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Today, Your Bookcase; Tomorrow, the World

Ikea, the company that transformed home design, now wants to do the same to the rest of the world

Author Boyd Farrow Illustration Eben Meyer

industry

Billy Bookcase. Ektorp Bed. Fyrkantig clock candle. These may not sound like the instruments of world domination, but if Ikea’s near-term plans are any indication, the Swedish homeware giant is on a mission to influence pretty much every aspect of human life. In the next few years, it’s entirely possible that Ikea will have built the office you work in, the bar you drink in, the bank you save in and the hotel you vacation in. One day soon, you may find yourself carrying a six-pack of Ikea beer from an Ikea mall to your Ikea house in an Ikea town with hydrangeas climbing Ikea picket fences.  

The Swedish flatpack giant is celebrating its 70th birthday this year with a grab bag of projects, as 87-year-old founder Ingvar Kamprad ponders the legacy of a brand that has netted him a fortune of some $40 billion. Despite his advanced age, Kamprad is apparently not ready to hang up his Allen keys. His firm—which last year raked in $36 billion in revenue—is rolling out new stores faster and farther away than ever. In India alone, around $2 billion has been earmarked to open 25 outlets.

    Also on the agenda is Strand East, a 26-acre plot near London’s Olympic Park. Here, Ikea subsidiary LandProp is building a $500 million eco-city, with 1,200 rental homes, along with commercial buildings and leisure facilities. It won’t be painted corporate blue-and-yellow, but the overall tidiness will scream Ikea. Similar projects are underway in central Europe, while Ikea aggressively hunts for land in other cities to create even bigger districts. Meanwhile, under the brand Ulito, Ikea plans to build student apartments, complete with health clubs and bars, all over Europe.

As if all that weren’t enough, the Ikea leisure portfolio is further expanding with Moxy, a hotel chain created in tandem with Marriott International that promises “stylish design, approachable service and, most importantly, an affordable price.” (Sound familiar?) The first of the planned 150 hotels opens next year in Milan, no doubt to a blizzard of jokes about guests making their own beds.

For some, this slew of proposed ventures—which also includes business parks, shopping malls, wind farms and banking, brewing and clothing interests—smacks of a brand that has lost its moorings. Not so, says Ikea spokesperson Kristian Sjöholm. “These are pure investments, especially in the property divisions,” he says. “The company is cash-rich, so buying up land makes a lot of sense in the long run.”

Ultimately, the reason behind Ikea’s sudden burst of activity could very well amount to something as simple as the impending 90th birthday of its founder. Indeed, there’s a sense that Kamprad sees Ikea’s wild diversification as an inevitable part of its evolution, and that he wants to impose his influence on it while he still has the opportunity. “Ingvar has always wanted to make a bigger impact on the way we live,” says brand consultant Steen Kanter, a former Ikea executive who has known Kamprad for more than two decades. “He’s now making sure all the plans are being laid. For him, not doing so would be like letting the au pair bring up your kid their way.”

There’s a sense, too,  that the expansion may promote harmony among Kamprad’s three sons and ensure that the Ikea brand can’t be broken up. Jonas, a designer, is said to be keen on product development, Mathias is the business strategist, and Peter, an economist, wants to develop the Ikano bank. “Believe me, everything will have been taken into account for the sons’ interests,” says Kanter. “This is a family business.”

Some Ikea speculators, meanwhile, suspect that Kamprad’s green, clean towns—his little pockets of utopia—represent a last-ditch effort to redeem a reputation that has been battered by the mogul’s labyrinthine tax avoidance schemes and a youthful dalliance with Nazism. Kanter, for his part, doesn’t buy into this view. “Ingvar doesn’t care about what people think about him while he’s alive; he certainly won’t when he’s dead,” he says. “He simply wants eternal life for the company he built and for the money to keep rolling in.”

London-based journalist boyd farrow had a nightmare recently about having to put together an Ikea flatpack minivan.Billy Bookcase. Ektorp Bed. Fyrkantig clock candle. These may not sound like the instruments of world domination, but if Ikea’s near-term plans are any indication, the Swedish homeware giant is on a mission to influence pretty much every aspect of human life. In the next few years, it’s entirely possible that Ikea will have built the office you work in, the bar you drink in, the bank you save in and the hotel you vacation in. One day soon, you may find yourself carrying a six-pack of Ikea beer from an Ikea mall to your Ikea house in an Ikea town with hydrangeas climbing Ikea picket fences.  

The Swedish flatpack giant is celebrating its 70th birthday this year with a grab bag of projects, as 87-year-old founder Ingvar Kamprad ponders the legacy of a brand that has netted him a fortune of some $40 billion. Despite his advanced age, Kamprad is apparently not ready to hang up his Allen keys. His firm—which last year raked in $36 billion in revenue—is rolling out new stores faster and farther away than ever. In India alone, around $2 billion has been earmarked to open 25 outlets.

    Also on the agenda is Strand East, a 26-acre plot near London’s Olympic Park. Here, Ikea subsidiary LandProp is building a $500 million eco-city, with 1,200 rental homes, along with commercial buildings and leisure facilities. It won’t be painted corporate blue-and-yellow, but the overall tidiness will scream Ikea. Similar projects are underway in central Europe, while Ikea aggressively hunts for land in other cities to create even bigger districts. Meanwhile, under the brand Ulito, Ikea plans to build student apartments, complete with health clubs and bars, all over Europe.

As if all that weren’t enough, the Ikea leisure portfolio is further expanding with Moxy, a hotel chain created in tandem with Marriott International that promises “stylish design, approachable service and, most importantly, an affordable price.” (Sound familiar?) The first of the planned 150 hotels opens next year in Milan, no doubt to a blizzard of jokes about guests making their own beds.

For some, this slew of proposed ventures—which also includes business parks, shopping malls, wind farms and banking, brewing and clothing interests—smacks of a brand that has lost its moorings. Not so, says Ikea spokesperson Kristian Sjöholm. “These are pure investments, especially in the property divisions,” he says. “The company is cash-rich, so buying up land makes a lot of sense in the long run.”

Ultimately, the reason behind Ikea’s sudden burst of activity could very well amount to something as simple as the impending 90th birthday of its founder. Indeed, there’s a sense that Kamprad sees Ikea’s wild diversification as an inevitable part of its evolution, and that he wants to impose his influence on it while he still has the opportunity. “Ingvar has always wanted to make a bigger impact on the way we live,” says brand consultant Steen Kanter, a former Ikea executive who has known Kamprad for more than two decades. “He’s now making sure all the plans are being laid. For him, not doing so would be like letting the au pair bring up your kid their way.”

There’s a sense, too,  that the expansion may promote harmony among Kamprad’s three sons and ensure that the Ikea brand can’t be broken up. Jonas, a designer, is said to be keen on product development, Mathias is the business strategist, and Peter, an economist, wants to develop the Ikano bank. “Believe me, everything will have been taken into account for the sons’ interests,” says Kanter. “This is a family business.”

Some Ikea speculators, meanwhile, suspect that Kamprad’s green, clean towns—his little pockets of utopia—represent a last-ditch effort to redeem a reputation that has been battered by the mogul’s labyrinthine tax avoidance schemes and a youthful dalliance with Nazism. Kanter, for his part, doesn’t buy into this view. “Ingvar doesn’t care about what people think about him while he’s alive; he certainly won’t when he’s dead,” he says. “He simply wants eternal life for the company he built and for the money to keep rolling in.”

London-based journalist BOYD FARROW had a nightmare recently about having to put together an Ikea flatpack minivan.

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