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The Ikea Phenomenon

An exhibit covering 50 years of Sweden's revolutionizing flat-pack furniture

by Anna Carnick in Design on 26 April 2010

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Now showing at the Vienna Furniture Museum, The Ikea Phenomenon takes a look at the international lifestyle brand's design evolution from the 1950s to the present. The show, considered through the lens of design history (and reinforcing Ikea's knack for mirroring current styles), includes approximately 100 examples of the brand's furniture displayed alongside 30 examples of Scandinavian and international designers that have inspired Ikea over the years. At various stations, mini-exhibits illustrate core concepts like Scandinavian Modern, flat-pack, modular furniture and sustainability.

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In addition to the expansive furniture display, the Ikea Phenomenon includes a section dedicated to "Ikea Pimps and Hacks," creative lighting transformations inspired by and/or incorporating existing Ikea elements. Also on exhibit, a pair of rooms exemplify Ikea's ongoing modernity—one a mockup of an "average" Austrian living room, markedly shabby and boring; the other composed of the most popular selling Ikea wares, channeling Dwell-like style.

The exhibit itself, designed by the always-fun Austrian design firm Walking Chair, features a weaving, amorphous-looking yellow display structure, upon which many of the furniture pieces sit, reinforcing Ikea's playful but functional identity.

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And while design is clearly the focus, the show also pays homage to Ikea's development from a one-man shop to its present international success. Founded in 1943 by a then 17-year-old Ingvar Kamprad, the Ikea name is an acronym combining his initials, the first letter of his father's farm (Elmtaryd) and his Swedish hometown, Agunnaryd. Originally selling stationary, stockings and other everyday items, only adding furniture to the lineup in 1948, Ikea's major business expansion began in the 1970s.

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The point Phenomenon drives home throughout is Ikea's longstanding dedication to quality design for all. From Scandinavia to the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to Vienna, the company';s influence on lifestyle across the globe through mass-produced, well-designed and affordable pieces—the kind we don't feel guilty about replacing every few years—is (quite unlike its furniture) one-of-a-kind.

The Ikea Phenomenon runs through 11 July 2010.

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