IKEA is known for being a pioneering company. The retailer effectively invented flat pack furniture and made it mainstream. There have been tons of design forward products over the years, with several becoming long-lived staples like BILLY bookcases and the POANG chair. However, even IKEA gets it wrong on occasion, and sometimes, they mess up twice.
In an excerpt from IKEA’s forthcoming book, Democratic Design (coming in 2018), copywriter Stina Holmberg describes the tale of IKEA a.i.r., the company’s take on inflatable furniture, that not only failed in the 1980s, but also 20 years later.
In the mid 80s, designer Jan Dranger pitched IKEA on this new way to make furniture:
The idea was pretty much to use inflatable plastic elements to create seating furniture. Sofas, daybeds, armchairs and foot stools. This was magic. Right there, in the meeting, Ingvar Kamprad decides that this is an innovation too good to let go. Let’s do it! Let’s make furniture made out of air!
The plastic inserts were to be filled with a hair dryer, and then covered in fabric covers so that it looks like “real” furniture.
In theory, it sounds like a great idea for IKEA: it weighs basically nothing, can be packed super small, and can then be easily rearranged in a space or stored when not needed. However, in practice—as anyone who’s ever slept on an air mattress knows—it’s not always comfortable, and it’s pretty likely to leak at some point, leaving you with a sad, deflated sofa.
“What was a comfy sofa on Monday was a shapeless piece of dusty fabric on Friday,” Holmberg writes. “And to be honest, it wasn’t even that comfy. And then there was the sound when you sat down, a sound of something not at all glamorous.” Plus, they were so easily “rearranged” that they often rearranged themselves, getting called “a gathering of swollen hippos” by someone at the company.
IKEA revisited inflatables in the 2000s, this time with a better valve and only in kids products, but it just didn’t take off. Frankly, there are a bunch of vintage IKEA items we’d love to see return, but a.i.r. is not one of them.
Read the full story over on IKEA Life at Home.