Young people may flock to Ikea because of its clever Scandinavian design, but in reality many of us commit to our first collections of Hemnes, Ektorp, and Bjursta for a very simple reason: the price is right. But against all odds, vintage Ikea furniture from the 1950s through the ’90s is selling online for thousands of dollars a pop.
According to an online survey by the online auction aggregator Barnebys.com, Ikea’s Ake sofa, which was produced by the furniture giant in the ’50s, recently sold for $3,700. Ikea’s ’70s-era Amiralen armchairs are selling for $1,100, while the best-selling Tema bookshelves from the ’50s and ’60s are now selling for up to $3,900. One 1993 sideboard table, originally priced at $440, is now selling for up to $2,900.
Why is some Ikea design considered classic today, despite its humble origins? It’s partially because the company has invested in designers whose work has stood the test of time, like Swedish designer Gillis Lundgren, who was the company’s fourth employee and designed the Billy bookshelf (as well as the Tema bookshelves). Decades later, the company hired the now-legendary Danish designer Verner Panton, whose Vilbert chairs sold in the ’90s for $74. Today, a pair fetches $2,875 at auction, Barnebys says. Even though they didn’t sell very well when they were in stores, the chairs have now become collectors’ items.
Despite its low contemporary prices, the thousands of dollars people are willing to shell out for vintage Ikea furniture is evidence of the company’s continued growth as a broader cultural force. It’s not just a place to buy your first sofa or bedframe–Ikeas has come to represent both the renter’s mentality of the millennial generation and a brand-name that speaks to a certain aspirational lifestyle where design is valued, but not quite important enough to spend meager paychecks on. It’s no wonder that as millennials get older and can afford to spend more on furniture, they continue to look toward Ikea as a cultural touchstone–a sentimentality that is perhaps driving some of the more extravagant bidding on older Ikea pieces.
“When a new generation becomes financially established and begins to trade at an auction, they usually start to buy what they saw around them when growing up,” says Pontus Silfverstolpe, Barnebys’s cofounder in a statement. “We saw it clearly around the turn of the century when the Scandinavian design from the 1950s and ’60s became incredibly popular, and now it’s increasingly ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.”
So if you own any Ikea furniture from the ’90s, you might be looking at a nice return on investment–though maintaining a piece of Ikea furniture for 30-odd years is a feat in itself. Perhaps one day the sturdy workhorse Frakta bag will be as expensive as its blue Balenciaga rip-off.