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IVAR - the rebel that became a hero

The IVAR shelf turns 50 in 2018 and has a fascinating story. Who would have thought a simple storage shelf in untreated wood would become a modern interior design blog favourite?

IVAR shelving units spanning two walls in an 80’s themed living room.
IVAR shelving units spanning two walls in an 80’s themed living room.

An unconventional icon

“At the end of the 60’s, there was something called the market at IKEA in Kungens Kurva, one of the stores in Stockholm,” says Lennart Ekmark who has just retired after 52 years with IKEA.

He goes on, “there you could find furniture Ingvar Kamprad bought on trips to Eastern Europe, he bought them as a favour to the factories. They were products that ended up at IKEA for some reason or other, but weren’t good enough to have a spot in the real store.”

In the market at IKEA Kungens Kurva, Lennart Ekmark found a simple storage shelf in untreated wood. It’s long-forgotten exactly how it ended up there, but it most likely came from shelves produced for governmental use. Lennart was so fond of IVAR he moved it from the shadows of the market to the bright lights of the IKEA showroom in 1968.

“It was amazing! My wife and I, who was also working at IKEA at that time, felt it was exactly our style. We were, just like everyone else, pretty left-wing at that time. We liked anything unconventional.”

Sustainable and stylish

The shelf, that still didn’t have a name, was the odd one out in the showroom. It was side-by-side furniture made of teak, walnut and jacaranda. But, Lennart Ekmark was right, it was perfect for its time. With its low price and simple construction, it suited anyone – regardless of style or budget. In 1970, the shelf became part of the IKEA range, where it’s been ever since.

Lennart Ekmark doesn’t only call it “the best IKEA product” but also a signature piece for IKEA. Its low price means many can afford it, plus, it’s practical, youthful and durable.

“IVAR is made of solid wood, it’s essentially impossible to wear it out. It also uses raw material in the best way possible, the shelves are glued together with smaller parts of wood which are leftovers and waste from the production of bigger furniture. It’s sustainable in every single way,” says Lennart Ekmark.

Over the past five decades, the shelf has changed names four times. From a nameless storage shelf to BOSSE, to INGO, to UFFE, to finally, in 1984 it got its current name, IVAR.

“If all five shelves would stand side by side no one would notice any differences between them, but small changes in construction have been made. For example, the holes for the shelves have changed slightly, so the name had to be changed so that customers would understand that the new parts might not fit perfectly with the old parts. But now it has been IVAR for a very long time!” says Lennart Ekmark.

The shelf so perfect the only thing we can change is its name.

Easy to personalise

Since the beginning, IKEA customers have loved to play around with IVAR to create a unique, customised version.

“It is so easy to make IVAR your own,” says Lennart Ekmark. “But IKEA customers have always done that, in Germany, people were extremely creative already in the 1970’s and made up new combinations with the parts and used colour to change it.”

So, what’s next? Ivar is celebrating its 50th birthday with some new products - steel parts and accessories in white are launching in February 2018. Is that development enough to give IVAR another 50 years in our homes? Lennart Ekmark has no doubt about it. “I’m convinced. Everyone needs an IVAR. All homes, in all times,” he says.

3 things you never knew about IVAR

  1. The series was named BOSSE after the boxer Bosse Högberg.
  2. IVAR has been the best-selling product at IKEA on numerous occasions, for example in 1992 and 1996.
  3. In 1984 the recently re-named IVAR, covered the back of the IKEA catalogue, with the text: “The shelf so perfect the only thing we can change is its name”.