This Is Why Ikea No Longer Looks Like Ikea

Florals haven’t been groundbreaking since long before The Devil Wears Prada lit up our screens, but when Ikea does them — on a couch, no less — it certainly feels remarkable. Shocking, even. Think about it: Since when does Ikea do kitsch? Since when does Ikea do anything, really, but the signature Scandi-chic aesthetic that has cemented it as the home furnishings go-to for everyone from college freshmen to newlyweds to the budget-conscious?
The couch in question is called the Leikny and it looks like something you might find in a flea market — or perhaps at grandma’s house. That’s not a bad thing! From fake plants to patterned wallpaper, home decor once considered cheesy or old-fashioned is seeing a revival. Plus, the runways have been brimming with Victorian vibes recently, from those suddenly omnipresent prairie dresses to a smattering of Laura Ashley-esque florals. It’s not hard to imagine where the inspiration for the couch may have come from, but it still feels noticeably out of step with Ikea’s essential…Ikea-ness.
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“I've noticed the changes in Ikea's aesthetic,” says Jules Yap, the blogger and bona fide Ikea expert behind the website IKEAHackers. “They've [recently] dabbled with weird-glam (Omedelbar), ugly (Föremål), street (Spanst) and now granny floral.”
While Ikea couldn’t share exact specifics about the process that goes into designing new items, creative leader Maria O’Brian told Refinery29 via email: “The Leikny flower pattern is one of these more ornamental maximalist styles that we think is a nice addition to what Ikea can offer. Throughout the year we want the customers to be able to visit the homepage or shop and always feel inspired by the many sides of what Ikea can offer, both more maximalist flower patterns and minimal modernism.”
It’s not just the couch that feels like a remarkable recent addition to the brand’s repertoire. Ikea’s 2018 holiday catalog, which in past years has featured mostly white and metallic hues punctuated by pops of classic red, green, and royal blue, is done up in sumptuous cranberry and turquoise. The requisite twinkly lights and Christmas trees are present, but there’s a richness and texture to it all that feels fresh. The lighting is moodier, making use of every possible shadow. Mostly, it’s undeniably trendy, with flowers featuring prominently throughout and disco balls lolling around in one corner.
“This collection has been inspired by more continental aesthetics and has consciously been made not to look Scandinavian, bright and light,” O’Brian shares. “We wanted the winter season at Ikea in 2018 to feel more mystical, traditional but also modern, more continental than Scandinavian and have a pallet of jewel colors and darker woods.”
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And then, of course, there are the collaborations. While the true golden age of high-end designer/mass retailer collabs feels like it’s largely passed, Ikea has seen success with many of their recent partnerships with the likes of Louis Vuitton artistic director Virgil Abloh, Lego, Adidas, Solange’s cultural platform Saint Heron, and streetwear designer Christ Stamp. Thanks to this mix of household names and boundary-breaking creatives, these partnerships have pushed a range of outside-the-box styles into stores.
Translating fashion’s streetwear aesthetic into the home, for example, is something no other mainstream company has really attempted. Some of the results, with their clean lines and neutral colors, don’t look that different from Ikea’s usual offerings. Others, however, like a black-on-black basketball hoop or shelves geared for skateboard storage from the Spanst collection, seem a dramatic departure.
Abloh’s designs for the company, meanwhile, have played on its iconic status, acting as a nod to fashion’s recent preoccupation with the blue and yellow branding. There’s a blue and yellow couch (with the cushion prominently labeled “cushion” in typical Abloh fashion), a red rug that claims to be blue, and most meta of all, a double-strap bag that riffs on Balenciaga’s luxed-up 2017 version of Ikea’s quintessential blue Frakta shopping bag. If there was any confusion as to whether or not Ikea is in the know about today’s meme-like fashion trends, let this put it to rest.
“I would say it's experimental. These are usually launched as limited edition collections, in collaboration with a renowned designer. It offers something fresh, surprising, and perhaps, will appeal to the non-typical Ikea customer, so drawing them into the franchise in the process,” Yap says of the collabs.
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After all, there are only so many fold-out couches or modular bookshelf units a person really needs in a lifetime. Even loyal customers — especially as they begin making more money and can afford more options — probably don’t find themselves at Ikea more than once, maybe twice, a year. Unless, of course, there something they just have to have. Business interests aside, there’s something to be said for Ikea’s willingness to experiment.
“We are always interested in learning new things though our collaborations and also we want to provide our customers with new, inspiring products that can appeal to many different people,” O’Brian notes. “That’s why there are many aesthetic [expressions] in the collections, not everyone has the same taste. Imagine how boring it would be if we all did!”
When the store that’s long been known for pared-down staples decides to take some risks, it gives the rest of us permission to do so as well. So go ahead, buy the floral couch, and while you’re at it, add some power-clashing pillows and an oriental rug. Minimalism is officially on hiatus.
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