Who knew: 70 years of IKEA has changed everything

Ikea Catalogue From 1964

EVERY now and then, a Viking turns up, blond wood bared for battle, in the murky depths of a second hand shop. 

Ikea Poang chairs (1977) with their taut grace are common casualties, and they remain cheap at just €90 a bounce, brand new.

I have chased strangers out of junk shops with: “Do you know that chair you bought is a Poang — aren’t they great? You can get a new cover for that one, you know?”

Well they are nice. Once on-trend pieces blistering with good value and acknowledged even by the design elite for their worthy forms — Ikea’s cheap and chic buys are often discarded after a mere decade’s use.

Who can forget the excitement of the second coming of the Scandinavian long ships to Dublin in 2009? Flat-pack contraband had been pirated down from Belfast for years. Entire raiding expeditions by car ferry to Pembroke were planned around Ikea in the 1980s.

The Dublin store exploded former laws limiting retail outlets to a size of 6,000 sq metres. Today, a family gets a financial foothold, pulls themselves up to the craggy heights of social aspiration, and grow contemptuous of Ikea’s price and availability.

“Those stupid pseudo-Nordic names — for God’s sake, the staff room has two of my Segga Heimis porcelain pods holding raffle tickets! They have to go.”

Is it beyond imagining? With boat loads of these things flowing downhill to the second-hand market, could Ikea ever appear as vintage and antique in sales and auctions?

Ikea has had room sets show-casing the best designs from every decade since the 1960s and is now replacing its entire first store at Älmhult with a museum to celebrate its evolution as a brand and furniture maker.

The Ikea story is as well known as their €3 lunches. Founder Ingvar Kamprad started the company in 1943 at the grand old age of 17, shipping their first furniture from 1948. Ikea combines Kamprad’s first name and surname, the farm where he grew up (E for Elmtaryd), and the Swedish village near said farm (A for Agunnaryd).

Beginning in fountain pens and women’s nylons, the business model used by Ikea would evolve to be like no other. Their retail expertise today, using what is termed ‘the long natural way’, takes us on a trek through a hypnotic and somewhat exhausting landscape of Ikea goods styled up in magazine set-pieces.

It’s a lesson in retail tickles and strokes, and ultimately deposits the aesthetically blissed-out customer to a cavernous warehouse, trolley or car at the ready. Licking the famed lingonberry jam from our lips, we row the hoard home up or down the M50 — most of us not entirely sure what we decided on in the end.

And not really absorbing that one per cent of wood harvested worldwide goes into Ikea furniture. Based on what Kamprad coined as the principle of ‘democratic design’ the furniture and accessories sold from the great blue hangars were always going to be mass-produced, plentiful and centred on a low price-point.

Even the naming of the pieces is systematic. Desks are always men’s names, fabrics women’s names, beds are always dubbed as comfy Norwegians. Particle board and plastics are ingredients in many expensive modern classics from the 1950s forward, so it’s no longer a simply material matter.

However, I would not be interested in investing in most flat-pack pieces stabbed erect with a wobbling Allen key. Most second-hand Ikea pieces, even at 70-odd years, are too fresh off the press to as yet attract much interest, and are largely sought as ‘discontinued’ rather than vintage.

Where it has been kept, it is fondly regarded but not highly prized, and re-painting and loose covers are common-place for old Ikea souls. The rarity and level of materials is just not there in most cases — a given in the collector’ market which sprints after things as close to the drawing board of their maker and available in as small qualities as possible.

The 1970s and 1980s saw a deluge of plastic and pine Ikea products. The former doesn’t hold up well with heavy use, and the latter is still winking golden, forgotten and largely despised. Fishing around discussion sites worldwide, what is touching is the immense enthusiasm many owners of older Ikea pieces have for their furnishings and smalls from 1970s Billy bookcases (still sold), to handsome Amadeus wall clocks and bulbous Sonneman lamps (both discontinued).

Gillis Lundgren, the designer who in a fit of frustration in 1956, sawed the legs off a table from a rival company to get it into his car, came up with the idea of flat-pack furnishings, and now has a leaf table back in production at Ikea. His Impala loungers (discontinued) from 1972 have a fabulous swagger. Ikea remains a fantastic venue for that first lightning bolt of recognition — this is what good design is all about!

If you are short of money and want something juiced up from the classics, take a look, for example, at the Docksta tables (€150) in place of an Aero Tulip. Nnappa pendant lamps are a fraction of the cost of leafy mid-century names at €20, and personally I love the PS steel cabinetry by Nicholai Wiig Hansen, which at €80 will doubtless last the ages. Old and new Ikea products will be on display at the new Ikea Museum in Älmhult Sweden. Raid your attic, shed or your parent’s house for vintage Ikea products.

* Send a picture by mail to Archive.Museum@Inter-IKEA.com  for your chance to be a part of the Ikea Museum story.


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