Where should the sofa go?

Good advice is never hard to come by at IKEA.

Interior painted with watercolour of living room in modern 1950s style with blond wood furniture, art and sculpture.
Interior painted with watercolour of living room in modern 1950s style with blond wood furniture, art and sculpture.

Selling furniture is one thing. Helping people realise their dreams is quite another. For IKEA, good tips and advice are just as important as design and low prices.

Moving in together in a new home is one of the most exciting things in life. So you can imagine the anticipation in young couple Helge and Märta Svensson in autumn 1956, as they set off for IKEA in Älmhult to choose furniture and other bits for their new home in the town of Valdemarsvik. At the showroom in an old joinery in Älmhult they see everything a modern home could need, from furniture and rugs to curtains and lighting.

Black-and-white photo of big white building, 1940s and 1950s cars parked outside.
Black-and-white photo of crowded showroom, people in 1950s clothes looking at furniture and lamps.
The Lagerblad building, an old joinery in Älmhult, was the first permanent IKEA showroom. Here, customers could have a look at and feel the products.

A few weeks later they receive something in the mail: a hand-painted watercolour where the IKEA interior designers have included the furniture they believe would suit the young family. Helge and Märta place an order, and in March 1957 a complete set of furnishings is delivered to their home, including beds, sofas, easy chairs, a nest of tables, storage, lighting and more. The price is 11,000 kronor (EUR 1,100), which was about a year’s salary in those days.

Interior design sketch with list of furnishings and cost. Also, interior watercolour of bedroom in modern 1950s style.
Bring out the pencil and ruler! With the help of room plans in the catalogue, customers could plan their new furnishings.

Since the beginning, IKEA has been giving this kind of solid advice to its customers. From 1954 until 1964, you could call the store direct on phone number 1000 in Älmhult for home furnishing advice. In fact, Ingvar Kamprad himself might answer!

The 1955 catalogue offered customers professional assistance under the header “Where should the sofa go?”. Just answer 20 questions and pay 20 kronor (EUR 2), and the solution would come in the post. And if you spent 1,500 kronor (EUR 150) or more, the fee was deducted. You could even order a swatch-box with samples of different woods and textiles.

Questionnaire for customers in the 1957 IKEA catalogue, with small silhouette drawings of a house and furniture.
Questionnaire for customers in the 1957 IKEA catalogue, with space for sketching one’s apartment.
In the late 1950s, customers could fill in a form with 20 questions and send it to the interior design experts at IKEA. They would then get a quote, sketches and textile swatches in the post. This was the IKEA way of promising a “dream home at a dream price”. IKEA catalogue 1957.

The catalogue did of course also serve an educational purpose. From the beginning of the Sixties, when adwoman Brita Lang helped out with the texts and images in the catalogue, IKEA began staging scenes to better show how the furniture went together in an interior.

Page from catalogue with line drawing of one-bedroom apartment next to description and price list.
A drawing showing a one-bedroom apartment intended for a newly-wed couple, as suggested by the interior designers at IKEA. IKEA catalogue 1962.
Interior in 1960s style with potted plants in window, red rug, beige sofa group, dining group and sideboard of wood.
And this is how it turned out in reality! IKEA catalogue 1962.

The 1950s catalogues also included room plans, where people could sketch in the furniture themselves to see how it would fit in their home. This is probably just the kind of drawing that Helge and Märta would have filled in at home before setting off for Älmhult to see the furniture up close.

Much of the knowledge these days is collected from the customers themselves. By interviewing people around the world in their homes, IKEA gains invaluable insight into people’s needs, challenges and dreams – which is then turned into products that meet their needs.

Nowadays, you can’t just call Älmhult 1000 for advice. But modern technology offers new ways of planning your home. Using the IKEA Home Planner tool, customers can plan everything from their own kitchen or dining space to their home office in peace and quiet, from the sofa. Professional assistance is of course also available at IKEA stores.

Screen on laptop showing IKEA website planning tool for kitchens, bathrooms and closets.
With today’s digital tools, it’s easy to plan your new interior from the comfort of your own sofa.

For sure, Artificial Intelligence (AI), will provide entirely new means to furnish the home virtually. What if it was possible to scan a room with an app, remove all the furniture digitally, refurbish it and then place an order from the comfort of your own home? Glorious future!

So what happened to Helge and Märta’s furniture later on? Well, in 2008 they got in touch with IKEA in Älmhult and asked if the company might be interested in having some of it back. “We’ve got so much stuff,” they wrote, “and we’ve just sold our summer cottage and don’t have room for everything at home.” And so it was that some of the well-kept furniture from 1957 travelled the opposite way, from Valdemarsvik to Älmhult, almost exactly half a century later.

PS. The names are fictitious, but the story is true!

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