â€˘ A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
The founder of IKEA, one of the richest men in the world, described how his humble rural origins and well-known frugality shaped the multinational corporation over the past five decades.
â€śIâ€™ve never flown in first or business class, because I know that ordinary people donâ€™t,â€ť he said.
That same folksiness was on show this summer in an exhibition on 50 years of IKEA in one of Stockholmâ€™s most prestigious art museums.
Almost half a million dollars in sponsorship from the furniture giant ensured that the exhibition was also a self-portrait â€“ albeit an entertaining one.
In pre-IKEA Sweden, a sofa bed and dining-room table cost the average Swede four monthsâ€™ wages. Access to cheaper furniture was a question of democracy and equality, we learn. Moreover, semidisposable Swedish furniture gave consumers the right to â€śvariationâ€ť or to â€śchuck out the chintz,â€ť in the words of one advertising campaign.
The companyâ€™s rise to prominence coincided with Swedenâ€™s Folkhemmet (Peopleâ€™s Home) policy, which included an expansion of the welfare state, higher standards of living, and the construction of a million new homes in the 1960s and â€™70s.
Visitors left the exhibition with the impression that IKEA and Sweden are one and the same: modern, practical, dynamic, down to earth â€“ and above all, steadfast defenders of the common man.
But does IKEA share Swedenâ€™s preoccupation with recycling? One exhibit floats the idea of buying back discarded products for environmental reasons, a good idea that never saw the light of day.
Leaving the well-lit gallery itâ€™s easy to miss a stairwell leading to a basement selling dusty, secondhand IKEA items, but no one is buying.