‘Affordable solutions for better living’ – the catchphrase of Swedish furnishing giant Ikea. While not a tourist attraction or historical landmark, this mammoth enterprise is unmistakably a corporate icon of Sweden. Its budget, flat-pack furniture philosophy is popular in 43 countries, globally spreading both the Swedish name and design aesthetic (see this overview of the company’s ethic and financial success).
The company was first realised by 17-year-old young entrepreneur Ingvar Kamprad in 1943 as a mail-order business, which soon blossomed into a global enterprise selling affordable D.I.Y. furniture.
Would you, as a traveller, venture to Sweden to visit the world’s largest Ikea store? Probably not (unless you have some rare furniture fetish!). However, it does give us a taste of Swedish design (pay a visit to this British expat’s blog for some Scandinavian design eye 🍬), enticing travellers to explore the realm of Scandinavian design on a deeper level through Sweden’s myriad of minimalistic architecture, and homeware and fashion retailers.
A trip to Ikea can reveal more than just the new colour scheme of your bedroom. Customers can sample a plate of Swedish fare, from the famous Swedish meatballs to lingonberry jam in the Ikea marketplace. Ikea also has a unique method of naming products, often using Scandinavian place names and traditional Swedish men’s and women’s names instead of codes.
However, the deservedness of Ikea’s status as an icon of Sweden is contestable, particularly by some Swedish nationals who feel as though the company’s controversies have tainted their country’s image. These include the founder’s ties to Nazism, tax evasion schemes, and scandals involving horse meat in its restaurant food. Despite its damaged reputation in recent years, many people around the world continue to identify Ikea as a Swedish icon.