I have a fantasy about Ikea: While shopping, I don’t hear the closing announcement and security overlooks me on its evening sweep. I have no choice but to spend the night inside the store.
To bide my time until the opening hour, I try out all of the chairs, sofas, beds, light fixtures, outdoor furniture, and stuffed animals. For dinner, I raid the cafe and eat Swedish meatballs dipped in lingonberry jam. After the sugar high has worn off, I fall asleep in the lifestyle I covet the most.
I assumed the likelihood of my fantasy coming true was as low as me assembling a shelving unit without cursing. But then, on a July trip in Sweden, I had to pinch myself. The chair was a Bernhard. The lamp was a Riggad. The trash can was a Mjosa. The sink was an Ensen.
Yes, it was happening: I was sleeping in an Ikea.
Älmhult, in southern Sweden, doesn’t call itself Ikeaville, though it could. Founder Ingvar Kamprad grew up on a nearby farm and established his first store here in 1958. In 2012, a new outpost opened in Älmhult. It isn’t the biggest store in the world — that would be Kungens Kurva in Stockholm, 300 miles away — but it does carry the largest range of Ikea products. Four years later, the Ikea Museum arrived, coinciding with the expansion of the Ikea Hotell.
The Ikea Hotell dates from 1964, when the company built accommodations for shoppers who drove a distance to stroll through the showroom and order furniture. In the hotel lobby, I felt like one of those early customers. If only I had a clipboard so I could check off the items I wanted to take home. (Cow-print ottoman!)
My room resided on the second floor in the new section of the hotel. The guest rooms come in four categories, such as the Family Room, which features curtained bunk beds, and the 45-square-foot Cabin, ideal for solo travelers with retractable limbs.
I chose the Grand Lit, an update on the original Grand Standard.
If I had taken the museum tour before I had checked in, I might not have been so startled when I first entered the room. Instead of the multi-textured and -patterned look on the ground floor, my room resembled a hospital recovery room. It contained a few pieces of furniture (bed, desk, chair) in soothing monochromatic tones (white, blue-gray, light wood). The hot pink hook and hanger provided the sole pops of color.
The second time I stepped inside, I had gained a better understanding of Kamprad’s egalitarian and economical aesthetic, and I embraced the room with a newfound appreciation. The minimal style, I now realized, upheld the principles of Democratic Design, a philosophy that promotes form, function, quality, sustainability, and low price. So long as I didn’t raid the Borrow Cabinet, which was stocked with loaner accessories, I could honor Kamprad’s spirit. I just had to resist that fuzzy woolly mammoth throw.
The English-language museum tour started in front of Kamprad’s face.
"He would not have liked this," our guide, Ebba, said of the oversize portrait of the founder that graced the museum entrance.
Kamprad was a humble, deferential man who credited his staff — all 208,000 of them in 2018, the year he died at age 91 —for the success of Ikea. A wall quote summed up his hiring strategy as, “When looking for co-workers, I look for people that are good at the things that I’m bad at.”
Ebba urged us to approach the artwork. Kamprad’s eyes, ears, nose, and neck dissolved into tiny head shots of Ikea employees, 5,000 in all.
The museum follows several thematic tracks. We threaded our way through a hallway plastered with Ikea objects. The items — a pink flower-shaped light, a yellow clock, a green watering can, a blue stool — were grouped by hue, a burst of brightness before we entered a darker Sweden.
The Scandinavian country is one of the wealthiest in the world, but it wasn’t also so. From the mid-1800s through the 1920s, Swedes struggled to survive. They lived in dank, cramped quarters and scavenged the land for food. Lingonberries were a staple. More than a million people — about a quarter of the population — fled Sweden for better opportunities in Australia and the United States.
Ebba led us through this rough period in Swedish history.
"This is not an Ikea kitchen," she said. "But you can see many of the same ideas at Ikea."
We stood before a rustic kitchen with an open hearth and a hanging baby seat that saved space and protected the infant from a germ-laden floor. She showed us a handmade chair that folds into a table, a piece tailor-made for a survivalist or an urban studio-dweller.
In the 1930s, the Social Democratic Party assumed control of the government and initiated a public housing plan called "the people’s home." The goal was to raise the standard of living through such means as rent caps, subsidies, and linoleum flooring.
Kamprad grew up in this era of uplift. He started selling objects at the peewee age of 5 — matchboxes provided by his Aunt Erna, fish he peddled on his mother’s bicycle. When he turned 17, his birthday wish was not a car or a kiss from his sweetheart but to register his own company. He called his business Ikea: I and K for the initials of his name; E for his family farm, Elmtaryd; and A for the province, Agunnaryd.
The gift shop on the ground floor was small but, for those of us without restraint, dangerous. I eyed a T-shirt with an Allen wrench design and real furniture, including the Mjolkpall stool that Kamprad and son Jonas designed in 2004. (Kamprad said he was inspired by his first job, milking cows on the family farm.) I checked out the Dala horses and the lingonberries, both of which appeared in myriad forms. I Google-translated a lot of words.
Kotet, the museum’s restaurant, offers five versions of meatballs with different accompaniments. The traditional Kottbullar cozies up with potatoes, lingonberries, pickled vegetables, and cream sauce; the salmon balls share plate space with three kinds of peas, egg and potatoes. I picked the veggie balls, which seemed to have rolled east into India. The kitchen staff piled on the curry, yellow rice, mango chutney, dill raita, chapati bread, and roasted chickpeas.
I carried my meal across the parking lot to the hotel. I went upstairs to my room, curled up in the Rodtoppa comforter, and lay my head on the Arenpris pillows. Then, I bid my fantasy a good night.
Ikea Museum. Exhibits explore such topics as Swedish history, Scandinavian design, and furniture fads. English-language tours are held in July and August. Daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed on eves and days for Christmas, New Year’s and the summer solstice. Admission: Adults, $6; children (under 18), free. Information: ikeamuseum.com/en
Ikea Hotell. The hotel is completely furnished with Ikea products, down to the trash can in the fitness center. Information: ikeahotell.se/en.