Share on Facebook

A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

Weird Things You Never Knew About IKEA

IKEA's a lifesaver for college students and renters, but how much do you really know about these furniture giants from Northern Europe?

1 / 5
Utrecht Robin/action press/REX/Shutterstock

The reason for the names

Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA in Sweden in 1943, and it sold mostly pens, jewelry, and smaller items. Originally, the inventory was identified by a code number—but the dyslexic Kamprad couldn’t keep them straight. So the decision was made to give each item a real name—either a place in Northern Europe, a person’s name, or a random Swedish word. That means you’re not just sitting on a sofa, you also happen to be sitting on a communist newspaper (Friheten), the grave of a Nordic king (Kivik), or the word “great” (Ypperlig).

2 / 5
IkeaUtrecht Robin/action press/REX/Shutterstock

Ignore Internet myths about the names

Loads of online sources, from HuffPo to Gizmodo, have reported with great authority that IKEA product names are arranged by themes. For instance, all carpets are named after towns, and all bookcases are named after boys. Some quick Googling with the IKEA catalog at your side would reveal that there is no such order to the naming process.

3 / 5
IkeaUtrecht Robin/action press/REX/Shutterstock

The store layout isn’t designed to get you to spend more (ha)

Representatives from IKEA deny that the store is intentionally designed to tempt you into unplanned purchases, but … come on. Common sense says that you don’t put a dumpster full of decorative hourglasses (named Tillsyn, Swedish for “supervision”) next to the cash register on accident. And we’re not the only ones who say so. Alan Penn, a professor of architecture at the University College of London, has done academic studies and lectures on retail spaces; he finds that IKEA—and other stores—pattern the store in a way that disorient shoppers so that they’ll be more likely to make impulse purchases. It works: according to his research, 60 percent of the purchases made at the Swedish behemoth weren’t on the shopping list. Worried about succumbing? Arm yourself with these top psychological tricks for spending less while shopping.

4 / 5
MeatballsMarcel Antonisse/Epa/REX/Shutterstock

The meatballs are part of the marketing strategy

IKEA opened its first retail store in 1958, and added a cafeteria featuring Swedish meatballs a year later. A representative for the store has said, “We’ve always called the meatballs ‘the best sofa-seller,'” and it seems obvious now: A hungry shopper is not a happy shopper. Now the chain makes $1.8 billion a year on food—though that’s still just a small part of its overall sales. Want to make your own meatballs at home? Here’s the perfect recipe.

5 / 5
IkeaMatthias Hauser/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock

The Billy bookcase has reached saturation

First designed in 1978, this basic yet endlessly adaptable shelving unit is in about 60 million homes, and IKEA manufactures three million more each year. The price—$30 in the United States—and its inoffensive utilitarian design has made the Billy an international hit. It’s so omnipresent that Bloomberg uses it to index purchasing power in countries worldwide (similar to the Economist‘s Big Mac Index).