11 of the Most Iconic IKEA Products of All Time, from BILLY to STRANDMON

published Jul 29, 2023
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collage of ikeas best sellers
Credit: Photos: IKEA; Design: Apartment Therapy

Even if you’ve never set foot in an IKEA store (which is arguably a decorating rite of passage), you probably recognize some of the Swedish home brand’s greatest design hits, sometimes without even knowing their names. There’s the wood FROSTA stool, for one, a favorite among small-space-dwellers for its stackable silhouette and sky’s-the-limit functionality (plant stand! Side table! Extra seating!).

Or, take the ubiquitous BILLY bookcase — one of which sells globally every five seconds, according to IKEA approximations — which has firmly cemented itself as one of the most highly revered, classic storage staples over the last 40+ years since it was introduced. 

Of almost a century’s-worth of iconic inventory and renowned designer collaborations, though, which pieces throughout the brand’s illustrious history reign supreme as the IKEA MVPs? In honor of their 80th anniversary, I took a deep dive into some of the most beloved IKEA products to date, including current editor- and reader-favorite furniture and decor picks. Plus, get the lowdown on some of the first-ever IKEA styles and contemporary equivalents you can shop today, as well as a peek into the newly launched Nytillverkad 80th Anniversary collection that features 21st-century adaptations of archived designs. 

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If Apartment Therapy Before & After submissions are any indication, the BILLY bookcase collection arguably deserves an IKEA reader’s choice award — Home Projects Assistant Editor, Sarah Everett, even deems it one of the most popular recurring products among DIY features. The original BILLY design debuted in IKEA’s 1979 catalog, followed by a glass door version in 1981 and new colorway additions in more recent years.

Decades later, the style remains wildly popular among shelfie enthusiasts, bookworms, and DIYers alike, while oftentimes resembling custom-built shelving units. “I've seen some incredibly cool DIY projects that make BILLYs look like expensive china cabinets or built-in home libraries,” Everett adds.

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IKEA’s 1951 MK wing chair went down in history as one of their first upholstered furniture designs. Wing chairs were all the rage at the time, which inspired founder Ingvar Kamprad to team up with a Swedish furniture factory for IKEA’s own production — and, per the IKEA website, the MK ultimately had a years-long standing as one of the most popular products at S:t Eriksmässan, the then-Stockholm Furniture Fair equivalent.

STRANDMON, its sister silhouette, was introduced in 2012 after rigorous product testing to meet contemporary color preferences and standards. In fact, according to one of IKEA’s product developers Ulf Engström via their website, they’ve ensured that “a person can sit down on it and get out of it at least 50,000 times,” which equates to “sitting in it and getting up again once a day for 136 years.”

Abbey Stark, interior design leader at IKEA U.S., also speaks to its unwavering design longevity: “This chair has had many lives with updated fashion colors and patterned fabrics, while remaining a timeless piece that integrates into many different areas of the home,” she says.

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There’s a lot to love about the popular HEMNES line of dressers, chests, and cabinets, but first and foremost is their timeless, simplistic signature aesthetic. All three solid-wood stain options — white, dark gray, or black-brown — can coexist with any design style as-is, but they’re also the perfect foundations for a furniture flip, fun paint job, or hardware swap. Plus, true to IKEA form, every well-priced HEMNES product touts a compact, small-space-friendly silhouette that’s still deceptively spacious and functional (especially the smart wall-mounted shoe cabinet).

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Despite launching in 2006, the bestselling black-and-white STOCKHOLM rug continues to endure as “one of IKEA's breakout superstars,” notes Executive Home Director, Danielle Blundell. “I remember a good five-year stretch of time in the early aughts as a magazine editor where you couldn't go a day or two without seeing this rug pop up in an online house tour, blog post, or scouting shots that came across your desk,” she adds.

With the STOCKHOLM’s banded design, Blundell considers IKEA “way ahead of the broken stripe trend we've been seeing for the past few years,” while Stark adds that “in our Scandinavian design approach, we are not afraid of mixing and matching graphic patterns with bright colors.” It’s also relatively affordable, given its handwoven construction and sizing, which is why Blundell suspects that it’s “stayed the same for so long and will continue to be in IKEA's repertoire for the foreseeable future.”

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The open-concept, grid-like structure of the KALLAX collection — which replaced IKEA’s popular EXPEDIT shelves — maximizes storage in virtually any layout, regardless of square footage. Ranging from $34.99 for a single cube to $494.99 for a 25-module unit, the versatile assemblage can operate as a studio apartment divider, stacked bookcase, kitchen island, bedside cubby, and beyond. This series has also generated some of the most unrecognizable reader remodels of any IKEA item thus far, like a Brutalist-style cabinet or ‘70s-inspired faux burl wood sideboard.

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If you’ve ever encountered a minimalist round wooden stool from house tour photos or IRL, it’s likely IKEA’s top-selling three-legged KYRRE or (since discontinued) four-legged FROSTA. The company’s penchant for crafting stylish, stackable stools makes them a consistent go-to — especially from a price standpoint (the KYRRE costs just $19.99 a piece). Even the 80th anniversary Nytillverkad line includes an ode to IKEA’s 1973 JERRY stool, now rebranded as the DOMSTEN with a fun new design feature: brightly-colored metal legs.

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Thanks to a ready-to-paint, unfinished construction, the pine IVAR line — dating back 50+ years and formerly known as BOSSE, then INGO, then UFFE — proves to be yet another reader-beloved IKEA fixture. Its bare-bones, modular system inspires creative customizations galore, not only from a configuration standpoint but also as a basis for clever DIYs and styling hacks. I’ve seen IVARS transformed into a budget-friendly bar project, unique plant perch, and stunning grasscloth-wallpaper-adorned TV console.

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Another particularly hackable IKEA product is the BESTÅ storage unit, defined by an adaptable, clean-lined form that’s available in both pre-designed combinations and a la carte units. Often a popular pick for TV stands or media consoles, it’s arguably most distinguishable in white, but IKEA also offers a range of door colors and accompanying legs and knobs. Essentially, it’s like having your own custom-made piece, minus the cost. If you’re looking to think outside the traditional BESTÅ box, though, take a cue from these DIYers who converted it into a breakfast nook, colorful desk, and cozy daybed.

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The 1956 LÖVET table can arguably be considered the inaugural IKEA piece: It was the company’s first ever flat-packed furniture item. As the story goes, then-marketing director Gillis Lundgren couldn’t fit a sample of this product into his car and allegedly sawed off the legs, sparking the IKEA self-assembly shopping model. This original design — named for its leaflike shape, according to Stark — was put on pause in 1962, but later revived in 2013, 2021, and now 2023 as the LÖVBACKEN.

Although today’s contemporary comebacks are no longer made from jacaranda wood (as it’s since become an endangered species), the tripod silhouette skews more sustainable, thanks to a nearly identical patterned poplar veneer tabletop. “This classic design has a perfect balance between mid-century modern and current design,” Stark adds, even punctuated in three bright new colorways as part of the recent 80th anniversary collection launch.

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One underrated IKEA niche? Lighting. The Swedish superstore specializes in staying ahead of the trend curve, as seen earlier this year via the viral donut-shaped light fixture and ultra-thin LED wall lamp from the VARMBLIXT collection with designer Sabine Marcelis.

Home Associate Editor, Cullen Ormond, also praises IKEA’s unbeatable affordability for styles that could rival most high-end modern counterparts. “I have two REGOLIT pendant lamp shades in my New York City apartment,” she says, which, at just $5.99 per light, “sell at a fraction of the cost” compared to similar home brands’ lantern lookalikes.

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I’d be remiss not to pay homage to the famed 99-cent FRATKA tote; no IKEA trip (or farmers market run, or laundry day) could be complete without one. The signature blue carry-all has sparked many a fashion frenzy — it’s even wearable in bucket hat form — and lately, iterations of the bag have gotten a few colorful new makeovers, as seen with the rhubarb-printed design from IKEA’s Marimekko collaboration and textile designer Marisol Venteno’s abstract creation via the Latin American ÖMSESIDIG collection. Ultimately, Stark sums up the bag well: “Sustainable, reusable, and convenient.”