Vibrant palettes, playful shapes and tubular metal designs. IKEA's 90s collections scream vintage core and address several generations.
Growing up in a house in the ‘90s, I vividly remember being surrounded by similar furniture: Boeri-style curved door handles, red stair banisters, desks with plastic wheels and glass trolleys with fancifully colored cylindrical frames defined my landscape.
During that time, I still remember my father building a perfect copy of Rietveld's Zig Zag for me, the same inspiration that led Danish designer Verner Panton to manufacture the Vilbert chair together with IKEA, which resembles the angular seat. Surprisingly, the IKEA piece went on sale in 1993 but its launch was unsuccessful and was almost instantly withdrawn from the market.
Before the Swedish colossus became associated with disposable products, it was famed for its designer collaborations. Some have become true design icons, others have gone (too) quickly out of production instead, perhaps because they were not understood by the general public.
"The most popular vintage Ikea pieces are from the 1980s and 1990s," says Wava Carpenter, founder of the marketplace platform for vintage and contemporary design Pamono. "I think this is because Ikea began to define itself as a brand for a youthful, urban and contemporary audience during this period. The silhouettes are fun, eye-catching and colorful, while maintaining a more minimalist quality.”
This analysis may explain the extraordinary success of the products from the IKEA collections of the 1990s today, but are we sure it is only a matter of aesthetics? Why this return?
The phenomenon of thrifting, which has exploded in the last decade, has led to a re-evaluation of objects from the past in the wake of planetary preservation, over-production and over-consumption issues. Beyond that, a snaking comforting interest in the past has affirmed itself as a global phenomenon that experts identify as the nostalgia effect.
“I believe many are turning to nostalgia, even if they do not consciously realize it, as a stabilizing force and a way to keep in mind what they cherish most,” explains Clay Routledge, Psychology Professor at North Dakota State University.
From samples in music to retro typefaces back in use, the creative landscape is experimenting a sort of regression, a sign of a cultural “sterility”. However the attitude is shared on both sides, companies and consumers.
The research for three-dimensionality and the study of eclectic forms is slowly being replaced by a minimalist approach, both economically and spatially. Spaces have become smaller and little room is left for dreamy, ornamental furniture.
Specifically referring to IKEA behemoth, all the more after 1995, when the brand presented Democratic Design, a manifesto of product design and development revolving around five dimensions: function, form, quality, sustainability and low price.
In the past, IKEA collections offered perspectives by interpreting contemporary styles and artists of that time which were at the same time affordable for everyone; as the STOJA collection, a series of lamps for children made of beech and particleboard and were lacquered in red, yellow and blue, and were clearly inspired by the playfulness of the Italian Memphis Group, and many more.
Or, for example, the design commission for the decorative objects which ended in metal sculptures designed by Tony Almén and Peter Gest, and which led to their "own interpretation of the garden plot.”
As aforementioned, some designs did not even find the endowment from the audience they were created for, which made them obsolete, given the strong imaginative roots of some objects, in clear contrast with the understated Scandinavian design aesthetic the company is known for today.
And now? The nostalgic effect is now commonplace. The post-modern consumer seems to find, in the purchase of products linked to his or her own experience, a sort of 'emotional lifeline', capable of bringing to mind those serene and carefree periods that have disappeared with advancing age.
People hope to recreate, at least for a few hours, the naive and carefree atmospheres of childhood, free of the performance anxiety typical of our times, by being surrounded with childhood visual memories where the past is perceived as a comforting and safe locus amoenus.
Is the lucky case of BILLY.forsale (yes, because of the bookshelf) an online event started not by chance during the tough period of the pandemic, that showcases (and preserves) some of the brand’s boldest designs over the past five decades with particular focus on postmodern designs from the late 1980s and early 1990s, which are actually purchasable.
The artist behind this contemporary archive is Harry Stayt, who started collecting Ikea products seven years ago, sourcing from all over and collecting over 50 pieces of furniture, many sold out.
Certainly, Ikea has collaborated with outside artists in recent years - Tom Dixon, Hay and Virgil Abloh, for example. But these partnerships are more in keeping with the lean functionality we have inherited from IKEA, which has always focused on well-designed, straightforward and inexpensive offerings. Stayt describes his pieces as "IKEA's boldest designs”, iconic products that we will hardly find again.
For now, let us be lulled by nostalgia.