January 2, 2007


Building a Better Meatball

So, here's a little glimpse into the inner sanctums of one of life's little mysteries. It seems IKEA, that addictive marketplace that makes us all believe we can build a bookcase, makes gazillions of dollars. The privately owned company doesn't make public what it earns, but the owner let go the amount he paid in taxes, and the accounting heads reckon it means IKEA earned about 3.6 billion dollars last year.

That's a lot of Swedish meatballs and BILLI bunkbeds. Or something.

I've always been fascinated by IKEA. It's such a college-dorm kind of place, and yet it's always packed. I've bought lots of stuff there over the years, but I've learned to stick to kitchenware and duvet covers. The furniture doesn't survive a move, and I have a TV cabinet that waggles back and forth like it's surfing to prove it. Then again, I'm not sure what I expected when they handed me a flat box that weighed a hundred pounds - and an Allen key. That Allen key represents so much optimism. It is usually unfounded.

My biggest stink with furniture that doesn't last is the waste involved. I tend to go without something until I can afford something solid. Indeed, we all sat on a loveseat for years to watch TV because I didn't want to buy a disposable couch. We've turned into such an instant gratification culture that as long as it looks pretty, we're happy. Wooden furniture should last a lifetime; cheap and cheerful should be reserved for those just starting out.

I think every piece of furniture I've bought there has been screwed up. I bought the boys desks there a few years back, and both boxes came with 2 left sides. Both. Back to the store. I've had missing hardware, and their instructions are enough to make you weep with frustration. And yet still, I go back, drawn by great planters and cool dishware, happy plants and neat metal boxes. I have stopped wandering through the rest of the store, where I fall in love with the clean cool lines of some furnished room, order it and get handed a bunch of boxes.

I decided long ago that for me, IKEA was just Swedish for 'pieces missing'.

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