10 Brilliant Organizing Lessons I Learned from Old IKEA Catalogs

published Jul 16, 2022
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Credit: Janel Laban

I used to mark my calendar every summer with the date of the new IKEA catalog launch. I did this partly because it was my job to stay on top of it (I’d report about the coolest new offerings for Kitchn!). But mostly I did it because it was fun and educational to flip through the pages; I’d always gather all sorts of new design ideas and organizing tricks. Unfortunately, after more than 70 years, the catalog has been retired. The 2021 issue was the very last one printed on paper.

Feeling a bit nostalgic for the past, I recently searched online for old issues. (If you saved your catalogs and want to share them with me, I’d be willing to do some business!) Turns out, the IKEA Museum has digitized every single issue from the last 70-plus years! They’re not in English, but they’re still a hoot to flip through. I just spent way too many hours clicking my way from 1950 to 2021 and found it to be wildly enlightening. I learned that there were some super-cool chairs in the ’60s that I wish were still on offer. I learned that some of my favorites have been around for a very long time. And I learned some pretty smart organizing tricks.

These are the 10 best organizing ideas I learned from clicking through old IKEA catalogs. Let’s take a look!

1. Folding furniture is always a good idea.

It might not surprise you to learn that IKEA was talking about folding furniture since at least the 1950s. I saw a folding table in almost every catalog I looked through — some even mounted right against the wall. If you’re short on space, consider a table that can transform based on the number of people you’re trying to seat. This image comes from a page in the 1958 catalog.

2. Store stuff wherever you can.

Not enough storage space in your kitchen? No problem! This pic from the 1966 catalog shows various dishes and glasses in a living room bookcase. The lesson to be learned: There’s no wrong place to store stuff. If you need to steal space in a nearby room, do it.

3. Bookcases can be used as bar carts.

The catalogs from the late ’60s and early ’70s featured lots of bookcases with bar space. (I’ve seen Mad Men, so I get it!) While IKEA currently sells a decent amount of carts that can work as bar carts, I really love the look and practicality of a setup on a bookcase. Even if you don’t have a door to hide your stuff away (such as these options from the 1972 catalog), it’s still a smart use of space!

4. We should all be using the backs of our doors.

Kitchn has been talking about using the backs of cabinet doors for added storage for years, but IKEA has been suggesting it since at least 1982! Add shelves or hooks to the back of a cabinet or pantry door, and you’ll create storage space that would otherwise go wasted.

5. All kitchens should come with slide-out prep space.

Seriously, how smart is this little pull-out board featured in the 1977 catalog? (See it? To the left of the stove.) Why is this not more of a thing? If you love this little trick as much as I do, I have good news for you: Kitchn has a little trick for making it happen on the fly.

6. You can always add a Bonus Island.

For even more prep space, IKEA has been a long-time supporter of, what I’ll call, the Bonus Island. This is from the 2021 catalog, but that wooden island has been around for waaaay longer. And even before it hit the scene, IKEA had similar options. If you don’t have an island in your kitchen, you can probably add one with a quick trip to IKEA.

7. Hang tools … and whatever else!

Throughout the issues, I noticed that IKEA was always showing kitchens with storage rails along the backsplash. There are years and years worth of images with tools and utensils hanging neatly. It’s a smart way to use space and free up your counters. Want to take it a step further? This kitchen from the 1997 catalog even features hanging wine bottles!

8. Drawers are better than cabinets.

I would love to spend time looking for a pot lid in this kitchen from the 2011 catalog. Because it wouldn’t take any time at all! Cabinets are the general default for the space under the counters, but drawers really do make so much more sense. If you’re designing your kitchen from scratch (with or without IKEA’s help), consider drawers instead of cabinets.

9. Matching storage containers can help maximize space.

This kitchen from the 2016 catalog has more space than I could ever dream of having, and still, every inch is used with purpose. Check out the shelves along the back wall. Those red and clear containers are all modular, which means they stack nicely and don’t waste shelf space between rows.

10. Toe kicks can be turned into extra storage.

Look at the cabinet on the left in this kitchen from the 1990 catalog. Now, look at the bottom of it. See that drawer? I don’t need toy storage, but I’d love to use my toe-kick space to store cutting boards, cake pans, and platters.

Have you learned any lessons from the IKEA catalogs over the years? Tell us in the comments below!