How vintage Ikea became a hit for fans of flat-pack chic

From classic midcentury armchairs to a Verner Panton “flop”, there’s much more to the Swedish interiors giant than Billy bookcases. By Charlotte Abrahams

1970s Duett lamps
1970s Duett lamps | Image: Ikea Museum Archive & Collection

Last September, Swedish auction house Bukowskis sold a 1972 tubular-steel-framed armchair for £1,968. There’s nothing particularly notable there, given the low-slung, sunshine-yellow seat is a perfect evocation of 1970s design. What makes the sale somewhat surprising, however, is that Gillis Lundgren designed the Impala chair for Ikea. Had you put one in your trolley at the time, it would have cost you around £30. 

1972 Impala chair
1972 Impala chair | Image: Ikea Museum Archive & Collection
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Lundgren joined Ikea in 1953 as its fourth employee and is the designer behind the Billy bookcase – a shelving unit so ubiquitous that financial index Bloomberg uses it to compare purchasing power across the world. Yet, at online marketplace 1stdibs, “the average list price of vintage Ikea seating models is $3,000”, says editorial director Anthony Barzilay Freund. “Over the past three years, prices have increased by more than 50 per cent.”

1970 Ikea catalogue
1970 Ikea catalogue | Image: Ikea Museum Archive & Collection
1984 catalogue
1984 catalogue | Image: Ikea Museum Archive & Collection

Pontus Silfverstolpe, founder of international auction aggregator Barnebys, has also been tracking the trend. “Ikea was the 50th most-searched-for word at Barnebys globally in 2019,” he says, “and most popular is the furniture from the 1950s to the 1970s.” Scandinavia’s midcentury heyday was indeed echoed by Ikea, which was founded in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad to democratise the ideas of the Bauhaus and functionalism, and make good design accessible. John Black, head of 20th-century decorative arts and design at British auction house Sworders, explains: “Its midcentury pieces had all the clean, modern freshness of the furniture being made by big names like Hans Wegner and Finn Juhl.”

1990s Vilbert chair, £3,802 for four from Pamono
1990s Vilbert chair, £3,802 for four from Pamono | Image: Courtesy of 1st Modern & Pamono; available at pamono.co.uk
1981 catalogue
1981 catalogue | Image: Ikea Museum Archive & Collection

It’s these similarities that prompted lawyer and midcentury-furniture collector Steve Harvey to buy a 1960s Ikea Cikada safari chair by Bengt Ruda, a pair of which are available on 1stdibs for £1,787. “The raw materials may not have quite the inherent value of the classics,” he says, “but the way the chair is put together absolutely does.” With its simple wood frame and leather-strap arms, Cikada bears a striking resemblance to the 1933 Safari chair by Kaare Klint, the father of Danish modernism. 

Ake furniture set in the 1954 catalogue
Ake furniture set in the 1954 catalogue | Image: Ikea Museum Archive & Collection
1973 catalogue showing the convertible Tajt chair by Gillis Lundgren
1973 catalogue showing the convertible Tajt chair by Gillis Lundgren | Image: Ikea Museum Archive & Collection

“Ikea has always been very quick at picking up on trends,” says Eva Seeman, head of modern works of art and design at Bukowskis, who adds that spiralling prices for the Danish greats has had a knock-on effect. Among Ikea’s most wanted are Tord Björklund’s elegant leather 1970 Skye chaise, which Galerie MooieStukken sold recently for €3,750; Harold Fust’s 1960s Singoalla daybed (sold for about £2,450 at Bukowskis in April 2019); the 1970 leather and chrome Amiral armchairs by Karin Mobring (a pair on 1stdibs costs £4,006); and Ake, a curvy, slightly cartoonish chair first produced in 1953. Last June, Swedish auction house Stockholms Auktionsverk sold one for £1,038 – a snip compared with its doppelgänger, Danish architect Philip Arctander’s 1944 Clam chair, which can fetch upwards of £12,000 on 1stdibs.

Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad
Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad | Image: Ikea Museum Archive & Collection
1962 catalogue
1962 catalogue | Image: Ikea Museum Archive & Collection

But the appeal of vintage Ikea goes beyond its resemblance to midcentury classics. Also sought after are the “fun and eye-catching” designs from the 1980s and 1990s, says Wava Carpenter, curatorial & editorial founder of e-store Pamono, which has a pair of orange/red/yellow tiered 1970s Duett pendant lamps (£452), alongside designs by Niels Gammelgaard – a set of shelves edged in primary colours (£1,629) and the cool wire-mesh Oti chair (£356). “In this era, Ikea really began to cater to a youthful, urban audience, and also commissioned some of the design world’s top names, including Verner Panton.”

1980s shelving, from £1,629 at Pamono
1980s shelving, from £1,629 at Pamono | Image: Courtesy of Symple Design & Pamono; available at pamono.co.uk
1977 catalogue
1977 catalogue | Image: Ikea Museum Archive & Collection

The Danish designer’s multifaceted, colour-blocked Vilbert chair was a flop when it launched in 1994, but is now widely coveted. “It exemplifies Panton’s iconic style and was also produced in a very limited run,” says Carpenter. “New, it cost around €60; last July, we sold one for €950.” For French graphic designer Jean-Michel Roccuzzo, a Vilbert chair given to him by a friend four years ago sparked a new appreciation for vintage Ikea. In 2018, he bought a 1986 Bogen side table, attracted by its elegance and adaptability, and currently has his eye on a Skye lounger. 

1960s Lips chair, £328 at Pamono
1960s Lips chair, £328 at Pamono | Image: Courtesy of 20th Stilraum & Pamono; available at pamono.co.uk
1960 Cikada chair, £1,787 for a pair at 1stdibs
1960 Cikada chair, £1,787 for a pair at 1stdibs | Image: Ikea Museum Archive & Collection

“It’s easy to search online for vintage Ikea with the model names,” says Seeman, adding that very little of Ikea’s output is marked. The pieces that are, such as the PS series (a designer collaboration that launched in 1995), command top prices. 1stdibs is currently offering a pair of Mats Theselius rattan and steel PS armchairs for £4,924. “But you can be pretty sure that all pieces are genuine because, so far as I know, there aren’t any copies on the market.”

1970 Amiral chair, £4,006 for a pair at 1stdibs
1970 Amiral chair, £4,006 for a pair at 1stdibs | Image: 1stdibs
1980s Oti chair, from £356 at Pamono
1980s Oti chair, from £356 at Pamono | Image: Courtesy of By Davidowski & Pamono; available at pamono.co.uk

That could soon change, however. “People are just starting to wake up to vintage Ikea,” says Elizabeth Rider, content manager of online vintage seller Vinterior, which currently has a set of four Vilbert chairs for £3,650. And Ikea is responding to the trend too. In 2014, it reissued 26 vintage pieces in limited numbers, while contemporary collaborations with the likes of Ilse Crawford, Tom Dixon and Virgil Abloh have all the making of future flat-pack classics.

Skye chaise, £2,146 at Pamono
Skye chaise, £2,146 at Pamono | Image: Courtesy of Artibus Design & Pamono; available at pamono.co.uk
2003 PS armchair, £4,924 for a pair at 1stdibs
2003 PS armchair, £4,924 for a pair at 1stdibs | Image: 1stdibs

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