Make yourself at home

Motell IKEA.

Large pool full of bathing children next to sunbeds and motel building, Motell IKEA. 1950s cars in background.
Large pool full of bathing children next to sunbeds and motel building, Motell IKEA. 1950s cars in background.

When IKEA opened a new showroom in the small Swedish village of Älmhult in 1958, more and more visitors started arriving by car and train, attracted by offers in the IKEA catalogue. Long-distance travellers had to stay overnight, and IKEA was often asked about local hotels and rooms to rent. IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad soon saw a business opportunity and started thinking about his own solution.

Ingvar Kamprad probably found his inspiration for an IKEA motel on a trip to the US in 1961. He wanted to find out how the Americans dealt with trade and distribution, so for a few weeks he visited mail order companies, retailers and warehouses in Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas and elsewhere. He spent a lot of nights at the modern motels, which were enjoying their golden age in the States. The extension of highways like Route 66 had created a demand for basic accommodation for motorists. Ingvar’s own photos from his US trip include some neon motel signs and kidney-shaped swimming pools surrounded by colourful parasols and sun loungers. Perhaps he was by a pool just like this after a long day when he got the idea for an IKEA motel in Älmhult.

Pool area with kidney-shaped blue pool and 1950s-style sun loungers.
Ingvar Kamprad’s trip to America in 1961 probably gave him some ideas for his own motel project in Älmhult.

Motel Swedish style

In 1962, town architect Claes Knutson of Alvesta was asked to design Älmhult’s first motel. Just a few years earlier, he had designed the large exhibition hall for IKEA in Älmhult, which later became the first IKEA store. The motel, with a restaurant and pool, was designed with 25 rooms in one-storey rows like terraced houses, and guests could park right outside the door, just like in America. Each room would be furnished with IKEA products in light oak with a shower and WC, as well as a terrace with pool view. The walls were clad in jute and the floors were given sound-insulating carpeting.

Construction site, large excavation for pool, a church visible in the background.
Many people in Älmhult were looking forward to having a heated pool at the motel, but treacherous liquid mud meant that construction took a long time.
Construction site, excavation for pool and low semi-finished buildings with motel rooms.
The motel rooms were built in low rows like terraced houses, like in America.

Construction began in 1962, but the ground proved to be soft and marshy, so the project took longer than expected. Installing the pump system for the pool involved digging in liquid mud, which is hard to keep out of the way when casting foundations. A 1962 notice in the info for IKEA staff – who were particularly looking forward to the pool – kept people’s hopes up. The writer promises that the building contractor is “…of an optimistic nature, and his co-workers appear to be stimulated by the challenges, so I think we’ll have a swimming pool in due course.” Not until almost two years later, in February 1964, could the magazine note: “Finally! After much grief and heartache, we can now give the motel a test run. … I wonder how many of us will get webbed feet eventually?”

1960s style motel room interior, low oak sofa and yellow curtains, a couple drinking beer, coffee and eating snacks.
The motel rooms were furnished in what, at the time, was modern furniture from IKEA, with fabric wallpaper and wall-to-wall carpeting.
Large pool full of bathing children, people in warm clothing stand on the edge, 1950s cars seen in background.
In summer 1963, IKEA started letting tourists and co-workers test the motel. In October, the first people jumped into the pool.
Men in suits, two with cameras, stand on the edge of a pool where children swim.
A lot of people came when the pool first opened on 26 October 1963. Pictured here, from right: Gillis Lundgren, IKEA head of advertising at the time; Ingvar Kamprad; journalists Thorsten Almkvist and Stig Olof Darpö. Paving is still under way in the background.
Smiling man in his 30s, Ingvar Kamprad, bathing in swimming pool.
Here, Ingvar Kamprad is also taking a dip.
Image from above of swimming pool in autumn weather, two warmly dressed men in the foreground looking at children bathing.
It was chilly on the pool’s opening day. In the foreground, Ingvar Kamprad with a colleague dressed in wool coat and hat.
Warmly dressed visitors walk around a motel building and pool in autumn-like weather.
The public flocked to Älmhult to tour the motel and look at the new swimming pool.

Synchronised and competition swimming

When the grand opening took place, on a beautiful summer’s day in August 1964, the motel had already been tested in secret for almost a year. The first guests had arrived in summer 1963, and the motel was often fully booked although neither the restaurant nor the pool was ready.

Blue and white logo with text Motell IKEA and illustration with wine glass, plate and waves.
The IKEA advertising department designed the 1963 logo for Motell IKEA.
Ingvar Kamprad on a roof, dressed in suit with microphone, a swimming pool and mingling people in the background.
Despite being a bit scared of heights, Ingvar Kamprad got onto the motel roof to give a speech and give photographers a good view of the motel’s opening in 1964.

Now Ingvar Kamprad gave an opening speech before proudly taking invited guests and the press on a guided tour of the premises. In the pool there were swimming competitions and synchronised swimming. In the afternoon the general public were let in, so that locals and tourists could admire what was quite a unique place in those days. lngvar Kamprad himself said: “Älmhult now has a swimming pool that solves one of its leisure problems.”

An audience and several police and a police car at the edge of a pool, a policeman throws a life jacket into pool.
The day after the opening, Ingvar Kamprad talked about arranging lifeguard exercises in the pool. But this would not happen until 1977, in association with the local police and fire brigade. Here, an ongoing exercise, 1985.
Audience around swimming pool where one stands in a small rowing boat and shows life saving of a person in the pool.
Lifeguard days were a permanent feature at Motell IKEA well into the 1990s, attracting children and adults from the local area.
Children play in a boat set up on land, a policeman stands next to the boat talking to the children.
At the lifeguard events, IKEA also handed out life jackets for the children, to increase water safety in the area. When the distribution of life jackets stopped in the 1990s, the focus on safety continued with giving out cycle helmets instead.
Young woman with short hair and 1960s clothes shops in a small kiosk.
Many Älmhult residents took the opportunity to improve their swimming skills in the pool. Tickets could be bought at a small kiosk at the entrance.
Close-up of stamp card with the text Motell IKEA, bathing card.
Regular visitors could buy a multi-pass at a discount.

Pool memories

One of the people who remembers the heated pool is Ingela Johansson, born and raised in Älmhult. She would later work in interior design for IKEA for almost 30 years, but in the 1960s she was learning to swim in the beautiful but cold lakes of Småland. “Our swimming teachers would stand on the jetties wearing fur coats, it was dark, gloomy and freezing,” says Ingela. “Swimming in the warm waters of the motel was just wonderful.”

Little girl in red swimsuit, Ingela Johansson, sits with man in trunks, her father, on a large rock by lake.
Ingela Johansson was one of the many children who were happy to exchange cold Småland lakes with a heated pool. “That bathing costume has been in the Motell IKEA pool a lot,” says Ingela, pictured here with her father.
Swimming pool with bathing children and adults, red and white tulips in the foreground.
In summer, the pool was a popular gathering-place for children and young people in and around Älmhult.

Like so many other children in Älmhult, Ingela and her best friend Ann Kristin spent many summers in the Motell IKEA pool. “Admission cost one krona (EUR 0.1),” she remembers. “Later on we had a multi-pass that was stamped at the small kiosk by the entrance. I had a red bathing costume and red clogs. I was just a kid and was really excited to see the older girls in their fashionable clothes and trendy patent leather boots.”

After a swim, Ingela would often go to the nearby IKEA store. In those days IKEA sold LPs. “Compilation albums like Top of the Pops were cheapest, so I bought those,” says Ingela. “I also spent a long time walking around looking at furniture, colours and designs. Even as a child I was very interested in interior design, and I rearranged the furniture in my room all the time.”

After these early experiences and impressions, Ingela later studied design and decoration and started working at IKEA right after graduating. What followed was a long international career as an interior designer at IKEA, often responsible for all the stores in a country. But Ingela’s first job at IKEA was as a teenager, at the store’s restaurant in Älmhult. “In comparison, the motel restaurant was much nicer, with white tablecloths and well-dressed staff,” says Ingela. She did not like the IKEA restaurant’s synthetic uniform. Worst of all was the “ugly head scarf”. The only time she and other staff from the store restaurant didn’t have to wear it was when they were helping at social events linked to the annual range presentation at IKEA.

Three people mingle by the pool in 1970s clothes, Jörgen Svensson, IB Bayley and Christina Folkinger.
For decades, IKEA organised many fun pool parties. Here, IKEA co-workers Jörgen Svensson, IB Bayley and Christina Folkinger socialise in hairstyles typical of the age.
Snow in front of the entrance to IKEA Motel, several KLIPPAN sofas set up on top of each other outside.
Motell IKEA was often used for range presentations, a fair for co-workers and invited journalists from around the world. The presentations were a preview of upcoming new products at IKEA. Here, KLIPPAN sofas have been stacked outside the motel.

A wet press viewing

The range presentation was a kind of fair introducing the new IKEA range every year. By the early 1970s it had grown into a major event, attracting widespread interest and putting Älmhult on the map. It would fill the motel with journalists from Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, and eventually other countries where IKEA opened stores.

For Ingela and her friends it was exciting to work at the social event at the motel, especially as they didn’t have to wear that awful head scarf. “We were so happy to get rid of that thing on our heads so we could look a bit prettier. I mean, imagine if a handsome international journalist turned up!” jokes Ingela, who used to run back and forth between the motel and pool with trays and glasses.

When darkness fell, many guests would end up in the pool in their suit or evening dress.

Ingela says that when darkness fell, many guests would end up in the pool in their suit or evening dress. Some were thrown in, and others went in voluntarily. This may well have been the first of many events and pool parties that were later organised, both by IKEA and local businesses. Swimming, music and dancing late into the night attracted a lot of people, making the motel a popular gathering-place for several decades. This was particularly true for IKEA co-workers, who enjoyed relaxing, socialising and juggling ideas away from the office.

A laid-out buffet next to an old built-in iron stove.
A traditional iron stove…
Brick fireplace in 1970s style restaurant, diners sitting at a table.
…and a brick open fireplace created the right atmosphere in the restaurant.

In 1974 the motel changed name to IKEA Värdshus. Motel was starting to feel old-fashioned, and Värdshus (which means Inn) was more contemporary. Perhaps the change was also a move away from the American feel to something cosier and more homely. Lennart Ekmark, design manager for IKEA at the time and responsible for the motel renovations, even installed an old iron stove in the dining room to create the right atmosphere.

Hotel with a capital H

For almost 60 years, IKEA in Älmhult has been welcoming overnight guests from near and far, serving meatballs, making beds, and providing a natural meeting-place. Over the years there have been various extensions and remodellings, to meet the changing needs of travellers. In 2003, the last of the two original American-type rows of rooms was demolished, to make way for modern hotel rooms. The pool, almost 40 years old by then, had become worn out and expensive to maintain. So it was filled in and turned into a green courtyard, with a small cottage and some growing patches.

Casually dressed people mingling by a small black house, in the foreground you can see pallets with plants.
The site of the old swimming pool is now a lush courtyard.

2016 again saw some extensive remodelling and a change of name, from IKEA Värdshus to IKEA Hotell. What started out as 25 rooms with their own parking space is today a contemporary hotel for business travellers and families alike. With 254 rooms and one kitchen it is not the biggest hotel in the world, but it is the only IKEA hotel in the world. Just a stone’s throw away is IKEA Museum, which opened in 2016 in the building that was once the first IKEA store.

A casually dressed couple comes out of a white building that has a sign with the text IKEA Hotell.
The low rows of rooms from the 1960s have been replaced by simple, purpose-built buildings.
Two armchairs in front of low wooden tables and brick fireplace.
The brick open fireplace has been retained.
Check-in counter in hotel lobby, counter is covered with copper sheet.
Part of the copper sheeting from the old motel facade has been reused in today’s reception desk.

Today’s IKEA Hotell still bears traces of the original building from 1964, such as the open fireplace in natural stone, and the limestone floor in the restaurant. Other parts have been reused, such as the copper sheeting that adorned the facade, now part of the reception desk in the lobby. The original ambition, to offer temporary accommodation with a homely feel and warm, friendly service at low prices, is of course still there. The site of the swimming pool is now a lush, tranquil courtyard with room for conversation and relaxation. Shut your eyes, and maybe you’ll hear the sound of splashing and children’s laughter, even catch a faint smell of chlorine.