She Designs Furniture for IKEALiving & Lifestyle
5 minutes read
Critiquing the work of her more senior colleagues, going onto a river to collect raw materials and learning how to make a chair in a village – it’s all in a day’s work for IKEA’s product designer IINA VUOVIRTA. In this interview, we get her to spill the beans on what working at the Swedish furniture giant is like (and why we need to assemble our own furniture!).
THE FURNITURE DESIGNER
Iina Vuovirta, 28, is IKEA’s youngest product designer. Based in the furniture chain’s headquarters in Älmhult, Sweden, she – together with an in-house team of 14 other designers – is responsible for churning out dozens of IKEA’s signature ready-to-assemble furnishings and low-cost home accessories every year. She was in Singapore recently as one of the judges for IKEA Young Designer Award 2016, a competition that challenged tertiary students to come up with innovative solutions for the kitchen.
I became a product designer at IKEA by accident …
Photo: Instagram / iinavuovirta
After graduating in 2013, I ran my own studio designing furnishings for clients. Then Stockholm Design Week 2015 came up. The event was a good opportunity not just to show my works but also to network with companies. I started talking to this man, but I didn’t recognise him, and had no idea who he was at all. Later, I realised that he’s Marcus Engman, IKEA’s head of design. (Laughs) He invited me to tour the headquarters, so I bought a train ticket on the same day and rode three hours there.
Being the youngest doesn't mean I could act blur …
Photo: Instagram / iinavuovirta
On my first day at IKEA, I received four design briefs for an upcoming collection. It sounds overwhelming now, but at that time, I just wanted to get started as soon as possible. The projects that I was assigned to work on included vases, a cup and a planter. Luckily, I was already used to working with glass and ceramics in my old studio, so I survived the hard landing!
I can critique my more senior colleagues!
We never keep our design sketches to ourselves. Once we’ve come up with a few, we make it a point to have a roundtable, where we exchange feedback – and critique each other’s works! (Laughs) But at the end of the day, I feel safe knowing there’re these pillars of support beside me. Being open has helped us overcome stress during times when we lacked inspiration, as well as improve our designs. My team is amazing in this way.
The furniture I design has to be stackable …
It boils down to economies of scale. When the products are stackable, the company can fit more into the same cargo. This reduces the number of trips that the transport has to make in order to get the products into the stores around the world, resulting in cost savings for shoppers. For bigger furnishings, the next challenge is to ensure they can be easily assembled on demand, so there’re more details at work beyond just designing the best-looking furniture.
I spent a week at a village in Vietnam learning how to make a chair …
Not long after joining IKEA, I started work on a completely new range. The plan was to create furnishings from natural materials such as rattan, bamboo, seagrass and water hyacinth. As I hadn’t worked with these before, I didn’t know what to expect. I rode on a wooden boat onto the Mekong River with a few villagers and watched them gather the raw materials. They also taught me how to weave rattan. Although we didn’t speak the same language, we still managed to build some really interesting concepts.
I practise sustainable living – even at work!
Iina Vuovirta designed this upcoming range of vases made entirely from recycled glass. The patterns are a natural occurrence caused by moulding recycled glass, so no two vases are alike. Glass that's originally pigmented also doesn't lose its colour after being melted for recycling, providing the collection with a wide variety of ready-made hues. (Photo: IKEA)
I make a conscious decision to be careful in what I wear and what I eat. For example, clothes made from organic cotton are more sustainable than those made from normal cotton because they don’t use synthetic pesticide in their production. At IKEA, we try to use materials that are renewable, recyclable or recycled as much as possible, so my work really gels with my belief in sustainable living. A vase that I designed for an upcoming collection is made entirely from recycled glass.
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