Whoa, The Ikea Catalog Used To Be Very Different

Every July, Ikea reveals its annual catalog to much fanfare. At a global distribution volume of 203 million copies, it might be one of the most widely read publications in the world. Putting together this 328-page booklet is certainly no small feat: An Ikea brand rep has confirmed to Refinery29 that over 1,800 photo options were shot just for the cover alone, and setting up the interior studio displays in its headquarters in Sweden was a fourth-month-long process. With so many moving parts, no wonder the brand has enlisted a "human catalog" to help out.
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Having been in print since 1951, the catalog is not only a useful chronicle of furniture trends: It also serves as a lens into how our living situation and family structure have evolved over time. Intrigued by how the catalog encapsulates modern family life, we invited Tanja Dolphin, Ikea's group catalogue leader, to take us on a trip down memory — with exclusive archive scans provided by the company. Be prepared to learn a few surprising facts about the catalogue.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ikea.
Dads Walk The Walk

In the last 20 to 30 years, there has been a seismic shift in the role of the father: As the number of women in the workforce doubled between 1948 and 2001, more and more men have taken on the role as the caregiver of the household. This change in family structure has been reflected in the catalogues.

Left: An image from Ikea's 2005 catalog
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Photo: Courtesy of Ikea.
Dolphin, who has worked for Ikea for 20 years, recalls the brand showing men engaging in less traditional family roles beginning in the early '90s. "By the end of the decade, we were showing a lot of photos of young fathers taking of babies, cooking, and baking," she says. "We've also depicted more single fathers engaging with children and telling them bedtime stories. Prior to that, adult models were seldomly used in our shots — only in showcasing children's products."

Left: An image from Ikea's 2005 catalog
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Photo: Courtesy of Ikea.
Blended Families Are More Represented

As divorce rate continues to rise over time, "patchwork families" — households with children from different marriages — are becoming the norm. To convey the move towards diverse families and Generation Z's heightened sense of individuality, the brand has incorporated more photos of family members from blended backgrounds "together in the same room but engaged in different activities," says Dolphin.

Left: An image from Ikea's 2004 catalog
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Photo: Courtesy of Ikea.
Living Space Became Much More Fluid

When home computers first became widely available at the turn of the century, living room and home offices in the catalog were styled to have a dedicated area for desktop computers.

Left: An image from Ikea's 2003 catalog
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Photo: Courtesy of Ikea.
Now, these "borders" between rooms have all but disappeared, due to the ubiquity of laptops and our increased desire to work and entertain, and socialize in one space.

Left: An image from Ikea's 2018 catalog
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Photo: Courtesy of Ikea.
Small Space Became A Thing In The '00s

These days, it's hard to imagine an Ikea store without products made to fit right into our pint-sized homes, but the brand's foray into small space solutions is actually relatively recent: Thanks to rapid urbanization, living spaces were becoming smaller and smaller as the millennium approached.

Left: An image from Ikea's 2003 catalog
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Photo: Courtesy of Ikea.
Ikea, quick to respond to the trend, started selling smart storage solutions designed for tiny rooms in the early aughts. This culminated in an entire catalog in 2003 named "Go Cubic", dedicated to small spaces.

Left: The cover of Ikea's 2003 "Go Cubic" catalog
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Photo: Courtesy of Ikea.
The catalog is packed with stackable and multi-functional products that make the most of vertical height — many of which are still useful today.

Left: An image from Ikea's 2003 catalog
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Photo: Courtesy of Ikea.
Now, we just need someone to tell us how we can get our hands on these classic catalogs...

Left: An image from Ikea's 2003 catalog
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