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Life, the Universe & Everything

Ikea

Until last Saturday, I only knew about Ikea from Fight Club and the rapturous expressions of devotion from family and friends who like to shop there. I finally went with my mom and sisters on Saturday morning and got the full experience, including lunch at the Ikea cafe. Just in time for me to be more appreciative of last week’s New Yorker article by Lauren Collins.

I get it now. I’m not an Ikea fanatic, but I understand why people are. It’s a unique experience, and well tailored to the modern consumer. As a web developer/designer, I was fascinated by the interaction design. The layout of the entire store, from the main aisle to the sneaky little cut-through’s to the prepared rooms, guides the visitor with astonishing ease. (We did not re-enact 500 Days of Summer, although the suggestion was made.) The winding aisle has large arrows pointing you in the right direction, and pretty much everyone flows obediently with the arrows. At one point I wondered, aloud, what would happen if you went against the flow. I found out later in the day when we had to backtrack from checkout all the way to the elevator so that we could eat lunch before purchasing our wares. Judicious use of the cut-through’s expedited the trip (“Oh! Wow! Potted plants are this close to kitchen wares?”), but we still had to walk against the arrows on the main aisle for some distance. I felt a little rebellious, but no Swedish SWAT team jumped out of back rooms to stop us, so all ended well.

My sister pointed out that one of the drawbacks to living near an Ikea is that all your friends’ homes begin to resemble each other. This would horrify me, since uniqueness is one of my most cherished values, but I suppose for many person there’s an unspoken comfort in that. “We are alike, we share tastes and stores, this is a safe place to be.”

I suppose that was the most striking thing about Ikea for me. It feels extraordinarily safe. The art is bold and colorful, or understated and tasteful; the modernist lighting fixtures might be a little edgy but also practical and comfortable. And the entire experience is so well organized that I never felt anxiety about where to go next or how to find my way back.

I did see an amazing little wooden table that folds out to a full-size dining table and then back down to a slender storage compartment. I mentally situated this in my fantasy studio apartment. But the very safety of the place switched off my lust for objects. I like used items, storied and proven, unlikely to be matched in the next apartment. But that’s my taste, and someone has to buy an original item if there are to be used items, and I now understand why so many people select Ikea as their point of origin for home goods.

Most importantly, the smoked salmon with dill sauce was delicious!