GLOBAL. Kungsbacka-based Designer
Olga Popyrina has created the largest
collection of IKEA lamps ever, being sold
all over the world.

Olga Is Lighting Up the World

Considering she has roots all over the world, it’s no wonder that Designer Olga Popyrina is fluent in a design language which speaks to buyers on every continent.

She’s the Designer behind Återsken, the largest collection of IKEA lamps ever.

These days, Olga Popyrina has her feet firmly planted in northern Kungsbacka, but looking back over her life reveals a childhood in Kenya, New York and Moscow, with family living in New York, France, China, Japan and Australia.

“I believe that my background has affected my work in the way that I feel at home anywhere,” says Olga Thorsen.

With a background as an Architect, Olga Popyrina is now a full-time Industrial Designer and has been working with IKEA as a Freelance Designer since 2002. She mainly works with lamps and lighting; a clear link to the world of architecture, since lighting is an important aspect when creating the right atmosphere in a room.

A Number of Designs

At the beginning of the year, her latest collection of lamps – Återsken – was released. The collection is composed of a number of designs, with ceiling lamps, floor lamps and table lamps, all featuring brass-coated steel and lampshades in clear or opal glass.

The lamps have a slightly retro style, inspired by the 1930s and featuring refined lines. Olga Popyrina believes that it might be the shape of the lampshade which makes the design work in so many places, all over the world.

“I was going for Scandinavian minimalism with an international touch when I created the collection; lamps with elegant shapes which bring us joy and which would suit homes all over the world. So I looked at chandeliers in the Moscow subway, Paris streetlights, architectural styles, art and textiles. A few of the lampshades are also inspired by onion domes, which can be seen in a number of cultures, for example eastern churches, but which might also be spotted on some old Swedish wooden churches. Once I have my inspiration, I work in a formalistic way, simplifying the design, but without making it primitive. I think that’s a contributing factor to why the designs work well in so many markets.”

At the same time, Olga Popyrina has had to adjust for various tastes. In the Middle East, for example, crystal glass is popularly used to create a festive atmosphere. There is no crystal in the collection, but it does feature a more golden tone than what is customary in countries like Sweden.

The collection of lamps was first launched in the United States, earlier this year. And at first, all was well: the designs had been completed several years earlier, the production, including among other things hand-blown glass shades from China, had been planned, and the logistics for warehouse deliveries had been organized. But then the demand went through the roof.

Two Designs in Sweden

Återsken was originally created for IKEA’s Asian, Arabic and US markets, but has now been ordered for nearly all markets with IKEA stores. In Sweden, the collection was launched during the spring. However, not all markets offer the complete collection. While an American customer can choose from eighteen versions with six ceiling light models, a floor light, wall light and table light available in clear or opal glass, the Swedish market is only being offered two designs: a table lamp and a floor lamp with opal glass lamp shades.

“The collection sort of made it into the main assortment via the backdoor, which has put a lot of demand on the logistics!”

These are no small assortments of lamps. There are 437 IKEA stores in 52 countries, plus the web shops. There’s no available, exact figure for the number of lamps sold to date, but according to the IKEA Information Department, it’s in the millions.

The first product which Olga Popyrina designed for IKEA was a glass serving bowl, “Gottis”. When it was launched, she immediately went to IKEA to buy one. She still goes to IKEA stores to buy her own products, and in the back seat of her car, she has a few boxes of recently purchased lamps.

“When the glass serving bowl was launched, it was an almost inconceivably big deal, that something I made would be in so many homes, that people would be able to buy it all over the world. Then I thought, ‘it’s just an object’. I work hard on my designs, and it’s a demanding part of my artistic work, so I feel confident about it. I’ve also been praised by the best of the best, like IKEA’s Design Manager Lars Engman, and that strengthens me. I know that I’m creating things which people like,” says Olga Popyrina.

Our in exile: how a Russian-speaking designer succeeded in IKEA

IKEA is known worldwide. Russian-speaking designer Olga Popyrina has been living in Sweden for many years and has a permanent contract with IKEA. She created for the brand about 45 different items: among them – a Frodig set and Gottis dishes. She said The Village about how things work on new things.
Beginning of workNext – from the first person.
I was born in Kenya and lived there until I was five, then I lived in New York and only came to Moscow when I was a teenager. I have been painting since childhood, in 14 I began to go to the Pushkin Museum for a lecture on the history of art, then I entered the design department at the Moscow Architectural Institute. We always had a lot of literature about art at home, and I was fond of it.Our family is very international: my grandmother lived in Japan and then headed the Japanese language department at MGIMO, my grandfather helped create the Communist Party in China, his name was Grigory Voitinsky. My brother is a Sinologist, an aunt is a carpet specialist, she lived for many years in Turkey and was married to a diplomat … So the family always had interesting household items from around the world. My grandmother had Japanese minimalism at home – a style that influenced my taste.I married a Swede and have been living in Sweden since 1992. In 1997, I opened my own company: I took a loan from a bank, took a course in doing business – so I was able to create my first collection of floor lamps, which I showed at furniture exhibitions in Stockholm and New York, in Dubai, Copenhagen and even in Moscow. The first exhibition in the Swedish capital was very successful: my lamps hit the cover of the popular Hus och Hem magazine, which was placed at all bus stops in the country. At the same exhibition, a woman from IKEA came up to me and took my contacts.A month later, IKEA representatives contacted me and invited me to come to the central office in Elmhult. I met with the chief designer and talked about my work: I was engaged in sculpture in combination with lighting. So, in 1998, I started working with IKEA, and with 2002 I signed a permanent contract with her.Developing new thingsThe first project for IKEA was glassware, the series was called Gottis, then there was also an order for the Frodig service – both series sold very well around the world for many years. In total, I made about 45 different items for IKEA: vases, dishes, carpets, lamps.The projects have no clear terms of reference: there is a description of the product need and function, usually there is also mentioned material. Next is freedom! I have had cases where even the materials from which it was supposed to produce a product changed due to design. That is, design is very important, and if they believe in it, then others can even pick up factories. Our product developers are very supportive of designers, and no changes can be made without our consent.Each project has its own specifics and requires a different amount of time. Usually they give me an order, and I develop several directions of how I see it. After that, the product developer of the department decides which direction is most suitable. And we are developing these very ideas. I make detailed sketches 1×1 and drawings, which we then send to the factory. Prototypes are sent from there, we check them with a sketch, make changes. Then mass production begins.Marketers are always asked to tell how we created this or that product – then it is published in IKEA catalogs around the world. We usually write a few sentences, but the creation process itself, of course, is much more complicated. Some things are born in the head very quickly, and some require a lot of work. And you never know how it will go, and you always worry a little before the presentation.I know that my things sell well – every sane company needs designers who generate revenue. And good sales give me a job guarantee. I have often seen my products in people’s homes, and it makes me very happy, especially if my friends bought them. SKAFT lamps recently came out, so far only in the US market, but I have already seen that they are selling at 100 dollars more expensive on Amazon. Apparently, since they like them, but not everywhere, people are ready to overpay – this is a funny situation!
TeamworkThere are few freelance designers with a permanent contract in IKEA – the frequency of communication depends on whether there is work for a particular person. Our chefs are well versed in the style of everyone and connect us to projects that need our competence. All designers are selected individually, look at his style – IKEA has extensive experience in finding talented people.Working with IKEA is always a team, we rely on the main aspects of democratic design: this is form, function, quality, environmental friendliness, low price. We believe that a beautiful home should be accessible to everyone. Therefore, we always work in a team with different specialists, and design is only the tip of the iceberg. We have a very professional, friendly and warm team. The designer feels that they trust him, and this is very important. We have true democracy – we respect every person, every specialty is important.
Sometimes I work in a factory, sometimes only from home, it all depends on the project. I really love production, and I like it when objects appear from a dream, from the subconscious and then are embodied in real products, and they can be produced all over the world!Once a year, a meeting of all designers takes place, where we all participate in a big discussion and are told about IKEA’s development plans for the coming years. What we are developing comes out in 3 − 5 years, and strategies are done for a longer period. This is due to the peculiarities of production and logistics: we must produce goods that appear on store shelves around the world at about the same time.Home office and own projectsI had a couple of times a situation when I abandoned the project in IKEA, as it was too busy. I do not like to overload myself and work for quality. Mostly I work from home, it was my conscious choice from the very beginning to deal with children. I have two of them, so all their childhood I tried to be with them as much as possible.We live a kilometer from the sea – this summer I swam every day and still took kiting lessons. I have two dogs, with them I walk a lot in the reserve near the house. There live moose, roe deer, hares, a family of foxes, sometimes wild pigs roam. Sometimes I go to the rocking chair when the weather is bad. I travel a lot: now my son is studying to be a doctor in Kaunas, and his daughter is at the New York School of Visual Arts.I do not have typical working days – sometimes these are very intense periods when I sit until late at night. But basically, my ideas come from a semi-meditative state: I dream a lot, think about how I would like people to live, try to catch the feeling of the future.I perceive the sculptor: when I work, I imagine white forms, and this is my favorite color. I have always been interested in light, and I like to see in everything a certain play of light and shadow. After September 11, I was shocked, and I realized that the world has changed. I made pigeons – porcelain lamps, a symbol of peace, and went to ICFF in New York to show that design can carry not only function, but also moral value. Many liked the pigeons, they were ordered by people from different countries. Now I am working on a new idea, which also seems to me to have human meaning and symbolism. In addition, I work with the production of kimonos in Vietnam for boutiques in Sweden, do custom lighting projects, work with private individuals and decorate houses, restaurants, libraries in different countries.