1980s metal

Get industrial!

Booming stock markets, shoulder pads and postmodern design. The 1980s were about equal parts decadence and optimism. For IKEA it was a challenging decade, with both expansion and a quest for an identity. Could steel wire furniture be part of the answer?

Necessity is the mother of invention. Much of the work at IKEA is about finding unexpected solutions to everyday problems. And sometimes, you have to look in some unusual places. In the mid-1980s, IKEA started thinking about how to come up with new products in steel and other metals. Furniture made of steel tubing had of course been made since the 1930s, but the tubing was expensive and heavy to transport. Was it possible to find a simpler, more affordable alternative? The answer was found at a company that manufactured shopping trolleys. Here you could see the trolleys being made by machines, without intervention from a human hand.

Large industrial machine lights up the surrounding darkness with orange welding sparks and red-hot metal.
There were some unexpected solutions to be found on the factory floor.
Red-hot spinning spool in industrial machine.
In the 1980s, the wheels of the steel industry were turning.

The wire was delivered directly to the factory on large rolls, so it cost far less to buy than the metal tubing made specially for furniture. This was the inspiration for Niels Gammelgaard’s series MOMENT and the JÄRPEN easy chair, which were both made out of thick metal wire.

They were immediate sales successes, and IKEA soon began making more products out of industrial metal – such as the NIKLAS shelf, which was made in factories that normally made ladders and bicycles. And things have gone on like that ever since.

Metal shopping trolley.
From this…
Easy chair made from metal wire frame, and black upholstery.
…to this! A manufacturer of shopping trolleys created special frames of steel mesh, which were used for the JÄRPEN easy chair. EUR 16.90, 1983.
Sofa made from metal wire frame, and green upholstery.
Inspired by postmodern design, Niels Gammelgaard created the futuristic MOMENT sofa in 1985. It was based on a unique collaboration between IKEA and a manufacturer of shopping trolleys, which created the sofa’s special frame made of thick steel wire, welded into a mesh. EUR 149, 1985.