Childhood memories of the 1980's Burnside IKEA

Classic 1980’s style/photo source: IKEA, via

It was the early 1980’s. I was about 6 years old. Our family lived in Dartmouth’s Colby Village – and a visit to IKEA in Burnside was the most incredible weekend treat.

I have distinct memories of this crazy setup in the front entrance, as soon as you walked in the glass doors. Just to the left was a big plexiglass cube, closed on all sides. Trapped inside was a brown leather POANG chair, that was quite literally, being abused by an enormous system of hydraulic pumps that had poles and square pieces of wood on the end. You could hear the hiss and pump of the machine behind the glass, and see the pieces of wood pushing and prodding the chair in all the places that a human would normally sit or lean. It looked totally medieval, and my childish imagination couldn’t help but imagine a person sitting in the chair by accident, blood and guts squirting all over the inside of the cube. There was a sign on the contraption that said möbelfakta. I remember being so proud at being able to sound it out. The idea was that this hydraulic furniture-physiotherapy routine was proof that IKEA chairs were indestructible.

And to my memory, they were. A set of four sunshine yellow plastic fold-up chairs saw our family through a decade of breakfasts. When the seats on the chairs finally cracked, my father replaced them, one by one, with crude homemade seat pads, made from plywood carefully sawed to shape and sanded, then screwed into the durable metal tubing. Those yellow- plywood chairs lasted about another 5 years. These days, one might call it an IKEA hack!

My next memory of the 1980’s Burnside IKEA is the time my little sister, who was about 5 years old, became stuck in a wooden high chair that was part of a room display. I am not sure what possessed her to climb up and squeeze into it (possibly, I goaded her), but I remember that we had to call an Allen-key armed technician to disassemble the chair in order to secure her release. This is a family story that she has never lived down: “remember the time Catherine got stuck in the chair? ha ha.”

I also have memories of a mascot – a moose wearing blue overalls-  who walked around, greeting the shoppers and giving them blue balloons with the IKEA logo. I’m pretty sure there is a photograph of me and the moose somewhere in our family albums. I have vague recollections of a magician too.

Lots of memories, all now disassembled by time.

Childhood memories of the 1980's Burnside IKEA (note this photo is of another IKEA in Canada)

IKEA knows how throw a party/photo source: IKEA via pop sugar

I asked my Mum what she loved about IKEA and here’s what she told me:

“I loved sitting down in the little rooms. You could pretend it was your sitting room; they always had real books on the shelves and you could sit down and read them. It made you forget your everyday messy house. And I used to like going there because there were all these interesting people – the eccentrics, you know. The general populus wasn’t quite as keen on IKEA stuff. IKEA…wasn’t the norm if you compared it to Zellers or Sears. Their furniture was different so it attracted more…European-minded people.  I always saw people I knew from the university there, and the cafe was so nice and the ball room was such fun for the children.” 

The ball room! From what I remember, the entrance door (or maybe it was a chute?) was about half a storey above the room itself, so you literally jumped into it. There were so many bright, multicoloured balls – the sound was deafening: a light hollow, rolling staccato as the balls hit against each other in response to your flailing movements. That feeling of floating on a plastic sea, the sensation of hundreds of plastic balls rolling against your back – it was magic. My mother tells me that she just used to leave us in there, and browse around the displays. It was her way of getting a break, forgetting that “everyday messy house!” 

When we moved to Hammonds Plains in 1984, I became a troublesome teenager and decided to move down to the basement. IKEA came with me: sheets of grey wallpaper with a white vertical stripe (so 1980’s!) and a white LACK table formed the base of my pink and grey den.

In 1988, IKEA disappeared from the Halifax-Dartmouth landscape, and Nova Scotians were left without a place where you could buy sofas, lamps and meatballs under one roof.

But did they actually serve meatballs back in the 1980’s? My personal meatball memory is not from Burnside, but from the IKEAs of my 20’s when I lived overseas. Every time I moved into a new house, had a change of life, or a change of heart…there was a trip to IKEA. And every trip to IKEA ended with a plate of meatballs and mashed potatoes. How delicious, how exotic to finish an exhausting day of shopping with food made in Sweden, just for you (energy for the hours of flat-packing that lay ahead?)

As I aged into the adult I am now, IKEA saw me through promotions, celebrations, parties and break-ups, new houses, new jobs and new friends. I still have a small glass candleholder that I bought with my friend Jane at an IKEA on the outskirts of Amsterdam.  I think we both bought one. I remember her every time I use it.

I moved back to Halifax from overseas 9 years ago, and have ordered several items from the Ottawa IKEA (some delivered by the entrepreneurial my box buyer) to fill our home, which I share with my husband and two kids. IKEA is not such a wacky place to shop these days – not just for the “eccentrics” or the “European-minded” folk that my mother knew. Every one loves IKEA. In my view, and many others’, its return to the Halifax area was long overdue.

I am so excited about the opening of IKEA Halifax (yes, Dartmouth!) on September 27th that I had visions of me camping overnight, clutching the photograph of me and the moose, being the first one through the door at 6:00 am, my grinning face in the local paper. The reality is thatI have a day job that has scheduled me to work on that Wednesday morning, and the photo in the paper would be a dead giveaway, were I to call in sick…so I can’t do that.

To celebrate IKEA Halifax’s return, I think I will wait for a quiet evening sometime in October.  I will leave the kids at home, and invite my Mum. We will pick a room, sit down on a sofa, flip through a few pages of a book or perhaps the new catalogue. Maybe we will phone up my sister and see if she wants to come along too. I promise we won’t mention the high chair incident!

In the new IKEA, just for a few moments, I will forget my everyday messy house.

Just for Fun:

Want to impress your Friends with some IKEA trivia? Here are 25 facts about IKEA.

IKEA and you: What was IKEA Selling in the Decade YOU were born? 

Wondering if there really was an IKEA Moose? Yup! Here he is! IKEA Moose commercial