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Life at home in extraordinary times – Part 1: Changes

What home means to different people has always fascinated us at IKEA. So, in the early months of the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020, we decided to closely examine how we live, work within and share the spaces we’ve been confined to. To do this, we tapped into the thoughts and feelings of 20 households across the world.

For this first article of our three-part series, ‘Life at home in extraordinary times’, we caught up with five of the families from our 2020 research, to look at the different journeys the year has taken them on. Below, find out how Alessio and Margareta navigated these extraordinary times.

Take a look at our Life at Home 2020 research.

A little girl with dark hair all over her face is jumping on a bed. She is having fun.

Meet Alessio – Arran, Scotland

To say Alessio and his wife and daughter have gotten closer to nature during the coronavirus pandemic is putting it mildly. Back in January 2020, they were living in Shanghai, China, one of the largest cities on earth. But in March, as the virus spread, they moved into his family’s home with his parents, siblings and sister-in-law, on Scotland’s Isle of Arran (population c. 5,000).

A dramatic change of scenery

Due to the virus, a five-mile limit on travel for leisure purposes was imposed on the island, meaning its borders were effectively shut to visitors and tourists after they arrived. This made an already-out-of-the-way place seem more remote than ever – especially to a family arriving from one of the most densely populated areas on earth.

Seeing old places with new eyes

Alessio and his family were quick to adapt, with Alessio himself developing an appreciation for Arran that he’d not had before – for its outdoor spaces, its nature, its beauty. Once life starts to return to normal, he intends to explore more of the countryside around Scotland, and closer to home: “There’s a mountain here that I’ve never walked up,” he says, “I’d love to climb it sometime.”

The challenges of adjusting

Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Alessio is a freelance videographer and there were times during the summer of 2020 when finding work became difficult. “It’s one of the biggest things I’ve found out about myself,” he explains. “I’d prefer to be struggling to have free time than struggling to stay busy. I don’t like the uncertainty.”

Adapting to life in a multi-generational household has also had its challenges. “Dad was used to having an empty nest, so there was some tension at first,” says Alessio. “But we had a talk about it and the next morning everything was fine. I’ve also had to learn not to overstep.”

Closer family connections

There are also many upsides to living with extended family. “It’s the first time my daughter has spent any real time with her grandparents,” explains Alessio. “It’s been amazing to watch their relationship grow. And it’s helped me bond with them as well, as we share contrasting stories about bringing up children. They’ve been telling me things about my own childhood that I’d not heard before.”

Getting closer to family is something many of us benefitted from during the corona crisis. When we asked our Life at Home survey participants which of 12 activities they’d like to continue doing more of in the future, spending more time with family came out on top.

It looks like Alessio is one person who’ll definitely be getting his wish: “My wife and brother’s wife are both expecting ‘COVID babies’,” he says. “So the dynamic in the household will change again. But we’ll all be here for that, and we’ll be supporting each other.”


Meet Margareta – Milan, Italy

Margareta lives in the suburbs of Milan, northern Italy, with her sons aged 17 and 22. The Italian government was the first in the world to impose a national quarantine and, like 96% of the people we surveyed for our Life at Home research, Margareta spent the period of restrictions largely confined to home.

Home as sanctuary

At first, she viewed the small two-bedroom apartment she shares with her sons as a sanctuary. In this, she’s not alone. Of the people we surveyed, 78% said the same about their homes during restrictions.

Feeling trapped

Despite coronavirus measures in Italy easing over the summer, as autumn arrived Margareta began to feel trapped. “I guess the thing I miss most is the freedom,” she said. “To do whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want to do it. I would love to go back to normality so much.”

Shared space issues

Space has definitely been an issue for Margareta, who has been working in her kitchen since March. It’s not ideal: “Once I was on a video call and one of my sons didn’t notice. He passed behind me in his underpants! Funny ones with fruit on them…,” she laughs.

Making changes at home

Two in five people we surveyed said that they had decided to make changes to their home during 2020. When Margareta recently found out that she wouldn’t be going back into the office for at least another six months, she decided it was time to make changes too. She bought a new desk to put in her bedroom, giving her some much-needed privacy. But what about having to sleep where she works? On this, she’s philosophical: “I don’t really care. What choice do I have? I just wanted to get out of the kitchen.”

Missing life outside

The sense of claustrophobia isn’t helped by the fact that the world outside Margareta’s four walls has remained far from normal. She had to pull out of a Shiatsu course she signed up for because a rule change meant she’d have to wear a mask for all 12 hours of the training – something she says she’d find unbearable.

Most of all, she’s missed dancing in a crowd. “I believe dancing is something that’s really important for us human beings. It’s something we did even in prehistoric times. It’s just not right, not being allowed to move your body with others. I can dance inside my home, but it’s not the same.”

Longing for nature

When we caught up with Margareta for our first Life at Home pulse report, she was looking to transform her balcony into a mini vegetable garden. But at the close of 2020, she’s considering more drastic action, having experienced nature as a sanctuary during these times. “I really want to get out, somewhere very, very far from the city. A small house. I don’t need much space inside. But it needs to have a garden.”

Sadly, she won’t be able to make this a reality any time soon. Moving to a new house, she explains, is very difficult and expensive in Italy. Besides, her sons are at a point in their lives where they need to be in Milan for school and work. “So, I have no plans right now,” she says, wistfully. “Just going to the mountains. I plan to go as much as I can.”


Final thoughts

The year 2020 has forced many of us to re-evaluate our relationship with home. Almost half the people we surveyed for our Life at Home research told us that, like Margareta, they would consider moving further from their place of work for a better home.

But what does a better home look like? The answer to that question seems to be changing too. Bigger bedrooms are no longer what people aspire to have. For the home of the future, access to nature has become a major priority – as is the case for Alessio, whose newfound love of the wild beauty of Arran only blossomed during COVID-19.

Up next

In the second part of our ‘Life at home in extraordinary times’ series, we catch up with Ilenia in Italy, and Shay in Australia, whose homes helped them connect with family and friends during 2020 in very different ways.

Discover part two of the ‘Life at home in extraordinary times’ series

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