IKEA Makes the Most of the Least, Part 2: What Big Ideas Can Do for Small Spaces


They sell space-conscious furniture.

They sell cheap, delicious food.

They sell houses?

Well, not quite.

But they have collaborated with a design firm to provide the interior furnishings for one!

Over in Portland, Oregon there’s a design firm – Ideabox – making a name for themselves in pre-fabricated homes, and quite possibly revolutionizing and reinvigorating the idea of home ownership in the United States… AKTIV, a 745 square foot, pre-fabricated home.

With a name like “AKTIV,” you’d easily mistake it for something from IKEA, or at the very least, something Swedish. It is, right? Nope. The furnishings (namely, appliances, fixtures, flooring, and cabinetry) come straight out of the IKEA catalog. But the home itself comes from the Northwest. AKTIV is quite possibly revolutionizing and reinvigorating the idea of home ownership in the United States.

Spare the jokes.

No, it isn’t put together with a giant hex wrench. And no, it’s not flat-packed sitting on warehouse shelves.

It does come preassembled and delivered from a truck, but this is no trailer home. See for yourself!

Far from it.

You think of a mobile home (or even a pre-fabricated home), and it almost immediately brings to mind an image of a small and dark box, with a few holes punches into the walls to serve as windows. Everything inside, by default, becomes as small and utilitarian as it possibly can be.

AKTIV doesn’t distract the stereotypes associated with “pre-fab” housing. It erases them completely.

Let me talk you on a quick walk-through of the home to explain how they’ve done it:

You don’t get a deck this size not have some swanky parties on it. AKTIV is one swanky house.

You don’t get a deck this size to not have some swanky parties on it. AKTIV is one swanky house.

The main living space (a combination of the living, dining, and kitchen areas) gravitates toward the exterior, with high-reaching vaulted ceilings spanning the width between walls of generously-sized glass windows and doors. Without walls between any of the three aforementioned rooms, light, ventilation, and traffic flow right from one room into the next.

Yep, fellas…there’s even room for your flat screen television, which means one thing: move-in –ready.

Yep, fellas…there’s even room for your flat screen television, which means one thing: move-in –ready.

The L-shaped kitchen smartly allows the cabinets and appliances to hug two of the walls, while the third wall opens up to a window for the dining table to look out through. It’s a really practical solution. They haven’t crammed a dining room smack-dab in the middle of the kitchen. Instead, they’ve built a kitchen around a dining room.

It not only includes a dishwasher, but the best kind of dishwasher: the kind you can’t see!

It not only includes a dishwasher, but the best kind of dishwasher: the kind you can’t see!

Now, if they made the public spaces in the house big and open, they must’ve had to really cram the rest of everything in there, didn’t they? They didn’t one bit. Much in the same way, natural light flows in abundantly, but from higher-placed windows that allow sunlight in without sacrificing privacy. Another pair of sliding glass doors in the bedroom allows natural light to come in, and allows the homeowner(s) to access the outdoor patio or deck. And, yes, it not only fits a queen-sized bed, but it also fits a full built-in wardrobe. Let’s mosey on over to the bathroom, right off of the bedroom.

And you thought the magically-disappearing dishwasher was cool. How about a disappearing closet? ABRACADABRA!

And you thought the magically-disappearing dishwasher was cool. How about a disappearing closet? ABRACADABRA!

Access to the adjacent bathroom is through a pocket door, the kind that slides right into the wall. You wouldn’t first think of it, but hinged doors that swing take up all the space which they swing through. A pocket door leaves room keeps the adjacent areas on both sides of the doors open and free to be used. Inside you’ll find a double vanity with two sinks, and a full-sized shower/bathtub.

There’s also room next to the bathroom for a separate washer and dryer, with a counter built above them for folding or ironing your clothes. There’s even a small window so you don’t have to stare at a wall while you’re bored out of your mind, folding your laundry. (The people who designed my house didn’t even bother to think of that one!)

I’ve already mentioned the expansive deck that the living room and bedroom doors open out onto, but additionally, the home was a walk-up front porch on the opposite side, as well as two storage rooms accessed from the exterior. An optional carport can be added to the design to protect automobiles.

It's not about how much space you's about how you use it.

It’s not about how much space you have…it’s about how you use it.

These designers have realized that it isn’t about how much space you have, but how much that space is used. If you build a big room with a corner you never use for any purpose, you’ve not only wasted money building it, but will waste even more money heating and cooling it. The most cost-effective and energy-efficient homes are designed to give every room – and every corner, even – a purpose.

By maximizing use of a minimal amount of space, these designers have not only found a cost-effective way of building new homes, but a more environmentally-friendly method of building them. Ideabox’s homes create less material waste, a smaller carbon footprint, less energy consumption, and less a use of natural resources than traditional homes. It’s greener.

Since the homes are built in an off-site, climate-controlled environment, they can be built without regard to the weather, season, or traditional construction schedule. The walls and floors can be built simultaneously, and – without the need for a roof to shelter the interior – the kitchen cabinets can be installed before the walls are constructed. Within 8 weeks, you can have a home that’s brand new and custom designed from top-to-bottom. It’s faster.

Oh, and if that isn’t enough reason for you to consider AKTIV?

If you order your home with the “Euro Option,” meaning it includes interiors by IKEA…they’ll wrestle with all the furniture assembly, and build it for you. No hex wrench necessary.

Save that money you’d have spent on things like a months-long contracting process.

It’ll buy a lot of $0.50 hot dogs.

What do you think of the design of ideabox’s AKTIV? What design features do you like? Are there features you think are missing from the design? Would you ever consider living in a prefabricated home?

Image credit to jpellgen, Ideabox, and theunquietlibrarian.

Eric Labanauskas

Eric is a data entry specialist and contributing writer for the QLP Blog Squad. He is a city boy with a country heart, with an appetite for anything chicken-fried. He has studied as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, performed across the country as Buddy Holly in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," and can tie a bow tie by himself without the aid of a mirror. 1950's rock 'n roll is his soundtrack, especially while on road-trips with his lovely girlfriend. Suffice it to say, he is also the owner of some good cocktail party stories from his many experiences. You can also connect with Eric on Google+.


  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    I wouldn’t mind living in a prefab home like AKTIV. I’d just have to live somewhere with all prefab homes. I can’t imagine your custom house neighbors would appreciate you dropping a prefab right in the middle of their community! I do like that the house has everything you need in one nice, little package!

    • Eric

      Spent too much time in the Naperville area, Mandy. 🙂

      It actually wouldn’t make for all too offensive of a home. It looks a lot like some of the mass-manufactured, post-war ranch housing that was popular in America around the 1950’s.

      Not completely disagreeing, however, because to take full advantage of the design (with a private facade on one side, and a more open, window-filled side on the other) you’d want to locate on a lot where both would be put to their intended uses and orientations.

      It’s a sweet little place. Surprisingly, doesn’t looked one bit cramped, has more than enough ceiling height, and the mostly-open floor plan really makes it seem much larger than it does on paper. I dig it.

      Thanks for reading! 🙂

      • Mandy Kilinskis

        I can’t help myself. I went to school there. They infect you with that kind of thinking. And you know those Napervillains would beat you if you dropped a prefab next to their $3.5 mil Civil War-era plantation-esque home. You know they would.

        • Eric


  2. Jen

    This is a neat little home. It would be a great alternative to renting, but I can see many drawbacks.

    #1) It’s really small and there is only one bedroom. So a roommate is not an option.
    #2) Yes it is only $86,500, but you will also need a plot of land which could be really expensive to buy or rent.
    #3) All of the extra storage is outside.
    #4) Do pre-fab home depreciate in value like cars and mobile homes? Maybe something to consider in terms of resale value down the road.

    The house itself is really cool, but I don’t see it taking the place of traditional homes. Nice blog though Eric, I can really see the potential in this type of home for college-aged adults just leaving the nest and older adults looking to downsize.

    • Eric

      #1) It’s a springboard design, Jen, and it would be a hard sell as far as a “One Size Fits All” approach goes. However, Ideabox has other designs that expand upon this one to provide things like extra bedrooms, more storage, etc. Check ’em out: The concept isn’t to cheaply and inexpensively replicate your average, full-sized home, but rather, to only build and occupy space you actually use (never get me on a rant about people who claim they need full dining rooms, that said).

      #2) Land, delivery, utility hookups…sure, there are other expenses. Any prospective homeowner has them due in some shape or form, and with AKTIV, these are where they come into play. Chances are, if you’re spending $86,500 on your house, you probably will be looking for a lot proportionate to that in cost. Better a home for up-and-comer suburbs than established ones, with that said.

      #3) Storage here takes on a different concept for Americans. There aren’t abundant closets, nor an attic, nor a basement. The idea is to use the space within the house economically for your storage. Yep. You’re still wondering, “Well, where the #$%^ do the Christmas decorations go after the holidays?” Guess you’d have me on that one. Having an architectural background, however, you could take both the storage rooms, knock-out the wall between them, and reverse the entrance to enter the storage through the bathroom. Ideal? No, but an easy fix to the problem. There’s an optional carport/garage design, as well, that could probably address the same problem.

      #4) Being a permanent structure, and not a mobile home, I don’t see how it would lose value if well-maintained/upgraded/updated over the years. If it starts to show age, or if any home starts to show age, it may. Otherwise, no, I’d say.

      It’s an envelope-pusher, that’s for sure, Jen. For folks well settled into their comfort zone as far as domestic space is concerned, it may not be for you. I admire their work to encourage us to leave a smaller footprint on the land, and use our space a little more wisely than we do (or rather, do not).

      Thanks for the comments, Jen, and the thoughts, too! Kept these typing hands busy! 🙂

  3. Cybernetic SAM

    God I LOVE IKEA!!! That is an understatement!!! Even if I had money I would still go to ikea and just put my bills on the counter and Yell “OK LOAD IT ALL UP FELLAS!!!!” Everything is so cute and works well with any style. It is a great place for BIG IDEAS and a tiny budget. I don’t know one person that doesn’t own at least 1 ikea item. So I guess they are doing something right!

    • Cybernetic SAM

      By the way that house is thePERFECT size for me!!!! I hate big houses and this compact little number would be amazing! What do you think they could do with this little number, if they could maximize this I would buy it in a heatbeat!

      • Eric

        Here’s the website I was referring to:

        It’s a more traditionalist take on the idea, using space-mindful floor plans to optimize the use and flow of rooms on a smaller footprint. If there’s any drawback to the IKEA-inspired house, here, it is how rigid it is in appearance. It’s sleek, it’s modern, and that’s how it’s going to be. For those who had something a little more traditional in mind, the aforementioned homes are offering the same spatial concepts with more classic-looking packaging.

        They’ve even got one that has a shower and whirlpool tub in the master bath. Goes to show smaller does always mean sacrificing!

  4. amy

    I would have no problem living in one of these pre-fab houses, they’re so cute! The only problem I could see is figuring out where to build it. Is there any open land around here that’s not being used for corn or soybeans?! 😉

    • Eric

      Not too long ago I took my first drive Westward down I-88 to get up to Wisconsin. Last I checked out there, they’d a few acres of land left. 🙂 Lot of flat land, too…less grading work to be done, folks!

  5. Rachel

    Very cool post, Eric! I could totally see myself living in one of these houses for a while (though perhaps not forever–I can’t imagine a family of 3 or 4 could live there comfortably for very long). I tend to go back and forth between liking big houses and smaller ones … this option is definitely more affordable! 🙂 Thanks for sharing all this info, Eric, as I had not heard of this company before. Very interesting stuff!

    • Eric

      I think there’s potential in the design to expand upon it and maintain the economy of space and cost it has. That’d be a challenge I wouldn’t mind seeing made and met, Rachel, that’s for sure.

      For some reason, the older I get, the more and more I like smaller spaces. I’d friends whose homes would have these two-story-tall foyers, or living rooms with endless ceiling height…and I’d wonder what for.

      Thanks for reading, Rachel! 🙂

  6. Jaimie Smith

    Omg those pre fab houses are the cutest!! I would totally live in one of those. The only drawback is what Jen said, no room for a roomate. And also, how sturdy are they? I HATE storms and I feel like a tornado would take me away in that lol. Thats probably just me being dumb and freaking out though…
    Because other than that I LOVE the idea of them. I just love Ikea in general. Reading and talking about Ikea makes me want to go there this weekend now, even though I was just there last week!

    You did a great job on these Ikea posts, Eric! 🙂

    • Eric

      Thanks, Jaimie!

      Well, the addition of a basement would probably be a necessary one here in the Midwest…I’d have to say the same, myself. Never been caught dead in the middle of one, thank God, but I don’t mind the security of having a basement and knowing it’s there. It could be done, it would just add to the price they’ve tried to hard to keep low. Frank Lloyd Wright actually built his “Usonian” homes in the same mindset as this one, and I do remember one of the clients breaking from his design and building themselves a basement. For storing preserves, of all things. Lucky for the clients, that doubled as a storm shelter!

  7. Jill Tooley

    Wow, what a co-branding effort this is! Like others have said, I’m not sure these manufactured homes would be conducive to a ritzy neighborhood, but they’d sure do wonders in sections of bigger cities that may be limited on space. Lots of potential!

    Side note: I lived in an almost-1000 square foot mobile home for almost 5 years, and it didn’t appear nearly as spacious as these prefab homes do! I’m impressed. 🙂

    Great posts, Eric!

    • Eric

      “Ritzy” never really has resonated with me. The suburb where I’m from, you’ve multi-million dollar homes. But the people designing them (and their architects) place the design emphasis on sheer size more than anything else. I think this little IKEA ditty is far more stylist than most the monstrosities I’ve got in my hometown.

      I ever win the lottery, so help me, I’m buying one of the pre-fabs and dropping it smack-dab in the middle of someplace it’ll offended someone. Just because.

      Totally agree with you…I looked at the pictures for a good long while when I was piecing this blog together, and never did it occur to me to even think that it looked like a small home. Daresay the kitchen’s bigger than my own at home, even!

      Thanks, Jill! 🙂

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