‘Price is sacrosanct,’ Lewis writes. ‘When [Kamprad] sees a mug in Ikea priced at £1, he wants his designers to make that mug for 50p.’ Lewis believes designers want to work there to test their design prowess within a tight budget.
She says Ikea has ‘battled against accusations of plagiarism’, most recently its Campana Brothers’ favela-chic chair lookalike, Fargglad, but concedes that ‘it does seem to copy design standards’. Not everyone buys a Knappa pendant light knowing it’s a half-decent copy of Danish designer Poul Henningsen’s Artichoke light, but many will. Most revealing is that Ikea ruthlessly, and impressively, recycles materials: metal bins are made from giant, old tomato tin cans, and tea light holders are made from electricity pylons.
Lewis spends longer discussing Ikea’s approach to advertising. St Luke’s infamous ‘Chuck out the Chintz’ campaign initially offended the test group of Birmingham housewives, but Ikea rolled it out anyway â€” and British sales doubled.
One criticism: the book is overlong, with too much padding, and the titles of its chapters are often confusing. Lewis repeats the story of Gillis Lundgren, who invented the flat-pack concept, at least three times, and we can live without random boxes on a history of Habitat (owned by the Kamprad family) and popular Swedish festivals. But she’s done her research thoroughly, and her interest in, and affection for, Ikea permeates the book.
I finished it still unsure as to whether Ikea has truly ‘revolutionised design’, encouraged our throwaway culture (author Douglas Coupland euphemistically described Ikea’s wares as ‘semi-disposable’ in Generation X), put an end to hand-me-down furniture and, to cite that lazy clichÃ©, brought design to the masses. But I think I can confidently answer the question, ‘Why is it so successful?’ Because it’s cheap, stoopid.
Great Ikea! A Brand For All The People by Elen Lewis is published by Cyan Books this month, priced £7.99