Nov 24, 2009

Profiling IKEA

In the early 1940's, Sweden was trying to foster a Welfare Policy and was inching towards becoming a Social Welfare State. Focus was shifting from the on-going war and a need to provide health and happy family living conditions to all in the country. Swedish government came up with subsidies for people to build well ventilated, practically designed homes; Thereby, triggering a demand for mass produced furniture and home goods.

The Scandinavian style furniture...
Scandinavian politics, cultures,languages and traditions led to the emergence of a multifaceted design philosophy in the early 1900's. By the end of mid century, these designs came to be known as a "style" from this region. In the meanwhile, the post depression era (late 1920's, 1930's-early 40's) saw  the Swedish urban middle class (in Stockholm) looking at quality of life in a whole new way. Market for clean "Scandinavian" looking furniture gained significant foothold at this very point in design history. Furniture and fixtures were slowly becoming a matter of utility rather than a luxury. Progressive thoughts and living conditions meant increased demand for furniture and home decor accessories. This was when IKEA began more as a cultural movement to provide quality affordable designs to all in the society.

IKEA incorporated...
In the year 1943, Ingar Kamprad, an enthusiastic 17 year old, began selling pens, nylon socks at low prices, door to door. (hmm this reminds me of a few other business magnets who started out this way - Gita Pramal's Business Maharajas!). He formed IKEA - adding first initials of his family’s farm (Elmtaryd) and his village (Agunnaryd) to his own initials. As the business grew, he started mail order services. Steady growth led to his foray into the then booming furniture production business in 1948.

Tracking IKEA's growth...
IKEA published it first catalog in 1951 while it was still a mail order company. First ever IKEA showroom was opened in Alhmult, Sweden, in 1953. Here is a picture of its first catalog and the subsequent ones. (Ooh! I love the retro looking picture.)

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Kamprad hired four Danish designers to form an in-house design team in 1956. One of his designers, Erik W├Ârts, worked on the flat-packed, Do-it-yourself assembly-required furniture suites, which is said to have revolutionized the furniture manufacturing and retailing industry. However, while researching for informaiton on Thonet, I found that they had devloped this flat pack shipping structure for their furniture way back in 1850's.

The year 1958 as a major milestone for IKEA when a 6700 Sq mts furniture superstore opened in Almhult, the largest in Scandinavia at that time. By the year 1960, new homes mushrooming across Sweden, and an increased demand for inexpensive furniture, contributed to IKEA's growth with in Sweden and then throughout Scandinavia. Another picture of the catalog from 1966.
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As of today, this $30 billion company has over 30 stores at various locations across the world. It is said that the brand's signature colours: Blue and yellow represent the company's roots in Sweden and its belief in Swedish values.
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My take on IKEA...
You must have guessed by now that I am among those ardent IKEA Fans. I just love the sweet cinnamon aroma which welcomes you as you enter the store.  The only IKEA store I have been to is the one in Atlanta. IKEA has a large fan base and an equally strong critique population.This company has come a long way from where it began in a small town in Sweden.

Critiques claim that IKEA "knocks off" a lot of American Modern design ideas from the Eames era. Given the Scandinavian design history and the fact that IKEA is native to Sweden. The whole claim is baseless because, it was not until the late 1950 that the Americas were introduced to this clean line design. I rest my case! :)

Things I like and I dont...
One of the simplest things I like about the store is their refusal to give away tons of flimsy polythene carry bags. They supply you with a huge blue HDPE bag for an additional cost if you are among the polythene carry bag addicts. I do not fancy this part of their sale strategy as HDPE bags are no less of a burden on the environment. Another aspect going well with the ECO strategy is their flat pack pack system of stocking and delivery and the use of minimal packaging material. Most furniture manufacturers of have adopted the flat pack system and this works well for people who have some assembling skills.

For mid century modern enthusiasts like me, IKEA brings in clean Danish and Scandinavian style furniture with in reach of an average middle class home. IKEA has always had a low-price version of every danish modern furniture model. One such piece I own is the Poang Chair. I was glad to now that the chair was designed even before I was born and was launched in 1976. It is still a popular customer pick, that speaks for itself. Here's the picture of my Poang and footstool.

This company supports quite a few new designers and their innovative ideas.  There is a short, interactive movie on IKEA's website which showcases each design story. All said and done, I have a few things I really have to disagree with. For example, their emphasis on having excessive stock piles across their locations, engineered wood. I have a few concerns about its impact on the environment through its lifecycle: manufacture, usage and disposal/recycling. Another major point of peeve, out sourced manufacturing from China and India etc.

IKEA has been facing criticism regarding child labour issues, and lawsuits concerning illegal logging. We cannot live in a perfect world, it is important that a company is accountable for its impact on the environment. Like any other company, IKEA claims to be following a stringent environment related policies. I am yet to finish my research on IKEA's vision of being eco-friendly.

Until next time...take care and keep those creative juices flowing

IKEA website
IKEA vintage catalogs (print)


      1. loved reading about IKEA.i have heard ,seen catalogues but never been to IKEA.Nice read.thanks for sharing,

      2. Hi, Sudha!
        Came to your blog today and am so thrilled to see articles on different pieces of furniture like this. I love IKEA. And it is the only store I miss after moving back from the US. Love your blog as well - shall be a regular visitor going forward.

      3. hi Sangi
        Thank you for stopping by...I am glad you liked my blog...would love to see you around often :)


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