The Tao of Ikea

I love Ikea. I don’t want my entire apartment to be from that one place but going on an outing to Ikea is a very fun pastime. Looking their their app is addictive. Dreaming of changes to my little abode is just delightful.

Today I took a trip to Ikea. The closest one to me is 25 minutes away via a highway. Like grocery shopping, I always go with a plan. You can’t just turn up and wing it, you’ll end up with things that just don’t fit and will never look like they do on the shop floor.

I love going through the Showroom, in fact I always walk the whole way around Ikea even if I know what I’m getting. Each passing section calls to you:

Your house could be as good as this!
Look at how comfortable / welcoming / chic this is!!
It’s so easy!!!

The Showroom is essentially an immersive marketing gauntlet. Long before the new fandangled augmented / virtual reality took hold, Ikea knew that if you could see and experience it, you’d want it. If you can run the Showroom gauntlet without considering a kitchen refurbishment or new sofa, you have an iron will indeed.

And the temptations don’t stop there. After you’ve redesigned your entire house in your head you reach the Marketplace aka Cave of Wonders.

Now there’s even more chances to redesign, refurbish, spruce up. The prices are beguiling; items cost less than a latte but if you get more than one (and you will) the cost suddenly mounts.

Let’s fast forward…you’ve made it through the Showroom, you’ve made it out the Marketplace, you’ve even found your intricately labelled boxes in the Hall and wheeled those boxes on what seems to be the most difficult trolley to manage.

You’ve made it home. You have <insert a seemingly large amount of flat-packed boxes here> on your floor. There’s always that moment of buyer’s remorse, over-commitment to what you’ve purchased which looked so good in the Showroom but is currently in many disparate pieces with various sized Allen keys between you and the dream that you dreamed.

But this is where the real fun begins! This is where you regress from modernist technophile into a pioneer…an explorer…an inventor. You are about to construct furniture — furniture! — with nothing but your wits and a pictograph booklet. It’s you against the world. Your very survival depends on assembling what was started on an assembly line halfway around the world.

And this is what gets me every time: some designer somewhere thought up the item you are about to construct. Then they made it. Then they deconstructed it and came up with a way it could not just be mass produced, but mass produced in parts that would always fit together. And they made it idiot proof. I’m no great designer and fine motor skills (or gross motor skills for that matter) are not my forte but the fact that I can sit down and put together this (admittedly simple module construction shelf…but still) is rather impressive:

Now before you jump down my throat about the difference between good design and mass produced factory furniture, I know that Ikea shelf is very far removed from the bespoke hoop pine suspension bookshelf that’s been in my family for decades, that’s obvious. But, price aside, part of the perennial appeal of Ikea to me is the chance to sit down and create something…sure, maybe I should get a ceramics hobby or something but I’m not overly creative in the making sense. Ikea is like a paint by numbers, there’s a predetermined end point and you just have to join the dots to get there.

It may not be for everyone but I’ve spent many an hour sprawled on the floor working out why that screw doesn’t match up, or why my piece doesn’t look like Step 16 in the booklet, and as much as I find it stressful to have to take out 12 screws and phone a friend to just come over and help me finish the darn thing, I still love the thrill of when it all comes together and you can lean back (exhausted) and reflect on your own mostly forgotten skills.

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