Clas­sic cool: the en­dur­ing style of trusty Ikea

For­get the flat­packs and un­pro­noun­ca­ble names, its cat­a­logue is packed full of retro clas­sics, writes Emily Brooks

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

It reg­u­larly wins de­sign awards, it has col­lab­o­rated with some of the world’s most creative peo­ple, and the in­flu­en­tial on­line mag­a­zine Dezeen last year named it “the most news­wor­thy force in de­sign”. Ikea isn’t just about con­ve­nience, low prices and meat­balls. As it marks its 75th an­niver­sary, it’s cel­e­brat­ing its de­sign her­itage, too.

Sev­en­teen-year-old Ing­var Kam­prad reg­is­tered Ikea as a busi­ness in 1943, and, so the story goes, ini­tially dealt in pen­cils and matches be­fore fo­cus­ing on home fur­nish­ings. He sold mailorder fur­ni­ture, be­came an early cham­pion of flat-pack de­sign and opened his first store in 1958. By the time the 91-year-old Kam­prad died ear­lier this year, he was pre­sid­ing over a busi­ness that gen­er­ated global re­tail sales of £33.5bil­lion.

For its 75th an­niver­sary, Ikea is reis­su­ing a hand­ful of prod­ucts from five decades of its his­tory. Those from the Eight­ies might bring a pang of nos­tal­gia – the Klip­pan sofa, with its boxy shape and fluted, puffy up­hol­stery, for ex­am­ple – but those ob­jects that pre­date the first UK store open­ing in 1987 are brand new to our eyes. Gag­net, a rounded rat­tan arm­chair with splayed legs, has a clas­sic Fifties sil­hou­ette, while Strand­mon, a wing­back arm­chair, ex­plores more tra­di­tional ter­ri­tory. The prod­ucts are be­ing re­leased in tranches, with the Fifties and Six­ties de­signs al­ready in the shops, the Seven­ties and Eight­ies ar­riv­ing this month and the Nineties com­ing to stores in De­cem­ber.

“Klip­pan was my first sofa; I dreamt about hav­ing it,” says Ikea’s Karin Gus­tavs­son, who was charged with de­cid­ing which prod­ucts should be reis­sued out of the thou­sands in the back cat­a­logue. “I also used to have the black metal mesh arm­chair, which has now been re­named Råane. I had it with a sheep­skin on it; it was the coolest.”

Now, she says her sons are into those same Eight­ies de­signs. They haven’t seen them be­fore, and the de­sign of that era has be­come hip again across fash­ion as well as in­te­ri­ors. “It wasn’t as easy as it looked, even though I had all the cat­a­logues to go through,” says Gus­tavs­son, about how she de­cided which prod­ucts to reis­sue. “For many of the de­signs go­ing back a very long way, it was so dif­fi­cult. We didn’t even have draw­ings.” The project took her on jour­neys to visit the orig­i­nal cre­ators, such as re­tired tex­tile de­signer Åsa Gray, who just hap­pened to have kept her orig­i­nal draw­ings for jazz­ily pat­terned rugs and cush­ions, com­plete with the cor­rect Pan­tone ref­er­ence colours.

Scan­di­na­vian de­sign is revered the world over, and while Ikea works with a team of 10 to 15 in-house de­sign­ers, it has al­ways used ex­ter­nal con­trib­u­tors. Some of them, like Gray, are highly re­garded in their field. Ikea’s guid­ing phi­los­o­phy of “demo­cratic de­sign” gives any­one the chance to own some­thing cre­ated by a revered de­signer. Thomas San­dell, for ex­am­ple, was among those who in the Nineties worked on the first PS col­lec­tion – Ikea’s more de­sign-led range – but his CV also in­cludes work for high-end brands such as B&B Italia and Ge­org Jensen.

“In the old days peo­ple weren’t so con­cerned about [named] de­sign­ers, but it’s more im­por­tant now, be­cause they like to know some­thing of the story be­hind a prod­uct,” says Gus­tavs­son. Cool brands, such as Tom Dixon and streetwear de­signer Chris Stamp, now fall over them­selves to work with Ikea. The ros­ter of part­ner­ships in­creas­ingly looks out­side of Scan­di­navia, and beyond home­ware de­sign­ers: con­sumer elec­tron­ics com­pany Teenage En­gi­neer­ing is de­vel­op­ing a range of por­ta­ble speak­ers and light sys­tems, and ul­tra-hip Amer­i­can fash­ion de­signer Vir­gil Abloh, the artis­tic di­rec­tor of Louis Vuit­ton’s menswear col­lec­tion, is de­vel­op­ing a sec­ond range, both launch­ing in 2019. Rap­per Kanye West was spot­ted tour­ing Ikea’s head­quar­ters in 2016, later telling the BBC: “I have to work with Ikea – make fur­ni­ture for in­te­rior de­sign, for ar­chi­tec­ture”. Re­cent lim­ited-edited col­lab­o­ra­tions have re­sulted in a healthy se­condary mar­ket for the most cov­eted items, such as Ilse Craw­ford’s Sin­nerlig cork­topped ta­bles and stools from 2015. And if you hap­pen to have a pair of Verner Pan­ton-de­signed Vil­bert chairs, which fea­tured fleet­ingly in the cat­a­logue for one year only, in 1994, you can sell them on on­line vin­tage mar­ket­place 1stdibs for around £1,800.

There is an ar­gu­ment that Ikea’s most creative ideas aren’t to do with the out­ward ap­pear­ance of an ob­ject, but what goes on in its as­sem­bly or pack­ag­ing, in the name of sus­tain­abil­ity or cost. The Lack range uses a “board on frame” sys­tem, for ex­am­ple, in which fi­bre­board is clad around a hol­low frame that’s re­in­forced with a hon­ey­comb-like ma­trix of pa­per. It’s lighter, uses less tim­ber than a solid­wood prod­uct and has helped bring the price down to an as­ton­ish­ing £9 for a cof­fee ta­ble.

Last year Lon­don’s De­sign Mu­seum short­listed Ikea’s new fur­ni­ture as­sem­bly method as part of its De­signs of the Year award. It’s a “wedge dowel” joint that does away with the need for screws and Allen keys, so the fur­ni­ture clicks to­gether in­stead: a boon for flat-pack ob­jec­tors who hate screw­ing things to­gether, and cu­mu­la­tively it also rep­re­sents the sav­ing of an aw­ful lot of metal.

‘To­day, no­body raises an eye­brow if you mix Ikea fur­ni­ture with ex­pen­sive de­sign pieces at home’

Ikea’s pop­u­lar­ity has also led to the rise of many un­af­fil­i­ated part­ner com­pa­nies, which cap­i­talise on the prod­ucts’ ubiq­uity and mo­du­lar as­sem­bly by sell­ing more spe­cial or de­sign-led al­ter­na­tives for stan­dard mod­els. Pret­typegs, for ex­am­ple, makes fash­ion­for­ward re­place­ment legs for prod­ucts such as beds, ta­bles and so­fas (for ex­am­ple, cop­per hair­pin legs for a din­ingtable top); Su­per­front can up­grade a kitchen cup­board car­cass with its graphic-pat­terned door fronts and up­mar­ket han­dles; and Bemz makes cus­tom-made re­place­ment loose cov­ers for so­fas.

“We felt that at­tach­ing our busi­ness to the Ikea ecosys­tem would en­able us to of­fer our prod­ucts to a broader clien­tele, to peo­ple that are in­ter­ested and pas­sion­ate about in­te­rior de­sign, but can­not usu­ally af­ford pre­mium-de­sign kitchens. We be­lieve that good taste and qual­ity de­sign should not be

syn­ony­mous with a high price,” says Se­bas­tian Schau­man, who co-founded AS Hels­ingö, which de­signs and makes al­ter­na­tive kitchen cup­board and wardrobe fronts for Ikea’s sys­tems.

“We col­lab­o­rate with in­ter­est­ing, up-and-com­ing Scan­di­na­vian de­sign­ers and artists who we think are up to some­thing new and ex­cit­ing, and we al­ways try to come up with some­thing unique and per­sonal that our cus­tomers can­not find any­where else,” says Schau­man. The door fronts, made in Fin­land’s lake dis­trict (known for its high-qual­ity join­ery), use tra­di­tional car­pen­try tech­niques. “These types of doors have typ­i­cally been avail­able only in pre­mium-priced kitchens, un­til now,” says Schau­man. AS Hels­ingö’s ce­ramic knobs are made by Helsinkibased ce­ramic artist Leena Kouhia and are de­light­fully ir­reg­u­lar, look­ing like speck­led glazed peb­bles. (Of course, there’s noth­ing to stop you buy­ing re­place­ment knobs and han­dles from any source, to dis­guise your plain Ikea kitchen).

Schau­man is full of praise for Ikea – and not just be­cause it’s lit­er­ally the frame­work for his busi­ness. “The in­ter­est­ing thing is that Ikea prod­ucts are not at all syn­ony­mous with generic bud­get fur­ni­ture,” he says. “To­day, no­body raises an eye­brow if you mix them with ex­pen­sive de­sign pieces in your home.

“Ikea has democra­tised de­sign, and mak­ing good de­sign avail­able for ev­ery­one has cre­ated a bet­ter ev­ery­day life for many peo­ple. The world has changed a lot in the last 75 years, but Ikea has suc­ceeded in stay­ing rel­e­vant.”

MAK­ING A COME­BACK Prod­ucts from the Nineties to 2000s, main, re-re­leased in De­cem­ber for the an­niver­sary

NOS­TAL­GIA KICK Re-re­leased Seven­ties and Eight­ies de­signs, be­low; Bjurån chair, £80, above

LAND­MARK The first Ikea store in 1958, left; Gag­net arm­chair, £70, top left

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