Almhult is snowbound for a good part of the year. But when the sun is out, the Swedes embrace the outdoors. They run, cycle around town, take a boat ride or invite friends for barbecue in their summer homes.
In the Almhult countryside, where the roads snake through tall pine trees and lead to Lake Möckeln, nothing breaks the silence on the path. Some homes proudly display their barbecue sets in the garden, with the firewood neatly tucked away in a corner.
The well-heeled in this Småland province in southern Sweden own summer homes in the lake’s vicinity and spend their weekends here. A lucky few also own boats.
- What to expect: In colder months, Almhult resembles a winter wonderland where nearly everything is bathed in snow and the Möckeln lake is frozen. Try ice skating at the indoor rinks. The best time to visit Almhult is summer, from June to August.
- Getting there: The nearest international airport is Copenhagen, Denmark. From here, take a two-hour train ride to Almhult through the stunning Øresund Bridge, which is a 16-kilometre road and rail bridge between Sweden and Denmark.
We took this little detour during ‘home visits’ to understand Scandinavian design and style, as part of Ikea Democratic Design Days in 2018. Now referred to as ‘Ikea town’, Almhult municipality has a population of nearly 17,000.
If you look up Almhult on any travel portal, you’re likely to chance upon comments that there’s nothing much to do here unless you’re curious to see Ikea’s birthplace and headquarters. The comment isn’t way off the mark. This little town is marked by a clutch of Ikea offices, museum and the hotel — all down the railway track. A little further is the new Ikea store, an Ikea Fynd store where you’ll find things for a steal, some charming Swedish residences, and a town centre with cafés, stores and other establishments.
On a journey through Sweden and Denmark, it’s worth stopping to understand how this erstwhile farming town turned into a place that gives wings to entrepreneurship.
Ingvar Kamprad founded Ikea in 1943 and opened the first store in 1958 in Almhult. Before that, the sleepy town was known as the home of Carolus or Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy. Head North to Råshult to hike through the cultural reserve where the gardens are maintained in a 17th-Century aesthetic. There are a few other hikes in Almhult’s vicinity, but the town remains a major draw for being the Ikea headquarters.
Where it all began
Outside the Ikea Museum, a signage reads ‘It began here in 1958’. The building that housed the first store from 1958 to 2012, now functions as the museum.
Art, design and functionality go hand-in-hand in the museum’s corridors. The exteriors of the building were designed in international modernism style by architect Claes Knutson. The museum’s entrance is a shipping container. One of the walls bears artwork that resembles a stack of colourful containers. During lunch hours, this wall opens up to connect the museum to the sprawling Ikea restaurant.
The container doubles up as the museum’s entrance for a reason — shipping containers have been a part of the company’s success story. These containers are loaded on trucks, trains and boats, to transport products from Ikea factories to suppliers and stores across the world. A note at the entrance reveals that a standard shipping container of 76 cubic-metre capacity can hold up to 778 flat-packed Billy bookcases!
Ikea Museum features a permanent exhibition that gives insights into Swedish history, culture, lifestyle, its agrarian challenges and how Kamprad established the business. A temporary exhibition that’s updated twice a year comes alive with everyday objects used innovatively to arrive at contemporary art.
The permanent exhibition is divided into three zones. ‘Our Roots’ gives a brief history of the lives of people in the Swedish countryside in the 18th to early 20th centuries. The exhibits include the lingonberry picker, wooden lunch boxes, baskets made from pest-resistant juniper wood, and ‘beech’ wood barrels used to transport butter from Swedish dairies to England.
The ‘Our Story’ section establishes how Gustavian-style furniture, scientist Carl Linnaeus, artists Karin and Carl Larsson, and author Ellen Key have all inspired the product range. ‘Your Stories’ puts the spotlight on people who’ve shared their experiences.
The temporary exhibition on view is ‘Ikea Hacked’ (on till March 24, 2019), showcasing how 30 international designers, architects and artists are using Ikea products as raw material to arrive at new designs and functions through ingenious tweaks.
A tour through the museum typically takes two or three hours.
Look out for bus timetables, or better still, hire bicycles for shorter distances. Almhult is where you can slow down, go on long walks or rides along the countryside. But make sure you don’t wander too far without activating maps on your smartphone. Don’t count on asking someone for directions, because, chances are that you may not spot a soul for a mile or so in certain parts of the town.
(The writer was in Sweden at the invitation of Ikea)