IKEA design chief wants you to add your own touches

Thu Oct 25, 2012 11:48am EDT
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By Anna Ringstrom

ALMHULT, Sweden (Reuters) - IKEA customers used to assembling its flat-packed furniture will, if the Swedish firm's design boss has his way, soon be able to add their own touches to products before buying.

The furniture retailer, which has grown into a global giant from its small-town roots in the heart of southern Sweden, is seeking new markets, with India on its horizon.

Even there IKEA - known for its budget furniture in huge stores - expects to keep to a Scandinavian form characterized by stripped, functional design, IKEA Design Manager Marcus Engman told Reuters.

"Having customers doing some of the job is nothing new. Historically, that has been about them assembling the products to keep prices low. But I believe in letting them take part also in the creative work," he said in an interview in Almhult where IKEA was born 69 years ago and where its creative hub still is.

"It would enable them to turn an IKEA product, which will probably always be mass produced, into their own unique thing. I think this will be important for us going forward," said Engman, sitting on a Klippan couch, which was developed by his father, also a former design chief at IKEA.

He said customers might make adjustments to a sofa, or create their own fabric patterns via the IKEA website. "We are not that far away technology-wise. What we need to find is a way to do it and still keep our low prices."

IKEA, whose name includes the initials of founder Ingvar Kamprad combined with the first letters of the farm and village where he grew up, has 338 stores in 40 countries across Europe, North America and Asia.

Kamprad, 86, a billionaire who lives in Switzerland, but who keeps up a thrifty image when he visits his homeland, founded IKEA as a mail order firm when he was only 17 and keeps a role as senior advisor to the foundations which controls the empire.   Continued...