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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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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
6 Priceless Treasures Lost in Shipwrecks
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In the lore around treasures lost at sea, most of the excitement goes to pirate’s gold and the sunken luxuries of the Titanic. But in the centuries of human seafaring, many lesser-known priceless objects, from literary manuscripts to scientific research, have been claimed by the depths. Here are some tales of those losses, from a lifetime of work by a 19th-century woman who was an expert in cephalopods, to a rare book by Dickens that went down with the Lusitania.

1. LOUIS DE JAUCOURT'S ANATOMICAL LEXICON

Always, always, always back up your work. Of course, that's easier now than it was in the 18th century, when French scholar Louis de Jaucourt dispatched his six-volume Lexicon medicum universale to his Amsterdam publisher, a move intended to evade French censorship. The medical dictionary, on which he'd spent 20 years, was completely lost when the ship it was on sank off Holland's coast. Luckily, Jaucourt rebounded when Denis Diderot asked him to contribute to the Encyclopédie, now considered one of the greatest works of Enlightenment thought, for which he used his notes from the lost manuscript. Jaucourt became the publication's most prolific author, penning 40,000 articles—so many he was nicknamed l'esclave de l’Encyclopédie, or the "slave of the Encyclopedia."

2. THE FIELDWORK OF ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE

Portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace, Welsh naturalist and explorer
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1852, following four years of research in the Amazon, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was ready to return to England. He loaded his copious notes, animal and plant specimens, and drawings onto the brig Helen. Just 26 days into the voyage, the vessel caught fire. Wallace only had time to hastily fill a tin box with a few drawings of fish and palms and some scientific notes before joining the crew in the lifeboat. After 10 days marooned at sea, they were rescued by the brig Jordeson—but most of Wallace's work was gone forever. As he lamented in an October 19, 1852 letter, "The only things which I saved were my watch, my drawings of fishes, and a portion of my notes and journals. Most of my journals, notes on the habits of animals, and drawings of the transformations of insects, were lost.” While he continued as a leading naturalist—albeit one overshadowed in his evolution research by Charles Darwin—Wallace was never able to reconstruct those years of fieldwork.

3. THE CEPHALOPOD RESEARCH OF JEANNE VILLEPREUX-POWER

Before Jeanne Villepreux-Power’s 19th-century research, most scientists thought the Argonauta argo, or paper nautilus, scavenged its shell from other animals. But by inventing the modern aquarium, Villepreux-Power could study the species first-hand, and witness how it grows and repairs its own shell. The breakthrough was one of many discoveries made by the pioneer in cephalopod research, one of the few women to achieve prominence in Victorian science. She might be better known today if it weren't for the fact that when she and her husband decided to move from Sicily to London, the vessel on which they’d shipped their possessions—including the majority of her drawings, notes, and equipment—foundered off the coast of France in 1843. After the devastating loss, she never published again.

4. A COPY OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL OWNED BY CHARLES DICKENS

Sinking of the Lusitania
Three Lions/Getty Images

When Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat realized the RMS Lusitania was doomed that fateful day in 1915, he dashed to his cabin, using the light from a few matches to try to find the literary treasures he’d brought aboard. These included original drawings by Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray, as well as an edition of A Christmas Carol owned by Charles Dickens himself. The edition was irreplaceable, since it included Dickens’s notes related to his 1844 copyright suit against the illicit republishing of his story. In the book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Erik Larson vividly describes Lauriat’s harrowing experience when the ocean liner was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland: Lauriat grabbed the leather briefcase containing the Dickens, but left the Thackeray sketches behind. Rushing out to the deck, he saw a lifeboat packed with women and children that was being dragged down by the sinking ship. He jumped in with the briefcase, yet was unable to free the lifeboat, and in the escape into the water he lost the precious cargo. Out in the waves, he managed to evade entanglement with an antenna, swim to a collapsible lifeboat, and survive. One of the few items he managed to save were photographs of his baby, which he told his wife were his "mascot."

5. WRITINGS OF JOSÉ ASUNCIÓN SILVA

Portrait of José Asunción Silva

Many Colombians can recite the first lines from the influential Modernist poet José Asunción Silva's "Nocturne III"—"A night / A night full of hushings, of the curled wool of perfume / And incanting wing"—and it’s even printed in microtext on the 5000 Colombian peso bill. The poem, written in 1892, is believed to be a tribute to Silva’s half-sister. Silva suffered another blow in 1895, when many of his manuscripts, including a draft of a novel, were lost in a shipwreck. He left his diplomatic post in Venezuela, and dedicated all his time to reconstructing the drowned novel. But his melancholy continued: After visiting a doctor to ask the exact position of his heart, he shot himself in 1896. His rewritten novel—After-Dinner Conversation (De sobremesa) —wasn’t published until 1925.

6. THE ART OF GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI

The South-east Corner of the Parthenon, Athens by Giovanni Battista Lusieri
Giovanni Battista Lusieri, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Giovanni Battista Lusieri was a meticulous painter of the Italian landscape, particularly its classical ruins. In large panoramas and more compact watercolors, he depicted the Acropolis, views of Rome and Naples, and, his favorite, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Some of his most striking works captured the volcano at night, illuminating the darkness with its orange glow. Lord Byron called him "an Italian painter of the first eminence." Yet his name is now obscure. This is partly due to the years he stopped painting to help Lord Elgin remove and ship the Parthenon Marbles to London. But when Lusieri's artwork was being sent home from Greece after his death in 1821, a shipwreck destroyed nearly half of it (including a spectacular 25-foot-long panorama of Athens), helping to ensure his fall from fame.

BONUS: PEKING MAN

A replica of the Peking Man Skull
A replica of the Peking Man Skull

When paleontologists discovered the bones of "Peking man" in a dig near Beijing in the 1920s, they were the oldest hominid fossils ever found. However, scientists can now only study the bones—thought to be about half a million years old—from casts. The Peking Man fossils were last seen in December 1941, but vanished during the Japanese occupation of China while they were being sent to the United States for safekeeping. There are many conjectures on their fate, from being secretly stored away in Japan, to being under a parking lot in China. Yet one enduring theory is that they were lost at sea on the Japanese freighter Awa Maru: In 1945, the ship was torpedoed in the Taiwan Strait by the USS Queenfish despite being guaranteed safe passage by the United States, leading to the loss of more than 2000 lives—and, it's said, the priceless Peking fossils [PDF].

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Animals
7 Cases of Mistaken Dog Identity
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For decades, an enduring urban and internet legend has provided a cautionary tale for people seeking to adopt a pet. While details vary according to the storyteller, it goes something like this: A woman on vacation takes pity on a stray, hairless dog she finds in dire shape. Bringing him home, he doesn’t seem to respond to generous helpings of food and verbal assurance that he's a good boy. Instead, he’s rather aggressive. Taking him to the vet, she realizes she didn’t pick up a dog at all but a massive, sewer-dwelling rat.

While a delightful story, it's probably not true. These cases are. Take a look at seven people who experienced some alarming examples of animals they thought were dogs, and dogs they thought were other animals.

1. THE FOX IS NOT A HOUND

A screen capture of a fox that resembles a dog
Rachel White, YouTube

As contemporary pet breeding produces new strains of Franken-pups, it’s likely people will continue to be confused by animals that resemble exotic breeds. Case in point: In May 2018, a woman purchased what she thought was a Japanese Spitz puppy from a pet shop in China. With its long, pointed snout and fluffy coat, the dog at first appeared to be an adorable addition to the household. Within three months, however, it stopped eating dog food and began to sprout a long tail. Strangely, it also never barked. Its owner thought it might just be quiet and finicky, but a local zoo confirmed she had actually purchased a fox, which the Japanese Spitz is said to resemble. The animal’s new forever home is behind fencing at the zoo’s fox habitat.

2. CHARLIE THE LABRA-LION

Hysteria briefly gripped citizens of Norfolk, Virginia in 2013, when a rash of calls to 911 reported a lion loose within the city limits. One caller described it as a “baby lion,” while another believed it to be the size of a Labrador retriever. Close. The “lion” was a Labradoodle named Charlie, who got regular grooming visits that gave him a mane and improved his regal stature. His owner shaved him to resemble a sports mascot at Old Dominion University.

3. THE COYOTE AND THE SAMARITAN

When an unnamed resident of Bartlett, Illinois drove past a cowering animal on a busy stretch of roadway in May 2018, the person stopped and swept up what was believed to be a lost dog. Driving to the local police department, the resident dropped the alleged puppy off, only to discover that the rescue had been in the service of a coyote. The baby was taken to Willowbrook Wildlife for safekeeping.

4. A BEAR TO DEAL WITH

Despite the propaganda pushed by cartoons, bears are generally difficult to live with and might devour younger members of the household without warning. No one would likely live with one on purpose. By accident? That’s another story. In 2016, a family in the Yunnan province of China adopted what they believed was a Tibetan Mastiff puppy, a stout and noble breed. To their slowly-dawning surprise, it turned out it wasn’t a dog at all but an Asiatic black bear cub that skyrocketed to over 250 pounds in a matter of months. He also had a tendency to stand on his hind legs, a trait domesticated canines still lack. The family reached out to authorities and the bear—which is a protected species in China—was relocated to a sanctuary.

5. THE CAT MISTAKEN FOR A DOG

A screen capture of a cat with hypertrichosis
Moony strangecat, YouTube

Your standard orange tabby cats don’t have this problem, but certain feline breeds can wind up experiencing a real identity crisis. Snookie, a three-year-old Persian in Canada, has hypertrichosis, a condition sometimes referred to as “werewolf syndrome” because it causes excessive growth of hair, nails, and whiskers. As a result of her fluffed-up and rotund face, Snookie is often confused for a Shih Tzu puppy.

6. ACCIDENTALLY ADOPTING A WOLF

A wolf cub sits next to its mother
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It could happen to anyone. In 2016, a man in Arizona responded to an ad giving away a free “puppy” and took it home. The animal’s owner was sufficiently charmed by his new pet’s adorable face that he didn’t notice the pup, which he named Neo, avoided eye contact and didn’t seem to have much use for dog treats. When the man built a fence to prevent Neo from cavorting with the neighborhood dogs, the animal dug under it. When a neighbor took Neo to the local Humane Society for trespassing, officials discovered it was a wolf—an illegal animal to own without proper permits. Properly identified, Neo was relocated to a sanctuary named Wolf Connection.

7. THE RACCOON-DOG HYBRID

A tanuki dog resembles a raccoon
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The exotic animal trade in the UK has been trafficking tanukis, or raccoon dogs, for some time now. True to their name, the wild dogs resemble raccoons but are related to wolves and foxes. Unsuspecting owners purchase them for novelty’s sake, not realizing that they’re prone to wiping out frog populations and carrying hookworm and fatal fox tapeworms. Since they're nocturnal, they’ll also keep households up at night. Raccoon dogs are easily confused with actual raccoons and at least one distressed owner was afraid his pet would be harmed due to the likeness when his pet, Kekei, escaped in 2015. In the U.S., the only tanukis in residence are located in an Atlanta zoo. If you see a raccoon this large, run.

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