The Swedish homeware gi­ant has made a dif­fer­ence, cre­at­ing mod­ern and stylish in­te­ri­ors we can all af­ford, says Bar­bara Chan­dler

Evening Standard - West End Final Extra - ES Homes and Property - - Front Page -

SWEDISH be­he­moth Ikea, the world’s big­gest fur­ni­ture re­tailer, marks 30 years in Bri­tain this month. It opened in War­ring­ton in October 1987, un­veiled an­other store in Wem­b­ley al­most a year later and be­came a UK home sen­sa­tion. It now has 400 stores in 49 coun­tries.

Of­fer­ing fur­ni­ture for the masses, at the right price and right on de­sign, the Ikea phe­nom­e­non con­tin­ues to thrive. The Croy­don store opened in 1992, with Lake­side four years later and Ed­mon­ton in 2005. A new small “or­der and col­lec­tion” point is at West­field Strat­ford, and a new store is planned for Green­wich.


Fur­nish­ing at the end of the Eight­ies was dom­i­nated by clunky high street chains and con­vo­luted de­part­ment stores. Habi­tat of­fered “de­sign,” as did a few spe­cial­ists, such as Heal’s, but they were not cheap. “The Swedes blew UK prices out of the wa­ter. Ev­ery­thing for the home seemed af­ford­able,” re­mem­bers Robert Pearce, who opened his Fu­ton Com­pany in 1980.

Stu­dents and renters loved Ikea.“It had that pared-down Scan­di­na­vian aes­thetic. It brought con­tem­po­rary de­sign to mass-mar­ket Bri­tain,” says Si­mon Alder­son, who co- founded twen­tytwen­ty­one, the re­spected Is­ling­ton spe­cial­ist de­sign store, in 1996.

Ikea “ed­u­cated” a gen­er­a­tion of young, keen buy­ers. “Here, cru­cially, was mod­ern fur­ni­ture that wasn’t brown,” says Kate Wat­son-Smyth of the award-win­ning mad­about­the­house. com blog. Gar­ner­ing de­sign­ers world­wide, Ikea al­ways cred­its them. Bri­tain’s Sue Pryke started in 1994, head-hunted from her RCA grad­u­ate show. She loves Ikea. “They be­lieve in the de­signer’s vi­sion. They fo­cus on de­sign that works, where form fol­lows func­tion. They re­search how peo­ple live — smaller houses and kitchens, lim­ited stor­age, for stu­dents/renters — and are aware of the en­vi­ron­ment.”


“The Scan­di­na­vians be­lieve good de­sign is the birthright of all re­gard­less of in­come,” says Peter Fiell, who with part­ner Char­lotte has writ­ten more than 50 books on de­sign. Their lat­est, Mod­ern Scan­di­na­vian De­sign, ap­pears this week. The Fiells, like so many

other Lon­don­ers, love their Billy book­cases, cre­ated in 1978 by Ikea de­signer Gillis Lund­gren. To­day’s ver­sions cost 30 per cent less to make, thanks to changes in de­sign and pro­duc­tion, help­ing to take sales of the Billy well above 60 mil­lion, or nearly one for ev­ery 100 peo­ple on the planet.

Ing­var Kam­prad, 91, started the busi

ness in 1943. The name, “I” for Ing­var, “K” for Kam­prad, “E” for the fam­ily farm Elm­taryd, and “A” for his home vil­lage of Agun­naryd, Sweden, wrote it­self. To this day, Ikea prod­ucts made in Sweden are still named after Scan­di­na­vian towns and vil­lages.

The cash- and- carry, flat pack for home assem­bly form of retail rad­i­cally cuts pro­duc­tion and transport costs and is a key in­gre­di­ent in Ikea’s suc­cess. One day, Kam­prad took the legs off a ta­ble to fit it into his car. The rest is, if not his­tory, a re­lent­less tide of self­assem­bly prod­ucts des­tined to test the pa­tience of the best of us, and cause many a re­la­tion­ship-bust­ing rum­pus.

But flat packs — hefty to take away, em­braced by the handy, loathed by most — have im­proved. In­struc­tions are clearer, new sys­tems have wooden wedges/dow­els in place of screws, and some de­signs slot to­gether, or un­fold.

Ikea’s web­site now car­ries assem­bly videos, too. Best of all, you can book some­one else to as­sem­ble your pur­chase ex­pertly next day, £20 an hour.


Not ev­ery­thing Ikea sells has to be as­sem­bled. A beau­ti­fully crafted wing chair, the Strand­mon, from Ro­ma­nia (£179) graces the lat­est Ikea cat­a­logue cover; there’s ap­peal­ing din­ner­ware, and new brass-coloured cut­lery at £40 for 24 pieces. Ikea’s ce­ramic ba­sics are pretty much un­sur­passed. Its tex­tiles are in­creas­ingly trendy and the rugs are made un­der good work­ing con­di­tions in In­dia and Bangladesh.

It is no se­cret that many ar­chi­tects and in­te­rior de­sign­ers rely on Ikea, es­pe­cially for kitchen-unit car­cases to which be­spoke doors can be added. Alan Dempsey, founder/direc­tor of Nex Ar­chi­tec­ture, uses the fit­ted fur­ni­ture and stor­age to stretch clients’ lim­ited bud­gets, even de­sign­ing in­ter­nal walls to suit, “then ev­ery­thing fits a space like a glove”. Nex is us­ing Pax wardrobes in new flats in King’s Cross.

De­sign buffs now re­vere Ikea “clas­sics”, such as the 40-year-old Poang lounge chair (£95), evoca­tive of great Fin­nish de­signer Al­var Aalto. In­te­ri­ors ex­pert Daniel Hop­wood, TV judge and past pres­i­dent of the Bri­tish In­sti­tute of In­te­rior De­sign, loves the “sim­ple and classy” Lack fur­ni­ture se­ries.

Some Ikea kitchen sys­tems, mat­tresses and pans are guar­an­teed for 25 years; some so­fas for 10 years; ap­pli­ances for five years. Ser­vices in­clude de­liv­ery at £25, kitchen plan­ning, £40, and in-home mea­sur­ing, £20. A new app lets you “place” a prod­uct in your room in 3D. And the meat­balls and cheap cof­fee are leg­endary.

JUST launched is Yp­perlig, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Dan­ish fur­ni­ture de­signer Hay, with a one-piece in­jec­tion-moulded chair for £60. Next year comes Tom Dixon’s De­lak­tig, co- de­signed glob­ally with masters’ stu­dents, a rad­i­cal kit of parts for a sofa bed.

Daniel Hop­wood advises, sagely: “Pro­nounce Ikea the Swedish way — eekay-uh — it sounds so much posher.”

I WILL crack this: self-assem­bly keeps costs down. On­line videos, clearer in­struc­tions and new wooden pegs in­stead of screws all help Ikea buy­ers, while next year’s cat­a­logue, right, fea­tures non-assem­bly prod­ucts on its cover, in­clud­ing the Strand­mon...

On trend: sofa bed, £550; cof­fee ta­ble, £35; cush­ion cov­ers, £5 each. From the new Yp­perlig range, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Dan­ish fur­ni­ture de­signer Hay

Best seller: one in ev­ery 100 peo­ple on the planet has a Billy book­case in their home. Start­ing from £25

Stretch that bud­get: Pax wardrobes start from £105. Top ar­chi­tect Nex is us­ing them in new King’s Cross flats

Praise in­deed: ta­bles and stor­age from the Lack range are “sim­ple and classy” says TV’s Daniel Hop­wood, past pres­i­dent of the Bri­tish In­sti­tute of In­te­rior De­sign. From £5 for a wall shelf

A cut-price “clas­sic”: de­sign buffs re­vere a string of pieces from Ikea in­clud­ing the Poang lounge chair at £95, first pro­duced 40 years ago

No assem­bly re­quired: the new 24-piece Til­lagd cut­lery set, with clean lines and in a warm, fes­tive brass colour, is £40

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