5 Things You Don’t Know About IKEA (But Should!)

Written by Mac Carey

ikea2.jpgSo, just how popular is IKEA? It’s estimated that 10% of living Europeans were conceived on an IKEA-produced bed. It’s time you learned a little more about the company, its reclusive owner Ingvar Kamprad (who may or may not be worth more than Bill Gates), and his continuing quest to install flat pack, streamlined fixtures across the seven continents.

1. It All Started With a Car

The inspiration for IKEA’s design philosophy came when taking the legs off of a chair to fit it into a car. IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad was so irritated by the experience that he developed the concept of flat pack design. The novel packing method had a twofold appeal: it allowed easier shopping for urban Europeans who depended on public transportation, and it also lowered the company’s shipping costs dramatically. But the store wasn’t an immediate success. IKEA floundered in Sweden for thirty years (THIRTY YEARS!) before finding an international audience.

2. The Company Had Some Dark Secrets

IngvarKamprad.jpgWhile we’ve written about IKEA cloaking itself as a charitable institution, that isn’t the blue and yellow über-store’s only dirty secret. While Kamprad today is known as a frugal billionaire who drives a ‘93 Volvo, eats at middle-class restaurants, and outfits his home entirely in affordable IKEA products, his legacy is tainted by his past involvement with pro-Nazi organizations. Between 1942 and 1945, Kamprad joined, fund-raised, and recruited members for a fascist, Nazi-sympathizing group in Sweden. The news only came out in 1994, when his personal correspondence with fascist Per Engdahl was released to the public. Kamprad immediately apologized for his involvement and claimed it was the biggest regret of his young life. He also wrote to every Jewish employee on his staff to issue a personal apology.

Of course, none of this stopped the information from being a point of controversy when the store first arrived in Israel, but the world seems to have forgiven him. Today IKEA is one of the only international companies to spread to both Israel and Arab countries. In fact, the store is so popular in the Middle East that three people were trampled to death at the store’s 2004 grand opening in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

3. The Dining Tables Were Too Small for a Turkey

The beginnings of IKEA in America were inauspicious, with European compact efficiency conflicting with America’s “bigger is better” creed. In the 1980s, for example, many customers bought vases, mistaking them for water glasses. They were also wary of a dining room table that couldn’t hold the girth of a full size Thanksgiving turkey. IKEA’s designers only changed their mindset in how they approached American design after the head of US operations made a stunt of it: He handed out t-shirts to Swedish designers that declared “size matters.” They apparently got the message.

4. The IKEA Catalogue Is Bigger Than the Bible


The IKEA catalogue was and is the company’s greatest weapon in its arsenal. A 300-page missionary text, it goes out to over 180 million people in 27 different languages. Each year, there are more copies of the IKEA catalogue printed than the Bible. A bit of a cult following has also developed around the catalogues, with earnest readers on the lookout for hidden messages in the pictures, such as running references to Mickey Mouse and weird, obscure books on the bookshelves.

5. It’s a Hipster Hangout

Despite early stumbles in America, twenty years later, the store has so ingrained itself into our society that a trend amongst urban hipsters is to host dinner parties at the stores. A meal of lingonberry jam and meatballs at the cafeteria for the host and guests, and the living room displays make perfect venues for a round of Taboo and Pictionary. A blog posting chronicling the first party in Sacramento led to a string of copycats across the country. So far, IKEA management doesn’t seem to be complaining.

13 thoughts on “5 Things You Don’t Know About IKEA (But Should!)

  1. M Wms

    Another thing you might not know — there are no IKEAs in Northern New England or in most of the deep South (other than Florida and Atlanta).

  2. Anon

    During my MBA in the late 90’s, there was a case study on IKEA. One of their tenants was that there is an inherent quality to be frugal in Swedish people. To advance in the company one had to be Swedish. All of the MBA block-heads started to pontificate on how great it must be to have an efficient work force as everyone can quickly convey information with little effort. SO after letting this go on for about 20 min, I reminded the block-heads that this racism is immoral, illegal. It also flies in the face of having the value of people with diverse viewpoints to prevent the company from being blindsided and missing oppertunities.

  3. Rich C.

    Another not so well known fact is that their beds are in metric sizes and US sheets don’t fit them.

  4. IKEA Fan

    Well… as an IKEA customer of many years, I can see the value that comes from having choices. When my husband and I first started furnishing our apartment (with VERY LITTLE money) we chose the cheaper things, the center tables that only weigh 5 lbs., the cheaper mattresses (why spend $1000+ when IKEA sells them for less than half that price?). 10 years later, we still have the center table that only weighs 5 lbs. (it’s even held up to our 2-year-old), and we’ve added more expensive and sturdier pieces, like 4 dining room chairs at $60 each. Other stores will sell you the same thing, already assembled, for twice the price.

    My point is, at IKEA you can buy something you need with whatever budget you have. If you only have $30 to buy a center table, by all means, buy the one for $30. If you can spend $120, you get a sturdier one. Either way, everyone in middle-class America can own a little piece of Swedish design and a low cost if you’re willing to put it together yourself. All our pieces seem to be holding up pretty well after many years. And Rich, the regular-sized (U.S.) sheets we’ve bought for our mattress fit perfectly… so I’m not sure what happened to yours.

  5. Jeremiah

    As a swede I am pretty used to IKEA, I have two stores in Gothenburg…

    Great things about IKEA is
    a) Choice, there are often many things to choose from and cost is that low that one can afford to chuck them out! I have friends that bought a sofa for 4500USD 25 years ago – they still have to live in that ugly black sweaty leather sofa, It was sooooo expensive 🙂

    b) You are able to put the furniture in your car (a Volvo V70 of course) and transport them home without renting a truck or similar…

    c) You can get spare parts. I have at several occasions talked to customer support at the warehouse and bought various nuts and bolts. This is great.

    d) All staff have name badges with tiny flags on. This tells what language they speak. Ethnicity is a good thing at IKEA.

    e) The restaurant serve good meals at a moderate price. My tip is START here, everything is a bit more funny if one is NOT hungry and cranky.

    f) You don’t HAVE to use thing in the way IKEA has thought… In this family roller-curtains(?) “Tupplur” is used as a background in out photo-studio. With a quick handling of a rope I unroll the black BG.. or the White one…
    Most things you can paint – chairs etc – use your imagination.

    g) If possible, buy the meatballs they sell in the “swedish shop”… perfect to have in the freezer those rainy days when you want to make some food quick and easy. Original Sw recipe says Potatoes, brown sauce and some lingon-jam on the side… but pasta and vegetables will do nice.

    h) Go over your furniture after a month with that little Alen-key and tighten things up. After this they will last for years…

  6. ?? ??

    Swedish is not a race. Most companies pick from a pool of people who they want to succeed them, it's not exactly an equal opportunity thing and never has been with large corporations. It also isn't illegal. They're corporate head structure falls under US law in no way.

    Sounds as if you MBA is a joke 🙁



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