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Sarah Fager, 40, is one of 12 IKEA in-house designers in Sweden. Having started as an intern at IKEA in Sweden in 2007, she has designed more than 200 products.

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Sarah Fager, one of 12 IKEA in-house designers, at the IKEA store in Dartmouth, N.S. on Sept. 28, 2018Sandor Fizli/Globe and Mail

My parents came to Canada in the early seventies for work; my dad was a mining engineer. They didn’t want to move up north in Sweden because we’re from the south, so they moved to British Columbia. They started a family and moved to New Brunswick, then to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, where I was born. They’re the reason I love IKEA so much because there was a store in Dartmouth, their place to feel Swedishness, being so far away from their home. They could eat meatballs, look at Swedish-style furniture and get things for their home.

I didn’t know designer” was a profession. I thought maybe [I’d be] an artist like my mother, maybe a photographer, so I chose arts and crafts. My brothers chose more academic directions – doctor, biochemist, an engineer – my sister is a musician.

I was interested in how people lived and how my home should be – not only about looks, more about function. I went to learn furniture carpentry at a Swedish “folk high school,” a school that gives possibilities to people in rural areas to gain basic knowledge and portfolios for applying to universities. I did two years, then applied for a Bachelor of Industrial Design focused on furniture at Malmstens Linkoping University in Sweden, including a half-year in 2005 at Emily Carr [University of Art & Design] in Vancouver. I didn’t want to be a superstar designer because that’s not me. I’m more interested in teamwork.

Getting accepted to the internship was a dream come true. It’s very difficult to become an IKEA in-house designer in the design department of 12 designers. I got a short-term contract, then a bit-longer contract, then, when pregnant with my first child, they employed me. Every half year we take in two or three interns for five months. One of my first assignments – still in stores – was the Prickig microwave lid. I first bought everything I designed and took it home, but I don’t any longer.

Democratic design is a tool we use to develop products in five dimensions; it should have a beautiful form because that’s what attracts. It should have a function, be good quality, sustainable and a reasonable price. Because our volumes are so high, we’re interested in techniques that are machine-operated because we can control quality and optimize production. We think people, especially ones who don’t have a lot money or resources or live small, they also deserve a good, decent, well-functioning home. There’s a real purpose why we do things; the values correspond well with my own.

I’m involved in a social initiative in India. Women have skills, own their companies and produce on a small scale. I come with the knowledge of what customers would like; we can sell their products in one store or one country. You meet these women and understand you’re creating a better life for them because they can put their kids into school. For women to have decent jobs is the only way out of poverty – to be part of that is amazing. There are different ways of using design as a social tool, this is one for the heart.

One important thing as a designer, woman and mother – I support the women around me in many ways. It could be a junior designer, an intern. Women should absolutely help each other much more; I feel because they’re women that’s their superpower. You need to be tough, soft, smart, blonde – all those things. It’s very important to inspire other women – you can combine good work, home life and have kids. It’s easy in Sweden to be this person because [our] government has supported women for a long time.

A part of me is very Canadian, a big part of me is Swedish. It’s unique in Sweden to have dual citizenship – I used it when I studied in Vancouver because I could pay the same fees as a Canadian. To be a part of such a beautiful country with the values Canada has, has made me very proud.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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