Unböring: 3rd UNCLE transforms Ikea into hotelier



‘Hotel ’05,’

July 28, Toronto


Ikea, Toronto



design, Toronto

Creative team:

John Tong, Lisa Mann


Andrej Kopac

The concept

To introduce its 2005

catalogue, Ikea created a faux boutique hotel (complete with doormen) in a vacant retail space in downtown Toronto and invited a wide range of media outlets to come see the new product lines. The hotel, similar to the stores, featured a

smorgasbord of rooms decked out in the company’s stylish furnishings, including bedrooms and a bar to showcase the kitchen range.

The strategy

Ikea wanted to take the buzz beyond the design community that was sure to pay particular attention to the catalogue launch because of 3rd UNCLE’s participation. The 10-year-old design firm is one of the hottest around. Its credits include the Drake Hotel in Toronto and a slew of awards such as the Industrial Design Excellence Award in 2000 for Teknion and Designers of the Year at the upcoming International Design Show in Toronto in 2005.

According to Nandini Venkatesh, marketing

manager, Ikea, the company’s business objectives this year are to showcase the ‘complete bedroom’ and highlight the fact that a wide range of furnishings are available and thereby move Ikea’s reputation beyond the stereotype of ‘starter’ pieces and into a more upscale range. (The joy of the catalogue aside, don’t you just hate it when guests play ‘spot the Ikea’ in your house?)

‘People typically associate us with startup furniture for young people and with a certain kind of design which is clean, light and Scandinavian,’ she says. ‘But given the 10,000 products we have, we’ve really turned up the dial.’

Venkatesh points to Ikea’s upscale furnishings, from antique-styled products to leather sofas to illustrate Ikea’s broader appeal. John Tong, principal at 3rd UNCLE, explains further: ‘Our strategy was to come up with a clear direction which spoke about

sophistication, luxury

and elegance.

‘We were able to use the product in ways that a

person going through the store or the catalogue may not think of directly.

So here is an element of surprise, playfulness,

creativity and innovation using Ikea products as a building block.’

Got that right. The bar was constructed using Ikea chairs. A bedroom showcased three different styles of

setting, including modern (a round bed). Even the light bulbs were Ikea.

About 200 invitations were sent out to media

outlets across the country, but for the first time other media such as lifestyle, shelter and ethnic were invited as well.

Venkatesh says Ikea made those additions to speak to the broad relevance of the company’s product offerings. ‘It’s not only about having great design that typically design media would pick up on. For example, we have pet products that would appeal to pet owners. So a pet magazine could pick it up. We even had a divorce magazine there.’ (We’ll leave that one alone.)

Why design matters

Venkatesh says more than the 200 people originally invited actually showed up (consumers love their Ikea) and the event fulfilled

its goal of getting

extensive media coverage

in places like The Toronto Star and on Citytv’s Cityline. ‘But over and beyond that, it’s also about the kind of excitement we generated that evening,’ she says.

‘Design matters because ultimately it’s about

appealing to people’s taste and also to their sense of aesthetics,’ adds Venkatesh. ‘At the same time, design, particularly in the context of home furnishings,

needs to also appeal at a functional level.’