The problem with IKEA

Memory never looked so good

IKEA’s history, in card form

When Ryan and I signed the lease on our first apartment, our hearts were filled with excitement as we strolled through IKEA. Seeing all the perfectly scaled furniture in their vignettes made us feel like anything was possible. So what if our apartment was shy of 600 square feet – our first home could still be A-mazing. It was like the store was personally granting us the power to transform a basic, beige box into something magical. In a word, we were hooked.

Once vintage took hold of me, though, I saw IKEA through different eyes. Why spend money on something that (let’s be honest) isn’t of the highest craftsmanship, when I can invest in a quality, unique piece that ends up costing less for me and the environment? As my life moved along, we lived in a variety of states and focused on furnishing our home with special pieces. IKEA, with it’s pictionary-inspired assembly instructions and cardboard flat packs, had no room in my retro life.

But recently I found myself in IKEA again to buy some items for my nephew Landon. Let’s face it – when it comes to inexpensive, fun, active play toys – IKEA can’t be beat. As I strolled through the never-ending maze, I felt my heart swell again. Just look at what they’ve done with 300 square feet!! And then I saw it – Bevisa.

Just check out that box - so slick!


Now you’re probably asking, what is Bevisa? In short, it’s a memory card game, using photos of IKEA’s iconic designs. I never knew that IKEA had early 20th century roots and had a history beyond its insanely cheerful yellow exterior. Because everything seems so new, so sterile when you’re gliding alongside your cart, it’s easy to forget that IKEA isn’t just mimicking mid-century design – it is mid-century design.

IKEA was founded by a young man, Ingvar Kamprad in 1943, and it began life as a mail-order business. By 1951, they had an official logo and the one we recognize today has remained basically unchanged from its 1967 edition. Soon this bold logo found its way onto facades, with the first store opening in 1958. If you’ve ever wondered (and I know I have), the name IKEA comes from the initials of the founder and the first letters of the farm (Elmtaryd) and village (Agunnaryd) where he grew up. I think that’s pretty cool and it made me think of Eileen Gray and her E1027 table.

Except for babies, sadly

Working on my happy face – see they’re smiley!

Once I got home, I clamored like a kid in a candy store to get the slick black box opened up. The cards are great – I never knew there were so many furniture pieces that really date back to the age of Eames and the other great retro design legends. Now I feel inspired to dig deeper into IKEA’s history – even petition to bring back some of these items that are no longer in the warehouse. But sadly, there’s barely so much as a nod to IKEA’s history on their web site. No page listing their former glory or a shout out to past designers. (Let’s put it this way, if there is and I missed it, then I take back my comments and they need to make that link much more evident on their home page!) So there in lies the problem with IKEA, just when I feel all gooey again about them – all excited to dive into this lineage – I come to a dead end. As a lover of vintage, I’m a natural history enthusiast so this really bummed me out. To cope, I’m going to play my card game and relax. But tell me, does your passion for retro impact how you feel about IKEA?

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