How vintage Ikea housewares became the darlings of the resale world

Brandon Titaro/The Globe and Mail

Above: A selection of Ikea’s more collectable vintage and contemporary pieces includes (clockwise from top left): Ulk mirror, courtesy of @studiomontcalm on Instagram; Konfetti candlesticks by Anna Efverlund, at Atomic Design (atomicdesign.ca); Lovbacken table, at Ikea (ikea.com); Piffig lamp, courtesy of @teaktoronto on Instagram; Jonisk lamp by Carl Ojerstam, at Atomic Design; Froset chair, at Ikea; Skuggbräcka fabric by Niina Aalto, at Ikea; Clock, courtesy of @shopdarkstar on Instagram; Sinnerlig bench by Ilse Crawford, private collection; Markerad bag by Virgil Abloh, private collection; Sinnerlig pitcher by Ilse Crawford, private collection; Tradig fruit bowl, at Nouveau Riche Vintage (nouveaurichevintage.ca); Skamt vases, courtesy of @shopdarkstar.

Standing in the location where the first Ikea store was built in Almhult, Sweden, in 1943, is a museum dedicated to the history of the decor behemoth. Opened in 2016, its exhibitions examine aspects of the Ikea business, from its now discontinued catalogues to a show about sibling designers Knut and Marianne Hagberg (the pair are credited with conceiving over 2,100 products for the brand, which is now based out of Delft in the Netherlands). The museum’s extensive collection speaks to the depth of Ikea’s almost 80-year archive and the shopping public’s interest in the provenance of their Billy bookcases and Poang loungers.

“You can really see the scale at which people are curious,” says Alicia Carroll, the commercial activity and events leader at Ikea Canada, about the museum’s popularity. Prepandemic, it counted almost 180,000 guests annually. Last September, Ikea Museum Digital launched online (the platform includes electronic issues of its catalogues dating back to 1950) and the company hopes to attract over a million visitors to the site this year.

The interest in older Ikea pieces is also being stoked by a surprising corner of the design world. The most discerning vintage furniture retailers, who fill their boutiques and e-commerce channels with Togo sofas and Eames chairs, are now seeking out Ikea’s more idiosyncratic pieces, especially items that were created with some of the biggest names in interiors including Vernor Panton, Ettore Sottsass and Monika Mulder.

Be prepared to pay a pretty penny for these items. The most collectable Ikea furniture and accessories sell for many multiples of their originally humble prices. Take, for example, Panton’s Vilbert chair. Released in the early 1990s in a limited run of just a few thousand pieces for just US$74 each, a set of four of the colour blocked designs recently sold through the luxury re-commerce site 1stDibs for over $5,000. Auction house favourites include the Singoalla chaise lounge, an asymmetrical design from 1961 that’s upholstered in red velvet, and the Amiral easy chair with its svelte chrome frame.

While some may question the economics of splurging on used, big box housewares, the hype around vintage Ikea isn’t surprising to Lawrence Blairs, owner of Atomic, a Toronto boutique that attracts clients with an interest in 20th-century objects. The allure of owning a Verner Panton-designed piece aside, he says that the modern-meets-quirky look of the Vilbert chair should resonate with anyone who appreciates eclecticism and forward-thinking creativity.

Brandon Titaro/The Globe and Mail

“I think good design endures, no matter who the designer is or who the company is that produced it,” he says about why something affordable sold through a mass market retailer can experience a surge in prestige. Blairs says that, ironically, during the time it was produced, the Vilbert chair wasn’t a runaway success. “It can take time for a design’s merits to be recognized and viewed in an objective manner,” he says.

Blairs says he first noticed a renewed interest in postmodern Ikea design around five years ago. He has shown several items through Atomic’s collection including Memphis-style Konfetti candlesticks designed by Anna Efverlund, which originally hit the market in 1994. There’s also been the orb-like Jonisk lamp by Carl Ojerstam and Niels Gammelgaard’s Jarpen wire chair (both pictured at right), a particularly popular retro piece in the resale market.

While these pieces are reappearing in the market more often, one of the tricky aspects of collecting older Ikea is that many of its eras and aesthetics are becoming popular among buyers and sellers simultaneously and price tags can vary widely. The slime splat silhouette Barnslig mirror, for example, is perfectly in step with the look of many playful millennial brands and can be bought off Etsy for around $100. A table from British designer Ilse Crawford’s cork topped Sinnerlig collection, which is only seven years old, can pop up on Facebook marketplace priced into the thousands.

U.S.-based visual artist Inga Schunn, who resells fashion and decor online, has a fondness for older Ikea. A scroll through her Instagram feed reveals a translucent blue Espressivo lamp that the company produced in the early 2000s. Evocative of the decade’s aesthetic – very Y2K while also embodying the loungey look of the more recent vapourwave trend, she notes in the item’s description – Schunn was obsessed with the desk light in her youth. Schunn says deciding which of the trio she acquired would be sold was a difficult decision. She kept the white version because she says it’s harder to find and goes with all manner of interior styling.

Vernor Panton’s Vilbert chair for Ikea sold for under $100 in the
early 1990s. A set of four recently fetched over $5,000 on the website 1stDibs.
Handout

Schunn has quite a few old Ikea items in her Richmond, Va., home including a low, L-shaped couch purchased almost a decade ago that she continuously refurbishes. Its practicality (you can manipulate which direction the arm rest goes), as well as its pedigree (the piece is based on a design from the 1970s) makes her feel like it’s worth the continuing investment.

Because of an interest among tastemakers such as Schunn to retain the function and finesse of rediscovered designs, Ikea itself is also investing in seeing its older pieces stand the test of time. Furniture such as the Lovbacken side table, the brand’s first flat-pack table, has been reissued. The retailer offers sustainability workshops where customers learn repair and maintenance techniques. Since 2019, it has offered a sell-back program in Canada, which allows customers to earn store credit through an online portal where Ikea staff assess the second life potential of pieces. “Canadians have made a lot of changes to their homes,” Caroll says. “We’ve seen a lot of interest from our customers in upcycling old Ikea finds and we’ve seen an increase of movement in people wanting to come to our circular hubs to find hidden gems.”

As the company forges new design partnerships with creative leaders including the late polymath Virgil Abloh and London-based, print-heavy designer Zandra Rhodes, Ikea’s back catalogue of covetable pieces continues to grow. For some, it’s only a matter of time until they become part of the collection in Almhult – and demand top dollar from collectors.

Styling by Odessa Paloma Parker. Prop styling by Stacey Smithers for Plutino Group. Photo assistant: Hao Nguyen.

Linda J. Picard

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