THE WASHINGTON POST – I have a fantasy about Ikea: While shopping, I don’t hear the closing announcement and security overlooks me on its evening sweep. I have no choice but to spend the night inside the store. To bide my time until the opening hour, I try out all of the chairs, sofas, beds, light fixtures, outdoor furniture and stuffed animals. For dinner, I raid the cafe and eat Swedish meatballs dipped in lingonberry jam. When I run out of meatballs, I eat just the jam, with a giant serving spoon from the kitchen department. After the sugar high has worn off, I fall asleep in the lifestyle I covet the most.
I assumed the likelihood of my fantasy coming true was as low as me assembling a shelving unit without crying. But then, on a July trip in Sweden, I had to pinch myself. The chair was a Bernhard. The lamp was a Riggad. The trash can was a Mjosa. The sink was an Ensen. Yes, it was happening: I was sleeping in an Ikea.
Almhult doesn’t call itself IKEAville, though it could. Founder Ingvar Kamprad grew up on a nearby farm and established his first store here in 1958. In 2012, a new outpost opened in Almhurst. It isn’t the biggest store in the world but it does carry the largest range of Ikea products. Four years later, the Ikea Museum arrived, coinciding with the expansion of the Ikea Hotell. Both sites run restaurants, and meatballs are on the menu. The only detail missing from my full-on Ikea immersion was losing my car in the immense parking lot. I took the train, because I didn’t need to relive that nightmare.
This being Sweden, the land of subtlety, I didn’t see any Ikea billboards or neon signs rubbing the charm off the village square. Near the train station, I noticed a whisper of a sign that led me up and over the tracks and onto the Ikea campus. The blue-and-yellow flags of Ikea and Sweden rustled in the wind like fraternal twin banners. Several Ikea buildings – Fastigheter, Communications, Test Lab and Tillsammans – lined the lot. I turned my back on the Ikea Museum and walked into my fantasy.
The Ikea Hotell dates from 1964, when the company built accommodations for shoppers who drove a distance to stroll through the showroom and order furniture. In the lobby, I felt like one of those early customers. If only I had a clipboard so I could check off the items I wanted to take home. Instead, I had to crawl on my hands and knees to look for the labels. When I couldn’t find the product name, I approached the front desk.
“Can you please look up the cow-print ottoman for me?” I asked the attendant, pointing at the dairy farm-chic object in one of several seating areas.
He happily obliged – “I have time. I’m working till 6am.” – and turned the computer screen to show me his findings. I could have played this game all night.
My room resided on the second floor in the new section of the hotel. The guest rooms come in four categories, such as the Family Room, which features curtained bunk beds, and the 45-square-foot Cabin, ideal for solo travellers with retractable limbs. I chose the Grand Lit, an update on the original Grand Standard.
If I had taken the museum tour before I had checked in, I might not have been so startled when I first entered the room. Instead of the multi-textured and -patterned look on the ground floor, my room resembled a hospital recovery room. It contained a few pieces of furniture (bed, desk, chair) in soothing monochromatic tones (white, blue-grey, light wood). The hot pink hook and hanger provided the sole pops of colour.
The second time I stepped inside, I had gained a better understanding of Kamprad’s egalitarian and economical aesthetic, and I embraced the room with a newfound appreciation. The minimal style, I now realised, upheld the principles of Democratic Design, a philosophy that promotes form, function, quality, sustainability and low price. As long as I didn’t raid the Borrow Cabinet, which was stocked with loaner accessories, I could honour Kamprad’s spirit. I just had to resist that fuzzy woolly mammoth throw. The English-language tour started in front of Kamprad’s face.
“He would not have liked this,” our guide, Ebba, said of the oversize portrait of the founder that graced the museum entrance. Kamprad was a humble, deferential man who credited his staff – all 208,000 of them in 2018, the year he died at age 91 – for the success of Ikea. A wall quote summed up his hiring strategy as, “When looking for co-workers, I look for people that are good at the things that I’m bad at.”
Ebba urged us to approach the artwork. Kamprad’s eyes, ears, nose and neck dissolved into tiny head shots of his employees, 5,000 in all.
I returned to the ground floor for the gift shop. The retail space was small but, for those of us without restraint, dangerous. I eyed a T-shirt with an Allen wrench design and real furniture, including the Mjolkpall stool that Kamprad and his son, Jonas, designed in 2004. For Swedish souvenirs, I checked out the Dala horses and the lingonberries, both of which appeared in myriad forms. I Google-translated a lot of words.
At Kotet, the museum’s restaurant, I pretended to study the menu even though I had known my order since breakfast time. The cafe offers five versions of meatballs with different accompaniments. I picked the veggie balls, which seemed to have rolled east into India. The kitchen staff piled on the curry, yellow rice, mango chutney, dill raita, chapati bread and roasted chickpeas.
I carried my meal across the parking lot to the hotel. Three guys sitting in Ikea chairs positioned themselves before a TV screen.
After the satisfying meal, I went upstairs to my room, curled up in the Rodtoppa comforter and lay my head on the Arenpris pillows.
Then, I bid my fantasy a good night.