Sunday, May 9, 2010
I finally went to IKEA for the first time ever on Friday and let me tell you it was a roller coaster of oohs, aahs, grimaces, dry hacking into my forearm so no one noticed, veiled sarcasm, genuine amazement, wary respect and so much more. I was fortunate enough to go with my friend Seth, who has a well-honed sense of quality in objects and life. We made it about 1/2 way through the store (which covers 3 city blocks) before we were overwhelmed by its sheer immensity and we rushed to escape lest the remainder of our brains leak out through our nasal passage and our souls be forever bound to roam the aisles in search of tea light trays.
This is just the parking lot. IKEA promises you LOTS. An all-inclusive system of spiritual belief, lifestyle and home furnishing selections. No detail is neglected or left unlabeled.
We arrived before the store officially opened. There were other people waiting. The staff were kind enough to open up a small pre-determined display set in the first sequence of the store for us to feast our greedy eyes and grubby hands upon before opening up the entire yellow brick road for business.
In IKEA - at least in the Renton IKEA - you walk through the store the way they want you to. It's a serpentine maze of home display mock ups and drop ceiling framework fluorescent lighting, with everything labeled and priced. Everything except the TVs on display. No idea why they don't just go into the business.
IKEA succeeds because it's cheap. Because it brings designer made products that have a clean, modern sensibility to a whole new market of people who otherwise wouldn't be able to buy new furniture, and would have to settle for the boring old stuff they get at Goodwill. In this, IKEA is something of a revolution - a movement to bring power to the people. One might even say Socialist in character...
But is this really what's best for the world?
Being in IKEA made me feel dirty. It made me want to go home and just hold the various little chunks of wood and weird bits of metal I've managed to collect. To stroke my old, solid wood teacher's desk I got for $15 and assure it I'll stand by it through good and bad, scratches, paint, gouges, dings, delaminations and all.
There is a saying about IKEA products that a wise man once told me. A man who was dropping off used building materials on the way to the dump (I work at a salvage yard). He said, "You don't want that. You can only move IKEA stuff three times." How true, how true. It's cheap, yes; it raises the masses out of their bland Goodwill lives and bring them style and taste and choice beyond imagination. But IKEA is the plastic spork of the building material world. I imagined the whole store ceasing to exist. I was unmoved. I imagined coming back after an earthquake, every single thing having broken neatly into its requisite components at the slightest jolt, the carnage sprawled across the giant warehouse floor. Seth broke something, a vase. I half expected tiny shin-high robots to come whisking around the corner to brush it into a dust bin that emerged from their abdomen before anyone saw the imperfection. Sometimes it's nice to openly expose yourself to the temptation to purchase objects and realize you have no desire for them at all.
In the end the retail experience degraded significantly. We stopped to eat (you have to pause and take sustenance to make it through the desert that is IKEA) at the deli partway through the store. Roughly, the first third is extremely manicured mock-ups room displays. The second third is large rooms of all similar objects - lights, rugs, appliances, kitchen ware, etc. The final third is pallet racking full of boxes, looking like any other warehouse. It's as if the employees themselves lost focus and got bored in arranging the store.
It was an experience, I'll say that. I appreciate Seth's willingness to go with me, because I don't feel the need to ever return to that bright, shiny world of photo-finish "veneers" of exotic wood species, of unconvincingly lightweight stainless steel everything, and of prices that assure you: someone somewhere is being fucked over to bring you this product. Thank you, IKEA, for reminding me why I live my life the way I do.