IKEA Through the Decades: A Time Capsule of Design from the 1950s Through Today

A Visit to the IKEA Museum in Almhult, Sweden

In June, I traveled to Sweden with IKEA for their "Democratic Design Days"; an unmissable chance to learn about their company culture and design philosophies. One of the highlights was a visit to their museum, located in Almhult, near the site of the original store. I snapped a gazillion or so photos, especially of the room settings, which are organized by decade, creating a true time capsule of affordable, modern style and design, Swedish-style...


In the mid-50s IKEA furniture was traditional and, at least to our contemporary sensibilities, quite ornate.

A little later in the decade, things get curvier, and less decorative overall; the influence of modern design is starting to become evident.

And, by the late 50s, the design had moved to what we now think of as mid-century style and looks much more fashion-forward.

A photo of the original IKEA store in the 50s. Note the kids' "corral" under the stairs, an early version of today's beloved "Smaland" childcare centers.


Looking like the home of a "perfect" 1960s TV family, the design direction in the early part of the sixties was going more space-age in its lines, but was still fairly conservative in fabrics and materials, such as that gray flannel menswear upholstery.

But, by the end of the decade, color and texture exploded, signaling a huge aesthetic shift. The furniture and lighting got much more graphic and the power of youth culture is clearly evident.

Loading the flat pack onto a Beetle in Denmark, 1969.


The early part of the 70s saw the rise of comfortable, casual, hippie-influenced design details, such as even shaggier rugs and low, lounge-y soft sculpture-style sofas, upholstered in the fashion fabric of the day, denim.

Young families proved to be excellent IKEA customers, and by the latter part of the decade, the look they favored - bright, happy, shiny details mixed with natural woods and canvas - took over. It's an overall style direction that is still popular at IKEA today.


As the 80s begin, the post-modern Memphis design influence was strong and bold pattern and color were still king. Things went a bit more decorative once again.

In the latter part of the decade, cool, sharp, clean lined, harder-edged pieces shaped the look. The materials shifted to more metals and glass and toward solid colors, with lots of black.


The early 90s look is a bit shabby-chic. Light colors, softer shapes and natural toned textiles come into the mix.

Simple shapes combined with bold, playful patterns define the late 1990s.


As IKEA moved into the 21st century, the lines clean up and classic shapes re-emerge. The materials are a mix of clean painted wood and industrial metals and there is focus on storage and utility, done with style.


IKEA continues to innovate and reflect the popular style directions of the times - I have no doubt that when we look back at IKEA 2014 ten years down the road, it will be a snapshot of how much of the world is decorating their homes right NOW. For a look at what's happening currently (and what's coming in the new year), check out:

→First Look: Favorites from the 2014 PS Collection
→A Sneak Peek at IKEA's 2015 Collections

(Image credits: Janel Laban)