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Ikea eyes the red planet with tiny designs for life on Mars

By Benjamin Bullard
IKEA furnishings inside the Mars Desert Research Station

Despite acres and acres of available property, living on Mars — once we finally make it there — is likely to be a cramped affair. The paltry necessities that humanity’s first colonists bring with them aren’t likely to include materials for mega-mansions and spacious quarters. So who better to begin thinking about how to get the most out of small martian living spaces than Ikea — a company that knows a thing or two about scaling down?

Continuing a partnership with the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) that began in 2017, the Scandinavian masters of flat-packed apartment furnishings just got back from the station’s Utah desert environs with a trove of new ideas about how to make the Red Planet feel just a little bit more like home. 

The station’s research team kitted out their 8-meter-wide domed habitat with select Ikea furnishings, emerging with feedback on how Ikea can keep refining its designs to deliver fully on the needs that martian colonists are likely to have in a tight (and partially communal) living area. 

IKEA furnishings inside the Mars Desert Research Station
IKEA furnishings inside the Mars Desert Research Station
Space in the habitat is definitely at a tiny-apartment premium. Six-person teams take turns living in the dwelling — a “duplicate of a habitat designed for the human exploration of Mars,” as Ikea puts it. On the lower deck, there’s a shared laboratory space and workshop; while the upper level contains the kitchen and six “tiny bunk rooms” where residents can catch some shuteye — and some much-needed privacy.

Back in 2017, designer Christina Levenborn took an Ikea team to the station for an extended stint at trying out its space-like living conditions. The experience led her back to the station this year, where she returned with a curated batch of Ikea products chosen with space living (if not spacious living) in mind. “We tried to work with products for a small space living situation that could be arranged in a flexible and multifunctional way,” she explained on the company’s blog. “For the habitat, we brought products on wheels for mobile living, stools for seating, and table surfaces and stackable chairs for saving space.”

While it’s still too early for a definitive answer on how successful all the necessary obsession over downsized design will turn out, the crossover between apartment living and space habitat is already teaching Ikea a thing or two about how to make tiny living easier here on Earth. “[F]rom MDRS, we hope to learn more about living in extremely small spaces and how our products can be used,” Levenborn explained. “There is also knowledge to gain about the scarcity of material, repurposing, and sustainable living.”

While they’re at it, maybe Ikea should get to work on a martian garage door setup. After all, Elon Musk is going to need someplace to park his Tesla when when we finally put down permanent Red Planet roots.

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