Maslow’s Hierarchy of Furniture

This is my first guest post, written by Richard Huntington of

Richard is the Director of Strategy at Saatchi & Saatchi, which means that he swans round Soho drinking cappuccino and showing off.

Have you ever noticed that as you progress through different lifestages and different sized paycheques the places that you shop for your furniture changes?

I call this Maslows’s Hierarchy of Furniture. It’s a rather silly, rather snobbish, rather London centric and rather accurate idea.

Abraham Maslow may have done many things in his life – been a dedicated Scout leader, won prizes for his victoria sponge cakes or been a particularly generous and experimental lover but if he did he’s not famous for any of these things. He is famous for his Hierarchy of Needs.

Fully expressed in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality, he suggested that there are five levels of development described by the human needs at each stage and is usually represented as a pyramid. At the bottom are the basic physiological needs of all human beings – breathing, food, water, sex, sleeping, excretion etc. Once, and only once, these needs are met do you go to the next level, safety needs – security of body, resources, morality, health, shelter etc. Then once met we progress to the third level of love and belonging – friendship, family and sexual intimacy. Followed by esteem – self esteem, achievement, respect of others and respect of others. And once all these needs have been met human beings enter a stage of self actualisation where we seek to express who we are and become everything that we are capable of. Pretty neat huh?

Anyway back to furniture.

Fully expressed in this 2011 blog post, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Furniture suggests that there are four levels of development described by the furniture retailers at each stage.

At the bottom is Ikea. This is the first level of development and accompanies one’s first poorly paid job in advertising. Ikea offers the promise of reasonably stylish, reasonably well built furniture that’s as cheap as chips. Infact I have definitely eaten chips that cost more than much of Ikea’s umlaut festooned products.

But as your lifestage and tastes develop you move on, and you move on to Habitat. For my money, and I have spent a hell of a lot of it in Habitat over the years, Habitat is the daddy when it comes to style on a budget. Sure it has had its ups and downs over the years, after all it was only a decade ago we used to call it Shabitat but right now its enjoying a purple patch and god bless it.

But you don’t stop there. As the cash starts rolling in you upgrade to a retailer like Heals that is not hard if you live in central London as it’s over the corridor from Habitat. Indeed just as upon entering the church for a wedding (whose list will inevitably be at habitat) you turn left or right depending on your affiliation with the bride or groom, so it is on Tottenham Court Road that you turn left or right depending on how far up the hierarchy you have climbed.

Heals has proper pedigree with 200 years of making and selling design classics under its belt. When you shop here you are buying into that tradition and into furniture that arrives with two burly handymen and not an Allen key. Not to mention that it tends not to collapse when you look at it because it is made from proper materials like wood and steel and wool rather than beer mats, pipecleaners and double sided sticky tape like the cheaper brands you have just left behind.

But just as every dog has its day so too Heals will cease to satisfy you and you will find yourself shopping there less and less for furniture and more and for hand soaps and presents for Aunt Edith who smells of peppermint and wee.

Instead you have moved on to the pinnacle of our little pyramid of development. You have just gone bespoke, troubling your favourite craftsman or woman to knock up a little something in the bedside table or chaise longue department whenever you need to pad out the pad. Or perhaps you’ll be bidding for mid century design classics on eBay hoping to snap up an Eames for a song.

As we have said you will still pop into Heals but Habitat will be as distant a memory as your first E or Shabba Ranks. While Ikea will only come up in dinner party anecdotes about your first kitchen buying experience and why you have so many goddamn Allen keys in your possession.

And then, just as you feel that you have reached furniture self actualisation heaven, you screw it all up and have kids. And guess what, you tumble right back down to the beginning again without passing Go and without collecting £200. Partly because you are permanently skint given the buggies and ballet lessons you now have to shell out for and partly because the little bastards will set about destroying anything of value or style that you possess.

So you will start again at Ikea and yearn for the days of the bespoke furniture maker’s visits, the Molton Brown hand soaps from Heals and dare I say it even the bathroom knickknacks from Habitat.

Enjoy the climb back up.

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  1. Could only dream of Ikea when I bought my first place – it was only in London at the time… It was Argos all the way!

  2. I had to submit a special request to gain access to insideology through our corporate firewall.

    Great post, though I feel plagiarized, as its contents is one of my dinner party pieces, not that I actually go to any dinner parties having descended to the Ikea level. Though I have to admit I’ve never made the connection with Maslow.

    Through our house are the archeological layers of Ikea, Habitat, Heals and back to Ikea. On the ascent we only managed one piece of bespoke furniture, our bathroom cabinet.

    I built my latest Billy bookcase (Ikea’s best selling furniture)a few weeks ago, I’ve lost count of how many I’ve built over the years and was shocked to discover as I opened the packaging that it is no longer built with a Allen key!

    • Morning Matthew

      I’m very flattered that you’ve applied for special dispensation – presumably it was your brother’s expletives that got it blocked – and thank you for commenting.

      I can’t believe he stole that idea from you! He’s always soaking up my insights and ideas and regurgitating them at work as his own inspired thinking. Does he have no original thoughts?

      I’ve also pointed out that his theory is flawed, as with Maslow, one doesn’t move through the layers, one builds on the previous one, which means we must keep our Ikea sofa and accessorise it with something less crucial, such as a cushion from Liberty or a Diptyque candle. Honestly, you can’t get the staff nowadays!


  3. Easy you lot.

    I clearly have not plagarised my brother, though I may have been at one of his oh so rare dinner parties and absorbed some of his bon mots about furniture. And I bloody well made the link to Maslow!!

    I think if you read the post propoerly Annie you will see that I am not saying that you no get rid of the things you bought at previous stages merely that you move on in terms of where you like to shop. So that, like geological layers exposed on an eroded cliff you can see the different stages in all of our homes.

    It’s a nice bathroom cabinet BTW

  4. Bit late on the scene – I just wanted to ask your guest post contributor where it is that the re-cycled office filing cabinets painted green fit into the hierarchy – somehow they don’t seem as cool as they did in the 1980’s can we get away with them in 2011. Smewhere there must be room in the progression for solid furniture having a make-over with a bit of paint.

    As some of you know we virtually invented paint finishes in the garden with our early 1990’s Chelsea Flower Show gardens and we are still enjoying out two tone blue garden shed masquirading as a beach hut.

    Annie, I am enjoying the exposure to your take on corners of our Capital – great fun.

    • Hello Francis!
      Thank you so much for reading my blog, I’m very touched. I think that’s a very good point about tarting up furniture, I guess it depends on whether the furniture is worth being tarted up, but perhaps could prevent having to cycle back to Ikea later in life.
      I will be posting soon about terraces, including advice scribble on the back on an envelope by the famous Lucy Huntington so I will send it to you both!
      Have a lovely weekend… Annie x

  5. Pingback: Maslow’s Hierarchy | Eleventhmoment

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