Lars Engman learned the hard way that furniture needs to do more than just look good. After his 6-year-old daughter and her rambunctious pals destroyed his expensive Italian-made sofa in three months in the 1970s, the Ikea product developer was inspired to create an equally stylish but kidproof alternative. "I wanted it to be hard-wearing and kid-friendly without compromising on design," says Engman, now Ikea's design manager, based in Almhult, Sweden. It would have to be soft around the edges yet sturdy enough to withstand years of wear and tear, and have machine-washable slipcovers to make it easy to keep clean. More important, it would have to meet the Ikea challenge of good looks at a low price. A tall order. But after endless testing of materials and fabrics, Klippan was born in 1980. More than two decades later, the $249 love seat with its clean lines, bright colors, simple legs, and compact size remains one of Ikea's best-sellers with 1.5 million sold since 1998.
The saga of the Klippan is that of Ikea in miniature: strong design, logistical efficiency, and constant cost-cutting. Although the sofa was initially manufactured in Sweden, soon after Ikea outsourced production to lower-cost suppliers in Poland. As the Klippan's popularity grew, the company decided it made more sense to work with suppliers in each of Ikea's big markets to avoid having to ship the product all over the world. Today, there are five suppliers for the frames in Europe, plus three in the U.S. and two in China, each of which is guaranteed a minimum volume.