Updated: Oct 3
If you've ever met me, you know that the majority of my weekends are spent browsing intently through the multiple floors and showrooms of my local IKEA. I know every product and recognize them in "the wild". My house subtly screams of IKEA furniture and is a gentle reminder of the countless hours my husband has had to slave over the bits and pieces with a hex key. So imagine my joy when I discovered the holy land itself, located in Älmhult, Sweden.
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The Flagship IKEA
I was browsing for things to do in and around Copenhagen. We had a few nights to kill in the area and I wondered if maybe Malmo, just across the really cool Øresund bridge: half-bridge half-underwater tunnel to Sweden, had an IKEA. It's Sweden, the home of the IKEA brand, so surely there had to be something. But as I googled "IKEA Sweden" a magical, wonderful thing popped up in my search results within just 2 hours' drive of Copenhagen. It was the pinnacle of retail glory, the flagship of the greatest store on Earth, the first ever IKEA store in Älmhult, Sweden, built in 1958.
My god, I must go! I thought. I must see this store for myself! But the pot was so so much sweeter than I ever imagined. The old store is now an IKEA MUSEUM!! What?! The glee! The excitement!
Good lord take my money now, I'm a-comin!
But hold my beer for a second because I may pass out...right next to the IKEA museum is the IKEA HOTEL AND RESTAURANT!
What we Expected at the IKEA Hotel in Sweden
My husband joked that we'd have to build our own beds and furniture and figures we'll be dining on Swedish meatballs with a slide along tray for dinner.
I discovered from photos and blogs that the museum was sort of a time capsule of styles and furniture from the past 60 years, all housed in the decommissioned flagship store. It offers a restaurant, fun photo shoots to make your own IKEA catalog cover, and of course the slide your tray along meatball meal in their cafeteria. The IKEA Museum store looked ah-mazing online and I was geared up to buy one of these t-shirts provided that they still had it.
As an IKEA lover, I wasn't sure if the excitement was going to pay off. Was the IKEA Hotel going to be all I hoped?
The IKEA Hotel: Upon Arrival
Like a fan girl, I literally choked up with tears at check-in. "I'm a BIG IKEA fan!", I told the porcelain doll of a Swedish check in lady. She smiled graciously, but I started looking around the room - everywhere I recognized brands I'd browse through in the catalog, the website and my weekly trips to my local IKEA store.
I noticed IKEA beers in the fridge case behind her, and inside I jumped with glee that we had finally arrived. Tears broke off my ability to speak. I was SO excited to be there.
Smaland Is Real!: A History Lesson
Almhult Sweden, The Land of Dreams
Smaland, otherwise known to typical IKEA visitors as the play place for children in the stores, is an actual region of Sweden, where the Smalanders take pride in their deep roots with the earth, the forest, the soil, and so on. Ingvar Kamprad may as well be my holy man, because he not only harnessed the power of the people of this land and its fruits, but he also took a dream of prosperity and turned it into an empire of DIY furniture as we know it today.
In the early 1940s, barely out of high school, Ingvar began his enterprise from his family farm called Elmtaryd, in the paris of Agunnaryd. In 1943 he registered IKEA's name:
Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd
At the time he was selling mail order products fashioned from the local products of the land, utilizing the resources of local craftsmen. He imported ballpoint pens from America, a big hit might I add, and sold everything from heaters to jewelry. It wasn't until he started attending the furniture fairs that he came to realize shipping furniture was very expensive.
Thus was born the DIY buy it in pieces approach to selling furniture. He was banned from several of these furniture fairs, heralded as a bit of a cheat I suppose.
Ingvar always focused on quality and value to the people. In fact, IKEA finds a price point for a product and works backwards from there. For instance, I want to sell a $40 chair. So what materials can I get away with building this standard price chair with?
As success rolled in, Ingvar moved the business from the farm to a local warehouse in 1953 but it was dilapidated from flooding and not the best place to settle in. Just 5 years later, the first IKEA store as we know it today was opened. Housewives worked in the stores as showroom chauffeurs. They could be "booked" to show tours to families and help them design their homes. The IKEA museum now sits in this 1958 building today.
Ingvar had a profound sense of duty to family and business. Every IKEA store is a franchise. Every material comes with a sense of pride for the land, and a consideration for recyclability.
The IKEA Museum
With a dedicated test lab complete with stress tests, odor tests, pilling and endurance testing, Ingvar ensured each product line was thoroughly vetted before sale. He'd forget part numbers and article numbers from his IKEA catalog, and instead came up with names for the product lines we know today like Hemnes and Poang. Products were designed with Swedish tradition in mind, such as Hemnes daybed, based on a kitchen bench you'd find in homes across turn of the century Smaland.
The Museum showcased examples from various periods across the last 50+ years, including areas for making your own catalog photo shoot. My daughter and I had a lot of fun rollicking around bed displays and posing for photos.
Overall, the museum experience was really well done, and very enjoyable. We enjoyed all the hands on exhibits and we read nearly every sign, which I never do in museums.
My IKEA museum package from the hotel provided me with $20 to spend in the museum store, which was tough to do! I bought a tshirt and lots of other swag, and still struggled to meet the $20. That's all to say, it's super affordable!
The museum also offers a large cafeteria and IKEA touches everywhere that made me swoon.
When Ingvar found great success at his Almhult store, he needed somewhere for his patrons to stay overnight. It was a long day of shopping, as we know, and people would come from far and wide to enjoy the pleasure of furniture shopping. In 1964 he built the IKEA hotel and restaurant directly across from the store's parking lot, where it still sits today.
Now, as far as the hotel goes, my husband was right. They did offer Swedish meatballs, but frankly, it was, it was really, really good. Probably the best Swedish meatballs I've ever had. Meal time at the hotel was pretty good, but the menu was much more limited than I would have expected. With the museum package your meal is free (excluding drinks), but the offer was either a hamburger or a tapas plate. Luckily my daughter was offered the kids menu meatballs, which I ended up devouring.
They even offered IKEA beers! The lager was great and tasted a lot like Heineken. Win for the IKEA family.
Breakfast was solid and included the traditional European offerings of boiled eggs, cold cuts and cheeses, etc. IKEA hotel also offered 'Swedish pancakes', which were like tiny crepes to put jam on, and pickled dill herring. Yum.
The hotel furniture was of course all IKEA products top to bottom and included kids play areas, lounge areas for dining or relaxing, and the original restaurant from 1964.
How to book your stay at the IKEA Hotel and Museum in Sweden
Look for a package deal on the IKEA direct website. We got the IKEA Museum package, which includes:
Overnight stay in a family room
Main dish per person in the restaurant (the rest is a la carte)
Free admission to the IKEA museum
200 SEK ($20 USD) to spend in the IKEA museum store
It was amazing to be there, although to most it may seem like any other Fairfield Inn or Hampton Inn. For me, it was like Disneyland. An echo of the past, a beacon towards the future, and a whole lot of DIY dreams in between.