Located in Älmhult, Sweden is the epicenter of all things Ikea. This small town boasts the home of the original Ikea store, which opened in 1943. Now the town is home to the official Ikea museum, which is located in the original store. Along with the Ikea hotel, Ikea test lab, Ikea corporate office. A short walk away is also the world’s only Ikea outlet and of course an Ikea store.
You can easily take a day trip up to this little town to get your Ikea fix. Which is exactly what I did! After seeing a post in the spring semesters DIS Facebook group, I decided to travel on a whim with two other DIS students to the Ikea museum. The trip was simple: take a two hour train ride from København Central Station to directly to Älmhult, Sweden. On the way you can look out the window at the beautiful Swedish landscape. On arrival at the Älmhult station you simply follow a series of signs to the museum, which is located about 5 short minutes away. There are simple, but clear signs that direct you. Clearly we weren’t the only ones traveling to Älmhult for the museum.
If you are going to take this trip I would suggest you plan at eating at the museums cafe. There you can get Ikea’s famous Swedish meatballs! The cafe is of course furnished with Ikea products.
How it all started
Ikea was founded in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad. At the age of five Ingvar Kampard started selling matches to his neighbors. By the time he was seven he had figured out he could buy matches in bulk cheaply in Stockhom and then re-sell them individually at a very low price while still making a good profit. When Ingvar Kampard turned 17, his father gave him some money as a reward for completing his studies. He uses it to establish his own business; Ikea.
The idea behind Ikea is to make good design affordable in order to bring it to the masses. Ikea has called this democratic design. The need for affordable, well designed items stems from the belief in Scandinavia that a well designed home leads to a good life. Ikea defines it’s democratic design into five different elements; well designed, functional, good quality, sustainability sourced and manufactured, and truly affordable designs. They use these elements together in all of their products to create their democratic design that has helped make Ikea so successful.
As stated above, the Ikea museum is located in the original store building. The building was designed by the architect Claes Knutson. He went on to design other Ikea stores as well. The museum is surprisingly lacking the bright blue & yellow exterior the brand is known for. Instead it is painted white. Through the windows you can see the eye catching, diagonal support beams.
The museum features two exhibitions: the permanent exhibition and the temporary exhibition. The permanent exhibit, also called the main exhibit, is divided into three themes; Our Roots, Our Story, and Your Stories. While I was there the temporary exhibit was the Textile Playground. In that exhibit you could learn more about fabric design, create your own patterns, and even sew your our bag to take home.
Ever wonder where the name Ikea comes from? The name is formed from the founder, Ingvar Kamprad, initials (I.K.) plus the first letters of the farm Elmtaryd (E) and village Agunnaryd (A) where Ingvar Kamprad grew up.
On the note of names have you ever wondered why all of Ikea’s products have Swedish names? The answer is simple. Ingvar Kamprad had trouble remembering numbers and article numbers. Names on the other hand, were no problem. Thus why all Ikea products have Swedish names.
Standing Out Against the Crowd
Ikea stood out from the competition for a couple reasons. One being the choice of wood. In the 1960s, darker woods including teak and walnut were popular. Ikea’s choice to use oak, a lighter and cheaper material, made them unusual. Oak was a widely available material that was easy to work with, durable and strong. Buying it in bulk allowed Ikea to drastically drop their furniture prices. Ikeas ability to sell well designed furniture for low prices did not make them many friends in the industry.
In fact other companies were actively trying to prevent Ikea for being able to sell. Competitors wouldn’t allow Ingvar Kamprad to sell at trade shows. In response to this the very first Ikea showroom was opened. Here you were greeted by employees who were ready to provide you with a unique shopping experience. You had the ability of setting up an appointment with a sales assistant who gave you a personalized shopping experience. Ikea preferred to higher house wives for this role as they knew first hand the concerns customers would have with taking care of their home.
It’s all on the Cover
One of the funniest parts about the Ikea museum was the cover photo shoot. The very first issue of the Ikea catalogue was released in 1951. Today the catalogue is one of the world’s most widely spread publications. This years issue was printed in 25 languages and distributed to 72 markets around the world. An exact replica of this years cover is set up at the museum where you can model for your own copy of the cover. This was by far one of the most fun things I have seen in a museum. People of all ages were enjoying the photo shoot. The best were three older women who kept laughing hysterically at themselves when the photo would pop up on the screen to see.
Bags. Bags. Bags.
One of the driving themes of Ikea is simplicity. This comes through in the designs, packaging, food. Even in how to solve problems. When the popular yellow carrying bags arrived at the store, things got out of had. Customers wanted to keep them to carry their products home. In the end, staff couldn’t tell which products had been paid for. The solution? Simple.
Paid for: blue. Not paid for: yellow
While it might not be that pretty, people love the FRAKATA bag nonetheless. Perhaps because it works just as well as a shopping bag as it does a laundry basket or a beach bag. It is so popular that the museum gift shop sells the bag in a variety of colors only available at the museum.
One of my favorite facts I learned at the museum was about Ingvar Kamprad’s wife, Margareta, and how she would advice him. Apparently before hiring any new managers he would have them talk with his wife for half an hour. He is quoted saying “afterwards I asked her what she thought. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with such a gift for sizing people up”.
No tools? No problem!
Every wonder why Ikea products don’t use screws? Well, for many Ikea customers time is in short supply. Which lead to the idea of replacing as many screws and fittings as possible with factory-fitted wedge dowels – a solution that makes tool unnecessary and dramatically reduces assembly time!
One language for all
When offering furniture in flat packs, simple technical solutions and clear assembly instructions are a must. There is only one catch: there isn’t space for every language! In 2000, Ikea customers met a cartoon character that showed the necessary tools and gave practical tips.
Happy Birthday Ikea!
To celebrate it’s 50th birthday in 1993 Ikea threw a party! On a train! An Ikea store on rails was part of the birthday celebration. Over a two week period the temporary Ikea train stopped at 14 places in Sweden and over 80,000 customers popped by!
Watch your wallet!
After spending about 2 hours walking through the museum & shopping in the museum gift shop we walked to the local Ikea and worlds only Ikea outlet. The outlet store was a dangerous place. The only thing that prevented us from buying everything was the fact we would have to carry it home. I limited myself to purchasing three ice cube trays that would make the perfect sized cubes to fit in my small water bottle. For which I paid $1.10. Like I said; its dangerous! It was also really fun to go through the actual Ikea store after visiting the museum.
Overall this was a great trip! It’s a two hour train ride from Copenhagen and takes about 6 hours to do everything and make it back in time for the last train back to Denmark. I would encourage anyone who is interested in taking a fun day trip to go. But be warned; you will walk away wanting to buy everything!
PS the word Ikea is written 67 times in this post.