Swedish company that became part of the furniture here

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The Independent Online

Ikea says its vision is "to create a better everyday life for the many people". The store has marketed itself to the middle classes as a civilised place to buy home furnishings in a family-friendly environment.

But it is the clever marketing campaigns, the slogans, that have caught the eye and made its name among consumers. In the late 1980s the "Chuck out the Chintz" advertisements announced it to British consumers as a rival to Habitat, which had promoted a similar revolution in British taste in the 1960s. Ikea now owns Habitat.

Founded in 1943 by the Swedish-born Ingvar Kamprad, Ikea's flagship store opened in Stockholm in 1965. Thousands queued.

In the early Seventies Ikea crept beyond its home country to Switzerland, which led to a quick expansion in Germany, which is still the largest market for the company today.

It was not, however, until 1985 that Ikea set foot in America. Its first stores were opened in the UK two years later. It now has 12 outlets here.

In total, Ikea's 186 stores span 31 countries. Ten new outlets are expected to be opened in the Far East by 2010.

Yet they are not the heart of its empire. Ikea prides itself on its catalogue, spending 70 per cent of the annual marketing budget on it and circulating 110 million copies a year, 13 million in the UK. It is produced in 38 different editions, in 17 languages for 28 countries.

Some advertising campaigns, however, have hit cross-cultural boundaries. A set of advertisements in 2001 displaying a Mafia-style gang tormenting families for their bad taste brought in more than 80 complaints to British TV regulator Ofcom.

The voice-over had said: "Come and see us or we will come and see you." But the adverts, which included one man being locked in a car boot and another tied to a chair, were judged humorous rather than offensive by the Independent Television Commission.

And that is not the only criticism. The flat packaging, which Mr Kamprad introduced in 1955, is a common source of complaints and jokes. The instructions are frequently described as incomprehensible and the nature of the structures attacked for being difficult to assemble.

Stores are also criticised for their lack of staff and waiting times at checkouts.

Peter York, a style consultant, said: "It was mass embourgeoisement. Ikea is selling very cheap things in a very middle-class way and using very middle-class clever advertising. The advertising has been fascinating in presenting a challenge to Englishness. It says: 'Get with it, get modern, get European'."