"House Perfect" (2016) Annotation I The Neoliberal Aesthetic
(Originally written 2016, slightly updated 2018)
Collins, Lauren. "House Perfect." New Yorker 3 Oct. 2011: 1-33. The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 10 Mar. 2015. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.
“Is the Ikea ethos comfy or creepy?” This is the question that former Ikea employee and New Yorker contributor Lauren Collins considers in their 2011 article House Perfect. (1) The article gives a broad historical and cultural overview of Ikea and elaborates on the company’s design principles and values. Ikea as a company is one of the world’s largest furniture retailers, and its emphasis is on affordable They operate on the motto “to make life better for average people” and to make better things accessible to everyone through mass production.
Ikea’s aesthetic is referred to by designer Bill Morrige as “global functional minimalism” which is “modernist, and very neutral to avoid local preferences, to get the economies of scale and to keep the prices really good”. (4) With Ikea being a top furniture manufacturer worldwide, the ideal Morrige refers to is the development of an aesthetic that is operating in a neoliberal and global context. This is the most literal example I have found of a universal aesthetic based on economic idealism.
There is a paradox built in to the structure of Ikea and other retailers obsessed with cutting costs, in that most of their clientele are the same class of low wage worker they exploit in the production process. Ikea owns plants in China and many other low wage countries and pays plant workers in the US $8 an hour. (20) These workers couldn’t possibly afford to be the “everybody” that this design is marketed toward. Ikea therefore loses its idealistic credibility, excluding members of its own company through economic suppression, propping up the neoliberal economic paradigm. They undermine their own utopia.
Amazon falls into the same trap, with overworked and underpaid workers. The technological revolution that's allowed them to have 24 hour delivery and fulfillment centres in every city not only pushes us all toward the bottom, needing to lower cost to account for lower wages, but displaces local jobs in favor of corporate consolidation. Many have noted, especially the emergent democratic-socialist politicians in western democracies, that the gains from automation and efficiencies need not be bad—in fact, if we are to overcome the climate crisis and projected population booms, it requires efficient structures—given the wealth generated from them not concentrate in the hands of very few billionaires. Yes, I think, but does this vision go far enough? Many of these conversations hold western countries as bubbles in themselves, but the exploitation in even the most Bernie Sanders utopia ignores the countless sweatshop hours that go into making fast fashion, that pollute the waterways of rural china, etc. But perhaps I'm getting to far ahead of it all.