How do you solve a problem like IKEA?

A monster IKEA is opening in Dartmouth Crossing next month. Here are a few things you need to know:

They broke our hearts

IKEA opened their first store in North America in Burnside in 1975. They became a big part of our material and aesthetic lives, and then about 12 years later pulled a “it’s not you, it’s me” break up. My memory is, IKEA said the shop was doing just fine but the company only wanted to operate stores that were much larger, and we didn’t have the population to support one. Bye, bye.

You know Halifax. We love to be first and are quick to take insult. So 30 years later, my generation and demographic have never forgotten nor totally forgiven.

Felt like they had been reading our mail

IKEA arrived when we Boomers were beginning to settle into long-term homes, and the store offered  an aspirational style of life at a price we could just afford.

The IKEA had a huge stock but everything matched, or so we believed. In the early ’80s, Sheila and I wanted to modernize the Victorian cottage I’d inherited in Bridgetown. Once, on the way out of town, we quickly picked up the bench, table, place mats, plates, and napkins at IKEA.

c1986 Add an old butter churn full of flowers and a rustic chair to the IKEA collection. Bliss.

Only the strong survive

Most of the furniture we bought is long gone. The pieces were not engineered to be handed down to future generations. But IKEA taught us the pleasures of storage systems: standing file boxes; modular cardboard storage boxes; and sweet little drawers (perfect for boxes of staples). Some of these are still around 30 years later.

We lived in a Victorian house without closets, so IKEA’s storage cabinets were perfect for clothes. When we moved to a modern house, they were used to store our famous reserve collections.

Open IKEA shelves are perfect for preserves (time to make some more pickles).

The IKEA Effect

Studies have shown that people “place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created”. This is called the IKEA Effect. If you succeed in assembling your IKEA bookcase or bed, you may value it more than if it had arrived complete. And you will expect others to also recognize the value.

I don’t suffer from the IKEA Effect, but I do have many, many Allen keys.

When the new IKEA opens don’t expect us to dash over immediately, partly because we are mildly offended by Dartmouth Crossing, and partly because a broken heart never completely mends. I’ll be interested to see if the IKEA communications crew acknowledge our breakup in the 1980s.


  • A couple of years after IKEA left Burnside they took a booth at the Home Show in Exhibition Park. The booth consisted of a shellshocked-looking young man offering IKEA catalogues. He told us that many people expressed their unhappiness, in the strongest terms, with the company.


  • I have never heard why IKEA chose Burnside as the location for their first store in North America. Perhaps it was because Nova Scotia was already home to other Swedish companies: the Volvo assembly plant, and the Stora paper mill in Port Hawkesbury.


  • A 35 year old IKEA  product we use daily is this saucepan. A perfect size for many things, including the winter morning porridge.

The saucepan is sitting on the napkins seen in the cottage supper picture, above.


  • I like this photo of Sheila in her house on Smith Street about 1979, sitting  on an IKEA sofa.

The Danish designed Safari Chairs and yellow table to the right came from one of the small design stores that opened in Halifax in the early 1970s. Below is one of them, Introduction Design, that was located in the space now occupied by Black Market on Grafton Street (lower picture).


About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.