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Hakan Dahlstrom, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Hakan Dahlstrom, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

14 Ready-To-Assemble Facts About IKEA

Hakan Dahlstrom, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Hakan Dahlstrom, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The retail world just lost one of its most famous game-changers with the death of IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, who passed away at the age of 91 on January 27, 2018 at his home in Småland, Sweden. As the world’s largest cross-cultural furniture bazaar, IKEA has become synonymous with affordable and stylish home décor. Beginning as a mail-order business in Kamprad’s tiny Swedish village of Agunnaryd in the 1940s, the company now boasts more than 300 stores, located everywhere from China (where shoppers can grab an ice cream cone for only 16 cents) to Russia. Check out these 14 lesser-known facts about store mazes, wordless manuals, and why they banned hide and seek.

1. IKEA IS AN ACRONYM.

Just 17 at the time he began making door-to-door sales—peddling mostly pens, jewelry, and stockings—Kamprad named his fledgling company IKEA. The “IK” are his initials, the “E” is for the modest farm he grew up on (Elmtaryd), and the “A” is for Agunnaryd, his home village. (Owing to their often-frustrating assembly processes, Amy Poehler once observed IKEA might be Swedish for “argument.”)  

2. THE PRODUCT NAMES ARE A RESULT OF INGVAR KAMPRAD'S DYSLEXIA.


Tina Lawson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

IKEA’s home goods are usually identified by Swedish names rather than product numbers. While it’s turned into a way to further endear the brand to consumers, the practice started because Kamprad had dyslexia and was getting numerical codes confused. While charming—we enjoy ordering a desk called “Fartfull” as much as anyone—it can sometimes lead to cultural issues. The company ran into problems in 2006 when it was discovered that some harmless Scandinavian words might double as sexually explicit expressions in Thailand.      

3. THE BRAND WASN'T AN IMMEDIATE HIT IN AMERICA.

After conquering the European market, IKEA opened its first American location just outside of Philadelphia in 1985. Customers had a lot of trouble pronouncing the name, and almost as much trouble figuring out the merchandise, which hadn’t yet been tailored to the market: products were advertised in centimeters, curtains didn't fit American-sized windows, and flower vases were being bought as drink tumblers because “foreign” water glasses were too small for all the ice U.S. citizens like to use. The company didn’t open any new stores for a five year period and didn’t begin to see real growth until 1997.

The persistence has paid off for both the company and consumers: Their legendary BILLY bookcase was $82 in 1985: today, it sells for $59.99.  

4. THEY WANT SHOPPERS TO BE DAZED AND CONFUSED.

If navigating an IKEA leaves you feeling lost and fatigued, the layout has done its job. According to research conducted at the University College London, IKEA leads shoppers into an increasingly byzantine floor plan where they snap up impulse goods (like lamp shades or pillows), fearing they won't find them again. Likened to a "corn maze" by some visitors, there are short cuts available owing to fire regulations—but you'll miss most of the good stuff by taking them.  

5. THEY WILL SEND PEOPLE TO COME WATCH YOU SIT ON A SOFA.

In an effort to better understand how universal designs fit the end user, IKEA utilizes company “anthropologists” to visit homes of brand loyalists to see how they interact with various goods. These volunteers are typically rewarded with gift cards, and their living spaces are sometimes rigged with cameras for longer-term surveillance. Among the surprises? Citizens of Shenzhen, China like to sit on the floor and use their couches as back rests.   

6. THERE ARE NO WORDS IN THEIR MANUALS BECAUSE WORDS COST MONEY.


Sean Hobson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The “assembly figures” in IKEA manuals have garnered worldwide stardom for their effortless display of how to construct a coffee table or bookshelf without using profanity or becoming violent. The reason instructions aren’t printed with actual written information is because it would make the manuals thicker, and consequently more expensive to produce. Of course, the pictograms can exact their own terrible price: the company refers to more difficult-to-follow assemblies by the humorous, if outdated, term “husband killers.”

7. YOU PROBABLY VALUE THE FURNITURE MORE BECAUSE YOU ASSEMBLED IT.

It’s obvious why IKEA sells its furniture unassembled: The flat packaging saves money and passes the cost of labor on to you, the consumer, ever ready to gouge someone’s eye socket with an Allen wrench. But all the sweat and tears has its rewards. According to a Harvard Business School study, people who had to labor to set up their new purchase perceived it to have greater value than people who didn’t have to do anything.

8. CUSTOMERS IN CHINA LOVE THEIR IKEA NAPS.

In a cultural practice that probably wouldn’t go over too well in the States, visitors to IKEA’s stores in Beijing, China, are said to be very fond of curling up and taking naps in the comfortable bedding and mattress displays. Rather than put a stop to the habit, IKEA claims their staff doesn’t bother dozing customers unless they’re creating a disturbance.    

9. THEY'VE BANNED HIDE AND SEEK.

While generally liberal in their policies, IKEA did put its foot down when it came to a social media fad involving people playing organized games of hide and seek in the company’s mammoth locations. After 19,000 people agreed to show up to an Amsterdam store for the game, a no-hiding, no-seeking policy was initiated. (Just take a nap instead.)

10. IKEA MALAYSIA HELD A LOOKALIKE CONTEST. FOR INANIMATE OBJECTS.


IKEA via Facebook

Proving IKEA’s U.S. public relations team needs to get with it, IKEA Malaysia held a contest in 2014 to help promote the reopening of one of their stores. Contestants were solicited via Facebook and asked to dress or pose as their favorite IKEA product. A surprising number of people made convincing lamps; winners received gift cards to the store.

11. THE MEATBALLS WERE ONCE MADE OF HORSE.

Even if you haven’t visited an IKEA, you’re probably aware of their reputation for delicious Swedish meatballs, a means of keeping shoppers fortified with protein while trying to escape a labyrinth of end tables. In 2013, the company issued a meatball recall in Europe after DNA studies found that one batch contained traces of horse meat. It was thought to be part of a wider contamination problem relating to devious suppliers. 

12. IT'S BEING USED IN COUPLES THERAPY.

IKEA acknowledges that shopping for and then assembling larger items can take a toll on relationships. So does Santa Monica area psychologist Ramani Durvasula, who sometimes tasks couples in her therapy sessions to complete an IKEA project together and then discuss the results in counseling. One amateur craftsman told The Wall Street Journal that a bed frame took 10 hours to put together, “including two hours of arguing” with his spouse.  

13. A SOAP OPERA WAS SHOT THERE.

The episodic soap opera parody IKEA Heights was filmed in a Burbank, California location in 2009 without permission from store management: actors wore hidden microphones and captured reaction shots from passing customers as they acted out hyper-dramatic plots about infidelity. In 2010, the company tried to strike a balance between having a sense of humor and reminding people that using their stores as a film set isn't really allowed. "Absolutely, we think it's funny," a spokesperson told MacCleans. "But unauthorized filming in our stores isn't a good thing."

14. THEY BUILT AN APARTMENT ON A ROCK-CLIMBING WALL.


Ube Bene via Facebook

To celebrate their 30th store in France, IKEA—known for its over-the-top ad campaigns—erected an incredible vertical apartment layout on top of a climbing wall in 2014. The public was invited to scale the prop using safety harnesses. (Not pictured: 8000 extra screws.)

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


Getty Images

There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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13 Secrets From the Guinness Archives
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Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Guinness has been a staple in Irish pubs for nearly 260 years. With so much history, it's no surprise that the Guinness Storehouse Archives—which are open to the public—are stuffed with intriguing artifacts that tell some pretty wild stories. Here are a few.

1. THE LEASE TO THE DUBLIN BREWERY WAS INTENDED TO LAST 9000 YEARS.

In 1759, founder Arthur Guinness signed a lease for a four-acre property at St. James’s Gate in Dublin. The lease required a down payment of £100, an annual rent of £45, and a term of 9000 years (not a typo). Such lengthy leases were relatively common back then: “At the time in Ireland, there was a lot of instability to do with land tenure,” explains Fergus Brady, Archives Manager at Guinness. Centuries earlier, the British had begun confiscating land from native Irish in an effort to build plantations, and extra-long leases were a means of avoiding this fate. As Brady explains, “You see these really long leases: 99-year or 999-year leases. It seemed to be a legal custom at the time that they used the number nine.”

2. ARTHUR GUINNESS WAS NOT AFRAID TO DEFEND HIS PROPERTY WITH A PICKAXE.

In 1775, the Dublin Corporation—that is, the city government—demanded that Arthur Guinness pay for the spring water flowing to his brewery. When Guinness argued that he was already paying for water rights through his 9000-year rental agreement, the Dublin Corporation sent a sheriff and a committee to his brewery to cut off the water supply. Guinness was livid. He seized a pickaxe and unleashed a torrent of obscenities so colorful that the Dublin Corporation’s goons eventually retreated.

3. GUINNESS ONCE DEPLOYED FIELD AGENTS TO CATCH COUNTERFEITERS.

Guinness Apology
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In the 19th century, there was no such thing as brand consistency. Guinness did not bottle its own beer; instead, it shipped the suds in wooden casks to publicans who supplied their own bottles and applied their own personalized labels. Occasionally, these publicans sold fake or adulterated Guinness. To prevent such sales, the company sent special agents called “travellers” into the field to collect beer samples, which it tested in a laboratory. “If a publican was found to be serving adulterated or counterfeit Guinness, they had to give a public apology in their local newspaper—and even the national newspapers,” archivist Jessica Handy says.

4. FOR 21 YEARS, THE COMPANY HIRED A GUY TO TRAVEL THE WORLD AND DRINK BEER.

In 1899, Guinness hired an American ex-brewer named Arthur T. Shand to be a “Guinness World Traveller.” It was arguably the coolest job in the world. For 21 years, Shand traveled the world taste-testing beer. According to Brady, “His job was to travel the world and taste Guinness, say whether it was good or bad, who our bottlers in the market were, who our major competition was, what kind of people were drinking our product.” Shand traveled to Australia and New Zealand, to Southeast Asia and Egypt. “He was sort of a Guinness sommelier,” Brady says.

5. THE COMPANY'S HARP LOGO CAUSED TROUBLE WITH THE IRISH GOVERNMENT.

The Celtic harp—based on the 14th century “Brian Boru Harp” preserved at Trinity College—became a trademarked Guinness logo in 1876. Forty-five years later, when Ireland gained independence from England, the Irish Free State decided to use the same Celtic harp as its official state emblem. This became awkward. Guinness owned the trademark, and the Irish government was forced to search for a workaround. You can find their solution on an Irish Euro coin. Look at the coin, and you’ll notice that the harp’s straight edge faces the right; meanwhile, the harp on a glass of Guinness shows the straight edge facing left [PDF].

6. GUINNESS REPORTEDLY SAVED LIVES ON THE BATTLEFIELD.

The old slogan “Guinness is good for you” sounds like a marketing gimmick, but it was born out of a genuine belief that the beer was, in fact, a restorative tonic. The health claim dates back to 1815, when an ailing cavalry officer wounded at the Battle of Waterloo reportedly credited Guinness for his recovery. For decades, the medical community widely claimed that the dark beer possessed real health benefits—and they weren’t necessarily wrong. “There was little safe drinking water at the time,” Handy says. “But with brewing, consumers knew they were getting a safe beverage.”

7. THE COMPANY CREATED A SPECIAL RECIPE FOR CONVALESCENTS.

A label for Guinness invalid stout
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

From the 1880s to the 1920s, Guinness produced a special “Nourishing Export Stout”—a.k.a. “Invalid Stout”—that contained extra sugars, alcohol, and solids and came in cute one-third pint bottles. “It was very common practice for people to buy a couple bottles and keep them as a tonic, even if it was just a glass or half a glass,” Handy says. In fact, Guinness went as far as asking general practitioners for testimonials attesting to the beer’s medical benefits. According to Brady, “Many of them wrote back and said yes, we prescribe this for various ailments.” One doctor even claimed a pint was “as nourishing as a glass of milk.”

8. DOCTORS REGULARLY PRESCRIBED THE BEER TO NURSING MOTHERS.

From the 1880s to the 1930s, many physicians believed Guinness was an effective galactagogue—that is, a lactation aid. The company sent bottles to hospitals as well as wax cartons of yeast (which supposedly helped skin problems and migraines). Hundreds, possibly thousands, of doctors prescribed the beer for ailments such as influenza, insomnia, and anxiety, David Hughes writes in A Bottle of Guinness Please: The Colourful History of Guinness. According to Brady, the company was sending beer to hospitals as late as the 1970s.

9. THE COMPANY ONCE DROPPED 200,000 MESSAGES-IN-A-BOTTLE INTO THE OCEAN.

A Guinness message in a bottle
The message within every bottle dropped in the Atlantic Ocean in 1959.
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In 1954, Guinness dumped 50,000 messages-in-a-bottle in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In 1959, they repeated the stunt again, with 38 ships dropping 150,000 bottles in the Atlantic. The first bottle was discovered in the Azores off Portugal just three months after the initial drop [PDF]. Since then, the bottles have turned up in California, New Zealand, and South Africa. Just last year, a bottle was discovered in Nova Scotia. (If you find one, you just might be offered a trip to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.)

10. THE PERSONNEL FILES IN THE GUINNESS ARCHIVES CONTAIN SOME DOOZIES.

The Guinness corporate archives are open to the public. According to Handy, “Some of the stories you get in there are amazing, because you get accident reports and you get crazy stories of people bouncing on bags of hops outside the brewery." This may sound less surprising considering that, back in the day, Guinness employees were given an allowance of two pints of beer every day [PDF].

11. A GUINNESS SCIENTIST MADE A STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT MARK IN THE FIELD OF STATISTICS.

If you’ve taken a statistics class, you might be familiar with the Student’s t-test or the t-statistic. (It’s a method of working with a small sample size when the standard deviation is unknown.) The t-test was first described by William S. Gosset, a brewer and statistician at Guinness who was attempting to analyze a small sample of malt extract. Gosset’s discovery not only helped Guinness create a more consistent-tasting beer, it would lay the bedrock for one of the most important concepts in statistics: statistical significance.

12. GUINNESS IS SO BIG IN AFRICA, IT LAUNCHED A SUCCESSFUL FEATURE-LENGTH FILM.

Guinness began exporting beer to Africa in 1827. In the 1960s, it opened a brewery in Nigeria—followed by Cameroon and Ghana. Today, there are reportedly more Guinness drinkers in Nigeria than there are in Ireland. “In Ireland, England, and the United States, everybody thinks that Guinness is synonymous with Ireland,” Brady says. “But in Nigeria, there’s a very very low conception of that.” The beer is such a cultural staple that a fictional character who advertised the product named Michael Power—a James Bond-like, crime-fighting journalist—became the star of a feature film in 2003 called Critical Assignment, which was a box office smash. (Of course, there’s some branding built into the script. As Brady explains, “There are definitely scenes where Michael Power is enjoying a pint of Guinness.”)

13. DISPENSING BEER WITH NITROGEN WAS ORIGINALLY CONSIDERED LAUGHABLE.

In the 1950s, Guinness scientist Michael Ash was tasked with solving the “draft problem.” At the time, dispensing a draft pint of Guinness was ridiculously complicated, and the company was losing market share to draft lagers in Britain that could be easily dispensed with CO2. “The stout was too lively to be dispensed with CO2 only,” Brady says. “Ash worked on the problem for four years, working long hours day or night, and became a bit of a recluse apparently. A lot of doubters at the brewery called the project ‘daft Guinness.’” But then Ash attempted dispensing the beer with plain air. It worked. The secret ingredient, Ash discovered, was nitrogen. The air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen. Today, a Guinness draft contains 75 percent nitrogen. Not only did the discovery make dispensing the beer easier, it created a creamy mouthfeel that’s been the signature of Irish stouts since.

Full disclosure: Guinness paid for the author to attend an International Stout Day festival in 2017, which provided the opportunity to speak to their archivists.

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