Design director lays out why Israelis itch for Ikea

"We needed to examine design from many different points of view; our idea of democratic design represents that."

Not since the glory days of pop group Abba has a Swedish export made such a global impact. But Ikea, with branches in 44 countries, including Israel and three of its neighbors, has become a household name for affordable housewares. This week, Ikea design director Lars Engman visited Israel for a conference hosted by The Marker on "Economic Design" and to discuss the company's success on the global scene. "Since we began our company many years ago, we knew that we needed to examine design from many different points of view, our idea of democratic design represents that," Engman told The Jerusalem Post. "Democratic" is a word that comes up often when discussing the Ikea design model. Engman said it represents the company's goal of appealing to as many people as possible with an affordable and attractive product. "Our designs are modern and have a 'designer' quality, yet people can afford them," said Engman. "Israel strikes me as a very modern, design-conscious country. I am not surprised that we have been successful here, as we have been in many other countries." Ikea became one of the few companies to operate branches both in Israel and its Arab neighbors when it opened a branch in Netanya six years ago. Last year, Ikea's gross sales totaled $84 million, and according to one Channel 2 news report, one out of every three households in Israel holds an Ikea product. When the company first opened in Israel, there was controversy over the Nazi past of Ikea owner Ingvar Kamprad, who held membership in the pro-Nazi Swedish movement during the 1940s and 1950s. In 1994, Kamprad acknowledged his involvement in the movement and wrote a note of apology to all of Ikea's Jewish employees, stressing that he "bitterly regretted" that part of his life. While the incident was said to delay Kamprad's decision to establish an Ikea in Israel, the success of the Netanya branch has encouraged the company to invest $10m. in a second store, set to open by the end of 2007 in the Rishon Lezion area. "I am very excited about my visit to Israel, because I see many opportunities here," said Engman. Though Engman acknowledged that he did not see much of Israel on his current visit, he said that he was looking forward to visiting Israel again in the near future.