Do you know what turns my stomach? Shelling out too much money at restaurants.
So when I found cheap eats in a Scandinavian setting, I raised a box of Dryck Lingon in celebration at one of central Ohio’s newest stores: IKEA.
IKEA is the invention of Ingvar Kamprad, who grew up in a farming village in the Småland region of Sweden. The “IK” in IKEA represent Kamprad’s initials; “E” stands for Elmtaryd, the farm where he grew up; and “A” is the name of his local village, Agunnaryd. In a place where money was always in short supply, the teenaged Kamprad started selling matchboxes, seeds, Christmas tree tinsel and other merchandise to his neighbors in 1943. In 1948, he started producing a mail-order list of his merchandise, called IKEA-nytt (IKEA-news), and the list expanded to include many more practical items, including furniture.
Kamprad’s vision for the products sold by IKEA is clear. They are designed not only to be beautiful, durable and functional, but also to be affordable, so that as many people as possible can create the IKEA look in their homes. Many products are made of particleboard, a recycled material made from waste products at sawmills. Most furniture and fittings come in flat packages to be assembled at home, minimizing transportation and storage costs. IKEA’s most popular products remain the “BILLY” bookcase, which anyone can assemble, and the “KLIPPAN” sofa, which has a removable fabric cover designed to protect the living room’s most expensive piece of furniture from the stains and spills of daily life.
Product names are designed to be easy to remember. Fabrics, curtains and other textiles are given girls’ names or recall regions of Denmark. Chairs have boys’ names or are inspired by places in Finland. Coffee tables and sofas are named for places in Sweden. Scandinavian bodies of water inspire the names of lamps. Bed names hail from Norway. Outdoor furniture is named after Scandinavian islands. The names of children’s products sound like adjectives or animal names.
First released in 1951, the IKEA catalogue illustrates the IKEA products that are offered to inspire and solve the storage and furnishing needs of everyday life. Almost 200 million copies are printed each year, in 36 countries and 29 languages. At the IKEA store, visitors can step inside realistic room settings, trying out the products displayed in each vignette so they can not only be inspired, but also see how the products perform in everyday life.
Armchairs; beds; bathroom furniture; bed linens; tables; blinds; bookcases; chairs; chests of drawers; clothes organizers; cookware; curtains; desks; dining tables and chairs; sofas; lighting; office furniture; rugs; window treatments — IKEA has it all. And there’s something for everyone — even children, who can play and have fun in a special area by the entrance that is known for its “ball pit.”
An IKEA store’s vibrant blue-and-yellow exterior recalls the national colors of Sweden. Enter and the first thing you see is a mountain of blue-and-yellow shopping bags, which invites visitors to start buying. The route through the store is a twisting, turning path through dozens of departments, all with products at various price points strategically placed on shelves, in display vignettes, and in heaps. A “closing offer” signals the transition from one department into another, giving customers one last opportunity to buy an irresistible product featured there.
As they wander through the store, IKEA shoppers make notes on a shopping list of the items they would like to buy, which can be fulfilled at the end of their visit. My wish list began with a “SKURAR” picture ledge that resembles paper-doily shelf edging, as well as an indoor-outdoor greenhouse to hang on the wall or rest on a flat surface.
Last on my list is the “RÖDARV” cushion, inspired by the traditional embroidered oblong linen or wool cushion placed on chairs in the Swedish home or the seat of Swedish horse-drawn carriages when going to church and to market or to weddings and other festive occasions. Motifs usually showed flowers and foliage, birds and animals, people on horseback, and sometimes Biblical, hunting or pastoral scenes; the edges were fringed in woven wool. It’s the perfect finishing touch for a bed made with a “ROSENFIBBLA” or “ROSENRIPS” duvet cover.
IKEA is the go-to source for creating the light-filled, simply furnished, functional home that has defined Sweden for hundreds of years. Pale colors reflect the greens of Sweden’s forests, the blues of the sea and sky, the yellows of flax and birch leaves, and the grays and off-whites of winter. Blond wood furniture and natural pine flooring add to the neutral color palette. Simple window treatments and muslin curtains allow light to stream into the home, especially in winter, when it is most scarce.
Fabrics are most often striped, checked or with motifs inspired by nature; furniture has slender, tapered legs. Natural objects like seashells and moss are displayed as decoration. Furniture is arranged in a room to make the most of space for all kinds of occasions, with a tea table and a few chairs placed in the center of the room, with spindleback chairs lining the walls.
Some products recall the traditional decorative style of interior home painting from the Dalarna region of Sweden, known as kurbits. Others recall the spindleback chairs that have been made in Sweden as a complement to farming.
In 1995, the Swedish National Heritage Board approached IKEA to produce a line of reproductions of furniture and decorative items from 18th-century Swedish castles and country homes, if the company would provide financial assistance for their restoration. Items in the “Original Copy” line included hand-painted china, a gilded mirror, a writing desk, a birch sofa painted pale grey with blue-and-white checkered fabric cushions, chandeliers and chests of drawers. A drop-leaf table recreated the Slag Bord, the classic table used in Swedish entertaining because it can be configured in various ways. The table is pulled to the center of the room and both of its leaves are extended for parties; when not in use, only one leaf is extended and the table is pushed back along the wall.
The restaurant is another IKEA specialty. When the first IKEA store opened in 1958, Kamprad arranged coffee and pastries alongside the furniture on the upper floor of the store. After all, no good business is done on an empty stomach.
Today, IKEA restaurants serve dishes prepared in the style of Småland. For breakfast, Swedish pancakes known as plättar are served with jam made from the ruby-colored, sweet-tart lingonberries that grow in Swedish forests and are harvested in September. The lunch and dinner menu features classic Swedish meatballs with lingonberries, as well as other traditional Swedish dishes like salmon, all for a very reasonable price. My Swedish-American breakfast, with scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, potatoes, plättar and lingonberry jam, cost $2. Penne pasta topped with marinara sauce, parmesan cheese and meatballs was $3.
Bargain-priced hot dogs are another IKEA tradition. Since 1995, IKEA has been offering them in its bistro on the other side of the checkouts as another example of its astonishingly cheap buys.
In IKEA’s Sweden shop, you can take home Wasa crispbread, Blekinge salmon, Kalle’s Bohus caviar, Skåne ginger biscuits, Västerbotten cheese and lingonberry preserves. Lördagsgodis, a pick-and-mix candy known as “Saturday mix” after the Swedish tradition of allowing children to purchase candy as a treat on Saturdays, includes strawberry vanilla drops, raspberry hearts, Finnish licorice, jelly frogs, and caramel twists.
The end of summer is celebrated in Sweden with an outdoor supper of boiled crayfish, bread and cheese. IKEA’s annual Swedish Crayfish Party, an all-you-can-eat buffet of crayfish, soup, deviled eggs, cucumber salad, potato salad, Swedish cheese, Swedish desserts and more, will be on Friday, September 15.
To learn more about IKEA’s history and its approach to business and design, read Leading by Design: The IKEA Story, by Bertil Torekull; A Furniture Dealer’s Testament, in which Kamprad summarizes his values and vision for IKEA; IKEA The Book: Designers, Products and Other Stuff, by Staffan Bengtsson; Design by IKEA: A Cultural History, by Sara Kristoffersson; and The Ikea Edge: Building Global Growth and Social Good at the World’s Most Iconic Home Store, by Anders Dahlvig.
To create the IKEA look in your home, check out The Book of Home Design Using IKEA Home Furnishings, by Anoop Parikh; I Modify IKEA: Furnishings from Everyone’s Favorite Store, Customized for Your Home, by Elyse Major and Charlotte Rivers; and Reinventing IKEA: 70 DIY Projects to Transform IKEA Essentials, by Isabelle Bruno and Christine Baillet.
To bring Swedish style to your home, consult Swedish Interiors and Swedish Country Interiors, both by Rhonda Eleish and Edie Van Breems; Carl and Karin Larsson: Creators of the Swedish Style, edited by Michael Snodin and Elisabeth Stavenow-Hidemark; Classic Swedish Interiors, by Lars Sjöberg; The Swedish Country House, by Susanna Scherman; and Bringing it Home: Sweden: The Ultimate Guide to Creating the Feeling of Sweden in Your Home, by Cheryl MacLachlan.
For more on Swedish folk design, see Folk Costumes of Sweden: A Living Tradition, by Inga Arnö Berg and Gunnel Hazelius-Berg; Swedish Embroidery, edited by Eivor Fisher; and Swedish Folk Art: All Tradition Is Change, edited by Barbro Klein and Mats Widbom.