Robert and I went to an IKEA exhibit yesterday at Liljevalchs Konsthall. At first glance, we wondered what the heck an exhibition about IKEA was doing at an art gallery. But slowly the genius of the exhibition became clear. Because when you get down to it, IKEA is a design phenomenon. The company has taken their very Swedish concept of sensible and affordable Swedish furniture for everyone and sold it to the world. No matter where you go, when you shop at IKEA, the look of the store and the products are the same. When I visited an IKEA in Cincinnati earlier this summer, I have to admit it actually made me feel like I was back home in Sweden. I don’t think there’s any company that says Sweden quite like IKEA does.
Last year, 565 million people shopped at IKEA. As the show catalog says: “Anyone can manufacture a chair. But IKEA does not only sell a chair – IKEA sells a Swedish philosophy of living. A philosophy that has provided us with functional furniture, rationally distributed and democratically accessible for everyone… Nothing fancy, no frills.”
But in looking back at IKEA designs through the years, I was left feeling that IKEA has lost some of that original and fresh design savvy that they started with. Sure, the company still does a great job of giving credit to its designers. But those early catalogs and produtcs were a bit more on the cutting edge and dare I say it: cool. I don’t think you could call IKEA cool these days. Sensible, practical and affordable yes. And hey, we all need sensible and affordable stuff, don’t we? But it would be great to see a bit more of that old cutting edge and cool design too.