As I sit in my office, I’m surrounded by pieces of IKEA furniture and decor, none of which I bought myself, but all of which I love – from the colorfully patterned lamps and pillows I received as birthday, Christmas, or congratulations-on-finishing-college-and-finally-getting-an-apartment presents, to the end tables that my aunt gave me after she went a little crazy at the Pittsburgh IKEA store and bought more furniture than she needed. I can’t say I blame her, nor do I blame all the people I know who happily make the two-hour drive to the nearest IKEA location just to be able to browse, in person, through furniture pieces with names like EKTORP.
What’s the appeal? It’s inexpensive, for one thing, and I personally love the simplicity of IKEA furnishings, and the fact that all the tools you need to assemble them are right there in the box, as well as the instructions featuring the puzzled-looking little cartoon guy. Their simplicity and easy of assembly, in fact, are what make them so easy to hack, alter and turn into much cooler, more original pieces or even 3D printers.
That’s not to say that IKEA can’t be plenty original on its own, however, especially when the company unveils its periodic PS (Post Scriptum) collections, inviting designers and artists to create experimental new designs. This year’s PS 2017 collection contains 60 new products from 21 different designers, all adhering to a theme of recycled materials, multipurpose pieces, and new manufacturing techniques.
One new model stands out in particular this year, for its use of a technology I’m intrigued by but don’t hear about too often: 3D knitting. It’s not a new method of fabrication, but it’s becoming more commonly used, and designer Sarah Fager used it to lovely – and quite comfortable-looking – effect in a new chair simply called, for the moment, the PS 2017 Armchair. The soft mesh fabric of the chair, stretched across a steel frame, is the result of a digital design and an automated machine that knits yarn together, layer by layer, for a completely seamless end product. The most well-known use of 3D knitting, at least recently, was likely the process used to create Nike’s Flyknit shoes, which also feature 3D printed soles.
“At IKEA we have been curious about this 3D knitting technique for some time,” Fager told Dezeen. “We have all seen it being used in those colourful sneakers and it’s a really smart way to produce things, since it’s fully automised and this knitting machine can be placed at any supplier to combine it with other materials in a product.”
Fager had been prototyping the chair, which she initially called a “see-through sofa,” for over a year. She envisioned a piece of furniture that would be ideal for apartment-dwellers or others with limited space, wanting it to be lightweight and compact without sacrificing comfort. 3D knitting turned out to be the perfect means of fabrication, resulting in a chair made from light, breathable mesh that supports your weight securely without stiffness or uncomfortable seams, thanks to the technology’s ability to shape the fabric perfectly to the frame. According to IKEA, the 3D knitted material is also extremely durable and will last for years.
And, as Fager envisioned, the chair is somewhat see-through, making it appear to take up less space and avoiding giving small rooms a cluttered look. Like most IKEA products, it’s also delightfully affordable at around $150, and will be available in red or silver when the full collection hits the market in February 2017.