The Latest from Ikea: Refugee Shelters


Ikea is bringing its unique blend of Swedish design sensibility and cheap materials to a very different piece of furniture: The refugee shelter.

The Ikea Foundation, the retailer's non-profit charity arm, announced that it's teaming up with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to rethink the traditional refugee shelter. Those shelters are very much stuck in the past, with the UN still relying on canvas tents that provide little shelter from the elements.

The Ikea Foundation wants to change that. Its Swedish-designed shelters draw heavy inspiration from Ikea's mainstream offerings, right down to the fact that they come in a flat box and require assembly. They use metal frames and insulated, lightweight panels, and have solar panels on the roof to provide something that most refugee tents don't: Light after dark.

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The organization says the prototype design is currently in use in Ethopia, where it's testing them out with refugees and taking feedback.

"Once UNHCR has gathered input from the families testing the shelter, the team will look at how they can make necessary changes and, hopefully, begin producing the new shelter," the Foundation explains.

As such, it sounds like it will be some time before the Ikea Foundation finalizes the design and starts producing them on a mass scale. And even once they're complete, don't expect to find them at your local Ikea -- on its Facebook page, the Foundation told a Pakistani commenter that since the shelter technically isn't an Ikea product, it won't be available in stores.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.