12 IKEA Facts to Help You Celebrate the Company’s 80th Birthday

published Jul 27, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
ikea birthday collage
Credit: Photos: Shutterstock; Design: Apartment Therapy

IKEA feels so ubiquitous that it’s hard to believe there’s ever been a time that people shopped for their first apartment or new home without pushing a cart through a warehouse, munching on Swedish meatballs, and walking away with an indestructible bright blue bag.

But all things have a beginning — even IKEA — and the Swedish company is celebrating its 80th birthday on July 28, 2023. It didn’t spring forth from the fertile Scandinavian ground that day as a fully formed, ~300,000 square foot flat-pack wonderland (as you might expect for anything that started in the thick of World War II). Instead, founder Invgar Kamprad started out selling things like pens, lighters, and matches in the small town of Ämhult, Sweden, when he was just 17.

The first piece of IKEA furniture was sold in 1948, and the name BILLY has never been the same since. Today, there are 462 stores worldwide (the largest is in Pasay City, Philippines), one billion meatballs sold annually, and countless IKEA hacks. We should know: We’ve sat on lots of couches, bought tons of items we still swear by, and still get stoked when they introduce new items (especially if they’re shaped like donuts). 

In honor of IKEA’s birthday, we’re sharing some fun facts about the retailer — umlauts included.

1. The name IKEA is an acronym.

Founder Ingvar Kamprad’s first and last initial form the first part, and Elmtaryd, the farm on which he grew up, and Agunnaryd, a nearby village inspired the last two letters. Put those together, and you get I-K-E-A. 

2. IKEA’s logo wasn’t always blue and yellow.

In fact, the logo colors you know best (which were inspired by Sweden’s flag), weren’t introduced until 1983. Before that, the logo was red and white, black and white, and brown and white at various times.

3. Food wasn’t sold in IKEA stores until 1985.

And Kamprad decided to start doing so because people were leaving stores without buying anything because they were hungry.

4. IKEA names its products after Scandinavian locations, words, and first names, among others.

Kamprad, who passed away in 2018, was dyslexic and couldn’t keep track of product codes, so he started using an unconventional naming system that the company still uses today. Here are some of the origins of product names.

  • Bathroom items: Names of Swedish lakes and bodies of water
  • Linens: Flowers and plants
  • Bedroom and living room furniture: Norwegian places
  • Bookcases: Professions and Scandinavian boy names
  • Bowls and vases: Swedish place names, adjectives, spices, herbs, fruits, and berries
  • Fabrics and curtains: Scandinavian girl names
  • Lighting: Units of measurement, seasons, months, days, shipping and nautical terms, Swedish place names
  • Rugs: Danish place names
  • Sofas, chairs and dining sets: Swedish place names

5. A lot of people own BILLY bookcases.

According to the New York Times, IKEA sells a BILLY every 10 seconds. It’s not just your imagination that it feels like they’re everywhere!

6. One in 10 Europeans is conceived in an IKEA bed. 

How’s that for sturdy construction?

7. And before IKEA stopped printing its iconic catalog in 2020, more copies of it were printed than the Bible and the Quran.

Oh, IKEA catalog, how we miss you. And we’re probably not the only ones: According to the Verge, 200 million IKEA catalogs were distributed in 32 different languages in 2016. Adjö, old friend.

8. IKEA aired the first TV commercial to show a gay couple.

In 1994, IKEA created a commercial showing an openly gay couple shopping for a dining table, which aired as part of a bigger campaign that also featured a mixed-race couple and a single mom. Although the spot received acclaim, it also caused angry letters and a bomb threat at the Hicksville, New York, store. What’s old is new again, eh?

9. Speaking of advertising, IKEA ran a magazine ad that doubled as a pregnancy test in 2017.

If your test came back positive, you got a 50 percent discount on a crib!

10. In Japan, you can rent a tiny truck to drive your purchases home in.

No more delivery, and you can drive an absolutely adorable little truck? Yes, please.

11. It’s spawned parody books, YouTube series, and more. 

There’s no doubt that, 80 years on, IKEA is a cultural icon. And as with all cultural icons, it’s lent itself to some serious parody. “HORRORSTÖR,” a novel by Grady Hendrix, came out in 2014. It’s a mystery set inside a thinly veiled IKEA-type store called Orsk, where the employees have to figure out why their merchandise is being mysteriously destroyed overnight. In a less scary, but just as entertaining take, the YouTube series Hikea shows people attempting to build IKEA pieces while on drugs.

12. And, of course, Game of Thrones featured IKEA rugs as part of its costumes.

If the fur capes in Westeros looked a little familiar to you, there’s a reason why: The show’s costume designer revealed that they were made of IKEA rugs. In response, the company hilariously shared instructions for making your own cape (pet direwolf not included).