Dear Brita!

An unexpected friendship.

At the end of the 1950s, the IKEA catalogues looked completely different to the later editions, with their styled homes and well-planned rooms. In fact, if we’re honest, the photos in the early catalogues were pretty threadbare. A sofa, a rug and a lamp, pulled together into a little group, sometimes by Ingvar Kamprad himself. All that was soon to change when a certain Brita Lang made an entrance at IKEA.

Ingvar Kamprad was a keen letter writer, and he knew the art of formulating himself simply, powerfully, and often with a charming tone. So when, in the late 1950s, he received a letter from a woman named Brita Lang, he immediately liked the straightforward tone and sharp content.

“Are you completely satisfied with the Möbel-Ikéa catalogue, and do you feel that its design is in accordance with your company’s intentions? … As we know, interest in home furnishings is endless among the Swedish people, and this is certainly something your company could build on. You, like no other, have an opportunity to really show how to furnish a home beautifully, at an astoundingly low cost. I would like to help you in this endeavour.”

The letter writer was freelance editor and adwoman Brita Lang from Stockholm, and her timing couldn’t have been better. The IKEA catalogue’s appearance had not developed much since it first came out. Ingvar and his colleagues had very little experience of what an inviting interior design photo should look like. It was, quite simply, time to modernise the catalogue design, and here was someone who wanted to help do just that – perfect! Ingvar immediately invited Brita to Älmhult to help out with the catalogue on site.

“I am in no doubt that you’ll want to pay me the ludicrous salary I’ll be asking for.”
– Brita Lang

There was just one minor detail to iron out – her salary. Ingvar was known for his thrifty ways, but Brita was also a tough negotiator. “I am in no doubt that you’ll want to pay me the ludicrous salary I’ll be asking for,” she wrote in one letter. And she got it too. From the 1961 catalogue onwards, Brita Lang was responsible for giving IKEA a more modern design. She created the first inspiring room interiors that would become a feature of all future catalogues, with professional photographs and more vibrant descriptions. The catalogue came to be more like an interior design magazine, showing customers how the IKEA furniture would fit into their homes. Brita also helped with the copy, and on one occasion Ingvar wrote that what he mainly needed help with was “getting a bit of vigour into the general copy relating to the photos.”

Spread in 1960 IKEA catalogue with photos of basic room interiors and, on right, descriptions of furniture.
Rather dour and dry interiors in the IKEA catalogue 1960, before Brita Lang took charge.
Spread in IKEA catalogue 1961 with furniture descriptions and a full-page image of bright living room with flowers and a TV.
With adwoman Brita Lang at the helm, the photos of room interiors, as well as the descriptions in the 1961 IKEA catalogue, had changed dramatically and would continue to do so.
Picture of bright room interior with white and blue furniture, paintings on walls, sheer curtains and flowers in the window.
Great leaps had been taken in the 1962 IKEA catalogue, now depicting light and truly inviting interiors.

After their first joint catalogue was published, Ingvar wrote appreciatively:

“Sister Brita! Thanks for our call a few days ago. Good to hear your voice again. That catalogue that none of us thought would be ready in time is now being distributed, and compared to previous issues it’s better I think, at least in terms of presentation. With the exception of a few colour errors, I think your photos are excellent, and it will be exciting to see if this new way for us to sell produces the results we’re hoping for.”

It was, as they say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship. The preserved letters between Ingvar and Brita are both personal and humorous, and reflect the special chemistry between the adwoman from Stockholm and the entrepreneur from Älmhult. As the years passed, the tone of their correspondence became increasingly relaxed and familiar. In spring 1962 Brita begins one letter complaining over her pitiful condition:

“Dear Ingvar, Following a bout of flu I’m now skinny and sheer as a moon-ray, and only a new hairdo with pigtails prevents me walking by unnoticed.”

After that descriptive introduction, she gets straight to the point:

“I promised to write a few lines about the cover photo, and on that subject please look at the small sketch on the reverse of this page. The idea is that the new, floral sofa (and I am very concerned about its floweriness, but trust it will be all right) should be in the middle of the background and form the core of a seating group and table, perhaps DACKE or SIGTUNA, as well as two low and one high easy chair.”

“Interest in home furnishings is endless.”
– Brita Lang

Ingvar Kamprad tried several times to persuade Brita Lang to move to Älmhult permanently, but without success. After three years the two stopped their collaboration, but in that short time they managed to transform the somewhat dry catalogue into a publication showing modern settings and high-quality photos.

Endless interest

In December 2020 IKEA announced it was turning the final page on its phenomenal 70-year catalogue run. The very last IKEA catalogue on paper would be the 2021 issue (published in autumn 2020). Online shopping, social media and augmented reality have come to replace the printed catalogues, but it is still about sharing inspirational home furnishings with innovative solutions for a better everyday life. And Brita’s comment to Ingvar about interest in home furnishings being endless does appear to be true.

Below, a glimpse of Brita’s and Ingvar’s conversation.

Typewritten letter from Ingvar Kamprad to Brita Lang, 30 May 1961.
English translation of letter from Ingvar Kamprad to Brita Lang, 30 May 1961.
Ingvar Kamprad’s letter to Brita Lang, 30 May 1961. Original letter in Swedish to the left, English translation to the right.
Typewritten letter from Brita Lang to Ingvar Kamprad, 3 June 1961.
English translation of letter from Brita Lang to Ingvar Kamprad, 3 June 1961.
Brita Lang’s reply to Ingvar Kamprad, 3 June 1961. Original letter in Swedish to the left, English translation to the right.