Ikea: the shop that changed Irish homes

A new Ikea will open in Carrickmines, in south Dublin, this summer. A trip to the Republic’s existing store shows it has altered our shopping, home-design and even eating habits since it opened, in 2009


It is Wednesday afternoon in north Dublin, and the Ikea store is almost eerily calm. It’s busy, but the frantic atmosphere that can prevail at weekends, when Ireland and its mother seem to have had the same idea, and dragged every child in the country along along too, is absent.

Sandy Lawlor from North Strand is a regular. “I was just here last week,” she says. She has come looking for a toy box and shelves but knows she will pick up “a few bits” once she hits the Market Place section downstairs, where smaller household items are sold.

“It’s handy – anything you want is here,” she says. This is the consensus of shoppers I speak to. Most are looking for a specific item – today it seems largely to be shelves – but they’re also here to ramble around showrooms and pick up ideas.

Ikea announced this week that it will open a new, smaller order-and-collection store this summer in Carrickmines, in south Dublin. At 15,000sq ft, it will be considerably smaller than the Swedish chain’s Ballymun store.

The new shop will act primarily as a planning studio, the company says: people will be able to see furniture displays and order big items such as kitchens, wardrobes and sofas. Some small items will be sold too.

Last year 2.6 million people walked through the doors of the Ballymun store, collectively spending an average of €361,000 every day in the 12 months to the end of August. Ikea Ireland reported profits of €13.1 million for the same period, an increase of 84 per cent on the previous year.

Just over 450 staff work at the Ballymun store, which is as big as five soccer pitches. You’ll find more than 9,000 home-furnishings items, a 550-seat restaurant, a food hall and creche, and 1,850 parking spaces. Since it opened, in 2009, it has become a go-to for many for home and office furnishings.

“We’d probably come here first now,” say Emma Radley and Eoin Foley, who are buying a house. “We’ve bought stuff here before, and it works and it’s good quality . . . It takes the guesswork out of wondering whether things go together or not, because you can see everything. It has its own aesthetic, which is nice,” says Radley.

The idea that Ikea can provide you with a room rather than just pieces of furniture is one of the things that Paul Keogh, the principal of Paul Keogh Architects, says draws people to it, as it makes interior design easy for people who might not have the budget or desire to hire someone.

“Complete look”

“It’s almost a complete look. Not that everything is the same, but you go to Ikea and get everything from your knives and forks to tables and chairs to your beds and wardrobes, and they go together. It’s almost a lifestyle thing,” he says.

Ikea has given people access to, and popularised, contemporary design in a way that simply didn’t exist before it arrived, he believes.

“Some of their furniture is heavily indebted to the masters of modern design, whether that’s Alvar Aalto or Marcel Breuer. You see their influence in the stuff that Ikea design. That brings contemporary design to the attention of a very wide public. If you want an Alvar Aalto chair you’re paying hundreds if not thousands for it, and now you can go to Ikea and you get a passable imitation for €100 or something,” says Keogh.

“There’s been a big shift away from old-fashioned, stuffy interiors. Popular taste has definitely gone much more contemporary . . . You go along a street in Holland and everyone leaves their curtains open, so people can see how nicely furnished their houses are. We’re much more introverted in lifestyle, but I think Ikea has made people much more conscious about the quality of their domestic living environment.”

“Contemporary style”

Helen Kilmartin, founder of the Minima interior-design consultancy and high-end furniture retailer, agrees. “It has shown people more contemporary style, which benefits anyone who is in the business of contemporary furniture in Ireland. It’s an education,” she says.

“A lot of people start off with Ikea and then move on to higher quality if they can afford it, so it’s good for us. Some of our clients would mix it up: they might do their more formal rooms in higher quality, and then they would put Ikea into rooms they might change more often.”

Ciara O’Hare has come from Lismore, in Co Waterford, to look for storage solutions, and the Market Place is her favourite part of the store. “It always starts as one thing and turns into a day out almost. Downstairs is like Aladdin’s cave; it’s a very happy place to me.”

This is her third time at Ikea, but she has never bought furniture or anything requiring assembly. She loves “the prices, the variety, even the ideas” but says she’s hesitant about buying bigger pieces. “For things you want to last, maybe I wouldn’t choose Ikea, but if you’re the type that wants to change things quite often, it’s a great place.”

Lar and Sheila Gillivan are building a new house. They plan to kit it out with Ikea products. “We will end up getting a good bit of our stuff here, I think. It has definitely changed the way we think about decorating the house, and the layout of it and everything. It’s especially good for kids’ rooms and playrooms, I think,” says Sheila.

Jackie Carton, founding interior designer at StyleMyRoom.ie, often uses Ikea pieces in her work. She says there’s a place for Ikea both in people’s homes and in the industry.

“It’s cost effective: every project has a budget, so it’s about proportioning out that budget into [higher end] stuff that is going to last ages, like your floors or your sofas, and then stuff to finish off a scheme.

“I’ve no problem using things that are less expensive, because there’s always a range, from low end to high end. No designer would use something that was poor quality, because our business is about providing quality. Affordable is what Ikea is, particularly for storage, office desks and kids’ rooms.”

Budget problem

But the idea that any project can be done on an Ikea budget is a problem she has found since the retailer arrived in Ireland. “People think a bespoke item can be created for Ikea prices. They look at Expedit bookshelves for €80, but if we’re going to design something that size from scratch it would cost a lot more.

“I suppose it’s our place to educate as to why something is the price it is, and the process, how it is all done by hand, with solid wood. Definitely the perception is that if it can be made for €80 in Ikea, why are you charging me so much? I do get that a lot,” she says.

Although Anthony Buggy, a director of Think Contemporary Interior Design, also sources from Ikea for some of his projects, this attitude is one he sees a lot and finds frustrating.

“A lot of people have set their budgets on Ikea but said they’re not looking for the Ikea look. It’s very hard to work within a very tight budget when people have the perception you can get it all in Ikea.

“People are undervaluing interior design. They’re coming to us with a budget of say, €10,000 for a living room, and they want a complete vamp and for it to cover your fees. That’s undervaluing the profession of interior design,” he says.

For many, however, it has changed how they approach furnishing their homes. A furniture purchase used to be a 20-year investment – and you had to wait weeks for your goods to arrive. At Ikea you drive it away or have it delivered within days.

Evelyn Macken from Rush, in north Co Dublin, is in the shop with her daughter and granddaughter. They are looking for a table for the playroom, but Macken says she is in Ikea for one thing or another every two months.

“We come for the price, really. You can’t beat it. And the convenience: there’s no ordering or waiting. You just buy it and bring it home with you. I’d have been old fashioned before and gone to the furniture shop, bought stuff and had it delivered. Now, with teenagers in the house, I’m inclined to get it here and get it made up. I’m adept at assembling now. It took me a while, but I’m there now,” she says.

“I’m really here under duress”

John Gleeson has come from Carlow for the day. He is a more reluctant shopper, but he has seen a similar shift. “I’ll tell you straight, I’m not a shopping person. I’m really here under duress, but what do you do?” he says. His wife has roped him into coming to buy more of some lamps that their sons bought for them.

“It’s the way it is now, isn’t it? If you want to get value, and you want to buy stuff for the right money, this is where you come. Before Ikea we’d go to showrooms near us at home, or the local hardware. The next generation introduced us to Ikea. My wife loves it,” he says. “They have beautiful meals, I’ll tell you that. For the money as well.”

And that alone is the draw of the Ballymun behemoth for some. Dylan Murphy and Carolyn Croke study at Dublin City University, nearby, and come in once a fortnight. They’re looking for shelves and a bedside table, but the main draw is the restaurant.

“The meatballs are a big factor. They have everything here, and it’s cheap enough. It’s fun to walk around and browse, but I would come just for the meatballs,” says Murphy.

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