It is hardly surprising that the home of flat-pack giant Ikea is do-it-yourself mad Sweden, where home improvement is in the blood and someone is always bound to be tinkering around with something in the backyard or living room.
In the TV program Se om ditt hus, homeowners are inspired to do things themselves. Photo: Dan Lindberg / UR
Sign of a Swede
My father-in-law, a doctor, built his own house. A good friend of mine, a successful banker and also Swedish, personally crafted a wooden veranda for his summer house. Although I have made pitiful progress with the Swedish language in my five years on Swedish soil I have mastered something altogether more important; something that marks me out as more native than a mere mother tongue could ever do.
Since coming to Sweden I have laid three wooden floors and tiled one, re-set a fence post in concrete (it is still standing), re-cemented some concrete steps (they have crumbled), painted a house, fitted a new sink and toilet, knocked down a wall, wallpapered a room and put up countless bookshelves.
A recent survey has confirmed what I long suspected: Swedes spend more on home improvement than any other nation. The findings, published by global research company AC Nielsen, showed that 55 percent of Swedes spend their disposable income on making their homes look better.
The survey, which polled people in 42 countries, also puts Sweden at odds with its European neighbors. Europe as a whole lists its top three treats as new clothes, entertainment and travel. Home improvement creeps in a lazy fourth.
The most obvious question, of course, is why is Sweden seemingly a nation of do it yourselfers?
Bo Ekström, managing director of AC Nielsen Sweden, says: “We think it is partly to do with tradition. There is a long history of people doing things for themselves in Sweden; more so than in other countries. There is also a high output of television programs and magazine and newspaper articles about home improvement and decoration. In other parts of Europe people tend to employ someone else to do the work, or not do it at all.”
For the TV program Secondhand, hosts Caitlin and My guide viewers to bargains from the 1960s. Photo: Johan Paulin / SVT
Jack of all trades
Employing someone else or not doing it at all are two completely foreign concepts to Patric Eriksson. Eriksson lives in Uppsala, north of Stockholm, and could well be the living embodiment of the Swedish do-it-yourself culture.
Still in his early thirties, Patric has built his own house, inside and out, added a veranda, garage and swimming pool, helped his brother build his house and is constantly extending and improving his family summer house; all while holding down a full-time job as a computer software salesman.
“I always helped my father build stuff when I was growing up, and my brother after that. I don’t really know how I know how to do it, I just do; it’s second nature. I enjoy it, too,” he says.
But there is more to getting your hands dirty than just fun. “I worked out that I saved about a million kronor (USD 135,000) by not employing people to do anything for me,” Eriksson says.
By his own admission, his neighbors think he is a bit “strange” to do everything himself. But his efforts seemed to have rubbed off a little nonetheless. “A lot of people in the area have come round to see what I have done and how I have done it. And plenty of them have been inspired to do stuff in their own homes. But Swedes have always built things anyway. Even without me, they just know how to do it,” he says.
Perhaps it is no surprise then that Sweden is the home of Ikea. Were the company to have started up in any other country than Sweden – the country where self-assembly is in the genes – it may never have gotten off the ground; or even out of the box.
As I finish this article, and look out of my home office window, I can see my new neighbor, who only moved in last week, already starting to re-tile his roof. I think he is going to fit in around here just fine.
The top 10 home improvement spenders:
What they spend most of their disposable income on:
1. Home improvement
Rest of Europe
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Rob Hincks is a British freelance journalist living in Stockholm. Last year he dropped an electric generator on his hand, breaking a finger, after he had sold it to a man for half of what he thought he would get. Salt was rubbed further into the wound the next day when his other generator broke down. Still, you should see his wooden floors.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
© Photo 1: Dan Lindberg / UR
© Photo 2: Klarag / Bildhuset
© Photo 3: Johan Paulin/SVT
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