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17 January 2008

Can anyone explain the appeal of IKEA to me? [More:]We don't have an IKEA that close to me, so I've never been there, but why do people love it so?

I like Ikea. I don't love it. It's easy to go in there and furnish a couple of rooms on a tight budget. A lot of the stuff is on the more contemporary/sleek/stylish side as opposed to the stuff you might find at an traditional Ethan Allen store. It's also good if you need a piece to finish a room, like a bookcase or a side table, and you don't want to spend a ton. A lot of the stuff is pretty innocuous and low key. They also have a lot of really good cheap housewares, like very excellent wooden hangers, kitchen wares and picture frames. The downside is that the furniture is cheaply made and won't be handed down to your heirs. You also have to assemble a lot of it yourself. Don't go on a weekend - it's a madhouse. As I said, I don't love it but we've found it useful for a few things. It is kind of fun, though, to go, wander around, have a few Swedish meatballs in the cafe, and pick up a few unneeded items.
posted by Kangaroo 17 January | 09:53
Cheap. Not ugly. Easy to transport. Tasty Meatballs and Ligenberry Juice.
posted by octothorpe 17 January | 09:54
I don’t exactly love it, but you can get a lot of furniture (& other household whatnots) for cheap there. The stores are cleverly laid-out and most of their stuff is thoughtfully-designed, if seldom of lasting quality.

The closest IKEA to the town where I live is the first store, the ‘mothership,’ at Älmhult, an otherwise drably unremarkable place in the middle of nowhere.
posted by misteraitch 17 January | 09:59
Going to IKEA is an event in itself. They have embraced the idea of 'experience economy' to the point where you can actually go to the store for recreational reasons, to have a fun date.

They have a restaurant, a specialty-foods mini-store, and a quick cafe selling Scandinavian-ish themed things like salmon, smoked cod, lingonberry jam, and wonderful hot cinnamon rolls, which you can smell when you come in.

There's a kids' play area with a ball room.

The store is enormous. The largest part, usually on the 2nd floor, is set up in mini-rooms arrayed in a giant warehouse space. The mini-rooms are full of detail to make them look like a room from a real house. They are very welcoming. You can relax in a mini-living room, hang out on the sofa and put your feet up. You can open all the drawers and cabinets in the mini-kitchen and find that there are kitchen utensils, plates, and glassware and stuff already inside. In other words, it's set up like a big kindergarten playhouse, only you buy everything inside. There are a few nifty aspects to this - each mini-room has its own feel and design idea, and you get a sense of creativity from this - that there is a lot of individual expression possible in decorating, and that people are different and have different tastes, but that by working with an array of modular pieces you can achieve a whole lot of different atmopsheres. This tends to lend itself to roleplaying.

The people-watching is magnificent. For some reason, IKEA attracts a broad cross-section of people. They are there because they're building their lives in some way or another: they're moving in together, they're remodeling, they're downscaling to a retirement condo and need better storage, they're having a baby, they're getting their first apartment after college, etc. The atmosphere is a hopeful one, and there are plenty of interpersonal dynamics at play.

The stuff is unique. It's not super high-quality, not at all, and you pay twice for IKEA furniture: once when you exchange cash for it, and then again when you try to put the *#&^$er together. Still, it is unusual, playful, bright and modern design. There's no analogue - you can pick up beaverboard and plastic furniture at Target, you can by used furniture, or you can take a large leap and pay full inflated price at a stuffy furniture store or snooty design gallery. There's nothing in between but IKEA.

Finally, when you get downstairs they sell all the 'little stuff' - wide fabric by the yard, plants, organizer units, kitchen utensils, candles, picture frames - all fun and not expensive. You feel like you're going wild when you buy a few things for $3 and $6. Just before the checkouts they have large bins with cheap and useful items in them. At the very minimum, whenever I go to IKEA I end up buying their 100-pack of tealights for $1, or some dish towels or hangers.

I hope that helps. I'm not a big shopper or fan of consumer culture, but they really do make it a pleasant experience to go out after things for your house.
posted by Miko 17 January | 10:00
The few times I've been to IKEA, it has filled me with homicidal rage. I don't hate their products, but I have a limited time window for being ok stuck inside looking at shit to buy without getting sunlight and fresh air, and it's just about an hour long, and I have never been able to get in and out of IKEA in anywhere close to an hour.

And actually, I do dislike a lot of their products, because my entire office was furnished with IKEA blond-wood stuff, and I just can't see that color wood and not rediscover all the frustrations I had with that job.

So I'd say the IKEA love is not universal. :-)
posted by occhiblu 17 January | 10:09
Have you looked at their online catalog? They sell cheap modern furniture, some of it pretty decent-looking. You can outfit a room for less than a thousand bucks. Some people love love love Ikea and are slavish fans. There's definitely a huge fan base.

Some don't like the mass-produced look or the easy accessibility of their furniture. The main strikes against them are that some of their pieces are often blatant knock-offs of original designs with no nod to the original designer, their stuff is all laminates and foils applied over uber-cheap materials, and, most heinous of all, their cinnamon buns are ridiculously high calorie.

The thing I despise most about the store is the layout. It's designed in such a way that you have to meander past each and every section to get from point A to point B, and it's maddening as hell until you figure out where the (very few) shortcuts are. Like, if you get off the elevator and want to see the beds, you HAVE to walk through the sections selling the sofas and the chairs and the bookcases and the sheets and the dining room sets and the storage and the desks before you can look at the beds.

I've had some Ikea in the past - it's fantastic kid furniture. I don't have any right now, and don't miss it, although I'm not ruling out buying it in the future if something grabs my eye. I devour every new catalog that comes out for ideas and color.

I absolutely love the section that sells tumblers and barware and kitchen gadgets, but then again I am a kitchen gadget whore. Also, it's so much fun to hide in the tents and tunnels in the kid section. It's also fun to hide behind curtains. There are lots of curtains.
posted by iconomy 17 January | 10:14
I love IKEA. Loooooooooove. Going to IKEA fills me with joy.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 17 January | 10:35
This doesn't answer your question, but you might be interested to know that IKEA is actually the world's biggest charity, bigger even than the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Unfortunately, it's also probably the world's least generous charity, giving away almost none of its (estimated) 36 billion dollar fortune. The Dutch charity that owns most IKEA stores has a stated aim of "[furthering] innovation in the field of architectural and interior design"; the real purpose of the web of charities, holding groups and tax-haven companies that owns IKEA is to keep it under the control of its founder's family and, most importantly, allow tax-avoidance on a massive scale. For instance, the for-profit company which owns the IKEA trademark paid just 3% tax on its profits in 2004 (Economist: "Flat-pack accounting").
posted by matthewr 17 January | 10:57
I love Ikea. A lot of their kitchen gear is of a decent quality, easily on par with stuff you might find at Target, for a fraction of the price. Maybe not the pots and pans, but I have an amazing glass mixing bowl from there and a nice oval casserole dish that I get a lot of compliments on when I have dinner parties, and were dirt cheap. Their glass barware section is very impressive, too.

We don't have one in Buffalo, but trips across the border to visit the one in St. Catherines about an hour away are common.

So often low-cost stuff is country-kitch and tacky. I don't want dishes with roosters on them or whatever, I don't have enough time in my life for all the cock jokes I'd be subjected to. I want something cool. Ikea fills that need. In theory they compete for the same economic market as, say, Walmart. Culturally, though, it's the other end of the spectrum.
posted by kellydamnit 17 January | 11:02
Also, it's so much fun to hide in the tents and tunnels in the kid section. It's also fun to hide behind curtains. There are lots of curtains.

One of my worst ever parental experiences came when my daughter thought that it would be fun to trick her dad and hide in an Eddie Bauer store in the mall. She hid in one of those circular clothes displays and, even when I enlisted store personnel to help find her, stayed put.

Only when mall security was called, and the entrance of the store was sealed off, did she come out. I was sure that she'd been snatched and I would never see her again. I have never been as angry and relieved, simultaneously, as then.


My only experience with Ikea was flying into the Portland airport, and riding the train into the city with a bunch of new Ikea employees who were all in their uniforms, on the way to being trained for the Ikea that was opening there in a few weeks. I still have never been in one.
posted by danf 17 January | 11:17
As sad as it sounds, it's become like a family thing we do probably once a month. We go for dinner, kids eat $1.99 meatballs/fries/drink, I have a few Heinekens and then we stick the kids in "Smålland" to play for an hour while we shop. Awesome.

Tip: go on Gay Pride Day; the place is EMPTY.

posted by chococat 17 January | 11:25
Ikea is a relationship tester. I've often had to furnish flats for nothing and find I can get bed+sheets+cutlery+plates and even have some left over for a couch+end table or something at Ikea, so I've been plenty of times and taught roommates and boyfriends in far off lands that it's a good place for cheap and in the cases of mattrasses, pretty damn good. Couples and families always seem to fight at Ikea. I've never once made it all the way through with my mother without many heated arguments about stupid details - same with my roommates. But when me and the babydaddy were shacking up, we made way many treks out there for our furnishings and frames and five kroner coffee-cups and never once argued. Its a sign that you do well together if you survive Ikea on a weekend no less. We even got our Kitchen there, it's not bad.
posted by dabitch 17 January | 11:48
For me, Ikea is a cheap solution to any furniture problem. However, about 12 months later, said furniture falls apart.
posted by Claudia_SF 17 January | 11:53
I think the quality is only equivalent to other cheap furniture, certainly no worse. My IKEA bookshelves are going on 7 years old and still look acceptable and keep books off the floor. My IKEA coffee table has taken 3 years of hard use and still looks fine - hasn't fallen apart. Meanwhile, the file cabinet I bought at Target in 2004 literally fell apart into slabs the other night when I opened a drawer to clean out my files.

Basically, I feel that when you need furniture and need or want to be cheap, it's the best place to go. When you can invest in great quality furniture and cabinetry or antiques, of course you might want to skip it.
posted by Miko 17 January | 11:58
You gotta re-tighten the ikea screws after six months. I had a closet which while practical, wasn't very pretty, last me for 14 years. Damn thing.

Hehe, sticking the kids in småland. Not a bad idea. Sounds like we should go to Ikea and get a beer soon. :)
posted by dabitch 17 January | 11:59
Generally, if you buy the actually wood furniture from IKEA, it holds together pretty well. I've had a pine kitchen table from them for ten years and it's fine. The laminate over particle board stuff doesn't last as long.
posted by octothorpe 17 January | 12:08
I love the place. It's like ridiculously cute crack. They opened a new one down here last year, and whenever friends visit we're always planning another expedition. Obviously the really cheap furniture is basically crap, but I agree the solid wood stuff (like my bed) is pretty great.
posted by casarkos 17 January | 12:20
Cheap, not obnoxious furniture. You get what you pay for- they go from fall-apart-in-a-year particle board stuff to very solid wood furniture. Their decorating items are almost cool. They 50 cent plates and cups. Very functional candle lanterns, as in they've been to the beach in storms a few times and worked really well.

That said, I have to steel myself to go in there, and I can only do it when it's nearly empty (late at night), at which point it's a surgical strike- get in, get out! Otherwise I end up with something close to an anxiety attack when I can't find my way to or even see the exits, and it's endless flourescent lights and massive Asian family units arguing over the merits of a particular sofa.
posted by small_ruminant 17 January | 12:26
I like those Expedit shelves. They're about the right size for milkcrates, or 12" records.

And that's kind of one of the secrets of their success, I think. IKEA is all things to all people, a blank canvas of signifiers.

If you like design, IKEA makes budget knockoff-y stuff, great for the dorm or first apartment or first cohabitation or whatever. If you don't like design, or don't know much about it, IKEA sells designer-looking stuff for super cheap. If you're used to crappy pressboard furniture, IKEA's occasional use of real wood, and their pretty decent assembly instructions, might seem like the height of luxury. If you're used to nice furniture, IKEA stuff will almost certainly seem dirt-cheap, and surprisingly nice. I could go on like this, but you get the drift.
posted by box 17 January | 12:47
We don't have one in Buffalo, but trips across the border to visit the one in St. Catherines about an hour away are common.

Hey Kelly, want some Flarke, Billy, or Poang? Give my sis some $$$ - she's doing one of her quarterly Ikea runs on Saturday!

Between furnishing my own place and helping my parents resettle after their divorce five years ago, I've taken more three hour roadtrips to the Seattle Ikea (the Portland Ikea just opened six months ago) than I can count over the last few years.

You can get your Ikea fix even in countries that have no Ikea.

I just love Ikea! Wandering through the fully furnished rooms fills me with joy. I think Ikea has really embodied the spirit of the Bauhaus, making modernist design accessible. Prior to Ikea, all other cheap furniture options in the US typically just reproduced the same staid, wannabe-bourgeois aesthetic.

Also, pr0n has gotten much more enjoyable, since they now decorate the sets with Ikea stuff.
posted by pieisexactlythree 17 January | 13:19
I've only been to an Ikea twice in my life, the two times I've visited my brother in San Francisco. And I was amazed. Things were designed with smooth, clean lines. Simple, but actually designed. Everything was so cheap and so different from anything I can find in Alaska. There aren't many options for shopping here (the state is more known for its trees and oil), and the stores we do have carry items that are pretty generic and blah.

Unfortunately, Ikea does not ship to Alaska. No way, no how, not even from the website. It's like we're a different country or something, stuck in the arctic with no access to mail, for crying out loud.
posted by rhapsodie 17 January | 13:20
But then I'm also amazed at the price and yumminess of fruits and veggies in the lower 48. You mean all tomatoes and avocados aren't blasted with chemicals to make them appear ripe? And they have a flavor that isn't water? And they aren't $3 each??

You people Outside, you don't know how good you have it. Bah humbug.
posted by rhapsodie 17 January | 13:24
I'm an Ikea-liker as well. Sure the wheelie chair I bought broke a little while ago and almost killed me, but it was like a 30 dollar wheelie office chair.

1) Cheap. I'm a cheap mofo.

2) I like buying things that have simple sleek lines.

a. Furniture stores scare me with how much of the crap is poofy and has embellishements and just plain looks like furniture made for someone who lives in an actual house. I live in a shoebox in the Heights. I don't need some weird brocaded, fixtured, claw-toed things. I don't need furniture for a real adult apartment, I need furniture for a small-ass, badly laid-out hovel that likes to think it's a real adult apartment.

b. Just personal preference. That's my style. I've always liked things to be lean and streamlined and Ikea has an abundance of things like that where I don't have to go to some high-end minimalist designer to find and can actually afford. I also like random splashes of color and I'm not a big fan of leather whether clothes or furniture (has nothing to do with politics or personal belief, it's just not a part of my aesthetics vocabulary. When I think of my "look" and how things that are me should "look," leather does not really come into play. Like a belt or a purse, but that's really it.)
posted by kkokkodalk 17 January | 13:33
I think Jonathan Coulton can best explain the appeal of Ikea.
posted by pieisexactlythree 17 January | 13:35
It's semi-disposable Swedish furniture. It's reasonably well-designed and relatively cheap, so if it gets damaged it's not that big of a deal.
posted by me3dia 17 January | 13:41
Hint to occhiblu, s_r, and anyone else in the Bay Area: if you're ever down at my end of the peninsula, the Ikea in East Palo Alto is infinitely nicer than the one in Emeryville. I'm not sure it's smaller, but it's much...calmer. I think the lighting's better too. I recently did a commando run for some shelf baskets and was in and out, parking included, in twenty minutes.

I have various bookcases (some with glass doors) and a bed from Ikea. I don't think of them as compromise, disposable furniture; they're exactly what I was looking for, I love the way they look, and, as Miko said, I'm confident they'll hold up for a reasonably long time.

Many years ago I was struck by an advertising slogan that probably wouldn't cut it now: "For smart people who aren't rich". I think Ikea has that particular demographic pegged.
posted by tangerine 17 January | 13:45
I love Ikea and I wish we had one closer than Atlanta. I used to go to the one in Baltimore all the time and I still have a lot of furniture from there that's holding up just fine - 16 years and counting. I did my Baltimore kitchen in Ikea and it was fabulous. And I also used to go there for fun: drop the kids in the ballroom (I adored dropping my kids off like that. So civilized!) eat lunch and shop without buying hardly anything for hours. So, yeah, what everyone else said. Decent cheap furniture with nice lines, really good housewares and a friendly shopping experience. Also, the smoked salmon is excellent.
posted by mygothlaundry 17 January | 13:57
I love the place; it's fun to wander around even if you're not looking for anything. The mister and I have plans to get our media storage stuff there one of these days.
posted by deborah 17 January | 14:07
We don't have one in Buffalo, but trips across the border to visit the one in St. Catherines about an hour away are common

Wait, there's one in St Catherines? We didn't need to go to Burlington?
posted by ROU Xenophobe 17 January | 14:25
I HATE shopping. Hate hate hate it.

But IKEA is fun. You just have to be in the proper mental space -- the one where you can resist the urge to accidentally upend a bookshelf on that idiot who absolutely, repeatedly insists on stopping directly in front of you to fondle a metal folding chair or to say "Flärg. Heh heh. What a funny name for furniture!"

Their as-is section is my favorite part. My nightstand is a three-drawer chest that was missing its bottom drawer. Got it for $5, and the space where the 3rd drawer should have been is a perfect spot for bedtime reading. (Just had to remove the drawer rails. Easy.) And my 'headboard' is a raised-panel door from a wardrobe. It has a nick in the backside, but that's the side I mounted to the wall, just above the bed. $10.
posted by mudpuppie 17 January | 14:58
Oh yes, what you can do with the slightly dented stuff in the as-is room! It's great!

I think we should have a photo friday on Ikea theme. ;P Show off what you've done with the stuff or sad lamps crying or something. hehe.
posted by dabitch 17 January | 15:13
This bookcase is our "toy library." It's about 6'x6' and makes the toys easy to find and easy to put away. Less than 200 bucks. IKEA coat hooks hold all the costumes for less than $20.

Our IKEA coffee table has two giant wheeled bins underneath that hold all the art supplies and also frequently get pulled out as extra seating or table space.

Our IKEA sofas were also dirt cheap. The kids can smear stuff on them, jump on them, nap on them and it just doesn't matter. In a few years, we'll replace them with "real" furniture and not feel like we wasted a dime.

Plus, everything is so very simple that it doesn't clash with the other weird stuff I drag home from auctions and flea markets.

All this AND they watch my kid while I shop, then serve me cheap and tasty meatballs. What is not to love?
posted by jrossi4r 17 January | 15:35
Wait, there's one in St Catherines? We didn't need to go to Burlington?

Hm... now I'm questioning myself, maybe it is Burlington. I do know there are two before you even hit Toronto, though. (keep in mind, I don't drive, so my sense of direction is, well, off).

Maybe it is Burlington...
posted by kellydamnit 17 January | 15:46
I once got an entire wardrobe out of the as-is room. Its only faults were a missing clothesrod (I took one from the wardrobe next to it), and a plastic loop stuck to the door which used to hold a price tag. Instant modern black-and-beech wardrobe for $30!
posted by halonine 17 January | 17:01
I have never actually been to IKEA, although we own IKEA furniture (secondhand sold through the paper cheap as almost free). I've been wanting that Expedit bookcase, but pissed that the Canadian IKEA prices are still way more than the US IKEA prices even though the dollar is on par now. Hmph. Anyway, what we have is sturdy, holds up to kids climbing on it, jumping on it, barfing on it, cats scratching at it, cats barfing on it, etc., and I won't feel bad when it's lived out its time and I have to get "real" furniture, heh. It's great there's cheap stuff out there that's not dumpy schlumpy WalMart "burled walnut photo veneer" style.

And have you seen IkeaHacker? I love IkeaHacker.

St. Catherines? Really? I thought the closest one was somewhere around Hamilton. Hmmm.
posted by Melinika 17 January | 17:53
Most of IKEA I could take or leave, but I love my convertable dining table. It goes from a cozy 2-person table to a tidy 4-person setting with Transformerlike alacrity. I love furniture with gracefully moving parts.
posted by Eideteker 17 January | 19:15
posted by dabitch 18 January | 07:34
drezdn, Schaumburg really isn't that far. Come down here and I will show you the wonders of IKEA.
posted by desjardins 18 January | 11:54
This is why I like IKEA- it turned our messy, messy family room into something with a little more order:

≡ Click to see image ≡

≡ Click to see image ≡
posted by Doohickie 18 January | 22:29
Debit Card woes: || "Very ham-handed"