How Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA

ikea founder ingvar kamprad

What is Ikea? And why is Ikea so popular? There are probably few people left in the world who have never heard of Ikea. Just a mention of the name usually raises a smile…who has not struggled to assemble a book shelf, a chair or a table – which actually is so simple thanks to the easy-to-follow manuals that accompany every item. But there are probably few who actually know the story behind the Swedish home decor giant, not least because its founder has kept a low profile every since starting the world famous store over 50 years ago. Little is known about IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, who died in 2018, aged 91.

It wasn’t hype or Instagram that shot his business to fame, it was a simple, genius idea and sheer grit that turned the small Swedish self-assembly business into a popular world wide brand.

So what is the famous IKEA Style?

Ikea is the go-to store for millions of new home owners the world over, looking for quick and economic solutions.  The flat-pack style of their furniture is both admired and put up with by young professionals who need a table, some chairs and a bed, but aren’t ready to invest a fortune on designer pieces yet. For years Ikea was viewed as a temporary measure while home owners thought about the colours and styles worked for their lifestyles and what budget suited.

Ikea expandable table whilte

The smooth shopping experience, the easy-to-follow assembly guides, the simplicity of the products and the stylish Scandi look combined with low prices pulled in the punters. For years Ikea was associated with pull-out beds, Fulton-style sofas, beads bag chairs and student living. But increasingly, the economy class image of Ikea is changing and the brand is in itself becoming – if not aspirational – the end destination itself.

Ikea is Swedish and the style is very much  Scandinavian. It’s simple, it’s functional, it’s unfussy. The brand started off with the simplest products such as picture frames and pencils but after a couple of years started selling furniture. I

Who founded IKEA – Ingvar Kamprad

t’s modern and sticks to the Scandinavian aesthetic, which means clean lines, muted colours, lots of white, fresh and feeds into a younger clientele who prioritise style, economy and functionality over ornate and luxury. However, Ikea has also been smart in adapting its famous look to the market it operates in, thus blending simple and functional with softer lines for the UK market, for instance.

Since its launch in 1943 the brand has grown into one of the world’s super brands – its success largely down to IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad. Until his death in 2018, Kamprad managed to keep a low profile. Like the brand he built, his lifestyle was modest – no flashy cars, a quiet family life and happy with the simple things in life. From an early age he showed his enterprising spirit. With a bonus payment from his father for doing well in his studies when he was 17, Kamprad launched the company as a mail order business. Before long, he was selling furniture and, as a stroke of luck when an employee removed the legs of a chair to fit it into the delivery van, the Ikea self-assembly concept was born.

Why is IKEA called IKEA?

IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, who was born in 1926, steered the company from one success to another throughout his life. He was Ikea – in fact, the four letters stand for his initials I and K and the other two letters E and A stand for the names of the farm and the village where he grew up: Elmtaryd farm and the village of Agunnaryd in southern Sweden.

The tiny village of Agunnaryd has just over 200 inhabitants – a metaphor for the simple core of the furniture brand. Although four years before his death, Kamprad donated $7million to the parish to spend as it deemed fit.

What are the best IKEA Products ever?

Few retailers knock Ikea for price… The brand has spent its entire 70-odd years honing their price points and quality, beating the competition – but some products are stand outs. Many of us from Scandinavia grew up with Ikea book cases. The box bookcase was part of our teenage years and it’s where we parked our first book collection of block busters, poetry and notebooks. Later on, as we upgraded to a stand alone bookcase with several shelves, it became the display unit of our lives – where we showed off our better books, plants, souvenirs, fragrance bottles, nail varnish, our diary (if it wasn’t hidden under the mattress), and other bits and pieces we wanted to look at and our friends to notice.

Today Ikea bookcases come in every variety – befitting every home from the college dorm to first time apartment and even the smartest minimalist show apartment.  Ikea itself says the Billy bookshelf has been the bestselling product for years with one piece sold every 10 seconds. Sofas, chairs and tables are still bestselling – they too have moved on from being simple student-looking pieces to fabulous showpieces with covers to suit virtually every style and culture. And prices are virtually unbeatable.

Snob value was minimal

Only two excuses for not buying an Ikea piece of furniture, it appears, and that’s the self-assembly part – despite the extensive and easy-to-follow guides, it can be exhausting putting a large table or dinner chairs together. And some people do want authentic, old fashioned wood – Ikea does not pretend to be high end, even thought it is good quality. The snob value is rather minimal. Plant stands – having traipsed around department stores and even garden centres in London, it is difficult to find a plant stand that doesn’t come with a pot, which of course pushes the price up unnecessarily. 

Again, Ikea to the rescue. The store has a string of different looking plant stands for one, two or even 10 plants and shelves to add even more pots – all at discount prices. If you need pots to go with, pay for them separately. Pots and pans, salad bowls, glasses, mugs, knives and forks. It’s all there under one roof. It’s easy not to get carried away…

Why is IKEA so cheap?

As mentioned, Ikea is hard to beat on price. The sheer scale of the brand is such that it shifts units like no other. Of course, it also can’t charge for the complete product as we consumers have to put them together once we take the piece home or it is delivered. In the case of furniture, we don’t actually buy a finished product…

And we consumers don’t have to pay fortunes for storage…the raison d’etre of Ikea is flat packing, self-assembly which means the company doesn’t need the space to store finished pieces of furniture. The layout of the stores – the arrows pointing the customers in the direction through the store to the tills – cuts out superfluous staff, so cost cutting on personnel.

And unlike many other stores, labelling is extensive – many of the questions asked of each product are answered on the labels and in catalogues. The stores are magnificently laid out and labelled clearly with prices and descriptions.

What are the current IKEA must-have Items?

For decades Ikea has prided itself on being practical, functional and affordable. But trendy? Not so much. Until now. Today, the brand’s ability to produce items at rock bottom prices and by its force of specialist designers ensures it is as on trend as any store. It is trendy today? Totally! The round Ingatorp dining table – pull out to make it oval to seat six people – is a must-have. We should know because we have it… For a couple of hundred pounds you have the best, sturdiest and smart white pull-out dining table.

Mirror cabinets – they’re amazing. We have the Hemnes cabinet – where else can you get a bathroom mirror with several shelves in stunning white with a gently self-shutting door for less than £95 or $120. Look out for its occasional copies of classic Gustavian furniture pieces – incredibly well made, true to originals and sold out as soon as they hit the stores. Check out the lights department – if you like the minimal design, you’ll find your favourite piece here. On our wish list are the tinted tumblers and simple, stylish glass salad bowls.

Important IKEA Milestones
  • 1943: Ikea is founded by the 17-year-old Ingvar Kamprad
  • 1948: Furniture is introduced into the product list
  • 1951: The first catalogue is produced
  • 1953: The first showroom is opened
  • 1956: Flat packing is introduced when an employee removes the legs of a piece of furniture to fit it into a delivery van
  • 1962: The super cheap bookcase was introduced
  • 1975: Ikea arrives in Australia
  • 1979: The bestselling Billy bookcase is introduced
  • 1981: Ikea arrives in France
  • 1985: Ikea arrives in the USA
  • 1987: Ikea arrives in the UK
  • 1990: Ikea introduces an environmental policy
  • 1994: The Mammut children’s furniture range is produced, with special rounded corners
  • 1997: Ikea is on the web
  • 1998: Ikea arrives in China
  • 2000: Ikea arrives in Russia
  • 2006: Ikea food is launched
  • 2007: Express checkouts are launched
Why is IKEA so popular?

Prices…. And you can see virtually every items in a setting, in a room such as a kitchen or sitting, TV room. It’s hugely inspiring. And they’ve piled the products high in different colours, shapes and sizes. There is something for everyone – they sell almost everything under the sun, for peanuts!

And the products themselves are, apart from affordable, versatile. They mix and match, designed to fit into different settings. Something else which is impossible to miss…Ikea is brimming with families shopping together. The stores and the brand itself are super family friendly which only adds to the shopping experience.

What was IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad’s Net Worth?

The business Kamprad built from the age of 17 made him a hugely rich man – some say secretly the richest man in the world. Others say the 8th richest person with a net worth of about $57.8billion – or £45.5billion.

Still, he lived modestly in Sweden – keeping a very low key and driving an old car throughout his life or going by bus when it suited him. To which he said: “Some people say I am cheap. I don’t mind if they do.”

ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad Quotes…
  • “I’m a bit tight with money, but so what? I look at the money I’m about to spend on myself and ask myself if IKEA’s customers can afford it… I could regularly travel first class, but having money in abundance doesn’t seem like a good reason to waste it”
  • “How can I ask people who work for me to travel cheaply if I am traveling in luxury?”
  • “It is better to be a bit stingy than throw money out of the window”
  • “A better everyday life means getting away from status and conventions — being freer and more at ease as human beings”
  • “Our idea is to serve everybody, including people with little money”
  • “The IKEA spirit is strong and living reality. Simplicity in our behaviour gives us strength. Simplicity and humbleness characterise us in our relations with each other, our suppliers and our customers”
  • “Only those who are asleep make no mistakes”
  • “Being humble isn’t the same as keeping a low profile. If you have something important to say, say it. Being humble means admitting your weaknesses, and trying to put them right”
  • “We claim that we don’t need status symbols. What we really mean by that is that setting a good example should be the manager’s most persuasive quality”
  • “If there is such a thing as good leadership, it is to give a good example. I have to do so for all the Ikea employees”
  • “Ikea is not completely perfect. It irritates me to hear it said that Ikea is the best company in the world. We are going the right way to becoming it but we are not there yet”
Time is your most important resource
  • “Time is your most important resource. You can do so much in ten minutes. Ten minutes; once gone is gone for good”
  • “What is good for our customers is also in the long run good for us”
  • “It is our duty to expand. Those who cannot or will not join us are to be pitied”
  • “Creativity and believing in your work is absolutely a necessary part of success”
  • “Happiness is not reaching your goal. Happiness is being on the way”
  • “To do business with a clear conscience is an attitude that pays. We have to find more time for ourselves and to regain respect for the environment in which we live”

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