Madrid. We have dug into our own archives as well as looked at external studies in, for example, sociology, psychology, liberal arts, neuroscience and design. Not to mention talked to academic experts. But perhaps most importantly, we have talked to real people.

This year’s report is divided into two parts. In the first part, we share insights based on our new survey and existing IKEA research, as well as other well-known study findings from experts and opinion leaders. In the second part, we dive deeper into an interesting finding from our survey to understand it in more detail. To get a better understanding of the public-private relationships of the home, we’ve visited and photographed households in four cities: Stockholm, Mumbai, New York and Shanghai. This is what we call Real Life Stories – emotional stories that can help us really understand people’s feelings, thoughts and behaviours.

Senses, home's
fourth dimension
Space is not only a physical structure – it’s also a sensory experience. Our senses are important building blocks for our experience of our surroundings – a fourth dimension beyond the physical. And they influence how we feel about home in more ways than we are aware of. The question is: How can we make better use of our senses to improve our lives at home?
Touch is the first sense we develop and experience. But how well do we understand the tactile dimension in our homes? Research has found that an object’s weight, texture and hardness can influence our judgments and decisions on a subconscious level. It turns out that we connect the way an object looks and feels with an emotional meaning. Rough textures, for example, can make social situations seem more difficult. Smooth wood can make them feel a little friendlier. But not all smoothness is good. Touch expert Marieke Sonnevald argues that distinct textures and contrasts makes us feel more in contact with our things at home.

The good news is that we already appreciate the effects of touch more than we may realise – for instance, in the way we use a soft blanket to create a feeling of comfort. Perhaps if we became more aware of the feelings that hide in the objects around us, we could get more out of them and feel better at home.

18% in our study consider their homes too bright.
Light in the dark
Many say the brighter the better, and light therapy has long been used to treat depression and seasonal fatigue. However, the rapid urbanization leads to increased amounts of light around the clock. This makes it difficult for our bodies to keep track of day and night, with sleeping and health issues as a result. More crowded cities also lead to a lack of natural light. This is troubling since natural light makes us feel, perform and sleep better.

With light, as with many things in life, variation seems to be important. Researchers at Stanford have found that short flashes of light at night prevent jet lag – perhaps one way to tackle light-caused disturbances to our internal clock. Other studies show that cool light is better for learning and warm is better for relaxation. If our homes are to be places where we can recharge and feel good, perhaps we should pay more attention to the light in and around them?

39% of people in Mumbai want to reduce noise in their homes to improve their well-being.
Fighting noise with noise
A piece of music or a familiar noise can spark some of the strongest emotions. However, our homes are not only filled with the sounds we like. Car horns, traffic, neighbours and other city sounds create a background noise that often reaches a level of 70 decibels. Neurologist Dr. Christopher Winter suggests that while we can’t stop the sounds of the city, we can block them out with a basic repetitive noise known as “white noise”.

When we asked people what sound they associate with their homes, most mentioned things like the sound of voices or children playing. But for many, it’s music that makes a home: 65% of all Millennials play music to get a homely feeling. Research has found that young people often use music to make their bedroom their personal safe haven – a home within the home. Considering that more privacy is what we long for most at home – so say 29% of our study – perhaps this trick could be worth trying for the rest of us too?
65% of all Millennials (18-29 year olds) play music to get a homey feeling, compared to 49% in the Silver generation (61+ years).

We can all relate to the sensation of being transported to another time and place when we experience a particular smell. Why? Smell is the sense with the most powerful influence on memory, mood and emotion. Yet it’s perhaps the one we value the least. A recent study shows that 53% of people aged 16-22 and 48% of those aged 23-30 would give up their sense of smell if it meant they could keep one of their electronic gadgets.

In our survey, 40% say their homes have a particular smell. To some, the fragrance of home is distinct; to others it’s hard to explain. Either way, scents can help us create a feeling of safety and intimacy.
40% say their homes have a particular smell.

We are moving from a strictly functional focus towards appreciating more emotional aspects of our homes. And we have seen examples of how our senses affect our feeling of home. But how does taste fit into that picture? Can we really create a feeling of home through taste?

Taste can stimulate feelings of what we long for at home: familiarity, ease and comfort. But we live more hectic lives and have less space for cooking than ever. Ready-to-eat takeout food sometimes feels like the easiest option in our hectic lives. We simply don’t have the time to sit down and eat together as often as we used to. At the same time, taste is important for our feeling of home. In our study, 30% say they associate a certain food with home and 63% cook to create the feeling of home. When asked what home tastes like, one of the most common answers is “the taste of my mother’s food”. So what place does food and taste have in our lives at home today?

Most homes have been designed to be functional with little attention paid to our senses. But making a home goes beyond the functionality and aesthetics of the spaces we live in. For a space to really feel like home, a fourth dimension needs to come into play: our senses. Our brains seem to be hardwired to connect a specific smell, sound, touch etc. to our feelings about our home. Senses help us make sense of the world around us and have a strong impact on our moods, emotions and even behaviour. When we live in smaller spaces, with new types of household constellations and in cities that create an ever-changing sensory environment – perhaps we should look closer at the role our senses play when it comes to our homes. Not only to improve our well-being, but perhaps also to find new and unexpected solutions to the challenges we face. Coming to our senses might bring a new understanding of what a home is – and what it could be.

Our homes are filled with things: books, tools, clothes, decorations and much more. The things we surround ourselves with help us to fulfil our basic human needs. They also have a big impact on how we feel in our homes, how we feel about our homes and how we create meaning in our life at home. As we adjust to new ways of living, will our views on things change as well?
43% think the things that enable them to do what they love are the most important.

16% say they would not have any problems throwing away and replacing all the things they have in their home.
Many of us can relate to having too many things: drawers that won’t close, congested wardrobes and floors full of toys. At the same time, we buy more new things than ever. More than 20% of people worldwide buy something new for their home every week, according to our study. But smaller living spaces and environmental concerns bring a need for a new approach. We simply can’t have too much stuff. In result of this, we are becoming more mindful of our things.

This is not only about having fewer of them, or organising them better. We are moving from valuing practical benefits to appreciating the emotional aspects of objects. This trend seems especially strong for Millennials who put higher value on emotional features, such as art and design and that the home is unique – while older people still want practical things to be in order. Regardless of age, a more mindful approach to our objects seems to be one way we reinvent our relation to things at home.

We use our favourite objects to enjoy coffee with our partners, for comfort when watching a movie or to connect with others through music. In fact, the things that matter most to us seem to be the ones that enable us to do what we love – at least that’s what 43% in our study say. Other studies support this, and show that we are happier when we buy things to do something than when we buy things just to own.

It’s clear that we are moving from valuing objects for their own sake to appreciating the experiences they can bring – a table is not just a beautiful or practical object, it’s an enabler for social gatherings at home. In this new age of experience, the value of an object is not the result of an objective evaluation. Instead, the way we appreciate our things seems to be connected, on a deeper level, to our personal needs and dreams of how we want to live our lives. Perhaps we could find new uses for our things by exploring how they make us feel and behave?

Our homes are a work in progress. Whether it’s buying new cushions, putting up a photo of our loved ones or giving an old chair new life by painting it, we often try to improve the feeling of hominess. More and more people also appreciate the experience of doing DIY jobs and “hacking” their things. In our study, 37% say that they enjoy making, modifying and assembling things for their home. Those who do, even report being more satisfied with their lives.

On the positive side, some researchers claim it’s not the modifying as such that matters, but the fact that we are interacting with and caring for our objects. We can see an example of this “caring effect” in the use of “dementia dolls” in care homes. Patients are given plastic dolls to look after, with reports of reduced anxiety and aggression as a result. It seems we have a lot to gain by personalising and taking better care of our things, not only for our wallets, but for our well-being and feelings of hominess too.

We live our lives among and through objects. They are reflections of our identities and bring our thoughts and feelings together. And as we’ve learned, the things we love seem to be those that go beyond form and function. They are the ones that make us mindful, enable our activities or offer interaction that helps us grow as human beings. Global challenges like overcrowding and lack of space are among the reasons why we are redefining the meaning of things. Objects are becoming subjects in our lives. Exploring how and what this means for the home might bring a new understanding of how our things can contribute to a better everyday life.

Relationships are a central part of what makes a home. Almost half of the people in our study (48%) say that they think home is the place where they have their most important relationships. But urbanization, technology and new living situations challenge our ideas of what a home is. So, how will this affect the way we view our relationships at home?
48% say that they think home is the place where they have their most important relationships.
Mother, father and children: this has long been our standard image of relationships at home; but reality is very different. The number of single person households is growing rapidly all over the world and people are breaking free from the traditional family structures. These changes in how people build relationships in their homes are partly driven by urban challenges like small living spaces, lack of housing and expensive care for ageing populations.

At the same time we see a shift in values where individual needs and dreams become more important. And despite the fact that we live in big cities, we seem to long for intimacy, which has led us to invent many new types of families and households. This means that our homes need to change in order to suit new requirements. Instead of generic homes – designed for one type of family dynamic – will we perhaps see even more types of homes in the future?

In Shanghai 49% think it’s more important to have good Wi-Fi than to have social spaces at home, in order to nurture relationships at home.
We spend more and more time online, and social media has become an important place for us to develop our relationships. It’s no longer possible to separate our digital life from our real one; they both enhance and affect each other. The shift of platforms for our relationships is also affecting how we look at our homes. For example, our study shows that 23% think it’s more important to have good Wi-Fi than to have social spaces at home, in order to nurture relationships at home.

Moreover, 19% think it’s more important to keep in contact with friends online than to invite them to their homes. This is a clear indication that technology has a major impact on our behaviours, needs and values when it comes to relationships at home. When technology brings people together, food is often at the centre. Eating alone, but together with friends and family online, is just one example of how new technology can change our idea of social interaction and relationships in the home.

25% would choose to spend an hour alone if they had one to spare.
Our study shows that private space is a top priority for people when asked what they would do to improve their homes. But the decreasing sense of privacy at home is not only about us having to live with more people under the same roof. It also has to do with the rise of the sharing economy and social media. Today, our homes are open not only to us, but also to others.

Housing prices have skyrocketed. As more people look for better lives in cities, our homes have become a lucrative business. This will probably force even more people to live together in the future. Shared spaces lead to informal power structures, where one person becomes more in charge, and this combination of power struggles and lack of space makes privacy even more important.

Relationships are a fundamental part of the home, which is no surprise seeing as they are key to our wellbeing at home. Our study shows that positive feelings about the home increase when people live together. And the larger the household – the bigger the feeling of belonging, excitement and consideration. At the same time, we have an undeniable need for privacy. Thanks to our digital life we can create a virtual “room” wherever we are, and use it to create privacy but also to socialise with others. This might be one way of handling the paradox our study points to: we crave more privacy at home but at the same time we want to nurture relationships there, as they are strongly associated with what actually creates a home. In our study we have found that the number of different relationships at home are growing, which creates new needs and challenges. What does this mean for the future? How will the home of the multi-connected resident be designed?

There is no place like home. But where is that exactly? We have found that few people associate home with a geographic place and that many leave their residence to get the feeling of home. As living gets more crowded, we turn to other alternatives to fulfil our needs as human beings. But how does this affect our view of home as a physical place?
38% consider the neighbourhood in which they live a part of their home.

11% of Millennials feel more at home at work or in school than in their homes.
Today, many public spaces such as cafés, hotels and restaurants are designed to stimulate feelings of homelike safety, familiarity, relaxation and intimacy. We also see more people moving activities that used to take place in the home to other locations. Our changing living patterns are blurring the line between our homes and other places. This is especially true for our workplaces, where some offices even appear and function as “homes away from home”. And in a time when many of us only need a laptop to do our job, the demands and functions of our homes change in the same way as for work places. A home now needs to be a place for work, leisure and privacy.

The rise of home sharing services is another example of our need for the feeling of home. In our study, we found that the main reason why we would want to stay in someone else’s private home instead of a hotel is that we think of a home as more inviting and having more character.

42% feel more at home outside their actual residence.
We live closer to each other than ever before. Despite this, many of us don’t even know the names of our next-door neighbours. At the same time, there are strong tendencies of a neighbourhood revival. We are trying to rebuild aspects that seem to have gotten lost in urbanization: a sense of belonging, trust and protection associated with the small society.

Initiatives that try to create more social communities are being introduced in many parts of the world. The building industry is aiming at housing game changers, like apartment buildings with integrated kindergartens, to create tighter bonds between residents and their neighbours. Other types of mixed-use living communities include stand-alone home living, but with added places to work and socialise. There are also many grass root initiatives that promote tighter communities and sense of belonging. The home is extending outside the four walls, bringing increased room for living, creating and even self-expression.

All over the world we see increasingly fluid living. In the cities, many of us move house more often than we would want to. The driving factors are connected to urbanization such as overcrowding, expensive living and housing shortage. But temporary living is not only driven by urbanization. One of the biggest issues is the increase in forced migration.

Conflicts and disasters in many parts of the world are forcing people to leave their homes, often without knowing where they will end up. This way, all aspects of home are lost: space, things, relationships and a place to call home. The IKEA Foundation (the philanthropic arm of INGKA Foundation, the owner of the IKEA Group of companies) launched flat-pack refugee shelters in 2015, which offer a place to sleep, socialise and create feelings of home. Another similar solution is post-tsunami housing made from local materials. The challenge of making people feel at home in temporary places is one that is only expected to grow.

The home cannot be limited by physical space – it continues beyond the four walls of a residence. The feelings and emotions of a home such as safeness, comfort, belonging and familiarity can be found in multiple places. Needs, emotions and activities that until now have taken place within the home, are moving outside of it, extending the home in the process. Neighbourhoods and cities are offering us new places to kick back, relax and be ourselves. Claiming public spaces as our own private ones gives access to the city for more people. And our reduced sense of privacy at home complicates our association with it and the definition of it. How do we redefine the home, when the emotional and practical needs of home can be met in other places? And is it really possible to replace a safe, permanent haven with other solutions? Focusing on basic human needs could perhaps be a good way to reinvent what actually makes a home.

The ways in which we design, construct and live in our homes are reflections of the world around us. Our basic feelings and needs at home are constant, but the changing circumstances in society, values and lifestyles force us to meet these needs in different ways and places than before.

Housing shortages, more expensive living and smaller spaces affect our possibilities to stimulate our needs at home. Values that until now have been associated with the home are now sought after outside the four walls of our residences. The line between public and private is becoming blurred.

The new physical circumstances in our homes are balanced by new technology, which allows us be alone, together – or together and alone. To meet our needs, our homes have to be flexible enough to make room for both privacy and socialising – physically as well as digitally.

Shrinking living spaces and increased awareness about sustainable living create a new approach to the things in our homes. We are moving from appreciating things for their own sake, to valuing the experiences they bring. In this new age, the things that are important to us are the ones that enable us to do what we love.

When our possibilities to adjust the three dimensional aspects of our homes are limited, we can turn to our senses, which have a strong impact on our emotions and behaviours. Paying more attention to our senses could not only benefit our well-being at home, but perhaps also offer new and unexpected solutions to the challenges we face in our lives at home today.

No matter how we define what makes a home – connected to space, things, relationships or place – what’s important is that we reflect on how the changes in the world around us impact our lives at home. And that we try to use that knowledge to meet our personal preferences and needs. For us at IKEA, this report is only the start of our journey. To truly understand what makes a home, we must view the home as a never-ending, constantly changing idea. With this report we have shared some insights on how people of today feel in their homes, what they need from their homes and how they create meaning in their lives at home. But as the world around us changes, so does our life at home. We will continue to explore what makes a home in order to improve our business and to able to create a better life at home for the many people.
Real life stories

At IKEA, we visit thousands of homes every year. When we recently interviewed people in Stockholm, Shanghai, Mumbai and New York, we wanted to know more about how people view the tension between private and social needs. Our survey revealed that private space is a top priority for improving well-being at home. At the same time, almost half of our respondents think of their homes as the place where they have their most important relationships. The tension between wanting to have private and social space is clear, and an increasing number of people living in the same space might perhaps make this issue more topical now than ever before.

The public-private tension causes people to experience moments when they feel frustrated and out of control. We also observed that, regardless of how they live, people find creative ways of adapting and making room for private and social space. Some of these habits are so unremarkable that people would never even think to acknowledge them in a survey. Nonetheless, they are there and they are signs that we are adapting to a new and more compact way of living.

Reflecting on the statements and views expressed by the families and households we visited, we found two essential emotional needs that people expect their homes to accommodate – the me and the we. The me concerns the development and recharging of oneself – a sanctuary, a place to rest, a place to engage in activities that are just about you. The we concerns activities with others – nurturing and building relationships and spending time with family and friends.

Making time and space for the sometimes conflicting needs of the me and the we within the same home is often a tricky balancing act. We often have to make trade-offs when we live together with other people. Of course, living with others can be a positive thing as well: the feeling of joy people experience when coming home from work and being greeted by children, a partner, or a pet, or the feeling of belonging when they eat a spontaneous dinner together with a roommate.

How, then, do people deal with the friction between me and we? How do they create solutions to combine the two? Below you will find a small sample of the comments people made during our home visits.
MILIND, living with wife, two grown up children and their grandmother
“When my father was growing up, his family had 50 people in one house. There were so many people in the house that it was not possible for them to have meals together. So first the children had their meals, then the men, and then the ladies.”
PASCAL, living in a dormitory with another student, Shanghai
“As soon as someone opens the door, they can see me in my bed, which I find hard. Also, the other person living in my room talks very loudly when he speaks to his girlfriend every evening. The main reason why I live here is because it is cheap.”
HENRIK, living with husband and baby, Stockholm
“The fact that my computer connects to the Wi-Fi automatically, without asking for passwords, updating podcasts, etc. That is the feeling of home.”
FENG WANG WEI, living with wife, parents, and child starting school, Shanghai
“It would be very different living without social spaces in the home. Either we could not invite people over, or we would have to go out to spend time with them. It would be ok, but it would be such a shame. The home would then mainly be a place to rest.”
JULIETTE, living with friend and two dogs, Shanghai
“The most important thing for me in the home is people and animals, the dogs. When my roommate travels and the dogs are not here, it is so boring. I could live alone, but not for a very long period of time.”
MATTHEW, living with wife and toddler, New York
“The balcony is my special place. Sometimes I spend time on the balcony, just to be alone. We can still look at each other, but it does feel more private to me. She watches TV, while I have a scotch and smoke a cigar.”
NORAH, living with boyfriend, Stockholm
“We have a lot in common, so we don’t feel that we need to be alone. We are always doing the things we want to do, but together. This is what we do to feel relaxed. But sometimes it’s a challenge living in a small space, which is why we have always wanted to have a two-room apartment, so that we don’t have to disturb each other. For example, one time I sat working on the bathroom floor for a whole night to make sure I didn’t disturb Andreas.”
GLENN, living with three roommates, New York
“The ability to be social is very important, and we have hosted a lot of parties here. The rooftop at our house definitely comes in handy for parties.”
DAISY, living with husband and child starting school, Beijing and Shanghai
“We can have at the most 4-5 people in our home in Shanghai. Home is more a place for close friends and family. When we go out with other people, we eat at restaurants.”
FREDRIK, living with husband and baby, Stockholm
“It’s important having social as well as private spheres in the home. In my dream home I would be able to have a big social space, where I could invite others for dinner, as well as a more private part with bedrooms and so on. If I was hosting a big dinner, it would be great to offer everyone a sofa for a nap or a space afterwards where they could just relax. The way we live now does not gives us that many options, as we have chosen to live in the city centre. This means that we live in a small apartment. It can be a bit frustrating when we have to rearrange the room every time we have friends over for dinner. But I’d much rather live in a small space in the city centre than have more living space outside the city.”
AMBER, living with partner, New York
“The bathroom is the only private space in this apartment. If he wants to watch TV and I have to take a conference call, I will just stay in the bathroom. We are thinking about remodelling to get a little bit more privacy. Maybe a temporary wall that we can put up when we need it”
FENG WANG WEI, living with wife, parents, and child starting school, Shanghai
“Privacy is probably my main frustration living like this. My parents’ living habits are different from mine, and if I had the choice, I would make a kid’s room for my son. This would also make it easier for me to have privacy. When my son gets older, we can move to our own place, but right now we have to live with my parents so that they can take care of my son when my wife and I are at work.”
YAN CHENHAO, living single, Shanghai
“When my girlfriend or another family member comes to visit, it makes me feel very different. When I have someone at home waiting for me, it makes me want to come home early rather than work late.”