Hard Waste or Good Taste?

The 1980 Klippan sofa, on the 1985 catalogue cover

IKEA is now recognised globally as a supplier of space saving and cost-effective furniture and homewares. It would be hard to find someone who hasn’t spent an afternoon assembling a cabinet or coffee table with a single Allen key, not without the use of a profanity or two. 

Undoubtedly more convenient and easier on the pocket than some alternative options, IKEA certainly exists as a one-stop-shop for furnishing our abodes. Unfortunately, IKEA’s products are now viewed as disposable, without the ability to retain their value on the secondary market. 

Founded in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad, IKEA began with direct imports and mail orders of mainly watches and pens, with furniture not making its debut until 1951. The brand’s lower sale prices angered competitors, to which IKEA responded by designing their own merchandise. Due to the significant growth and demand for the company’s products, Kamprad had to find a way to reduce the size and cost of their goods, whilst also bolstering the speed of production. In answer to this, in 1956 IKEA began to introduce flat-packed furniture. Highly functional at the time, the consequence of the pack down furniture was that it began to introduce inferior materials and restricted some designs. 

Modern Design. Leonard Joel Auction
Niels Gammelgaard pair of Jarpen chairs for IKEA
Sold for $1,500

In an ever-changing and environmentally conscious world, IKEA now faces mounting pressure to substitute its fast-furniture practices for something more ethical. This raises the question, could the brand perhaps look back to their earlier years when they collaborated with notable international designers to produce items of a quality, that were built to last? 

In 1964, an independent magazine compared the quality of some of IKEA’s products to that of more expensive Swedish and Danish equivalents, and the results noted that the products by IKEA boasted a construction quality that was similar, if not superior to that of its dearer rivals. 

Up until the mid-1980s, renowned designers such as Vico Magistretti, Verner Panton, Joe Colombo, and Niels Gammelgaard all worked to design and release furniture under the IKEA banner. The pieces released with these designers displayed a construction and material quality that is a far cry from the products offered by IKEA today. 

Modern Design. Leonard Joel Auction
Niels Gammelgaard Moment table for IKEA
Sold for $1,375

Certain pieces of early IKEA furniture are now being recognised for their design and style, many of which have been selling on the secondary market for considerable prices. In 2021, a Cavalli chair designed in 1958 by Bengt Ruda for IKEA, sold for an equivalent of $16,725 USD via a Swedish auction house. According to an IKEA museum article, the astonishing price for the Cavalli chair may be due to its limited production number, which was only five. Nonetheless, even some of IKEA’s more mass-produced pieces have realised prices at auction which aren’t anything to laugh at. In 2021, Leonard Joel sold a Kromvik daybed designed by Knut Hagberg for IKEA in the 1980s for $1,625 AUD. In the same year, a Moment table and a pair of Jarpen chairs both designed by Niels Gammelgaard for IKEA in the ‘80s sold for $1,375 and $1,500 AUD respectively. 

Ultimately, it is up to us as consumers to make informed decisions when we make a purchase, particularly if it is brand new. In future it might be refreshing for IKEA do a
re-release of some of their fun designs that debuted between the ‘60s and ‘80s. For those of you with some vintage IKEA furniture sitting around at home, consider selling it instead of throwing it out, as you never know
just what it may be worth.

PAUL NICOL / Modern Design Assistant

Banner Image (detail): Knut Hagberg Kromvik daybed for IKEA | Sold for $1,625

November 2022