50 years of IKEA bathrooms

The favourites, the fails & the future

IKEA bathrooms have been around for 50 years! Hop into our bathtub time machine, as we look back on half a century of bathroom history through the eyes of a longtime co-worker and get a peek of what’s next in the pipeline for the smallest room in the home.

Our guide, Jörgen

This year, IKEA celebrates five decades since bathroom products first made it onto the shelves. What started as a basic selection of pine furniture has grown into today's range of storage, lighting, taps, showers, accessories and other complete bathroom solutions that have made dream bathrooms come true for the many people around the world.

One extraordinary person, Jörgen Svensson, has followed along for almost the whole journey, with all its twists and turns. He arrived for his first day of work at the IKEA Älmhult store in Sweden in the early ‘70s – and is still a proud IKEA employee to this day!

His illustrious career has taken many forms, from working the shop floor to developing products for many areas of the home, including bathrooms. He’s seen IKEA products and presidents come and go around the world, witnessed IKEA’s biggest wins, and stood by through tougher times too. Now, with a treasure trove of stories to share, Jörgen reflects on the highlights, the “fiascos”, as he calls them, and the learnings from founder Ingvar Kamprad that have shaped his career, and the IKEA bathroom range, since 1972.

It all starts with SAUNA

Bathroom products had only recently been launched when Jörgen first started working at the IKEA store, although “launched” is perhaps an overstatement, he admits. The range was tiny at that time – consisting of just a wall-cabinet, a wall-shelf, two mirrors, a stool and bench. “It was not so much a launch,” Jörgen explains, “as putting some products on the market for learning.”

Even though the selection was small, there was some big thinking behind it. The early to mid ‘70s saw IKEA’s first expansion into countries outside of Scandinavia and these products, in particular the SAUNA series, “supported the brand, being a Swedish company,” says Jörgen. These products proved especially popular in Germany, “where they loved everything with pine.” It was also about resourceful and cost-conscious production: sauna furniture offered a clever, low-cost use for untreated wood.

The SAUNA series stayed in the range for just over a decade, featuring in the IKEA Catalogue for the last time in 1983. But the close connection between Scandinavian culture and the sauna has never faded. The year 2023, exactly four decades on from the retirement of the SAUNA series, saw the launch of the sauna-inspired BASTUA collection, co-created with Finnish design brand, Marimekko.

SERIE bathroom cabinet with mirror, 1972 IKEA Catalogue

SAUNA range, 1972 IKEA Catalogue

The BASTUA collection, launched in 2023 in collaboration with Marimekko

Freedom to test the waters

It has always been part of IKEA’s DNA to dare, to push boundaries, to try new things. The risks might be bigger, but so too are the rewards. “It’s thanks to all of our successes, failures and fiascos that IKEA has developed,” Jörgen says. “I think it’s important to take in all the mistakes and learn from them. What’s not good is when we fail slowly on a big scale. It’s better to fail on a small scale – and fast.”

One example was bathroom tiles, which made a short appearance in the IKEA range in the early ‘80s during the rise of the "do-it-yourself era". It turned out that while furniture was easy enough for customers to put together themselves, other tasks, like tiling, were best left to the professionals. The heavy, bulky tiles were also tricky and expensive to transport, and hard for customers bring home.

And while the time of tiles at IKEA was short-lived, Jörgen shares the sunnier side of this story: “When I got the first test delivery of the tiles, I installed them myself in my bathroom at home. They’re still there today, and I think the style looks even more up to date now, than it did back then!”

“Small bus” leadership

Round and round history goes. As turbulent as today’s times may be, it’s nothing new to Jörgen, who saw similar scenes unfold in the early ‘90s. At that stage, most of IKEA’s furniture families were produced in the old Eastern Bloc. The aftermath following the fall of the Berlin Wall saw the price of many products double, or even triple, virtually overnight. It was a production and purchasing catastrophe, and IKEA had no plan B.

Over two years, Jörgen – together with Ingvar and other managers – spent weeks on the road, visiting furniture suppliers and purchasing teams in Eastern Europe to see the reality first-hand and find solutions on the ground. One of the most valuable business learnings of his career came from this difficult period: “leadership by small buses”, as he puts it.

The team would hit the road each morning in two separate vehicles, each going their own way before coming together again late at night, discussing the day’s progress and planning for the next. The mix of people in each bus was always different, depending on where they were headed and what should be done. “There were a lot of tough discussions. And of course, being stuck together all day in the same bus meant that you couldn’t escape them.”

Jörgen, Ingvar and other colleagues on a trip to Bulgaria in the early '90s. Image courtesy of the IKEA Museum.

Pure bathroom brilliance

Jörgen has seen his fair share of bathroom products over the years… which ones stand out? For him, defining a really great product is twofold: on one hand, he has favourites on a personal level, for his own way of living; but he also tries to see it from the viewpoint of the many people and how they live all around the world.

It's a tall order, but one series in the range today manages to tick both boxes: the one and only VESKEN! “It has a low price, is great quality, fantastically engineered, takes such a short time to click together, and functions so well.” It’s no surprise that these shelves and trolleys have found their way into millions of homes, Jörgen’s included.

Another favourite is FRÄCK, the extendable vanity mirror in durable and water-resistant stainless steel. Jörgen installed his own at home more than 35 years ago, and today it's a still a top-seller in the range.

Jörgen and his FRÄCK mirror: housemates for 35+ years and counting.

Future-proof bathrooms

The world is a very different place today than back in the ‘70s. For many people, living spaces are smaller and wallets are thinner, while natural resources are becoming ever scarcer and more expensive. What does this mean for our homes and our bathrooms? For Jörgen, stylish and smart-functioning bathroom solutions that put a low-price front and centre have never been more important. But that’s not enough: products also need to be durable enough to stand the test of time. They also need to be made of renewable or recycled materials, while helping customers live within the limits of our planet.

The good news is that great strides have already been made: like the just-launched ÅBÄCKEN water nozzle – a simple and budget-friendly tap attachment that can save up to 95% of water when in mist mode*. And with Inter IKEA Group’s recent investment in Flow Loop, a Danish start-up developing a water-recycling shower solution, much more in this area is yet to come.

As we look ahead, Jörgen fondly recalls some of Ingvar's wisest words: "Now, it's not a question of what we have done, but what we shall do!" With so many lessons to bring along, the next 50 years of complete bathroom solutions at IKEA will be worth watching closely.

*The new ÅBÄCKEN water nozzle saves up to 95% of water in mist mode (left), and up to 66% in spray mode (right), when compared to standard wash-basin mixer taps with a water flow rate of 5.7 L/min.

50 years of expertise is hard to beat

Whether your bathroom is in need of a refresh, a refurnish or a complete redo, IKEA offers a range of bathroom solutions for even the tightest of budgets. There's also support with everything from planning and finance, to the delivery, assembly and installation of your complete dream bathroom. Get inspired by the latest IKEA bathroom range in your country.