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Decluttering with IKEA
April 4, 2011 3:09 AM   Subscribe

"It is no mean achievement that IKEA has continued to embody in the public mind the modernist ideals of simplicity and minimalism yet all the while its total product range has been growing – to the point where, by 2010, it comprised some 12,000 items." Decluttering with IKEA asks: What are we looking for as we wander through IKEA?

With reference to former IKEA director Johan Stenebo’s tell-all book about the international store, Alan Penn’s lecture on urban architecture Who Enjoys Shopping with IKEA? [no transcript, skip to 24:20 for the Ikea-specific section], and the ad with the cats [previously], Richard Johnston ponders why so many people tolerate the pilgrimage through the labyrinth [previously] of an IKEA store.
posted by harriet vane (167 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
What are we looking for as we wander through IKEA?

1. The cafeteria with cheap food.
2. The exit.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:22 AM on April 4, 2011 [28 favorites]


I for one am happy with the SKÖRJN that I bought at IKEA. I wanted a BJÜRK, but the SKÖRJN was easier to assemble.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:28 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The mythical sofa that's actually comfortable?
posted by Ghidorah at 3:28 AM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Missing in this post, and also from Metafilter history, is a detailed description of the IKEA nomenclature protocol. For example:
  • Beds are named after places in Norway.
  • Dining tables are named after places in Finland.
  • Fabrics are named after women.
  • Curtain accessories correspond to mathematical and geometrical terms.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:40 AM on April 4, 2011 [29 favorites]


IKEA - also the world's richest charity ("...but is at the moment also one of its least generous.").
posted by titus-g at 3:46 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


How long before clutter becomes fashionable again? My feeling is that we're still overcompensating for the excesses of the 1890s.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:46 AM on April 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


i've been to IKEA once, found a reasonable bookshelf for <$25, and a couch or two i wouldn't mind buying. it's a really big store with furniture and housewares, why is it somehow shocking that they have lots of products? should there be one couch, one chair, one desk, etc and all would be well with the universe?
posted by efalk at 3:51 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Never been in an IKEA. I think Indianapolis is the largest city in the US without a store. Are we missing anything?
posted by Thorzdad at 3:51 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


A giant retailer selling an image? What happened to integrity, man? It used to be all about the futons. IKEA can only redeem itself by changing the layout so shit's in the store randomly with no displays and changing all their signage to "Buy It and Fuck Off."
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:54 AM on April 4, 2011 [15 favorites]


To make room for a kid, we reluctantly gave up our study w/ antique partners' desk for 62 flat packs of "Effectiv" in another room. Four years later, it is still perfectly solid, functional, and a certain kind of pleasing. I don't think I'd ever buy a house younger than I am, but I've grudgingly become kind of an IKEA fan. After the screwdriver blisters went away, anyhow.
posted by Ella Fynoe at 3:57 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who here remembers that scene from The Wire when Keema buys some piece of furniture from IKEA and can't assemble it? I thought that was brilliant, and also rather unexpected: one doesn't usually see such overtly negative portrayals of any specific brand name on Tv shows and such.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:03 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


In my experience, unless you're looking for upmarket furniture, Ikea is a very good choice for furniture that is sturdy and will make it through more than one move.
I wanted to start listing my ikea furniture, then realized that I have 2 bits in my house that are not Ikea...
posted by _Lasar at 4:05 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Keema buys some piece of furniture from IKEA and can't assemble it

I thought that was McNulty (the bunk beds for his kids)

Going to IKEA on an Sunday morning about 10:00 - the car park is full of hundreds of people all staring towards the front door. The new religion. Scary.

I sneaked in the back door, got what I wanted from the racks, paid and was out before any of them made it round.
posted by Grangousier at 4:19 AM on April 4, 2011


Here (PDF) is Kamprad's "Testament of a Furniture Dealer" as mentioned in the article. As somebody who has a revulsion to most corporate mission/vision statements I thought this one was interesting.

I think there is an additional "missing manual" from Ikea on tax minimisation - but that is another story.
posted by rongorongo at 4:20 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lots of kids have sort of mechanical bogeymen -- think of say, how Macauley Culkin's character in 'Home Alone' was afraid of the furnace in the basement, or how in 'Rugrats' everyday objects like garbage trucks would become terrifying monsters.

My bogeyman was in IKEA -- in the furniture department, in the late 80s.

Lit by a single spotlight in an otherwise dark corner, they had this hideous robotic contraption that violently opened and closed set of drawers, maybe once every second. "BANG! BANG! BANG!"

A big red LED sign counted how many millions of times the drawer had been opened, with a dispassionate male computer voice every announcing this number every "One million, three-hundred thousand and ten".

Terrifying to think it might still be there, pounding away in Warrington, twenty years later.
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 4:31 AM on April 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


McNulty first, and then it happened later with Kima and McNulty laughed at her.

We bought a kitchen cabinet from IKEA that simply never worked from the get-go, and the IKEA workmen who installed the rest of our kitchen were criminally incompetent, but otherwise I've always been happy with their products. I'd say you have about a 90-95% chance of not getting fucked on any particular item, and given the savings it definitely pays off over time.
posted by creasy boy at 4:33 AM on April 4, 2011


I certainly wasn't looking for the bag of shiny black rocks for $1.50. But I bought it. And I want more. They are very pretty rocks.
posted by Splunge at 4:39 AM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's with IKEA as it is with Starbucks: A certain class of consumer so identifies with a brand that seems to share its preference for a less showy materialism, that it mistakes the brand for a social program meant to provide some vague, uplifting benefit in addition to its products, and flatter the customer by affirming the goodness of his or her aesthetic-political conscience. I like the products of IKEA and Starbucks for their use value, and not as fetish items in a tender-conscienced bourgeoise cult.
posted by Faze at 4:42 AM on April 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


We buy stuff from IKEA now and then because its stuff actually fits in the limited space we have in our Hong Kong flat.

But I pay to have them build the larger items, such as closets, because I just can't be bothered, and damn, they're fast.
posted by bwg at 4:51 AM on April 4, 2011


For dealing with the maze that is every IKEA store, just learn the shortcuts. They're everywhere, but camouflaged.

See also this AskMe regarding their kitchens. So far so good with ours.

I admit I smile when I see the big blue building with giant yellow letters.
posted by yoga at 4:52 AM on April 4, 2011


2 months ago I actually flew to another country for pretty much the sole purpose of shopping at IKEA. And not even for furniture! I think it has become an obsession...
posted by hasna at 4:58 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


At a certain point, we decided to put the flat-pack crack pipe down and stop filling our townhouse with the stuff. When we bought a real house we wanted to put either nice furniture in it or nothing. Furniture that has curves and isn't all planed patchworks of scrap lumber.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:59 AM on April 4, 2011


I was always rather in awe of the Swedish names for everything. Until I came across their HOTT range of kettles.
posted by KirkpatrickMac at 5:04 AM on April 4, 2011


Ikea opened it's first store in Japan right near us, and when we bought our house, a lot of our new furniture came from there. Partly because Ikea had what we were looking for, and partly because furniture in Japan is just so damned expensive. Our dressers, bed, rugs, bathroom fittings, and a decent amount of our plates and glassware came from there, but he best thing was the kitchen cabinets we had installed. The staff worked with me and, in spite of my poor language skills, helped me design exactly what I'd been looking for, for roughly half the price of anywhere else. Shame they stopped selling the dill potato chips though.
The comfortable sofa is called the Ektorp, by the way. It took hours of arduous sit-testing to find it, but all that hard work was worth it.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:06 AM on April 4, 2011


It's with IKEA as it is with Starbucks: A certain class of consumer so identifies with a brand that seems to share its preference for a less showy materialism, that it mistakes the brand for a social program meant to provide some vague, uplifting benefit in addition to its products, and flatter the customer by affirming the goodness of his or her aesthetic-political conscience.

I don't know how strong the comparison is there-- IKEA does have a whiff of pretense to some people, but it's a different pretense than the one associated with Starbucks.

If I want, say, a sofa for six hundred bucks, my options are IKEA and a couple of other, regional retailers. The regional retailers have a completely different tack than IKEA for selling cheap furniture-- their designs are ornate and florid, attempting for an aesthetic that you could describe as "what average people of limited experience think Nouveau Riche furniture looks like." The other retailers' products are often gaudy, owing both to the ostentatious design and the shabby materials. IKEA's sofa for the same price point seems much better constructed and aesthetically neutral because of the simplicity-- no overflowing lines to construct and upholster, no bits of wood tacked on for decoration. And man, I've been tempted because the notion of a cheap, custom-fit replaceable cover sounds reassuring when my toddler is happily sucking away at her cup full of juice on our rather-expensive sofa with a fixed covering.

So there can be a definite cult brand identification with IKEA products: "I may be poor/cheap, but I'm not a plebe because I have good taste." This is in contrast to Starbucks' implied position: "I paid more for this coffee because I am discriminating and appreciate fine, fancy things." If you want to position yourself as down-to-earth and anti-Starbucks, you drink Dunkin' Donuts and sneer at people with Starbucks. If you want to position yourself as anti-IKEA, you probably actually pay MORE for tasteful furniture, not buy the cheaper-priced stuff from the gaudier outfits. Or you take discarded furniture off the curb and tell your friends that the chair in which they're resting was urinated on by a hobo and tomcats.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:28 AM on April 4, 2011 [33 favorites]


I use IKEA furniture to prevent minimalism. They provide many flat surfaces which can then be covered in stuff. I cannot be along in this.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:30 AM on April 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


(Or even alone)
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:30 AM on April 4, 2011


For dealing with the maze that is every IKEA store, just learn the shortcuts

Alan Penn's "Who Enjoys Shopping in IKEA?" link in the FPP includes 3 very good shortcut suggestions:
1. Grab a cheap meal at the restaurant and then follow the steps down to the ground floor - avoid the show room altogether.
2. Enter through the exit: you have to squeeze past the tills. They don't like you doing this so it helps to look harassed as if you have just been through the whole ordeal and have just forgotten to pick up tea lamps.
3. Finally, from Alan Penn: "If you are looking for a shortcut in Ikea then turn around; it is behind you"(if you follow the talk you will appreciate that this is based on careful studies of customer movements and store layout - it is not just whimsy).
posted by rongorongo at 5:39 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's with IKEA as it is with Starbucks

Oh NO! I spilled CARAMEL MACCHIATO on my EKTORP HÅVET!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:43 AM on April 4, 2011 [14 favorites]


A certain class of consumer so identifies with a brand that seems to share its preference for a less showy materialism, that it mistakes the brand for a social program meant to provide some vague, uplifting benefit in addition to its products, and flatter the customer by affirming the goodness of his or her aesthetic-political conscience.

Well, it's easy to make that mistake at IKEA if you walk through the whole store from entrance to exit, because they give you like a bajillion examples of rooms that are IKEA'd out, and those rooms have absolutely no signs of human life: no empty bag of Cheetos left on the coffee table, no stack of bills on top of a bookcase, no capless tube of toothpaste in the bathroom. It's easy to get fooled into thinking that IKEA will declutter your life: they show you examples of rooms that are impossible to clutter up.
posted by 23skidoo at 5:45 AM on April 4, 2011


flapjax at midnite: "Who here remembers that scene from The Wire when Keema buys some piece of furniture from IKEA and can't assemble it? I thought that was brilliant, and also rather unexpected: one doesn't usually see such overtly negative portrayals of any specific brand name on Tv shows and such."

Is this just really deadpan sarcasm I'm missing due to it being an early Monday morning? Practically every depiction of IKEA in media is a joke about how tough it is to assemble their products, from Futurama's exploding "π-KEA" superconductor (with missing pieces!) to an episode of Disney's The Suite Life of Zack and Cody I had to watch with my stepsister featuring a character comically struggling to return an item to an IKEA knockoff (due to missing pieces!!). Maybe the specific reference to IKEA instead of a generic soundalike is new, but the joke itself is about as cliché as airline food.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:53 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


What are we looking for as we wander through IKEA?

Our SO, who was totally right behind us just a second ago.
posted by odinsdream at 6:00 AM on April 4, 2011 [38 favorites]


Thorzad: Cleveland also doesn't have an IKEA, and it's bigger than Indy. It's also a shame, because IKEA is AWESOME.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:00 AM on April 4, 2011


I always associate the IKEA shopping experience with large families of screaming children and recently married couples looking very intensely at throw pillows.
posted by The Whelk at 6:02 AM on April 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


He didn't really need to warn us that "Tools for Living: A Sourcebook of Iconic Designs for the Home" is not targeted at Ikea customers. It costs $85. That's the price of 2 ikea dressers. (Hm actually from the link it says it's $59.95. Make it 2 of the cheapest ikea dressers).

while IKEA encourages us to subscribe to the modernist design aesthetic that less is more, it manages at the same time to convince us – and this is the truly brilliant bit – that more is less.

Indeed, and they don't do that just with the placement of stuff in the store, they do that in their catalogues and on their website and magazine -- obviously, to showcase the most products in one go, but it's become more and more evident as they accumulated more products to sell, and the funny thing is, they do it even when they are deliberately showing you how to "declutter" and "simplify" your bedroom, living room, kitchen, etc.

I ended up on one such section of their website recently and there was a drawing from one of their designers showing how to reorganize a chaotic workstation/office section in a room. I looked at the before/after pictures and thought, hang on, isn't there still a bit too much stuff in there?

They are living off the minimalist association -- if you take individual pieces of furniture ok, you can still see the simplicity principle in action, but when they do give you the full pictures of how the ikea-organised home should look, you get the cognitive dissonance. They always end up filling every square inch of the room with furniture, putting all sorts of boxes and containers on the available free spaces on the floor under furniture, they put carpets everywhere, they cover every bit of free wall with their prints and shelves carrying small items purely for decoration, and tell you because it's all so well organized, with all those boxes and shelves, all so evenly distributed in matching heights and widths, that's what decluttering is all about. Hmm. It may not always be subtle but it's definitely clever. It's not a concept about a style, it's just well-targeted marketing.

The companies who do produce the expensive minimalist-style furniture show you photos of their products in large spacious semi-empty rooms. They don't need you to buy more than two items from their catalogue, when each of those items will cost more than a fully equipped ikea bedroom.
posted by bitteschoen at 6:02 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought IKEA furniture in The Wire represented adult responsibility, especially family. Neither McNulty nor Keema is ultimately capable of dealing with it, and of course there's the suggestion that Keema could end up more like Jimmy in other ways than becoming good police if she isn't careful with her decisions.
posted by GeckoDundee at 6:03 AM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


The trick to Ikea furniture assembly is to first go to a hardware store and buy yourself a set of Metric Hex bits and a quickchange chuck, and put it into a cordless drill/driver. You have to be careful to turn the clutch waaaay down so you don't strip out the holes in the particleboard, but you can save yourself a lot of work this way.

Of course, if you're looking for a good forearm workout, don't do this.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:04 AM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think there is an additional "missing manual" from Ikea on tax minimisation - but that is another story.

IKEA's holding company is pretending to be a charity? WTF?

I think I may just have discovered my first boycott-worthy retailer. And this is why cultural politics is such a bad stand-in for actual politics: all those bourgeois douchebags assuring themselves of their rectitude for not shopping at Walmart will gladly head over to splurge at IKEA. Yet Walmart paid $7 billion in taxes in 2010 while IKEA paid $27 million in 2004. And it's not just that Walmart is bigger: Walmart pays at a rate of 32.4% while IKEA pays at a rate an order of magnitude smaller: 3.5%!

That's some serious bullshit.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:07 AM on April 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


I think you need to stop thinking that companies have any social engagement, loyalty to customers or anything like that, companies aren't people. A company is driven by money, and I'm sure that if the people at Walmart had figured out a way to get away with paying less taxes they'd do it in an instant.
posted by bjrn at 6:12 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


companies aren't people

They're run by people.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:14 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think there is an additional "missing manual" from Ikea on tax minimisation - but that is another story.

That's a fascinating article. It stands to reason that IKEA's accounting would be just as clever as their products.
posted by odinsdream at 6:15 AM on April 4, 2011


anotherpanacea, exactly. So can we stop talking about companies "making decisions" and so on now?
posted by Dysk at 6:15 AM on April 4, 2011


Is this just really deadpan sarcasm I'm missing due to it being an early Monday morning?

Actually, no, not at all. What it was, unfortunately, was a statement made from what is, in fact, an almost complete ignorance about what is portrayed on TV! I really spoke out of turn there, because I haven't the foggiest clue as to what's on TV. Aside from The Wire, which I watched, in its entirety, from DVDs, the only other US TV series I've seen during the past 16 years was The Sopranos, also from DVDs (and again, in its entirety). Oh, and the first season of Carnivale (you guessed it: DVD). Otherwise, I've watched nary a single episode of any US TV series.

Still (as you mentioned), the use of the actual brand name of IKEA struck me as, well, unexpected. Admittedly, based not on actual familiarity with the American media landscape of the past couple of decades, but rather, I suppose, with my relative familiarity with that landscape over the 3 or 4 decades preceding my leaving the country.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:15 AM on April 4, 2011


thingswhitepeoplebeanplate.com??
posted by spicynuts at 6:16 AM on April 4, 2011


I actually disagree with others here who think Ikea furniture is sturdy enough through moves. I find that every time I move (and I do this once every year or two), my Ikea furniture ends up with another scratch on the veneer. And unlike with real furniture, you can't buff them out.

But I still shop at Ikea because the traditional furniture retailers don't sell a lot of furniture to people living in small condos downtown, and the ones that do, charge an arm and a leg for it here in Toronto.
posted by reformedjerk at 6:19 AM on April 4, 2011


We bought a kitchen cabinet from IKEA that simply never worked from the get-go, and the IKEA workmen who installed the rest of our kitchen were criminally incompetent, but otherwise I've always been happy with their products

This is probably the biggest thing about kitchens. The manufacturers and suppliers are only half the battle. Actually, no, a tenth. You can buy the best hardware and supplies, but there is so much tradeswork that needs to be done to assemble them into a kitchen that really the important thing is who's doing it.

Moderately low end gear will look good and work well if installed by craftsmen. Top of the line supplies will be crap if installed by hacks.

Note: If you install it yourself, you'll have to decide if you're a tradesman or a hack. You will be graded -- by your kitchen in three years.

Finally -- I'm really not a fan of veneer cabinetry in kitchens, doubly so veneer over particleboard. They're bad at moisture, and kitchens are really good at. Very carefully installed and properly treated, they work well, but the real reason for hardwood here isn't the looks, it's the durability -- important in an area that sees lots of use and is a fairly hostile to wood environment.
posted by eriko at 6:20 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Honestly, I only go for the meatballs and the lingonberry drink.

I think the only actual stuff we've ever bought at IKEA is a duvet cover, some 89-cent glasses, and those wall hooks that look like dog butts.
posted by briank at 6:23 AM on April 4, 2011


I think I may just have discovered my first boycott-worthy retailer. And this is why cultural politics is such a bad stand-in for actual politics: all those bourgeois douchebags assuring themselves of their rectitude for not shopping at Walmart will gladly head over to splurge at IKEA. Yet Walmart paid $7 billion in taxes in 2010 while IKEA paid $27 million in 2004. And it's not just that Walmart is bigger: Walmart pays at a rate of 32.4% while IKEA pays at a rate an order of magnitude smaller: 3.5%!

That's some serious bullshit.


That's only one piece of the puzzle. Take a look at how Walmart treats its workers compared to IKEA. How a corporation distributes its profits is only a part of the decision process a consumer can go through in choosing where to shop.

Why does the method by which IKEA has minimized its tax obligations a concern for you? Is it that they should have established a "better" charity?
posted by odinsdream at 6:30 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I bought two of their wooden toilet seats. One split down the wooden seam, after about 3 months, rendering it useless. The other one had problems with the hinges from the get-go. I wouldn't buy anything from them again. Except their yearly Christmas tree. Cheaper by far than anything else (of comparable size) that you could possibly find in Tokyo. Bit of a hike for me to go out to Makuhari to get one, and haul it home on the train, but still worth it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:31 AM on April 4, 2011


Damn you all, now I'm craving meatballs. And that delicious gravy. Mmmmmmmm.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:35 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I thought that was McNulty (the bunk beds for his kids)

To be fair to IKEA, pretty much anything is hard to assemble when you're three-quarters of the way through a bottle of whiskey.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:46 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


What are we looking for as we wander through Ikea?

The as-is room. Every duvet I own has come from there. As have numerous racks and shelves things.

Cheap stuff I can customize. Or ideas for things I can build myself.

And I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned the cinnamon roll/fresh sawdust smell that lingers on the furniture for months. Seriously, I once sold a wardrobe by mentioning "Still smells like Ikea" on the CL ad. I wouldn't be surprised if part of their MDP manufacturing process involves a vat of Ikea store fragrance. Blends beautifully with outgassing, anyway.
posted by pernoctalian at 6:48 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


So can we stop talking about companies "making decisions" and so on now?

Treating institutions as agents is a syntactical shorthand. Would you also want to stop talking about countries "going to war" or unions "protecting workers rights" or parties "betraying the American dream"? You can do this if you want, and it may help to clarify things in some cases, but most of the time it's just an annoying departure from common sense language usage.

And if you really want to be accurate, why talk about people making decisions when you should be talking about neurons firing?
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:49 AM on April 4, 2011


And that delicious gravy. Mmmmmmmm.

1/8 pint cream
1/4 pint beef stock
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce, to taste
1 tablespoon white flour
1 tablespoon water
salt
white pepper

1. Swirl out the pan with boiling beef stock.
2. Add the cream.
3. Add the flour mixed with approx 1 tablepoons of water.
4. Add the seasonings.
5. Simmer until the sauce thickens.
6. Serve with Swedish meatballs.
posted by mikepop at 6:53 AM on April 4, 2011 [17 favorites]


In New Jersey, they have a goddamn Swedish parade.
posted by Tknophobia at 6:55 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


The mythical sofa that's actually comfortable?

That would be the EKESKOG. They were great, and I really should have bought one before they were discontinued.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:58 AM on April 4, 2011


I like the products of IKEA and Starbucks for their use value, and not as fetish items in a tender-conscienced bourgeoise cult.

I know that cult -- the members are all male and composed of straw.
posted by brain_drain at 6:58 AM on April 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think I may just have discovered my first boycott-worthy retailer. ... Walmart paid $7 billion in taxes in 2010 while IKEA paid $27 million in 2004. And it's not just that Walmart is bigger: Walmart pays at a rate of 32.4% while IKEA pays at a rate an order of magnitude smaller: 3.5%

It's not apples to apples. IKEA provides living wages and benefits to its employees, Wal-Mart pays little and keeps its employees so impoverished that it basically outsources health care to government. Those taxes they pay are basically paying for something that Wal-Mart should already be providing. So you pretty much can't win if you want to find a corporation that gives you no reason to be outraged.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:10 AM on April 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


Having just studied IKEA in a Sustainability for business class, it seems important to mention here that they are a stunningly environmentally aware company. They do not advertise themselves as such, because they think this should be the norm.

The list from wikipedia is just a sample - IKEA's ongoing program is featured in the excellent book mentioned "The Natural Step for Business" alongside Interface FLOR and Scandic Hotels.
posted by FuzzyVerde at 7:13 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have not actually ever been to an Ikea -- 2 1/2 hours is too far for me to bother to drive for furniture -- but what it seems to me it provides (based on friends' Ikea stuff) is SMALL FURNITURE that fits SMALL SPACES. I live in a 1950 cottage and most of the living room furniture we can find is GIGANTIC and overstuffed. For people with big McMansion living rooms. I have a teeny little living room, and all the furniture stores show big, overstuffed, florid couches and chairs. We get by with rare awesome finds at local stores, hand-me-downs, and (in our family room) thrift-store finds because everything else was so gigantic.

I'll go through a whole store and find maybe ONE thing that's small enough to suit my living room ... and then I usually send my husband a picture of it EVEN IF WE'RE NOT LOOKING FOR LIVING ROOM FURNITURE because it's so rare that we find something on the proper scale ... we might want to buy it even if we're not in the market.

Anyway, if Ikea weren't so far away, that's what I'd go there looking for. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:15 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been to IKEA just once. I expected to love it because so many people I knew did. And I hated it. I went through the whole place and saw just one thing that I liked, a floor lamp. And when I jiggled the stem of it a little it turned out to be very wobbly, so I didn't buy it. Mostly I wandered around thinking, "This looks like modern cheap junk. In ten to fifteen years or so, it will look like dated cheap junk." I know someone who had some IKEA pieces she bought in the eighties, and they did look dated by the mid-nineties.

I was going to say I had nothing in my house from IKEA, but then I realized I do have one thing — a plain pine bench that was a gift from my sister years back. She intended that I should put it in the kitchen in the condo that I then owned, and I did, but then when I traded up to a house a few years later, the bench wound up in the kitchen of the basement apartment that I rent out because there was no real place where it seemed to fit in in my part of the house.

I look at their catalogue now and then because I always get one in the mail, and never see anything I feel will look right in my house. I just don't like that stripped-down modern aesthetic. It's attractive in its way, but there's nothing in it to capture the gaze. My eye glides over modern pieces and I'm left thinking "That's it?" and looking around for something with interesting detail that I can enjoy looking at for a few minutes. I like furnishings to have visual interest and to be of a quality and an aesthetic that will stand up to the passage of time. But then I do seem to be something of an outlier in terms of my tastes — most of the people I know have more contemporary tastes than me.

I was trying to think of a store that I do like and frequent, that I could think of as my IKEA, but really there isn't one. I don't have more than two pieces from any one store, and the few things I've bought new are mixed in with things I salvaged off someone's curb and spruced up. But I suppose it's best that way. I have a friend who does like IKEA stuff but says she avoids shopping there because she doesn't like the way a place looks when it's all IKEA stuff. I think I know what she meant — a place does lose any sense of individual taste or interest when it's all from one store. It looks more like a catalogue spread from That Company than a person's home.

My dad, who is an award-winning woodworker, went with my sister when she bought my bench, and since then it has not been safe to mention the four-letter word "IKEA" to him. He said their furniture looked like a bunch of pieces of packing crates nailed together.
posted by orange swan at 7:25 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I look at the young women and pretend I care about dumb furniture.
posted by Postroad at 7:25 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


from 2006 Der Spiegel: "Furniture giant IKEA lures customers with homey interior landscapes and cheap warm meals. But more and more people are starting to use the stores as an ersatz for social services and babysitting."
posted by bentley at 7:32 AM on April 4, 2011


here that they are a stunningly environmentally aware company. They do not advertise themselves as such, because they think this should be the norm.

They do advertise this fact a bit, at least in stores. I don't have any data with which to back this up, but I suspect it's downplayed because by forgoing immediacy and being mindful of waste they give themselves a competitive advantage.

For instance, the energy efficiency of the stores adds to the cost of construction, but lessens the cost of continued occupancy. The really interesting thing I see at IKEA is the consumer goods that are obviously made from scraps of their larger pieces, like salad bowls assembled from thin scraps of lumber to children's toys partially made from bits of fabric seen elsewhere in the store as furniture coverings or bedding. The price is generally commensurate with it being constructed from remainders, but the quality is generally as reasonable as anything else in the store. And this absolutely adds to the experience of shopping there-- "a cheerful, whimsical plush toy for three dollars? That's prefect because I knew we probably weren't leaving the store without something for the kid!"
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:33 AM on April 4, 2011


When IKEA opened their first store in Chicagoland, I was struck by a couple of things. First, unlike any IKEA store I heard of before or after, it was built in a giant circle, around an atrium-like space, so that customers could circle around like fish in a tank, though the aisles zigged and zagged a little.

Second, it really was the kind of place that people drove several hours to get to, to get that magic mix of cheap, stylish design, and fit and finish that mostly worked.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:34 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who does like IKEA stuff but says she avoids shopping there because she doesn't like the way a place looks when it's all IKEA stuff. I think I know what she meant — a place does lose any sense of individual taste or interest when it's all from one store. It looks more like a catalogue spread from That Company than a person's home.

Agreed. I have a lot of stuff from IKEA, and the effect is kind of styleless as a whole.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:37 AM on April 4, 2011


Walmart pays at a rate of 32.4% while IKEA pays at a rate an order of magnitude smaller: 3.5%

I'm not exactly sure how these things work, but I'm pretty sure that Ikea still needs to pay taxes (at the normal rate) to the US government for the portion of their business that's based here.

Also, the fact that Wal Mart is a huge, massive business that pulls in huge revenues on a relatively thin profit margin likely increases their tax burden over a firm that pulls in the same amount of income, but with a much larger profit margin and smaller footprint.

Comparing Wal Mart's alleged 7 billion tax burden in the US to Ikea's tax burden in the EU is an apples-to-oranges comparison. We also don't know enough about how those numbers were calculated to make any meaningful conclusions about them.

Also, if this is such a big issue, laws are very easy to change.
posted by schmod at 7:37 AM on April 4, 2011


I'm pretty sure that Ikea still needs to pay taxes (at the normal rate) to the US government for the portion of their business that's based here.

I showed you my cites. You show me evidence to the contrary and your objection will be more persuasive. As it is, this is an argument from incredulity: "That can't be right!" isn't evidence of anything. As I said, there's a difference between the raw magnitude of the taxes and the rate of taxation, but IKEA is screwing us in both absolute and in marginal terms!
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:48 AM on April 4, 2011


I actually find putting together IKEA furniture to be relaxing. Weird, I know, but it hits the same spot in my brain that putting together model cars or doing a jigsaw puzzle might - except when I'm done my books are all off the floor or my clothes are no longer in a pile.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 7:51 AM on April 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


My dad, who is an award-winning woodworker, went with my sister when she bought my bench, and since then it has not been safe to mention the four-letter word "IKEA" to him.

Do you have any idea what furniture made by an award-winning woodworker costs? It's easy to get high-quality wood furniture -- just spend a truly amazing amount of money. Just the labor cost alone is huge.

Great thing -- if you can afford $800+ of labor costs in your dresser.
posted by eriko at 7:54 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


ZeusHumms: First, unlike any IKEA store I heard of before or after, it was built in a giant circle, around an atrium-like space.

Their store in Kungens Kurva, Stockholm is the worlds biggest IKEA (over half a million square feet) and is built in the same way.
posted by Iteki at 7:56 AM on April 4, 2011


I recently heard that most of the photographs in IKEA catalogues (well, at least the ones not featuring people) are not photographs but computer-rendered scenes. IKEA's systems-based approach extends to keeping a massive store of textured 3D representations of all their items, as well as any necessary backdrops, and rendering those into scenes, localising as appropriate (i.e., replacing power sockets with local varieties).
posted by acb at 8:07 AM on April 4, 2011


I wish IKEA had a time machine (FLANTS) that would bring me four years into the future to see how my kitchen cabinets would disintegrate from the hinges out.
posted by zerobyproxy at 8:09 AM on April 4, 2011



My dad, who is an award-winning woodworker, went with my sister when she bought my bench, and since then it has not been safe to mention the four-letter word "IKEA" to him. He said their furniture looked like a bunch of pieces of packing crates nailed together.


This just in: Award-winning woodworkers do not appreciate IKEA.
posted by odinsdream at 8:13 AM on April 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


Besides, the only nails usually are the ones holding the cardboard backing into the frame. The wood is all glued together and planed.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:15 AM on April 4, 2011


Sometimes, when I've had a bad day at work, I go to Petsmart at lunch and play with the rescue kitties. Other times, I go to Ikea and eat meatballs (but not the whole order, because I don't like that barfy feeling) and fantasize about running away and getting a 500sf apartment full of cheerful things.

But I always feel like I'm too old to be buying Ikea when I actually buy stuff there.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:23 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I pricehunted all over the damn city before I found out I could buy my new bed at Ikea for a quarter of the price (mattress and frame). Still have the bed ten years later. Go Ikea!
Their bookshelves and dressers don't hold up well against my abuse mind you.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:25 AM on April 4, 2011


Do you have any idea what furniture made by an award-winning woodworker costs?

Not really, because I have quite a lot of stuff that an award-winning woodworker made for me for free.;-) Namely, a cedar chest, a games table, three bookcases, a checkerboard, a set of two Shaker-style oval boxes, three hourglasses, a wooden platter, a rolling pin, a vase, and probably a few more things I am forgetting. Right now my father is working on cutting a piece of trim to match a piece I had to rip out of the door frame of my linen closet (did you ever try to match 100-year-old trim at Home Depot?). He's also given a few things to a close friend of mine. My mother says, "You've got your father wrapped around your finger! Do you know how much it would cost to pay for what that's really worth?" But hey, I make things for him too, such as nylon shop apron and a padded cover for the metal stool he keeps in his workshop, and handknit cardigans and socks and slippers.

However, yes, I am fully aware that handmade-by-someone-else's-hands stuff is not within the reach of most people, and a lot people couldn't even make their own furniture because they wouldn't have the space to set up the equipment, even if they could afford to buy it. Dad gives a lot of the stuff he makes away to family and friends, but over time as he enters stuff in competitions and donates some pieces to charity auctions, he is working up a small clientele of people who are willing to pay him something in the neighbourhood of what his skill and time is worth. He once sold a rolling pin for something like $375 (USD). It had been accepted into the juried show of the annual American Assocation of Woodturners and shown in a handful of cities.
posted by orange swan at 8:26 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have several pieces from IKEA - my computer desk, my couch, a couple of bookshelves. I've found that they start looking kinda cruddy almost immediately, but 5+ years on, they still work fine and don't look any worse. That suits my lifestyle just fine.

(And I'm always sort of baffled by the complaints about putting the stuff together. Didn't y'all put together Lego castles based on the wonky graphical instructions as a kid?)
posted by restless_nomad at 8:30 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Their bookshelves and dressers don't hold up well against my abuse mind you.

I still have a bedside table (ANEBODA) I bought in 2004. and a BILLY bookcase bought around 2006-2007, which has survived three moves.

In the last move (a few months ago), I bought another BILLY bookcase, and found that they replaced the round metal bold fasteners with plastic ones. I wonder what effect this will have on the lifespan of the items in question.
posted by acb at 8:33 AM on April 4, 2011


That rolling pin is on page 43 of this 2008 AAW show catalogue, if anyone is curious. And you can take my word for it that the catalogue itself is incredible and worth a look.
posted by orange swan at 8:34 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


(And I'm always sort of baffled by the complaints about putting the stuff together. Didn't y'all put together Lego castles based on the wonky graphical instructions as a kid?)

Whenever I've heard anyone complain about putting the stuff together it's always someone who simply doesn't work with his or her hands — doesn't like it, doesn't think she or he is good at it. I've made a lot of stuff in my time so assembling that one IKEA bench was a piece of cake for me. But I have a friend who, if she buys anything that needs assembly, such as a bookcase, hires her neighbour Steve to do it. And she'll say "Steve built the bookcase." No, he assembled it.

This lack of even basic know-how in our scoiety, the heels-dug-in refusal to even try to do stuff for oneself, really stuns and/or irritates me sometimes, as it did when a former roommate of mine used to preen herself on being such a wonderful baker because she could successfully make a mix cake.
posted by orange swan at 8:42 AM on April 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


As an owner of 8 Expedit book cases, I can cheerfully attest that IKEA is not all about minimalism. Anyone remember STØR?
posted by Ideefixe at 8:42 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you have any idea what furniture made by an award-winning woodworker costs? It's easy to get high-quality wood furniture -- just spend a truly amazing amount of money. Just the labor cost alone is huge.
Great thing -- if you can afford $800+ of labor costs in your dresser.

...or you can, y'know, spend your lifetime packing the landfills with EIGHT $100 dressers that are shoddily made of flimsy, cheap, toxic materials that have no resale value whatsoever.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:43 AM on April 4, 2011


...or you can, y'know, spend your lifetime packing the landfills with EIGHT $100 dressers that are shoddily made of flimsy, cheap, toxic materials that have no resale value whatsoever.

If you move around a fair bit, your space requirements will change to the extent that any significant amount of expensive heirloom furniture becomes a burden. If you don't, then that's considerably less wear and tear.
posted by acb at 8:48 AM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


...or you can, y'know, spend your lifetime packing the landfills with EIGHT $100 dressers that are shoddily made of flimsy, cheap, toxic materials that have no resale value whatsoever.

A world filled with people buying furniture made from whole-wood pieces is unsustainable. MDF and similar technologies that reuse wood shavings and chips from other industrial processes is an excellent option to make furniture that actually can be recycled later into more MDF products. Wood is an excellent structural material for a number of reasons. It's also a wonderful medium for art. Confusing the two endeavours leads to these kinds of conversations. Yes, that's a very nice turned wood catalog. No, none of those items are practical on even a small-town market scale.
posted by odinsdream at 8:59 AM on April 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Mostly I wandered around thinking, "This looks like modern cheap junk. In ten to fifteen years or so, it will look like dated cheap junk." I know someone who had some IKEA pieces she bought in the eighties, and they did look dated by the mid-nineties.

This seems totally self-evident to me. If you're a grad student, living on a low salary in a tiny apartment in a place you don't plan to stay long-term, why would you care? As long as you don't buy the absolute cheapest version of anything at IKEA, it'll last through at least a few moves and a six-year Ph.D.

On the other hand, if you've got money and you're confident that your tastes won't change significantly in the next three decades, sure, buy quality wood furniture. If you hold onto it long enough, your grandkids will love it when the style comes back.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:03 AM on April 4, 2011


In New Jersey, they have a goddamn Swedish parade.

just some oak and some pine and a handful of norsemen
...
posted by dersins at 9:07 AM on April 4, 2011


I'm only 27 and have purchased at least 4 BILLY bookshelfs so far; I imagine by the time it hit the soil I'll have probably assembled that particleboard rectangle another dozen times.
posted by wcfields at 9:09 AM on April 4, 2011


Further to my previous IKEA reminiscence, I also remember my dad coming home one day with an enormous, multilayered modular desk for our new PC, a structure sold by IKEA as the JERKER.

Like the rest of the world, as a teenager I was finding out about internet pornography. A bit of a dire thing to point out, but this desk was perfectly named.

So yes, IKEA harboured both my childhood bogeyman, and with their JERKER played a small role in my sexual awakening.

I'm not sure where IKEA will take me next in my descent from innocence to depravity. A solid pine dildo, perhaps.
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 9:11 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I keep emailing the IKEA customer service folks to try to encourage them tro build an Ikea in Anchorage. I would drive 8 hours at least once a year to go shop there. I'm sure much of the rest of the state would, too. I could really use bunk beds for my kids. And our dining room table which we bought from Ikea in PA is still really nice. (we finally ditched the crappy bookshelves that had moved from Seattle, to PA, to the house in PA---we didn't move them to Alaska). the thing is, if you don't have tools or skills to make them, bookshelves that you have to buy at the store are really expensive, if what you're trying to do is shelve 1200-1600 linear feet (or more, probably).
posted by leahwrenn at 9:12 AM on April 4, 2011


...or you can, y'know, spend your lifetime packing the landfills with EIGHT $100 dressers that are shoddily made of flimsy, cheap, toxic materials that have no resale value whatsoever.

Ha! Just sold our 10 year old bed and wardrobe for $200 and $220 respectively on Craigslist last week.
posted by chococat at 9:15 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


leotrotsky: Thorzad: Cleveland also doesn't have an IKEA, and it's bigger than Indy. It's also a shame, because IKEA is AWESOME

If I may quote 30 Rock's Liz Lemon: "I'll move to Cleveland when they get an IKEA... NEVER!"

Love,
a Clevelander who wishes we had a damn IKEA already
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:15 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're complaining about IKEA build quality you should take care to glue all the joints and dowels during assembly next time. Glue and a few extra screws will make most of their stuff as sturdy as anything else.
posted by pjaust at 9:16 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't own a single thing from Ikea. The nearest one is a few hours away (even though lots of Swedes and even more Finns live here... hrm...). Still, we know neighbors who make biannual pilgrimages to shop there.

I did check out several Ikea platform beds to inform the design making process for our home built bed, but our version cost $100 for a king bed frame. It certainly is NOT award winning woodworker quality- it's just built out of framing timbers- but it is a very minimalist design and it's incredibly sturdy. It took about 4 hours to build, with "help" from toddlers. I'm a builder's daughter, and my husband grew up on a working farm, so we might be handier than the typical Ikea shoppers, but my basic problem with Ikea stuff is that it looks so very cheap. Even though it's inexpensive, it still seems overpriced to me, because the bulk of stuff that I've seen from Ikea looks like it came out of a cereal box. (The exceptions I can think of are some of the dishes and some of the couches.) Comparable lines- the BG&H stuff from Wally World and Sauder- look just as cheap. A lot of the furniture in our house are antiques that were left behind by the sellers. The rest is a combination of hand me downs, heirlooms, and home built stuff, so I am not anyone's ideal shopper. (Decorating my house is of no importance to me at this point in my life as I have little kids. I want stuff that's purely functional.)

In fact, after spending most of my twenties and all of my teen years as a pretty serious technophobe, I have particle board bookshelves to thank for bringing me into the 21st century. After buying a dozen particle board bookshelves over a period of less than ten years, I realized it made a lot more sense to give up books and CDs in favor of a Kindle and an iPod. That was some serious decluttering, and I have never regretted it.
posted by Leta at 9:18 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I recently heard that most of the photographs in IKEA catalogues (well, at least the ones not featuring people) are not photographs but computer-rendered scenes.

Interesting. I found this article which describes how Ikea uses software from Northmann to handle its photo library. This mentions that they are printing out 118 million copies of the catalogue in 45 different national editions - all derived from the same image library. I could not find a record of them using 3d models for the catalogue - although clearly they are making clever use of 2d layered composition (and it does look like the company does have 3d models of its products for use in online planning tools).
posted by rongorongo at 9:21 AM on April 4, 2011


If you're a grad student, living on a low salary in a tiny apartment in a place you don't plan to stay long-term, why would you care? As long as you don't buy the absolute cheapest version of anything at IKEA, it'll last through at least a few moves and a six-year Ph.D.

In that case, I'd buy stuff at thrift stores and off Craig's List and "shop the curb". I do those things now, for that matter. And then you have something that is better quality, and can either be resold or put back on the curb later or, depending on your life shapes up, happily kept through the years.
posted by orange swan at 9:22 AM on April 4, 2011


Yes, but IKEA stuff doesn't have the cooties.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:25 AM on April 4, 2011


At IKEA, I can look at furniture in a wider range of costs than anywhere else I'm aware of. This simplifies my shopping.

I enjoy how they market things. Very savvy, the displays and all.

Unfortunately, the closest IKEA is the evil mirror universe IKEA (the Baltimore store).

All my furniture came from Curb Mart before I met IKEA. None of my furniture comes off the curb since dealing with bedbugs. If I ever get bedbugs in a flat pack box, I don't know what I'll do.
posted by QIbHom at 9:27 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


In that case, I'd buy stuff at thrift stores and off Craig's List and "shop the curb". I do those things now, for that matter. And then you have something that is better quality, and can either be resold or put back on the curb later or, depending on your life shapes up, happily kept through the years.

It's not an either-or proposition. Those are nice options as well. But sometimes you just want an inexpensive bookshelf, and you want some choice, you want to be done with it in two hours and you want to bring it home in your little sedan.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:28 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I recently heard that most of the photographs in IKEA catalogues (well, at least the ones not featuring people) are not photographs but computer-rendered scenes.

I'm pretty sure that this photo from their 2007 catalogue (which I still have! It was too good to throw out!) was partially computer rendered.
posted by orange swan at 9:31 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


What are we looking for as we wander through IKEA?

Whatever it is, it's out of stock.
posted by Kabanos at 9:37 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know how IKEA pricing varies by location?

I'll wander the IKEA "near" me for an hour or so, if I happen to be near it (t's next to the airport, so a better place to wait than the cell phone lot) but cheap (price-wise) isn't what first comes to mind.

Are the prices the same in Brooklyn as they are in San Diego, I wonder.
posted by madajb at 9:41 AM on April 4, 2011


I'm pretty sure that this photo from their 2007 catalogue (which I still have! It was too good to throw out!) was partially computer rendered.

Not necessarily a PhotoSlop... That dog is either a large Italian Greyhound or a small whippet. Having had both breeds, I can attest to their weird, musclular leg anatomy that can look really odd when they are all scrunched up (which they usually are in an effort to conserve body heat).

What's more surprising is that they could get one of these dogs to cooperate in a photo shoot. They have brains about the size of an underripe walnut.
posted by memewit at 9:48 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


In that case, I'd buy stuff at thrift stores and off Craig's List and "shop the curb."

Certainly more possible in some places than others - around middle-of-nowhere here, the IKEA stuff being resold is often the nicest stuff available. But yeah, after a couple solid years of CraigsList searching, my apartment is a mix of the two.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:55 AM on April 4, 2011


Further to my previous IKEA reminiscence, I also remember my dad coming home one day with an enormous, multilayered modular desk for our new PC, a structure sold by IKEA as the JERKER.

I have one of those. It has been through three moves, being disassembled and reassembled each time.

Oddly enough, they no longer sell the JERKER, at least in England. I wonder why.
posted by acb at 9:59 AM on April 4, 2011


Not necessarily a PhotoSlop... That dog is either a large Italian Greyhound or a small whippet.

No, no. To the right of the dog. It's a beige pillow with a well-rendered human penis. Yeah, not a Photoshop-- that was the DØNG throw pillow and there used to be a big display of them when you walked into the store-- at least in New Haven. Then some churchey folks made a stink and IKEA withdrew them from the North American market. I think you can only get them in Germany now.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:01 AM on April 4, 2011


I use a person's opinion of Ikea as a litmus test.

Self-link to previous comment. We've gone over all this before.
posted by explosion at 10:04 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is this the only genuine floor plan of an Ikea store on the Internet? I'm surprised with so much talk about how labyrinthine the stores are that someone doesn't have a plan posted. Our local Lowes, for example, has a detailed blueprint hanging on the walls by the bathrooms.

I also wonder how emergency services manages it if they have to go into the store and deal with something like fire and smoke.
posted by crapmatic at 10:09 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whatever it is, it's out of stock.

You know those pithy explanations about the workings of the store that are scattered around?

Q: Why do I have to assemble my own furniture?
A: It makes shipping easier and that saves you money.

Q: Why do I have to bus my own table like I'm still in goddamn college?
A: We don't have to pay someone to do it and that saves you money.

Q: Why do random IKEA employees run up to me and kick me in the groin?
A: It makes them happy. Content staff are more productive and that saves you money.

Every time I try to actually purchase something from the bins, I imagine a new explanation:

Q: Why is everything worth getting here constantly out of stock?
A: If it's not here, you can't purchase it and that saves you money. You should think of this place as a cafeteria with inconvenient parking.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:18 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mayor Curley, unfortunately the DØNG throw pillow went out of stock in Germany, but they do still sell the VÖLVAR footwarming cushion in the marketplace area. Those naughty Swedes!

(they did have an issue with the GUTVIK children's bed in Germany, for real, apparently. Ach, those tiny Swedish towns with their naughty naughty names)
posted by bitteschoen at 10:42 AM on April 4, 2011


Jerker

Got one, use it for my music production. Built like a tank. Monitor speakers fit well on those swing-out platforms.

Replaced with Fredrik. Looks similar, but smaller and way flimsier.
posted by keys at 10:51 AM on April 4, 2011


I buy from thrift stores and "shop the curb." But I live in a town full of college kids who dump entire apartments worth of furniture at the curb every year when the leases end. Furniture should last for decades. We throw things out that can be repaired. Couches, for instance, can be reupholstered.

I appreciate that IKEA reuses scraps and particles of wood and ships furniture un-assembled because you can fit more flat things in a shipping container than pre-assembled things. This cuts down on energy costs and is a step toward environmentalism. This plus their economy of scale makes it so that they can sell things cheaper. And if they're paying folks a living wage, well, that's very very cool, too.

Even so, IKEA still reeks of the expansionism of capitalism to me. The things that I feel most comfortable with work best on a smaller scale. For one example, take MetaFilter. Sure, it could have expanded to be much larger, but it would have lost some quality of content and community in the process.

I am coming from a position of privilege. But I still believe that as a society, we need to get our priorities straight. I'm not sure what role monolithic corporations should play, or even if they should. If we all focus on creating alternatives, our alternatives may be far more amazing - for similar prices - than the workmanship of IKEA. Orange Swan has a good point here. We aren't *connected* to our things. We don't know how they work or how to make them. We need a basic understanding, a basic level of cooperative self-sufficiency.

I don't know what the appropriate alternatives to IKEA are. I don't think the answer is exclusively thrift store and curb shopping - that works for now in our society of excess, but new stuff has to come from somewhere. (I also don't think it's an abundance of fancy rolling pins - though there does need to be a place for art. That fancy rolling pin is art, though hopefully it is art living its life out as a beautiful cooking tool.) I think that we as a society are pushing our limits. IKEA sells the equivalent of candy that masquerades as healthy (this candy has no fat!).

We need to take a step back. We need to treat people who work with their hands with respect. We need to acknowledge the skills that go into carpentry, being a mechanic, etc. If we pay everyone a living wage, the economy will not collapse. It's hard to shift our cultural priorities. It's hard to say "I don't need that super-useful thing from IKEA - I'd rather prioritize supporting local artisans. It's hard to choose less in a culture of gadets and "things that make your life 'easier'" and "more, more more." We don't need more. We need less. We need less clutter, we need to appreciate and understand the things that we do have.
posted by aniola at 11:03 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


How long before clutter becomes fashionable again?

Them's beanplatin' words!

Fashion seems to be a display driven by status and wealth and difficulty.
Eg. Fat is fashionable when food is scarce. Thin is fashionable when (bad) food is plentiful. etc.

Currently, living with genuinely few possessions costs a lot of money. You can't easily do it unless you're a yuppie or are doing pretty well financially. It's especially difficult if you have kids.
Which is perfect! As long as it's expensive to own nothing, then owning nothing will retain some degree of fashionability.

But I think there is something else driving it: People learning their interior-design norms from advertising.

We are surrounded by product advertising, and presenting the product surrounded by clutter is (usually) much less effective than presenting THE PRODUCT! Center stage! Nothing to detract, nothing to compete for attention. A spotless home where everything matches and accentuates The Product.

No visual noise, only visual harmony. And a message saying "THIS IS DESIRABLE"
And thus we learn that clutter is not part of the picture of what is desirable.

But... traditionally, it's the middle class wanting to be more that pays the most heed to this kind of thing. The truly wealthy have less to prove and are often more inclined ignore the conventional presentation of what is desirable. Their rule-breaking often becomes trend-setting.

So I see two main factors perpetuating clutter as unfashionable, and (assuming that both reasons are somewhat bankrupt) one possible source of a counter-trend.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:04 AM on April 4, 2011


Currently, living with genuinely few possessions costs a lot of money.

Can you explain what you mean by that? I don't see how that can be true. You can save a lot of money by just buying what you really need. If you keep your stuff to a minimum, you can live in a smaller space, which will cost less. And quality items can be had quite cheaply if you buy secondhand.
posted by orange swan at 11:17 AM on April 4, 2011


We need to take a step back. We need to treat people who work with their hands with respect. We need to acknowledge the skills that go into carpentry, being a mechanic, etc. If we pay everyone a living wage, the economy will not collapse. It's hard to shift our cultural priorities. It's hard to say "I don't need that super-useful thing from IKEA - I'd rather prioritize supporting local artisans. It's hard to choose less in a culture of gadets and "things that make your life 'easier'" and "more, more more." We don't need more. We need less. We need less clutter, we need to appreciate and understand the things that we do have.

I don't see how IKEA violates this at all. You can invest any level of meaning into your furniture that you want. I love our sideboard that was hand-carved by my grandfather from a giant cherry tree felled by his grandfather on their family farm, but this is completely irrelevant if we want to have a discussion about creating furniture for more than a thousand people, which is what we absolutely must do as a society.

Since the problem of "people needing furniture" isn't going anywhere we need to determine the most ecologically sustainable method of reaching that goal. Harvesting solid wood just isn't a good solution.

The solution can still be creative, robust and rewarding, even if you can't count the tree rings in your coffee table. The problem of people not knowing how to do things with their hands is not, in my opinion, the result of IKEA. If anything, it's the other way around. The lack of assembly skill came before the market for easy-to-assemble furniture.
posted by odinsdream at 11:21 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Kadin2048: "The trick to Ikea furniture assembly is to first go to a hardware store and buy yourself a set of Metric Hex bits and a quickchange chuck, and put it into a cordless drill/driver. You have to be careful to turn the clutch waaaay down so you don't strip out the holes in the particleboard, but you can save yourself a lot of work this way.

Of course, if you're looking for a good forearm workout, don't do this.
"

Or just soap the threads of the screws.
posted by Splunge at 11:22 AM on April 4, 2011


orange swan: If you have fewer things, you have fewer resources to do whatever project you want to do cheaply. It's easy to build your own stool out of an old, beat-up bike frame if you work at a bike collective full of old, beat-up bike frames. It's easy to build a chicken coop if you have the room to store random bits of plywood and keeps saws and drills nails and screws. If you don't keep these things handy, you have to rent the tools and maybe buy some of the parts (new or used), which is more expensive than keeping extra stuff around. There is a trade-off.

odinsdream: Again, I don't know what the answers are. I don't study this stuff. But I do believe that it is very much possible to be creative on a smaller scale than IKEA and yet a larger scale than everyone having their very own family farm from which to harvest the tree to make a sideboard. (What's a sideboard?)
posted by aniola at 11:31 AM on April 4, 2011


In that case, I'd buy stuff at thrift stores and off Craig's List and "shop the curb". I do those things now, for that matter. And then you have something that is better quality, and can either be resold or put back on the curb later or, depending on your life shapes up, happily kept through the years.

I live in NYC with a ton of thrift stores (though I haven't had so much luck with curb shopping in my neighborhood). I still end up at Ikea for various things. Thrift store furniture shopping is a crapshoot, and even if you do find something you like, you have to figure out how to transport it. If I find one piece of furniture here and one there and a third over there, by the time I've arranged and paid for three separate deliveries, it may well have been cheaper and it almost certainly would have been less time consuming to make one Ikea trip (after checking their inventory online) and buy everything at once, folded down flat so it can come home with me in one oneway car service ride.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:48 AM on April 4, 2011


Currently, living with genuinely few possessions costs a lot of money.

Can you explain what you mean by that? I don't see how that can be true.


Previously on the blue - the cult of less

For example, you eat out every day because you would need a lot of crap to be able to cook a full meal. Having that crap is cheaper in the long run, but it's clutter.

You get your bike fixed at the shop, even for really simple things, because you would need tools and crap to do it yourself.

When renting/hiring/leasing is cheaper than owning, renting those things is usually something that is already pretty common or normal in your area. Going beyond what is common usually means that it's not saving you money, but costing you money - that you're paying a premium to get rid of clutter.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:49 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


What are we looking for as we wander through IKEA?


A litterbox.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:56 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you have fewer things, you have fewer resources to do whatever project you want to do cheaply.

You soon reach the point of diminishing returns when it comes to keeping supplies around. How many diy projects can you do? And if you hardly ever use some of your equipment, how much do you really save when you look at the cost of buying and paying for the space you store it in vs. number of times per use?

For five years in my twenties I lived in a 10' x 15' room in a scary roominghouse (the bathroom and kitchen were shared with the other inmates residents). I had everything I really needed in terms of modern urban living. I had no need of a chicken coop. I didn't have a bike, but never missed one because I could walk or take public transit to work and school and to run errands and go out socially. I did a year's worth of visual arts studies and had basic art supplies for that. I borrowed books from the public libraries. I had very basic kitchen supplies (all my non-perishable food and kitchen stuff fit in one large cupboard) and could cook pretty much anything I wanted with them — I almost never ate out. I did quite a bit of knitting and had supplies for that. I do wish I had invested in a sewing machine instead of borrowing my mother's several times a year, but even if I hadn't had that option I could have done without one entirely without really spending any more on clothes — though I would have been less satisfied with the clothes I had. I generally mended things and made small alterations by hand anyway. I never had a TV during that time and never missed it. And I lived on $900 a month when working and about $600 when unemployed or in school full time (this was during the nineties in Toronto).

These days I have a house full of stuff, have quite a lot of supplies sitting around waiting for me to use them up in this or that craft or project, and still live on quite a lot more than $900 a month.

So I disagree, and think that one doesn't need to be wealthy to live with fewer things. In general, most people in North American society have far more stuff than they really need,(me included!) and would be better off curtailing their purchasing.
posted by orange swan at 12:05 PM on April 4, 2011


One workaround to this 'it costs money to have fewer possessions thing' is to channel your energy into community resources.

I live near a housing cooperative where folks take turns making a meal for about thirty people. They're only expected to cook 1 meal in 10. They pay about $3-5 and get a high quality meal and good company. This is one way to go about the "I can't buy 25 pounds of flour in bulk" problem. And 9 times out of 10 they don't have to do any cooking.

I also live near a bike cooperative. We provide the tools, and volunteers teach folks how to work on their own bicycles. We ask for a donation for the use of shop time based on a sliding scale. I have access far more tools there than I would ever have at my own home. It's a better deal whether I hoard tools or have no tools at all.

Berkeley and Oakland have tool lending libraries.

There are ways to work around the more/less is better dichotomy. There are a lot of examples of communities working together to create more than any given individual could have on their own. The thing is - we need LOTS of small communities like this. We need lots of active, engaged members of the public working together on community-driven projects.

These projects can connect with other projects to create a more diverse, less monolithic set of resources that are available to everyone rather than this more/less dichotomy of 50s-style thinking of single-family homes.
posted by aniola at 12:08 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Orange swan:

Your 10' x 15' room in the 90's did not look like an ikea commercial. It looked cluttered.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:11 PM on April 4, 2011


Er, actually no, it did not look cluttered. I cannot bear clutter. It looked like a pretty ordinary bedroom. The walls and floor could have stood redoing, but my furniture was nice enough that it actually looked comfortable. The room contained: one double bed, two nightstands, a chest of drawers, a dresser, an upholstered rocker, a student desk and chair with a lamp and a bullentin board over the desk and a waste paper basket beside the dresser. The surfaces of all these pieces of furniture were kept clear except for a few decorative or useful knick-knacks (i.e., a pair of candlesticks, my jewelry box, a couple of framed photos, a digital alarm clock on the nighttable by the bed). The closet was maybe 2.5' x 6' and contained my clothes, ironing board, iron, suitcase, and about six boxes of books. (God was it a pain in the ass to pull out those boxes and go hunting through them for a particular book I knew I had.) The rest of the stuff I owned went in the drawers/shelves of my funiture. I kept my bathroom supplies in basket in one of the "cupboard" sides of my dresser and just grabbed the basket every time I went to the bathroom. I did keep my kitchen supplies in my one cupboard and half the fridge in the kitchen.

When I had anyone over I used to give them "the tour". I'd stand in the middle of the room and say, "Would you like a tour? Here's the bedroom! (pointing to the bed) The study! (pointing to the desk) The boudoir! (pointing to the dresser) The living room! (pointing to the rocker)."

After five years of living in this room, I still had a couple of empty drawers and no drawer was stuffed full.
posted by orange swan at 12:36 PM on April 4, 2011


That's not the cult of less kind of minimalism I was meaning - by those standards the room was cluttered. Tidy, but cluttered.

B my standards however, that's both tidy and uncluttered :)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:42 PM on April 4, 2011


Before cell phones, my roommates and I used to bring walkie-talkies to IKEA.

It was AWESOME.

"Where are you?" "I'm in the lamp place near the beds!" "Wave!" "I'm waving!" "I can't see... oh, THERE you are! You're not buying that lamp, are you?" "..." "DON'T BUY THAT LAMP I AM COMING OVER THERE RIGHT NOW."
posted by tzikeh at 12:53 PM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


(it also sounds like you were able to do that cheaply because 1. you lived with others in a situation designed to minimize cost of living, and 2. You either were not interested in, or restricted yourself to things that you could afford that didn't clutter. If you want to do things that normally involve clutter, without the clutter, you need to pony up the $$$. And with kids... I don't even know how that could even work.

That said, I think you're right - the right person with the right motivations can do it cheaply.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:59 PM on April 4, 2011


"Couches, for instance, can be reupholstered."

We looked into this, for my 20-year-old well-loved couch where the upholstery started actually wearing through, and discovered it would cost about as much to have it reupholstered as to buy a new one of similar quality. So I looked into taking a class to learn how to reupholster it myself ... not much savings. Then the cushions started to need replacing, and we sighed and decided we'd be better off buying a new one because reupholstering and replacing the cushions on the old one would COST MORE.

Then we had a baby and decided to just throw a slip cover over it for a couple more years and put up with the sagging cushions since small children barf on things anyway.

I suppose a great deal of the cost issue is that when you repair you're still paying for all the fabric, as well as the expertise and hands-on work of an expert; whereas when you buy the couch you're paying for the materials, but for factory assembly. And once you factor in the cushions, and replacing the hide-a-bed mattress ... well, I'm sure I have a very nice neighborhood upholsterer somewhere, but why would I put that much money into a couch that isn't an heirloom and will just be beat up on by pets, children, and sports-watching adults? When I can replace it for less?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:00 PM on April 4, 2011


Eyebrows: why get an expert or take a class? Without those expenses, the cost of materials isn't much, and if it already needs replacing, then you can't screw it up. Study the couch, and give it a shot. If you don't buy the bulk of the materials until you've had some success, a proof you can do it, it cost almost nothing to try. :)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:07 PM on April 4, 2011


I think the expense associated with minimalism would depend very much on your definition of minimalism.
"Own as little as possible" would result in the costs-more model, via the need to rent unowned necessities.
"Own only what you absolutely need" would result in minimal cost.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 1:17 PM on April 4, 2011


That's not the cult of less kind of minimalism I was meaning - by those standards the room was cluttered. Tidy, but cluttered.

I wasn't up to ultra-minimalist standards, no. But my room looked just as spare and neat as an IKEA photo shoot, if it wasn't as esthetically pleasing, and I thought that's what we were talking about.

it also sounds like you were able to do that cheaply because 1. you lived with others in a situation designed to minimize cost of living

Had I rented a place that had a bathroom and a kitchen reserved for just my use, I might have bought a few things such as a microwave (there was one provided by the landlord in the boardinghouse kitchen) and a bathmat for the bathroom (there wasn't one) because I was always afraid of slipping and a vacuum (I used my landlord's). But I wouldn't have really needed to buy anything more than I had, and other than my mother's sewing machine and landlord's vacuum cleaner I very seldom borrowed anything from anyone.

Re: kids and stuff

I grew up with very little. My clothes fit in three dresser drawers and 18" of space on the closet garment bar. I had three desk drawers for my other things, and with my siblings shared one 2' x 6' cupboard of toys in the family room. And that's all the personal stuff I had as a child. I was one of five biological children and had three foster sisters and I lived in a five bedroom, two-story house that was home to a family of up to ten people, though between age five and sixteen there were generally just the seven of us after my foster sisters moved out on their own. The place never seemed crowded or cluttered. We always easily had room for anything new that was brought home. I did really, really want my own room (I was 13 before I got it) but otherwise the house never felt all that full to me. There was always a corner where I could go to be alone if I wanted to.

Compare this to someone I knew who was one of two children. Her four-member family lived in a house that had four bedrooms and a very comparable amount of living space to the house I grew up in. And it was so damned full that when she bought her wedding dress some months before she got married it had to be kept at her aunt's because there was no closet in the house that it could be kept in without getting crushed. Then once she got married she and her husband bought a very comfortably sized three bedroom house, which again had fewer bedrooms but a comparable amount of living space compared to the house I grew up in and she whined about how small it was going to be once she had two kids.

Kids don't have to have some huge amount of stuff, any more than adults. Yes, you need quite a bit of paraphernelia for a baby, but the baby stage doesn't last that long. Really, it's just about having the discipline to keep your stuff weeded out your purchases in line with what you are going to use and what you have space for. Decide how many pairs of pants or sets of dishes you need and stick to that. If you're going to insist on keeping clothes you haven't worn in ten years and your grade eight math homework and constantly buy more and more stuff, you will never have "enough" room.

I think I have quite a lot of stuff now, but quite a few visitors to my home marvel at how uncluttered it is, with the single exception of my mother, who lectures me on how crowded it is and tells me to knock out a wall or two. You can see where I got my leaning towards minimalism.
posted by orange swan at 1:39 PM on April 4, 2011


So I looked into taking a class to learn how to reupholster it myself ... not much savings.

I've reupholstered furniture sucessfully and never taken a class. The only instruction I got was from my mother, who told me, "Just take off the old upholstery, pay attention to how it was put it on, use the pieces as a pattern for sewing the new one, and put the new upholstery on in the same way as the old was."

I bought a buttoned tub chair for $15 from thrift store, and brought it home in a taxi. I bought some really good fabric for $20 a metre, and staples (I already had a $10 stapler and a sewing machine) and had new buttons covered in some scraps of the fabric for $4 at an upholstery shop. In the end for a total of about $190 I had a looks-like-new good quality buttoned tub chair. I believe it would have cost $700 or more to buy a new one of comparable quality, so to me it was worth it.
posted by orange swan at 1:48 PM on April 4, 2011


From the Johnston link: IKEA in any case remains sensitive to the degree to which its customers will follow overt directions, tweaking its approach from country to country according to customer feedback and the sales figures.

That's fascinating. Does anyone know where I might read more about how IKEA tailors its store navigation from country to country?
posted by jamaro at 2:12 PM on April 4, 2011


Eyebrows McGee: I feel like it's one of those instant gratification vs. long-term thinking things. I know money is the reason why a lot of people make the choice to shop at places like IKEA rather than their local upholsterer. It's a bit cheaper, and we all have limited resources.

Like orange swan is saying, I feel like there is a lot of disempowerment in society as I know it. There is no incentive to put a lot of work into figuring out how to reupholster a couch when you can buy a new one for the same price. I think I'm coming from a similar sort of thinking as orange swan: I can make do with less, why can't everyone else? Part of the answer, I think, is that it's not a priority for everyone.

I feel like it's a bit the same as buying organic/fairtrade/etc. food. The end result looks the same, and to those of us without refined tastes, it tastes the same. Or like buying a book at the local used & new book shop rather than the big chain down the street. It feels like the same experience, but the neighborhood chain down the street doesn't give half a hoot about the community they're a part of, whereas the local book shop is a thriving community hub. I suppose it could be the other way around, but I don't see that as often. Also, there is more diversity in having lots of little book shops. The books will vary more from one shop to the next. It's like planting a monocropped field of soy versus a field with dozens of different native plants on the borders. One is healthier than the other.

It's a trade-off. We usually try to support the copy shop next to us, but sometimes we need copies at the last minute, and the Big Chain is open 24 hours).

I mean. I think you probably know all these things, have heard them all before. But this is what I think of when I try to make the decision of whether to go here or there. It's not just the cost of the dollars that come out of my wallet, but how these dollars will be spent once I hand 'em off. I can't make it be a priority for anyone but myself. I understand that different people have different priorities.

I work as a caregiver. The other day, my boss decided to fix the freezer. The door was warped. I thought the door was warped beyond repair. We took it off its hinges, set it on a couple of blocks, and bent it back into shape. Then we put it back on its hinges, cleaned it out, and it was good to go. My point is that sometimes things don't seem like they are worth fixing or reupholstering, but then you do it and holy cow it's like new again!

But I feel like I've heard you talk about that couch of yours before. And sometimes if things are a big enough deal that you really care about them, then it's worth it to get a new one. Like the time my housemate broke his favorite cup. It was a glass Coca Cola cup that only held six ounces. So I went into the dollar store, found its made-in-a-factory-in-China twins, and bought him one for $0.50. I had a hard time doing it, because I knew we had plenty of perfectly good cups in our cupboard. But everything in moderation, including moderation, right? It made him happy. And I bet the same applies to your couch.

My question is about all those other times. When it isn't the favorite cup, or the couch you've wanted for years. How to make the social shift to needing less so that we can support folks like the neighborhood upholsterer more?
posted by aniola at 3:02 PM on April 4, 2011


P.S. The couch isn't an heirloom, but it would be an heirloom by the time it got to your grandkids. (:
posted by aniola at 3:17 PM on April 4, 2011


Other times, I go to Ikea and eat meatballs (but not the whole order, because I don't like that barfy feeling)

Psst. There's a special off-menu 9 or 10 meatball order (rather than 15). One time, I told them I didn't want all the meatballs b/c I couldn't eat them all, and they cut down the order, stuck a special colored toothpick in one, charged me less, and I had myself a small order. Now I just ask for a smaller order of meatballs--and I get the special colored toothpick and cheaper price every time.
posted by BlooPen at 3:18 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


stunningly environmentally aware company?

Not what I've heard, from many sources, including this from rainforestrelief:

China is Ikea's largest supplier of solid wood furniture, according to the company. In 2006, about 100 Chinese factories manufactured about one-fourth of the company's global stock. Russia is Ikea's largest source of wood, providing one-fifth of its worldwide supply. Ikea executives said they are confident this wood is legal, because the company dispatches auditors and professional foresters to factories and traces wood to logging sites.

But Ikea has only two foresters in China and three in Russia, the company said. It annually inspects logging sites that produce about 30 percent of the wood imported by its Chinese factories, more commonly relying on paperwork produced by logging companies and factories.

"Falsification of documents is rampant," acknowledged Sofie Beckham, Ikea's forestry coordinator. "There's always somebody who wants to break the rules."

Sending more people to inspect logging sites would make Ikea's products more expensive.
"It's about cost," said Ikea's global manager for social and environmental affairs, Thomas Bergmark. "It would take enormous resources if we trace back each and every wood supply chain. We can never guarantee that each and every log is from the right source."
Two years ago, Ikea set a goal that by 2009, at least 30 percent of the wood for its products will be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. But now, the company says, only 4 percent of the wood used to make its wares in China meets that grade.
(boldfacing mine)
posted by kozad at 3:52 PM on April 4, 2011


Okay, first, I've reupholstered things before, and this is well beyond my skill and I researched the expense of a new fabric of comparable quality. It would not be a cheap project EVEN IF I could do it myself, which I do not believe I can. And then I'd still have to replace the cushions AND the hide-a-bed mattress (because those sure don't last 20 years).

It's really not that great a couch. It's a mass-produced factory number that just turned out to be sturdy. (And have a little complicated upholstering.) It's never going to be an heirloom.

"I think I'm coming from a similar sort of thinking as orange swan: I can make do with less, why can't everyone else? Part of the answer, I think, is that it's not a priority for everyone.

I feel like it's a bit the same as buying organic/fairtrade/etc. food. The end result looks the same, and to those of us without refined tastes, it tastes the same. Or like buying a book at the local used & new book shop rather than the big chain down the street. It feels like the same experience, but the neighborhood chain down the street doesn't give half a hoot about the community they're a part of, whereas the local book shop is a thriving community hub. I suppose it could be the other way around, but I don't see that as often. Also, there is more diversity in having lots of little book shops. The books will vary more from one shop to the next. It's like planting a monocropped field of soy versus a field with dozens of different native plants on the borders. One is healthier than the other. "


Well, that's all very nice for you. And we shop local (when possible), buy organic, and got rid of our monocultured lawn as soon as we moved in in favor of native plants and our own organic garden. I still don't see why I should pay the same to reupholster a piece of generic factory furniture instead of buying new generic factory furniture that would be in better shape. Or something nicer, if we can find something that isn't so supergigantic that it'll fit in our room. But $60 for a sturdy canvas slipcover from Target will eke a few more years out of the one we have, which seems more sensible than paying to reupholster the whole thing.

(And I've mostly talked about my couch before because it has devolved into a POS that desperately needs replacing but I hate throwing things out and I hate shopping for furniture and I hate consuming and I hate dealing with the whole thing. I'll get there. Eventually.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:04 PM on April 4, 2011


I didn't mean to put you on the defensive. I was trying to avoid that. I like your slipcover solution. It's a great idea and exactly what I'm talking about.

Like I said, I don't know what the answers are. I have the luxury of living in a college town where if I want a decent couch, I get my housemates to help me haul one home from a few blocks away. It's not a problem I have had to deal with.

I'm just trying to figure out how to ask the questions. How to figure out what the options really are. Because I feel like there have to be better answers than the ones that are currently available.
posted by aniola at 5:24 PM on April 4, 2011


Would upholstery be cheaper if there was more demand for it?
posted by aniola at 5:27 PM on April 4, 2011


IKEA has continued to embody in the public mind the modernist ideals of simplicity and minimalism

Really? I though it embodied hipster/yuppie pretension, actually.
posted by jonmc at 5:30 PM on April 4, 2011


"Would upholstery be cheaper if there was more demand for it?"

I don't know, but my thought is, this couch was probably initially put together in a factory where hundreds if not thousands of cushions were all cut the same; all the fabric was laser-cut the same; all the trim was cut the same, etc. Then you can have a few skilled individuals performing the same small set of actions over and over again.

Assuming the material costs about the same (probably the big factory gets a discount), with reupholstery you're paying for a skilled craftsperson to take apart, repair, and put back together an individual couch, different from all the other individual couches. Takes more time, requires more skills, etc. Still need the tools, and probably different tools for different types of upholstery jobs.

Reupholstery clearly makes economic sense for couches or chairs with heirloom qualities, or with a lot of wood, etc. I'm not sure it would ever make sense for a piece of mass-produced furniture unless it had really great "bones" and you paid commensurately.

Similarly, we looked into getting our old stove repaired, and the repairman told us straight up that it'd save us $200 to just go get a new one. (And I gotta say, I like the features of the not-40-year-old stove, and it's more energy efficient.) There are always trade-offs.

The other thing is, IKEA and other stores market a lot to young singles and young marrieds with kids; I really don't think it makes sense to put heirloom-quality furniture in my living room when I have small children. Nobody wants to raise kids in a museum where they're afraid to touch anything. We have some "lifetime" pieces (in our bedroom and the sideboard in our dining room), but our dining room table, our living room furniture, those things aren't going to survive 18 years of children intact. "Cheap but only lasts 10 years" is actually about right for a lot of young families, since "expensive" is likely to get expensively dinged-up if not ruined. We buy for our living room with the thought in mind, "How will this survive children, and if it will get beat up, how will it look in 10 years beat up and demoted to a basement rec room?" Our current furniture is mostly stuff where scratches add character.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:54 PM on April 4, 2011


Really? I though it embodied hipster/yuppie pretension, actually.

There's probably a lot of regional variation. In Europe, IKEA is fairly mainstream and not worth much as far as hipster/yuppie oneupmanship points go. (It has even been claimed that one in every ten Europeans was conceived in an IKEA bed.) In places where IKEA showrooms are further apart, the furniture is more expensive/less convenient to obtain, and/or taking cues from Europe is seen as an unwholesomely pretentious affectation, a house full of Swedish-designed furniture may convey a meaning of pretension to cultural superiority. Much like, say, supporting an English football team or listening to mainstream-alternative rock bands from another country.
posted by acb at 5:59 PM on April 4, 2011


Upholstery is one of those services that has a really wide range of charges. Lots of guys learn to upholster in prison, apparently, and there are many men and women with the skills who earn really awful salaries by working for other people. The shops attached to design centres charge insane prices, but there are lots of individual guys who will happily do the work for a reasonable amount.

I have two pieces of thrift-store/Craigslist furniture that just happen to be nice mid-century modern pieces: one probably isn't real teak but the other certainly is. For the sofa, I found some good quality plain upholstery fabric at a deep discount from a clearance centre, and just happened on a small one-man place that did the whole job for 400 bucks. The chair was a revelation: I bought more of the discount fabric and called a number of places in different areas of the city for a quote. Woman one came from a shop in Kits, took one look at the chair and told me that it would need a complete rebuild, that she couldn't use my fabric and would have to use hers, and that the total would be (around) 1800.00. Second guy came from a shop downtown, told roughly same story, demanded that I pay for his leather, quoted 3,000 bucks. Guy Three came from a small shop in Burnaby, told me my fabric would be a pain but he could do it, said the chair was in fine shape and quoted me 260.00.

That was 5 years ago, the chair's just fine, and I'll be able to afford to get both pieces recovered when I'm sick of the colour or the cats are sick on it one two many times. I'd not have bothered except that I love the shape and style of the pieces, and they're absurdly comfy, small and light.
posted by jrochest at 6:11 PM on April 4, 2011


One too many times, of course. Blech.
posted by jrochest at 6:12 PM on April 4, 2011


Yeah, where I live Ikea isn't for hipsters and yuppies, it's for kids who've just moved out of home. When we grow up we're supposed to graduate to giant overstuffed couches in home theatres in McMansions. But that stuff is ugly and doesn't fit into my tiny house, so I stick with the Ikea stuff and hope that a real furniture store comes along soon. There are craftsmen who do beautiful furniture made from local materials and all that, but they only seem to make oversized items too. At least Ikea understands the 'small is beautiful' concept.
posted by harriet vane at 6:17 PM on April 4, 2011




Really? I though it embodied hipster/yuppie pretension, actually.

Because nothing says I'm "attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than I actually possess" like buying moderately priced, reasonable quality furniture that fits into my car. Next time I want bookshelves for my kids I'll be sure to make them from a couple of cinder blocks and an old skateboard deck. It'll go well with their flannel shirts, which they'll spend two hours picking out so they look like they don't care.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:51 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Really? I though it embodied hipster/yuppie pretension, actually.

Not really. Some might have that mistaken association due to IKEA's inclusion in "Fight Club", but it's really just a big ass cheap furniture store shopped by younger people looking to fill out their first living spaces apart from their parents' houses.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:57 PM on April 4, 2011


Really? I though it embodied hipster/yuppie pretension, actually.

Yuppies go to Crate & Barrel and/or Pottery Barn. Hipsters go to Goodwill.
posted by casarkos at 7:11 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Indeed, IKEA is the neutral zone, a place you can close your eyes and grab random objects are sure sure it'll match, be reasonably priced, and not subject you to ridicule.


The kitchenware is quite good for the price, and I like the jars. But minimal and clean has never been my thing.
posted by The Whelk at 7:15 PM on April 4, 2011


Just FYI, "hipsters" and jonmc are deeply intertwined on metafilter. One of jonmc's bête noires. From time to time, jonmc snaps awake and rattles off something based on nightmares from long ago. It's not meant to be taken literally, I don't think, it's more akin to someone back in the day cursing "the libertines". The "hipsters" of jonmc's nightmares are somewhat mythical creatures.
posted by VikingSword at 7:24 PM on April 4, 2011


Yeah, most people are pretty stultifying when they insist on making a thing out of their predictable reactions.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:31 PM on April 4, 2011


hey
posted by The Whelk at 7:43 PM on April 4, 2011


In that case, I'd buy stuff at thrift stores and off Craig's List and "shop the curb".

This is an excellent way to get bedbugs!
posted by winna at 8:03 PM on April 4, 2011


(And I've mostly talked about my couch before because it has devolved into a POS that desperately needs replacing but I hate throwing things out and I hate shopping for furniture and I hate consuming and I hate dealing with the whole thing. I'll get there. Eventually.)

Years ago we elected to finally toss out our old Crate and Barrel couch (it was my wife's and pre-dated my appearance). First our elderly, free-roaming rabbit Beth had stained it with diarrhea. We shampooed it, but the stains were still on the cushions. So we flipped the cushions and discovered that we had previously flipped the cushions because of stains. So we threw a blanket on it and sat on it for another six weeks or so. The rabbit's faculties were fading fast and one day a few weeks later, completely out of character, she tore up the arms of the sofa, shredding the fabric and scattering foam stuffing around the living room. We would have been upset if it had still been a nice sofa, but it was already old and gross and we knew the rabbit's time was very short.

Not long after (three days I think), Beth died and we decided that we would honor her memory by getting a new sofa. We scheduled the delivery for the day after trash day, because we lived in a Utopian city where at the time you could dispose of things like sofas by merely hauling them to the curb on trash day with no prior warning or special arrangement. So on Garbage Day Eve, I was preparing to haul the sofa out the front door.

"We can't put it out there like that!" my wife said.

"Uhh, it's trash. Should I put a ribbon on it?" I replied.

"If we just put it out as-is, everyone will know that we had a sofa like that."

"And they'll know that we has sense enough to dispose of it. Should we char it up, make it look like a meth lab explosion?"

"I'm going to take the covers off the cushions and put them in a garbage bag. How can we hide the arms? Could you cut the stuffing off cleanly, like we had to do it to get it through a door or something? Do you have a saw that could do that?"

"How about I put the bins on one side and I'll take a dry bag out of the bin to set on the sofa? And well put the bag with the cushion covers on that side too? That's one arm hidden. And I'll throw the sleeper mattress over the other arm to hide that one?"

"That'll work."

I think the plan worked. I never noticed any downcast eyes from the neighbors in the days after. But if you believe my wife, it was a close call. At some point you might feel like you need to hire mobsters to dispose of an old sofa.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:25 PM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Those are all good points. It's especially a trade-off when energy-efficient things come out. Like water bottle containers and energy-efficient stoves.

My thought is that there has to be some balance. Some set of options somewhere between a $3000 reupholstering job and a $200 IKEA couch or potentially-dubious curb couch. What is the right scale? If IKEA is willing to show me that they are pulling *all* of their wood from 'sustainable forests' (I'm not sure what that means, but I know there's some sort of certification that means something to someone. FSC is I think IKEA's affiliation) and that *all* of their products are generally coming from people making something resembling a living wage for their economy, then I will high five 'em and buy their things. (Or I would if I didn't live in a town where I said "I need a not-broken bread maker" and my friend says "I saw one two streets down, be right back!" (yes that did just happen tonight, and the bread just finished cooking. ) or gee, you accidentally gave away my roller blades? well, they were $8, so don't spend more than that, and then I find a better pair the next day at a garage sale. That was the other week.)

You'll probably never find me in a factory building the fabric that reupholsters the couch (no matter who is using the fabric to build the couch). You'll probably also never find me lopping any of the wood IKEA goes through each year. I wonder when we'll start seeing "fair trade" and "direct trade" sorts of labels and information on furniture and clothing the way we see it on food. (Or maybe we already do and I've just been out of touch too long to know about it?)
posted by aniola at 12:35 AM on April 5, 2011


Yeah, where I live Ikea isn't for hipsters and yuppies, it's for kids who've just moved out of home. When we grow up we're supposed to graduate to giant overstuffed couches in home theatres in McMansions.

That might help to explain the hipster/yuppie reaction. IKEA is basically for urban living, in places where space is relatively tight. In European cities where car ownership is relatively rare, at least among young people, an all-IKEA layout is more likely, if anything, because the savings on individual items have to be balanced by the expense of delivery or van hire.

In countries where land outside cities is cheap and the climate sufficiently forgiving to permit relatively inexpensive construction, furniture designed for small urban spaces might look hipsterish, precisely because it isn't the kind of furniture which non-urban Americans see as pretentious (and which urban Europeans tend to associate with a Sweet Valley vision of SUVs as sweet sixteen presents, sunny highways and perfect teeth).

I rented furnished accommodation in a city through my twenties. If I needed new furniture (usually bookshelves) IKEA stuff was both relatively inexpensive and largely freestanding. When I moved to an unfurnished place, it made sense to fill out the necessities for living (kitchen table, task chair, bed) in one blast, and replace it when it wore out with local craft or designed pieces.

The sofa I got elsewhere, obviously. I'm not crazy.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:08 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hope the misguided so called "business people" who run the incredibly successful, massively profitable IKEA furniture company read these articles and realise they're doing it all wrong. Obviously making a stupendously wide range of cheap, light, attractive furniture ideal for younger people in smallish flats all over the developed world is a really stupid idea and we should all whittle our own futons out of humanely harvested twigs and cruelty free chewing gum.
posted by joannemullen at 3:51 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


it's really just a big ass cheap furniture store shopped by younger people looking to fill out their first living spaces apart from their parents' houses.

Well I guess in the States you do have your own cheap alternatives that have been around for longer and have more stores through the country, and you do have bigger distances.

In most of Europe, IKEA has become THE norm, for everyone, definitely not just younger people, it's for families too. Even people who furnished their own place before IKEA was around will still go there to get smaller stuff or replace furniture that needs replacing. It's within reach for a lot of people in many countries. The stores are not only in cities or around cities throughout the country, but those will be areas that are more densely populated.

Look at this map and the numbers (and it's dated 2007 but it's the only map I could find with a quick search that shows the bigger picture - another one here but doesnt' show numbers of stores),

So, as of 2007, there were 35 stores in the US, and 43 stores throughout all of Germany, which is of course a lot smaller. Look how they are placed. They are everywhere, basically.

France had 23 and same thing.

Italy had 15 and all also evenly distributed along the boot considering which are the most populated areas (only Sardinia lacks an Ikea, but they do have some affordable alternatives).

In Spain they also have stores on the Canary islands and Balearic islands.


So yeah in Europe generally speaking it is definitely for the masses.

This will vary from country to country, but generally, before Ikea, if you didn't want to spend a lot and you needed new stuff (and a lot of it you inherited from family, friends, previous tenants), you had affordable-ish options, including from the big DIY chains, but other domestic store chains with enough presence on the territory are relatively recent too, and there weren't really that many that would stock everything from beds to mattresses to shelves to dishes and cups. And even now that those other chains do offer more products, they can rarely compete with IKEA's prices. For the smaller stuff, yeah, but for beds, dressers and wardrobes and kitchens - not really. There's practically zero competition there. Ikea wins big time.

European urban 'hipsters' who have lots of money (what do you call them, yuppie hipsters?) will spend on designer stuff. Those who don't have lots of money pride themselves on getting a lot of stuff second hand, from the flea markets, from friends of friends, from the skips, from the thrift stores, from the local equivalent of craigslist, from 'found' furniture in the streets. Not many of them will manage to avoid Ikea completely though, even those who have the strongest hippest objections to it, because, well, those alternatives can be a big pain in the ass.

Found furniture is not a bad option at all in a city, but you need to be lucky. In Berlin for instance lots of people who move can't always be bothered with selling or putting up ads, and waiting for people to respond and collect the stuff, so they leave sometimes perfectly usable furniture - sofas, chairs, tables, dressers, etc. - outside the buildings, on the pavement, often with a little note saying "zu verschenken" (gift, free), so as not to piss off the garbage collection workers (because well technically, you should not leave that stuff on the pavement, you're supposed to carry it to the recycling skips yourself, else someone else will have to do it for you).

Or, sometimes you find great stuff in your own inner courtyard, when they're renovating flats, the builders just leave by the trash the stuff that the previous renters didn't bother taking out - shelves, cabinets, etc. (lots of them also IKEA, of course!). They'll take it to the skips or recycling places eventually, but if it's usable stuff in a decent enough condition, it will be picked up before it ends up in the skip.

You need to find this stuff when you need it, or when you still have room for it. So, it's down to luck. You can't 'plan' on (re)furnishing your whole place that way.

The craigslist/ebay ads route is less about luck, lots of people use it especially in urban areas where it's easier to go pick up the furniture yourself, but it's still time consuming, especially if you need more than one piece. Now, say you live in a city and don't have a car. If it's small stuff, you will be able to carry it using public transport; same if you go buy at the Ikea store usually easily placed near public transport. But for anything bulky enough, you will need a car to go pick it up, and Ikea offers its own transport service, and there are other competing transport services right outside the store, so, Ikea wins BIG time here too.

(This has been said above already - if you need to get more than one piece of furniture, the ubiquitous Swedish brand store ends up being a lot more convenient and less time consuming than several different trips across the city to get second-hand furniture someone is selling on the internet -- a lot of which, you guessed it, will also be Ikea anyway!).

So, you reach a point where it doesn't even matter what you think of Ikea and their furniture and their style and their marketing - nevermind their environmental and financial practices - there is NO escaping it.

It just is the cheapest and easiest choice, you go there you find everything within budget and within easy reach. You may hate going there, you may get homicidal fantasies after spending more than 1 hour in there and queuing at the checkout, but yeah, fuck it, they win. "It saves you money" -- and time, which you can spend on something else that's more interesting and personal and maybe even hipper than furniture.
posted by bitteschoen at 4:22 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Peter Kay Joke :

"We lost my grandad last year."
(audience : Ohh)
"He's not dead : he's in IKEA"

The simple matter of fact is that some people have no taste. Me, for example. I'd rather have our books on shelves than in piles on the floor, and IKEA offers a cheap, simple solution. I find the self-assembly enjoyable because it is easy (even cack-handed dunces like me can manage it, even if the Baltimore Police Dept finds it a struggle) and satisfying since I'd like to work with my hands but I have neither the opportunity nor the requisite skill.

I'm sure there are corporatons that aren't evil, but I haven't come across any. And I am unsure that my choosing to shop there or not will bring a corportion to its knees.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 4:25 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another thing - re: reupholstering, carpenters, etc.

Look, if we're talking renovating old family furniture and great-grandma's dressers, it may be worth it, purely out of love, tradition, family, emotional attachment, rather than cost-benefits calculations.

But for any other purposes, it's really a luxury. I got an estimate from a friend who's a carpenter about doing some shelving and it cost more than all my existing furniture together. It was a very fair price, and a friend-to-friend price too, and it's only fair because it's manual work. It's artisan work. But I am not, and a lot of people are not, in that bracket of income and lifestyle where spending for nicer design or manual work for items of furniture in a rented flat makes any sense. It's not just different priorities and lifestyles, it's about different budgets.

Usually people I know who buy their own place may want to have something nicer and less ubiquitous, and by then they can justify a higher budget because it's a lifetime investment (in Europe more so - you rarely move after you've bought a house or a flat); then again, depends how much they're already being strangled by the mortgage...

THIS is the world most people live in, even in supposedly wealthy western countries, in 2011. It's a luxury to even have the time to worry about what Ikea does with its taxes or where it gets its wood from.
posted by bitteschoen at 4:32 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's the thing with Ikea furniture--like a lot of stuff, it was way better in the olde days. I have an Ikea dresser in my current bedroom that I have had for 25 years. That's right, 25 years. It is made from actual wood and that white plastic. The knobs are all stuck tight and have never ever come loose. The drawers are all completely and 100% solid and do not squeak, gap or groan. If it weren't for the giant blemish in the varnish on top where I spilled nail polish remover when I was 13, it would be in immaculate condition. It is built like a tank, I tell you. I distinctly remember my parents buying it for me when Ikea first opened up in the Toronto area way back in the day (while I played in the AWESOME ball room). I will probably have this dresser until I die; it's that solid.

Damn, I'm old. I'll stop my reminiscing now.
posted by Go Banana at 8:00 AM on April 5, 2011


The comfortable sofa is called the Ektorp, by the way. It took hours of arduous sit-testing to find it, but all that hard work was worth it.

We have an Ektorp. Love it.
posted by Alt F4 at 10:53 AM on April 5, 2011


Effektiv has proven effective. The Bondi shelves have moved 4 times in 12 years, still look good. Basic Ikea desks have been discarded, but one of 3 is still kicking. It isn't clear if it's the one from my partner's childhood room, but think it is. The desks were disassembled, the shelves were not. Disassembly bad.
posted by Goofyy at 12:07 PM on April 5, 2011


What I liked most about the article (and the reason I posted it) is that it accurately described how I feel when I'm in Ikea. All the shiny, smooth surfaces are clean and free from clutter, and it looks so much nicer than my house which has all the detritus of real life in it. But unlike a lot of designer modern furniture, it acknowledges the truth - that we're never going to get rid of that detritus, so pretty much every piece of furniture should be capable of hiding some of your stuff.

From the article: "In a striking moment towards the end of the cat ad, an especially snow-white specimen is shown looking into a very large, snow-white drawer and then reflectively closing it with its paws. You can tell the cat is imagining all the junk and clutter that would fit inside."
posted by harriet vane at 6:04 PM on April 5, 2011


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