80 years of success

For more than 80 years, Kinnarps has been synonymous with high quality, ergonomics, sustainability and innovative design. But how did the success story of this family business actually start? Two of the heirs, Henry and Sibylla, share the inside story.

Since 1942, Kinnarps has been delivering successful interior design solutions. Nevertheless, it has a long history of overcoming challenges. Like the tonsillitis that struck down founder Jarl, which affected his kidneys and threatened chronic impairment. Or the time cash flow issues meant they couldn’t afford to pay their workers’ wages. But an old wives’ cure put Jarl on the road to recovery and the wages were paid by selling the dining room furniture. As Jarl always said: “Standing still is moving backwards”, so struggling on in spite of setbacks was just as obvious as involving children, cousins and other relatives to keep the company going. 

“At first, it was about survival and all resources were put to good use, not least us young children, were a good help. Every day after school, my brother Assar and I were at the factory helping to glue the compartments to the drawer fittings and preparing the factory for the arrival of the workers the next day,” recalls Henry Jarlsson, chairman of Kinnarps AB and former CEO.

As the youngest member of the family, little sister Sibylla tagged along on visits to suppliers and recalls family holidays with the dual purpose of developing the business. It’s fair to say that the family lives and breathes Kinnarps, and although Sibylla worked as a teacher for a while, she has also been an engaged board member for many years now.

“This farmer’s mentality – being frugal, finding solutions and never giving up – is the foundation of the company. And these are values that still exist today,” says Sibylla Jacobsson.

“Curiosity and problem solving are what drive us forward. Always with customer needs in focus.”

Henry and Sibylla.

Kinnarps is Europe’s leading supplier of total interior solutions and workplace design for offices, schools and care facilities. The furniture is characterised by high quality, innovative design, low environmental impact and long life cycles. The company has been family-owned since the start in 1942, with manufacturing in Sweden and operations in more than  40 countries.

How it started

In 1942, Jarl and Evy Andersson founded the furniture company Kinnarps, which was originally a carpentry factory. Their sons Henry, Ola and Assar were instrumental in developing production, data and transportation in the following years. And daughter Sibylla has always taken a special interest in safeguarding corporate culture and communication. But in order to understand Kinnarps’ history, we need to look at some crucial events in the company’s development. In 1952, Jarl and Evy implemented a strategic change by focusing on office furniture, launching a catalogue and a dedicated product range. 

“If you’re not competitive, you won't be successful, so Jarl and Evy shifted focus from craftsmanship and made-to-order goods to serial production. And the reason for this was that they lost a government contract and had to rethink. This resulted in hundreds of orders that ensured the survival of their company,” says Henry.

“This also led to the development of the production line and the purchase of machines. It took a few years, but eventually we were more efficient than all our competitors and won the government back as a customer,” adds Sibylla.

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Sibylla, youngest member of the family and chairman of the board Kinnarps Holding AB. 

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Henry Jarlsson, chairman of Kinnarps AB and former CEO.

Innovation and sustainable ideas

By taking on more work and solving problems internally instead of relying on external consultants or solutions, Kinnarps has always been at the cutting edge and found innovative ways to optimise its operations. That stubbornness is a recurring theme throughout the company’s history. Another important milestone was reached in 1959, when Kinnarps began using its own vehicles for transportation instead of the railways. This not only made deliveries more reliable and faster but also provided a significant competitive advantage.

“We simply flipped things around and let transportation determine production, so that we could always deliver in five days. It was incredibly complex to make that work, but it was eventually possible and no-one else has a similar system,” notes Henry. 

Early environmental awareness also led to new innovations. As early as the 1970s, they realised that emissions were unsustainable in the long run and started testing different methods in order to develop a solvent-free lacquer.

“Not many people know this, but we managed to develop a method whereby we reduced our emissions from about 160 tonnes to 10 tonnes of solvents per year. This technique went on to become the industry standard, but not until the 1990s, so we’d switched long before it eventually became a requirement. That says something about our drive to constantly develop,” says Henry.

“Our environmental awareness has been in our DNA since the beginning.”

Side by side. Siblings Sibylla and Henry.

How have you succeeded in meeting new needs, requirements and trends over the years?

“It has a lot to do with being responsive, and we’ve been that right from the start. Jarl was an excellent salesman who was phenomenal at listening to his customers, and this has evolved into the more complex task we now carry out with the help of our Next Office®, Next Education® and Next Care® analysis tools. Instead of starting with the product, we’ve always started with the needs and the solution, and then set up good production that’s as efficient and economical as possible.”

What sets Kinnarps apart from its competitors?

“In my opinion, there aren’t many similarities. Our competitors mostly buy products outside Sweden, and assemble and deliver them here. We have our own factories and production in Sweden, so we have control over the entire chain,” says Henry.

Kinnarps is still a family business, on a much larger scale, of course. But rest assured that it is still run with the same authentic entrepreneurial spirit of independent strategies and continuous development. The rest, as they say, is history.

Kinnarps timeline


Evy and Jarl Andersson start their company in Kinnarp, Sweden. 


Established in the UK. New markets were gradually added to the Kinnarps portfolio in the following decades. Now operating in over 40 countries.


Kinnarps launches a solvent-free UV lacquer to be able to offer hard, durable surfaces without harming the planet.


The Next Office® service is launched. This enables Kinnarps to offer a needs analysis that helps the customer map out their needs and work patterns.

Today and in the future

Kinnarps is continuing to develop furniture and interior design solutions that make a positive difference to people’s lives.