The heaviest disaster

Grand (piano) plans.

Close-up of a red, worn electric organ with black and white keyboard.
Close-up of a red, worn electric organ with black and white keyboard.

IKEA has made many mistakes over the years and has learnt a lot, but the heaviest one of all involved pianos.

In January 1968, Ingvar Kamprad took a phone call from Eric Andersson, a builder and tuner of pianos from Malmö. Eric thought IKEA should start importing and selling pianos, which were increasingly popular in Swedish homes at the time. Ingvar showed a cautious interest and asked Eric to develop his thoughts in writing.

In a letter from 16 January 1968, piano enthusiast Eric writes that “the piano buyers of today place more importance on the instrument’s aesthetic values – appearance, shape and size – than on tone and the way it is played.” According to Eric’s long experience, about 70% of all first-time buyers wanted a piano that “went with their furnishing style.”

1970s interior with black and white furniture, white rya rug, and dark blue piano.
In the 1970 IKEA catalogue, IKEA launched English pianos in walnut, teak, blue or white, at reasonable prices. They were supplied by British company Kemble – and at IKEA the range was called RENN.

According to Eric Andersson, IKEA would be able to offer pianos that matched customers’ home furnishings and thereby take a considerable share of the market – which Eric said totalled 9,000–10,000 pianos a year in Sweden, in a market worth 3.5–4.5 million euros. Ingvar was quick to go along with the idea. He agreed that IKEA should have pianos in its range, as they had become “ambience-setting pieces, at least for many people.”

1970s interior with green-turquoise sofa, white rya rug, and white piano with red and white keys.
Ingvar Kamprad and piano expert Eric Andersson agreed: in the 1970s, the piano had become just as much a furnishing detail as a musical instrument. Here, the white-lacquered instrument with red keys matches the white rya rug and the ALLEGRO piano stool. Image from IKEA catalogue 1971.

Sweet music

Eric Andersson was employed at IKEA to develop the piano business, and in 1970 IKEA started selling pianos in different colours. The pianos were called RENN and purchased from British company Kemble, including an electronic instrument which IKEA described as “A fully transistorised electric organ.” Eric had good contacts in the piano industry, and knew that reasonably priced pianos could also be found in Japan. Great, thought IKEA, and placed an order. But on the long voyage to Sweden, the joins on the Japanese pianos came unglued. They all fell apart and had to be scrapped on arrival.

The fashionable pianos from England survived the journey across the North Sea, but once at the stores there was another problem. How would customers get the product home? Pianos could not be flat packed or carried in the car boot. In the end, pianos were discontinued.

Young family, man, woman and child in pram, looking at pianos exhibited in furniture showroom at IKEA 1973.
IKEA wanted to sell pianos that would blend into different furnishing styles typical of the time. Pianos in the RENN series came in dark blue, white, walnut and teak – and also as an electric organ.
Dark-haired smiling man in a black polo shirt looking slightly to the right, Eric Andersson.
Eric Andersson, innovator, piano builder and piano tuner, came to IKEA in the late 1960s. Together with Ingvar Kamprad, he developed the idea of the piano as an addition to the furnishings in any home.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Lars-Ivar Holmqvist, a buyer at IKEA in those days, describes the piano project as “a real farce” and says it was typical of IKEA to embark on something it had no real experience of. “We never made a penny out of it. But it was fun in a way, because it was typical IKEA to get involved in something so completely different.”

But Eric Andersson would not be held back. He took to heart Ingvar Kamprad’s attitude that mistakes were a good thing as long as you learnt something from them and didn’t repeat them. The pianos were abandoned, and Eric went on to work on completely different projects at IKEA, including the iconic STEN storage shelf and the SYSTEM 210 kitchen. IKEA veteran Jan Ahlsén, who worked with product development for more than 40 years, remembers him well.

“Eric was a wonderful person! An innovative extrovert, but in a balanced way. He was forward-looking and took things that happened on board, so that he could create for future needs. We travelled around Europe a lot for IKEA, in his used Volvo 164 Automat. A lot of product development happened in that car, and in the motels where we had to stay because it kept breaking down! He was good fun as well. IKEA wasn’t that well known in those days, and when people asked what it stood for, he would jokingly reply ‘Ingvar Kamprad Eric Andersson’!”