Of all the stores I love in this world, none have as special a place in my heart as IKEA (I’ve sung its praises here and here and here). Sure, the founder might have been involved with a fascist movement during WWII, but have you seen how cheap the sofas are? Have you tried the meatballs? Don’t even get me started on the lingonberry juice. If I could pump that intravenously into my system, I would. Every picture in my house is framed in a Ribba frame. Sure, I occasionally have to retighten the bolts on the bed frame for the guest bedroom and maybe the drawer bottoms on my Malm dresser pop out from the weight of a few t-shirts, but come on. It’s IKEA. It’s like my Disneyworld. If I don’t get to go every other week or so I start to get twitchy.
But you can’t take a spin around the enormous warehouse without recognizing a few instances where the Swedish retailer has borrowed heavily from other designers. This topic of derivative vs. inspired work came up yesterday with regards to Ork Posters and LocalGraphics posters, and last week with a cheaper tassel garland alternative. And for as much as I love IKEA, there are too many instances where their products closely mirror a mid-century original. Obviously, the mid-century pieces pre-date their IKEA counterparts (I refrained from using the word “knock-offs”), but given how classic and iconic all of the pieces and designers were, and that they were all Scandinavian, it was only a matter of time before IKEA created derivative pieces at a much smaller cost. I’m not setting this up to condone or judge IKEA for what they’re doing, I’m just pointing it out.
In all of the images below, the original is on the right, and the IKEA version is on the left.
Now, say what you want about IKEA for doing this, but I would love you to point me in the direction of the person that would first buy all of the original items over their cheaper alternatives, because I’d like to ask them for some money. Do I think IKEA is right in blatantly copying good, established design, tweaking a few things, mass producing it under a different, un-pronounceable name and making it less expensive? No. But like all copies and derivatives, the original is always executed better.
I know this opens up a whole can of worms on the debate over whether it’s ethical to buy an inspired piece rather than the original, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. My dad had a Poang recliner in his apartment, and given that he was an architect I’m sure he recognized its striking resemblance to the Arne Jacobsen chair, but back then I didn’t. But I don’t think my dad was a monster for buying it, whether he knew it was derivative or not, instead of spending 26 times the amount on a version from Hive Modern. I’m not sure I’d mind owning that round dining table from IKEA, even if my dream house has a white carrera marble Saarinen version. But if you asked me if I’d be bothered by owning a fake Louis Vuitton handbag, the answer is most definitely yes. I don’t know what I draw that distinction. What about you?