Ikea at 25: The Welsh designers’ verdicts

Ikea is celebrating its 25th anniversary in the UK

Its modern, sleek designs have found a captive market in aspirational 20-something professionals devoted to its mix of functionality and Swedish simplicity.

Now celebrating its 25th anniversary in the UK, for some, Swedish retailer Ikea has revolutionised British interiors since arriving in Warrington in October 1987.

Rooted in its founder Ingvar Kamprad’s upbringing in Småland, Sweden, where the soil is said to be “thin” and “poor”, the company’s philosophy has always been about making the best of limited resources.

And in a country that is dark for much of year its range emphasised blonde woods and untreated surfaces to produce a summery feel in homes were sunlight was in short supply.

Welsh interior designer Jane Beck says the firm has left a massive impression on the look of British homes – particularly those occupied by young professionals with a taste for the modern.

Mrs Beck, who runs welshblankets.co.uk, said: “It’s brought a much more contemporary and Scandinavian feel in and obviously made things much more affordable.

“I think some Welsh producers are now finding it easier to bring in contemporary stuff because of that kind of market.

“It provides good, sound, affordable, simple design and you can mix the stuff with traditional and contemporary designs.

“Hopefully it will spearhead British industry because we need to go the same way.”

Globally Ikea now employs 131,000 staff in 41 countries and has annual sales of more than 24.7bn Euros.

In the UK Ikea’s flat-pack furnishings have been embraced in over 16 million homes across the country.

Mrs Beck, 47, who prefers traditional Welsh textiles at her 19th century home in Llwyn-y-Groes, Ceredigion, believes Ikea’s product range has a well-defined market.

“My daughters and my son (Ceinwen, 18, Angharad, 20, and Timothy, 26) would certainly have Ikea furniture, but I’m a much more old fashioned person perhaps.

“It’s for younger people setting up home who want something functional, affordable and not necessarily things they’re going to keep forever.

“They’re not the sort of people who buy antiques. It’s simple stuff and you can mix it and move it around.

“They do good neutral colours within their furniture range and you can go and kit your house or new flat out for not a lot of money.”

Ikea’s interior design manager Gemma Arranz said when the firm first arrived here 25 years ago the emphasis was on democratic designs that provided “a better everyday life at home for the many”.

She said: “With the first Ikea catalogue in 1987 came the iconic klippan sofa created by an Ikea product developer who was tired of his furniture being knocked about by his children.

“He decided that people needed a sofa designed with family life in mind. For example, washable covers were a must as was a durable frame to survive children’s boisterous behaviour. However comfort and style for the parents was not overlooked.”

Cardiff-based Deborah Drew, who for many years was the designer on BBC One make-over show DIY SOS, said the firm’s success has been based on keeping its designs “very modular in line with contemporary interiors”.

Mrs Drew, 45, who runs dddesigns.co.uk, said: “They are renowned for their functionality, durability, practicality and affordability. That is absolutely key – they’ve made modern interiors affordable and allowed you to make them unique.

“So if you buy a cube shelf you can buy different doors – like two red doors or one cream door.

“It allows you to have more control so if your house is smaller, maybe you’d only want one on one wall and one on another.”

Mrs Drew, who has a 10-year-old Ikea kitchen in the home she shares with accountant husband Steve, 41, and her 19 and 17-year-old sons, added: “So you could go into two or three houses where they might have the same range of furniture, but they would look very different because they’d include other items in Ikea ranges with their own kind of stamp.”

But for some the simplicity of the box-like shapes are defined by a bland absence of detail that the 20-something market can tire of in later life.

Mrs Beck added: “Personally I do (find it bland). But you can’t have everything. You can’t have affordability, functionality and have detail. You can’t have all those things, you have to draw the line somewhere and it obviously appeals to a very big market.

“We all go through phases of fashion in our homes as well as in clothing through all of our lives – it’s a phase.”

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