By Beth Kowitt
April 15, 2019

When it comes to tiny spaces, New Yorkers are experts. Some residents sleep in what doubles as the living room. Others share a closet with a spouse or roommate—or go without one altogether.

So it’s only fitting that with the opening of Ikea’s “planning studio” in Manhattan, the Swedish furniture brand is navigating what one employee euphemistically describes as the city’s “interesting architectural needs,” just like every other New Yorker.

In fact, Ikea seems to be following the rites of passage of every new resident to the city: living in a smaller footprint, getting rid of its stuff to fit in a tighter space, and finding creative ways to make it work. The 17,350 sq. ft. location on Manhattan’s Upper East Side is one-fortieth the size of Ikea’s biggest store. On display are only about 1,000 items of the approximately 9,000 in its product range. And the “planning studio” is not really a store in the traditional sense at at all. Patrons don’t leave with any goods. Instead, they’re delivered to customers’ homes for a charge of $39. They’ll also be able to pay for assembly.

“We decided it was really important to focus on solutions for small spaces rather than have product to take away,” explains Amy Singer, Ikea’s retail designer for the project.

The planning studio is first of its kind in the U.S. Ikea expects to open 30 globally in the next three years. Customers can bring in measurements of their space with them, or a list the items they’re struggling to store, and work with an Ikea expert to come up with the best solution. The new format represents a very different way of shopping for Ikea regulars who are used to pushing their carts through endless spiraling aisles of warehouse and then playing Tetris with their flat-pack boxes to load them in the car.

Ikea believes the city center format is an answer to the new ways that consumers are shopping and living, as a growing percentage of the world’s population resides in cities, shops online, and wants goods delivered. “In general, we’re finding this is a trend that’s happening all over the world,” says Leontyne Green Sykes, chief operating officer of Ikea Retail U.S.

Ikea didn’t design any products specifically for the New York market, but instead curated existing items from its range to put on display. For example, the company is stressing furniture with multiple functions, like day beds. “In a small space everything has to earn its keep and really perform well,” says Singer.

To understand the needs of the market, Ikea surveyed residents and visited their homes. One of the resulting floor models reflects a pre-war apartment with a tub in the living room; another is a converted warehouse. One kitchen is designed for a scenario where three roommates live together.

Maximizing vertical space for storage is a particular point of emphasis. So is shoe storage after researchers found that a lot of New Yorkers store their footwear on the stairs outside their front doors. Everything touches on a common theme, Singer explains: “lack of space and lack of storage.”

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