Sunday, January 23, 2011

Some Assembly Required

Recently, we needed to get a desk for DD to be able study in peace. As a woodworker myself, I would have liked to build her a desk, but it would have taken me too long to have been a practical solution. (I'm good, but I'm not necessarily quick - I've got some other projects to finish up before I can think of more furniture.) We'd looked around at a few different options and finally decided that a trip to IKEA would not be a bad idea. To be honest, I've read a few blogs about IKEA and had some misgivings about the experience. The places are pretty big and are 90% some-assembly-required. Besides - do I really want meatballs? One male blogger had said that IKEA was actually Swedish for "bring a lunch".

I'd read the IKEA catalog and been to their website to see what was available. I had a hard time imagining that all of these items could be in their store. Then again, I'd passed by a few IKEA stores and had been impressed by their size.

Perhaps I should pack a lunch...

The other thing that you should know is that DW and I have distinctly different styles, She likes clean modern and I like more classic styles. For most of our house, we've trended towards Shaker-style furniture with relatively little disagreement. Amazingly, we were actually able to settle on some desks from the website that we liked and felt would fit the space.

We settled on a trip to one of our nearest IKEA stores as a day trip - they're not really, really close, so we had to make an all-day event out of it. Part of the reason was that some of the items that we wanted could not be mail-ordered. You have to go get them at the stores. We packed the children in to one vehicle and took the other one empty so that we'd be able to put flat-packed furniture into that one. We left early in the morning and arrived not long after the store opened. DW charged ahead up the stairs before I'd had a chance to get my bearings and we were immediately in the showroom portion of the store. As we began to wander through the displays of "model" rooms, I began to think about IKEA stores as being like Dr. Who's TARDIS - larger on the inside than on the outside.

The map of the store was disturbingly like an alimentary system. I had the unnerving feeling that I was being digested by this Swedish-designed behemoth. There were even arrows on the floor to show you where to go to be digested:

To be quite honest, they've done a great deal to make the shopping experience very clear and easy. All of the product information is in well marked tags on every piece in the store. Things are reasonably logically grouped and there are paper measuring tapes, pencils and store map/shopping lists scattered around the store to make your shopping experience painless. They do, however want you to take their contorted path through the store, even if you don't have an interest in everything - there are shortcuts, but they are discretely hidden away.

Still, they do try to make the shopping experience fun, and they don't seem to take themselves too seriously - as evidenced by the waiter's corkscrew:

As you read more of the tags, you cannot help but be impressed by what a logistical wonder that IKEA is. They are a company with corporate headquarters in Denmark, design work done in Sweden and production done all over the world and shipped to their franchises - your local store.

After we were finally digested by the store's showroom, I was getting hungry and DD and DS were getting fractious. We were deposited (conveniently) in front of the bathrooms and the cafe.

We had a very nice lunch for the four of us with entrees, drinks, and dessert for about thirty dollars. Yes, I did actually go for the meatballs... Not gourmet, but not shabby, either - particularly for the price of what we ate.

Both relieved and refreshed, we left the cafe and realized that we hadn't actually picked up anything other than part numbers and inventory locations. We also discovered that we didn't really think that the desk we'd picked out before visiting the store was going to work. We also discovered other things that we wanted - like living room tables - that we hadn't thought of purchasing before, but that the price was just too reasonable to pass up. We went back through the showroom - albeit a bit more quickly and made final decisions about the furniture we did want to buy.

I didn't realize that the adventure was only half over.

We took an elevator downstairs to find ourselves in the "market". The market is a half-warehouse-half-showroom area that is easily as big as the "showroom" and is where you actually pick up the merchandise. More decisions. I do not exaggerate when I say you could furnish an entire home from the bare walls out in an IKEA store. Plates, silverware, cookware, lights, bedding, rugs, artwork - whatever you can think of.

Here's where our downfall was - we went to the warehouse to pick up the furniture that we had chosen. Literally none of the furniture we'd finally chosen was what we'd seen and liked online and we had no idea what the stock levels were like. When we got to the warehouse locations for various items, we were upset to find that about half of the items we wanted were out of stock. They did, however, have an ample supply of the world's most expensive $10 chairs that I have ever seen. (This will require another blog-post in future. Trust me.)

Slightly disappointed with the missing inventory items, we checked out, loaded our goodies and left.

When we got home, I passed the IKEA job interview:

The instructions were clear and concise and even if there were quite a few parts, the furniture went together quickly and looked decent. The only damage was some small dents in the coffee table. Being an engineer, I was probably a little OCD on the assembly technique, gluing dowel alignment pins and checking for square and parallel. I also did a bit of minor customizing to mount some LED lights on the underside of a wall shelf that we'd purchased to go over DD's desk. IKEA isn't Swedish for"bring a lunch" - IKEA is Swedish for "some assembly required".

After I was done building the furniture, I was more than relieved not to have the following situation:

Still, I was short some of the critical pieces of furniture - a chair, a table and a roll-away file unit. I watched the inventory at the store like a hawk online and when the inventory levels looked OK, I zipped down after work to get these final items and got them assembled. While I'm pleased with the way things look now, I have concerns about the long-term durability of the furniture - most is composite with veneers or pine (If you've got pine furniture all you need to do is to turn a 3 year-old loose in your house with a spoon and the kid will "antique" it all for you.) Time will tell.


Cat Sittingstill said...

I was very impressed with the IKEA in Atlanta--it's an experience, alright.

I ended up getting a "Poang" chair that I had admired at a friend's house. I was also very impressed with how straightforward the assembly directions were. Someone put a lot of design effort in creating a chair that 1) works as a chair when put together 2) packs into a small space before it's put together and 3) is easy to put together.

Having designed a few thises and thats (the canoe-lifter and the canoe rack most recently), those are three design requirements that are not easy to overlap.

I'm quite happy with Poang so far, but we'll have to see how it holds up long term.

David said...

Hilarous! Sounds like a perfectly typical Ikea experience. Over twenty-five years or so I have shopped at Ikea perhaps 50 times, the majority of purchases being small goods such as table cloths and mats, linen rugs, picture frames, kitchen accessories, and the like. I have probably bought a half dozen pieces of furniture, several over 20 years old, and in active use. If you take care of it (keep it clean, dry, and don't let it get crushed) it tends to be able to last forever. Gotta get me one of those corkscrews!

Canoez said...

@David - I certainly hope we can make this furniture last as well as yours has. Sadly, I have two kids equipped with spoons!

@Cat - the room that DD's desk went into is what once was the "formal" dining room and has been the kid's play room. It is on the south side of our house and has nice light. I ultimately imagine it as a home office space with the desk, and the shelf hanging on the wall above it and a few "Billy" bookshelves in the corner. I'd like a pair of Poang chairs and foot-stools for a reading space, but think we'll need something slightly more compact for the space.

iwi said...

I insist on us taking a day off work to go to IKEA in the UK. It's like hell itself on a weekend. Done it twice at the weekend and swore never to do it again.

Our 2 got IKEA desks too. I couldn't have bought the timber for the price they charged.

Agree about your concerns for durability. I think it's fine so long as you don't move it around. If we ever move house, I think that will be the biggest challenge it will face.