Lövet hovered in a shaft of light. The leaf-shaped accent table, one of Ikea’s first flat-packed furnishings, was frozen in its ascent to heaven, having shed its earthly cardboard-and-twine packaging. All that was missing from the display was a button to play a choir of angels.
It was 2013, and I hadn’t traveled from Washington, D.C., to Älmhult, Sweden — where Ikea was born in 1943 — for subtlety. I was here to see the Ikea Museum, which at the time was in the basement of the Ikea Hotell. While small in size and scope, the collection was so shameless in its boosterism that it concluded with a depiction of an Ikea store on the moon.
It was the ideal pilgrimage site for an Ikea super-fan like myself.
Two decades ago, I set out to find uniqueness in the resolutely uniform Ikeaverse.
I first met Ikea at age 23. I imprinted on the store like some indiscriminate baby bird. The unintimidating furniture, grouped like herds of gentle, modern livestock, quieted my noisy mind. The directional arrows on the floor and the grid system of the warehouse imposed order. The mysterious, Ä and Ö-laden product names were weird, but endearing — a description to which I aspired.
To that end, maybe glomming onto Ikea was just a vehicle to differentiate myself. Perhaps a devotion to something as aggressively quirky as EastEnders memorabilia would have done just as well. But Ikea it was.
No matter my sublimated motivation, I would be the best Ikea enthusiast EVER. As I lacked the skills to fashion a chandelier out of Allen keys or something, I vowed to own Ikea merchandise that no one, at least in the U.S., would likely possess.
I failed to find such an item in Prague. I failed on a press tour of a brand-new D.C.-area Ikea. A friend failed on my behalf in Madrid. Then I heard about Älmhult.
After a 3.5-hour train ride from Stockholm, I arrived at the Ikea Hotell/Museum. The women at the front desk looked concerned. Their facial expressions said, “You came from America for this?”
Downstairs in the museum, I saw a graceful, spiraling assemblage of Lacks, the chosen end table of early adulthood, near a placard heralding Ikea’s embrace of particleboard. I discovered that Ikea once sold pianos and inflatable furniture. I admired the modest, stewardess-y uniforms worn in the 1960s by Ikea personal shoppers.
Dazed by the glory of affordable Swedish design, I wandered back to the hotel lobby, where I spotted some bins by the front desk. My heart rate soared as I realized what I was seeing: miniature Ikea watering cans (PS 2002) and tiny, unassembled, flat-packed Billy bookcases for sale. I’d encountered these items nowhere else.
I left Älmhult with my prizes, satisfied at last.
Since my visit, the Lövet table has been resurrected as Lövbacken. The museum emerged from the Hotell basement and transformed into a major attraction. The catalog ceased publication. And Billy got a makeover.
Not much else has changed. I recognize now that Ikea’s sameness is its gift, a refuge of predictability in a world of unpleasant surprises.
So fill a big blue Frakta bag with Allen wrenches, tiny pencils and frozen meatballs, and join me in a future of blessed conformity.
See you on the moon! [Copyright 2022 NPR]