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Ikea: Better than bricks and boards?

Yesterday intrepid shopper VickyC led the wayon a half-day safari through Ikea. What an experience! The place, which occupies a large chunk of a large retail campus full of warehouse-size furniture stores perched on the banks of a gigantic freeway running through a vastsuburban plain of look-alike tract houses, was just jammed. So crowded was it that you couldn’t even stand still without having someone bump into you. At least a third of the patrons were youngish mothers with small, shrilly screaming children.

LOL! If I had been a child, I would have shrieked, too.

VickyC was continuing her search for a small desk, and she also hoped to pick up some shelves that hang niftily on the wall without visible braces. We did locate the shelves. But a difficulty promptly arose: she lives in a historic house, none of whose measurements are standard in 2008. So neither of the two sizes the shelves come in would fit either of the spaces where she wants to hang them. That she plans to put books on them and one sign announced their maximum load is 11 pounds didn’t help matters.

If she could find a desk small enough to leave room on the 60-inch wall that will house this proposed work space, she might manage to fit in a narrow cabinet of shelves. We looked at every cabinet, every bookshelf, and every desk in the entire 40 million square feet under Ikea’s roof. We searched at such length that by the time neither of us could stand up any longer, the crowds had gone home and we had most of the store to ourselves. During the hours-long expedition, we found one arrangement that mightwork. She decided to think about it.

We came away with three purchases: VickyC found a plastic drawer organizer and I grabbed a few unscented pillar candles and a glass mug to replace the yard-sale purchase I dropped some weeks ago.

I was struck by how chintzy the furniture items were. Much of this stuff is truly ugly: lots of plastic, ersatz veneer-over-cardboard, and fake chrome- or fake nickel-plated hardware.

On the other hand, beggars can’t be choosers: the stuff is amazingly cheap. And it must be said that the children’s furniture includes some adorable and snazzy designs. The “Mammut” series offers this cheerful table and chairs, which come in fire-engine red, brilliant blue, and lime green — to die for. The table is all of forty bucks, and each chair is fifteen.

We were impressed, too, by the large selection of Marimekko-knockoff fabrics, some of them in upholstery weights, others sheer, and all bright, striking, and fun. Next to the fabric department, Ikea sells hardware that will let you convert lengths of cloth into sliding shade-like “drapes” that move back and forth like shoji screensacross a window, an appealing device, indeed. Among the deskoids, we found an exceptionally stylish affair cobbled together with your choice of several etched-glass tops slung over legs fashioned to look like black-enameled sawhorses. With no drawers or other storage, it was useful mostly for decoration, but it did look cool.

Most of our fellow shoppers were twentyish-to-thirtyish adults who had the harried look of working parents. When I was that age, my husband and I had bought a house whose $350 mortgage payment stretched our income to the max. We had zero dollars with which to furnish the place. We had some pieces of Levitz furniture that we’d bought with the bribe my father gave my husband to elope with me, so that he (father) didn’t have to pay for a wedding and reception. And that was it. I ended up building bookshelves and tables with bricks and boards, which furnished our home for some years.

Probably today I’d buy Ikea products instead. The stuff is cheaper than bricks and boards, and at least it resembles furniture, more or less. Doesn’t look like you’d get years of wear out of it…but that may be just as well. You wouldn’t want to keep it around for years. There’s something to be said for stylish junk that can be thrown away when you can afford to buy something better. I’m not crazy about the concept of throwing out junk and replacing it with new junk every three or four years, but if you can’t afford anything better, that’s pretty much what you have to do. That, or live with lots of bricks and boards.

The estate sale has a lot to recommend it…

10 thoughts on “Ikea: Better than bricks and boards?”

  1. I’ll bet Ikea is a zoo today with all of the long weekend shoppers and college and university students going back to school. Almost exactly 10 years ago I made a big trip to Ikea to furnish my first home I shared with some college roomates. The pine-framed sofa, and pine coffee and end tables are still in our living room today. Total price for this living room set that I varnished myself and allowed to age beautifully was about $300 at the time. Now a couple of the sofa cushions have started to tear from the dogs climbing on and off, and I’ve been repairing them every time I pull them off to wash the covers, but I know the sofa’s days are limited in our home.

    I cringe at the thought of having to spend some serious money on something durable, nice looking, and easy to clean like a microfiber sectional sofa that all four of us can sit on at once, but I guess that’s the way it goes! I’m very thankful that the Ikea furniture has lasted as long as it has. I’m so attached to this furniture that I’m wondering if we can sew new covers and keep it for a cottage one day…

  2. My goodness, do you dance on your father’s grave every chance you get? After the post a couple of days ago (to which I meant to comment) and now today’s, where he paid your husband to elope with you. What a jerk of a father! My father is a jerk, too. I always say it was a good thing he abandoned my pregnant mother (and my younger sister) when I was five. He found me about ten years ago via the Internet and I briefly allowed him back into my life, until he started harrassing me about *my* weight. Hello? You left my mom because she was ten pounds overweight. 10 pounds! You ran out on me so you don’t have ANY RIGHTS at all to say a word about my body size. Oh boy, sorry for the rant. I have never understood the fascination with IKEA and have never set foot inside that one. Sounds too busy for me to have enjoyed it at all.

  3. I went shopping at Goodwills about a month ago for my new apartment and was really, really surprised at the quality of items. For example, I got a large solid wood dresser with latticework and a separate panel with a huge mirror for $56. Yes, there are nicks and scratches on it, but that’s OK because I’ll add some too. Also, I had to hire a U-Haul to haul it all from the richer towns with nice Goodwills to the city where I live, but it was still cheaper and overall probably better quality than what I could get by buying new.

  4. Yeah, I’m impressed with second-hand stuff…I like estate sales in particular. If you get there first thing when they open, you get a shot at the good stuff before the dealers grab it. I scored a beautiful hand-made solid cherry table for my son, a leather recliner, and a matching leather sofa. Awesome!

    Zowie! If you got 10 years out of an Ikea sofa, VfYL, you must really have taken care of it well! It might be worth trying to make new covers, or hiring someone to rebuild the cushions.

    Ah yes, my father, born on another planet from mine. Actually, he was just a man doing the best he could under the circumstances. It couldn’t have been easy for him. And he did come from another time: the turn of the century actually WAS another planet, when nice girls didn’t riot in the streets to protest their country’s misguided war, associate with queers and blacks, wear skirts up to their heinies, swear like pirates, pursue Ph.D.’s instead of raising families, or join the ACLU. He must have seen me as some sort of alien creature. 😀

  5. ugh! I hate dealing with Ikea. That store is bonkers and it feels as if you can never leave their store. It is a maze of bad products and even worse service.

  6. Coming out from the darkside here… I love Ikea. If you buy the cheapest furniture you get what you pay for, but their mid range stuff is nice and fairly solid. I too have an old couch from Ikea, in surprisingly good shape for its eight years, as well as too many other items to count. The furniture and decoration is amazingly cutomizable (check out Ikeahacks.blogspot) and I’ve found that it stands up to my three kids, three cats and French husband quite well! Plus, I live in a two hundred year old house, and I’ve never had a problem fitting anything in…
    (slinking back into my corner now.)

  7. Yeah, I think Ikea has stuff that’s well worth braving the madding crowds. Actually, if you show up an hour before closing time, most of the mob has cleared out. Some of the furniture is more than just acceptable — in yesterday’s “Home” section of the NY Times, what should I see but an absurdly expensive glass-topped table slung over sawhorse-style legs that looked just like the piece we spotted there last weekend. I loved the fabrics and am thinking about driving back down there to buy a yard or two to recover the dining-room chair seats, and I thought the sliding shoji-like curtains were tooo kewl.

    To my mind, Ikea excels at the kitchen stuff. The big globe-shaped stainless-steel pot I got there still gets admiring remarks from my friends. It’s held up just fine — no rust or dents or hot spots. And they have the cheapest kitchen gadgets this side of Goodwill.

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