You can visit the IKEA Museum in Amhult, Sweden! Learn all about the famous IKEA meatballs and eat some gourmet ones as well.
One thing travel should do is provide us with opportunities to learn about the things that we are interested in. I always like to explore a place with the intent of chasing down first hand or viewing something I’ve read or heard about. That’s one of the reasons we like to have as much flexibility as we can.
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Visiting the IKEA Museum in Almhult, Sweden
It seemed serendipitous, therefore, to be riding on the ferry from Rostock, Germany heading to Trelleborg, Sweden, and find out that IKEA had a museum in Almhult. Erika had been persistently working away on her iPhone throughout the sporadic WIFI connection on the boat and had come across mention of the museum. Once she told us about it we were all in agreement, if we could manage it we would visit.
A quick check of the museum’s well designed (naturally) website revealed the location, opening hours, and other practical information we needed to decide that we could definitely work in a visit on our way between Trelleborg and Stockholm.
After all, we practically grew up with IKEA. Corinne and I met and married in Germany and started our family in the early 80s. IKEA, with its focus on quality, design, efficiency and low cost was a perfect fit for us. I wouldn’t say that we were fanatics or anything, but we’ve had our share of turns at the Allen wrench over the years.
Our GPS app had the museum in it’s database so off we drove through the manicured Swedish countryside. The route became muddled as we approached the museum, however, and, after a few turn arounds and driving through a large roadworks area, we finally pulled into a parking spot. Hmm, I thought, it looks like they’ve been doing some work expanding the parking lot.
Entering the Museum
Like true tourists, we grabbed our cameras and phones and headed for the entrance. We didn’t get through the door, however, before the cameras were out snapping shots of the building’s exterior. Clean white lines, the interplay of light and shadows, was this coincidence or Scandinavian design principle at work? There were a few other visitors entering with us so we let them get in line first as we knew we’d be peppering the poor receptionist with questions.
“How many foreign visitors do you get?” we asked. When she said she had no idea since they had just opened, we asked how long it had been open. “Only one week,” she replied with a smile, “but the building has always been here, it was one of the original warehouses. And the hotel has been here for some time, as well.”
We were incredulous. The museum had only been open one week? No wonder it hadn’t really been on our radar before. And now the parking lot construction made a lot more sense. Wait, hotel? We could have stayed in the IKEA hotel at the original IKEA factory and store site? Opportunity missed, I guess. Of course we had more questions, and she answered all of them with a beaming smile. She really was getting a kick out of our interest and questions. Finally, we realized there was a growing line behind us and we’d have to move along.
The IKEA Story – Level 2
Tickets and map in hand we entered the museum and began our exploration. The first thing we noticed was that the typical pathway that is found in every IKEA store around the world was missing. We weren’t going to be led around the IKEA museum in the prescribed path, rather we felt encouraged to explore and discover our own trail.
Our usual tactic in any museum is to take the lift to the top floor and work our way down. So up we went to the 2nd floor, to learn all about the origins of IKEA. The entire second floor is devoted to telling the story of IKEA from its original store opening in 1953 to the present.
One of my favorite attractions on the top floor was the “parade of products” running along the ceiling. The museum has a long, moving belt with large hanging posters showing different furniture designs throughout their 60 years of business. It is constantly moving, showing new pieces each time you look up.
Just below that, suspended in a large open area that spans the entire building from top to the bottom, is a long, convoluted vacuum tube system that is continuously moving red plastic balls. This was one of the kids favorite installations. They could get a ball from a dispenser on the top floor, place it in the tube opening and watch as the ball is pulled into the tube, up, around, down, and finally dropped into a container in the bottom floor. I have to admit, I put a few of the plastic balls into it as well.
Another main feature on the top floor were rooms designed entirely from original IKEA prices from different eras. There were rooms from the 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. Of particular interest were the chairs and tables from the early 60s. There were some pretty amazing designs back then. I hope IKEA decides to have a retro line and bring back some of these pieces!
I really think the museum has done an excellent job of presenting the story using a mixture of text, photographs, and artifacts. Some museums have so much text that I just can’t read it all. Others leave me wondering more about the subject then before I went in. Here it seemed just right.
However, we were most of the way through this part of the exhibit, somewhere around 1990, when we realized one of the pieces of information displayed was the opening dates of all the stores around the world. We just had to backtrack to find the first store opened in the USA. Do you know which American city had the first IKEA store and what year it opened? (Hint: We took quite a few years to warm to the idea.)
The Roots of IKEA and Scandinavian Design
We moved down a level to the first floor and realized we hadn’t followed the prescribed route. Visitors are meant to go up to the first floor and enter the exhibit through a colorful hall, reminiscent of the housewares section of an IKEA store. We came out of the hall into the “Our Roots” section where we learned more about the roots and development of Scandinavian design theory. Again, we found a good mix of text and artifacts from different periods of Swedish history.
Near the back of this floor is a section devoted to IKEA founder, Ingvar Kamprad, the genius behind the entire enterprise. It tells his life story including his most regrettable moments when he was a devoted fascist! All that behind him, he started the IKEA brand when he was 17 years old selling miscellaneous items like nylons, watches, wallets, pens, and other small things he could buy in bulk and sell individually at a profit.
He eventually began selling furniture through catalog orders, and the IKEA museum was that original warehouse for the catalog operations. The story of his life goes on, but I’ll leave you to visit the museum and discover more of this genius on your own.
The Lower Levels
No respectable museum is complete without a museum shop and the IKEA museum delivers admirably. There are gift packs in a range of prices with items appropriate for a range of recipients. You can buy posters with some of the cool design trends started by IKEA, or stock up on IKEA shopping bags.
And the best of all, is that there are special products, that were once offered and now out of the catalogs that they have brought back just in the museum store. I gave my credit card a serious workout, let me tell you.
The basement of the building has a bank of lockers for guests to store valuables during their visit and a temporary exhibit space. One show during our visit was the Kitchen 2025 displaying different high tech concepts developed by university students. What would the kitchen of 2025 look like? Induction refrigeration, recyclables compactors, and of course, IKEA design elements. It was very cool.
The Museum Restaurant
We were finished with our visit to the IKEA Museum after about 2 hours of exploring and learning, but we had worked up quite an appetite. Was there any good food to be found in Almshut? Wait a minute, if you’ve read this far you probably know, every IKEA store has a restaurant and that restaurant is famous for…meatballs.
One of the stories we had read in the museum was how the idea of standardizing the restaurant menus around the world took place and how they had decided to offer Swedish meatballs in every store. A plate of meatballs and mashed potatoes with a spoonful of lingonberry dressing is just the thing after a long slog through an IKEA showroom. Why not do the same thing at the IKEA museum.
Well, a visit to the IKEA museum is a special thing in a special place. Therefore, the meatballs here must be special. And they are! They’ve taken meatballs to a whole new culinary level. Of course, you can still get a fancied up version of the original Swedish meatballs and mash, but there are also, chicken, salmon, vegetarian, and Italian meatball dishes being offered.
There were three of us there so we had to try three different versions. Corinne had the original, Erika had the Chicken, and I had the Italian. All of them were perfect, but we all decided Erika’s chicken meatballs were the show stealers.
All in all we felt that the museum was well worth going to. We loved learning the stories and reasoning behind all the IKEA characteristics that we know and love. We’re not going to give it all away, but just know that we loved finding out about the bags, the meatballs, the packing material, the way they treat their employees.
We loved that the story was not all positive. It was a true representation of the fortune and pitfalls, the good ideas and those that failed. An overriding theme was encountering another problem and how it resolved. Oh by the way, have you come up with a guess for the first IKEA store in the US? It was built in Philadelphia in 1985.
- Allow about 3 hours for a museum visit and lunch.
- Definitely plan on eating in the restaurant, the meatballs are a must!
- There were some interactive exhibits for kids and the museum is stroller friendly.
- Plan on visiting the museum on your way to or from Stockholm; you can do it as a day trip out of the capital but the train ride is 3.5 hours both ways and driving is slower than the train.
- Consider spending the night in the IKEA hotel for the ultimate IKEA experience.
What questions do you have about IKEA’s story and history? What would you like to see most? Which meatballs will you try?
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.
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