Jag hjärta IKEA

There we are, trolling down Route 17. The World’s Ultimate Mother-In-Law, Queen Maeve, The Man-Cub and I guiding our craft through that quadrant of the retail galaxy known as Paramus, New Jersey. Suddenly, the opening strains and ballistic tympani of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” begin to drown out “Wheels on the Bus.” That’s when I see it. At first it’s just a dark area in the corner of the windshield. But gradually the entire view ahead is overwhelmed by an enormous yet strangely comforting monolith of pure perfect blue.

We have docked with the mother ship. We have arrived at IKEA.

If it isn’t already obvious, I have to cop to an irrational (okay, borderline obsessive [fine, totally banana-cakes]) affection for IKEA. I feel about IKEA the way Darren does Chipotle. The difference is that, unlike Mr. McL’s twice- or thrice-weekly forays to his shrine of guac, my pilgrimages to Valhalla with slipcovers happen with the frequency of Mr. Spock’s booty calls. Which in some ways makes it all the sweeter.

I’d like to say that IKEA is Swedish for “nirvana.” Except that nirvana, if I remember correctly from my undergraduate Eastern philosophy class, actually means “a breathing out,” a final and complete lack of want. Which as everyone knows is the exact opposite of the feeling you have when you walk into IKEA.

It's not just that I love the clean lines and the cool Nordic aesthetic. The marketing wonk in me also admires the evil genius that is IKEA retail merchandising. It’s as if they’ve taken the tactic of putting the candy bars and the tabloids in the checkout aisle and extrapolated it out until it applies to, well, everything that makes life worth living. It’s a 500,000-square-foot impulse buy. I’d probably resent it deeply if anyone else were doing it, but I can’t think of another big box retailer who could pull it off. Even my beloved Target is bush league by comparison.

It works so well, I think, because the IKEA experience (shopping is a woefully insufficient term) manages to awaken and appeal to everyone’s inner Ingvar, regardless of actual ethnicity. I’m a quarter Swedish, (Dalarna represent!) so I can’t say for sure; all I can tell you is that I long ago drank the Lingonberry Kool-Aid and have never looked back. And if you’re somehow immune to the Scandahoovian charms, they get you with the idea that you can—and should—be better organized. And tastefully so, while you’re at it. Oh, and for not so much money, dontchaknow. The entire IKEA business model is based on the philosophy that has inspired home-improvement and car-restoration projects (and their associated liquidation of nest eggs) since the beginning of time: “While you’re in there you might as well…” Honestly, I’ll consider it a harbinger of the apocalypse the day someone walks into an IKEA, buys a single item and walks out.

We went in thinking fully deluded that we knew what we wanted and just had to decide between “a couple of things.” Five hours later, we were on the road back home—with easily twice as much Swede swag as we’d intended on bagging. But it all worked out; we actually ended up spending less than we budgeted, on account of a TV stand that not only cost less than the one we were considering, but was on sale. It's called BENNO, which I believe was the Norse god of two-fers. Also, I have to acknowledge that the whole mission would have been a wash without my mother-in-law and her preternatural capacity for toddler engagement. To say it helped that TWUMIL watched the baby would be like saying NASA gave Neil Armstrong a hand getting to the moon. There’s just no way we could have done it without her.

If Disneyland is The Happiest Place on Earth, IKEA is the Magic Kingdom for people who nest. I had this thought not during our five hours in the park store, but on the drive back to TWUMIL’s. Unless you share at least the first three numbers of your zip code with an IKEA, you just can’t do it all in a day—you need at least two. They already have a restaurant in the store, why not add a hotel? I’m sure they could get a deal on the furniture.

As we wended our way home, exhausted and exhilarated, the hold of our aptly named Odyssey laden with birch-veneered treasures, another thought occurred to me. I couldn’t help but wonder how William Carlos Williams*, were he inclined to revise his epic poem “Patterson**,” might have waxed rhapsodic over IKEA and the way it reduces every other nearby home goods store to an impotent ash pile. Yes, Bed Bath and Beyond, I’m lookin’ at you and your crap-tastic drawer organizers and your puny 20% off coupons.

*Obligatory middlebrow reference.

**I realize that this would require cellular reanimation on the order of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and/or Claire from Heroes. If I were truly worthy, I’d do a riff,
a little homage/parody on some passage myself. But lately I’ve had to spend all my free time assembling furniture. Ain't life grand?


fish said...

Stopped by and wasn't sure where I was. The cool sleek lines, minimalist approach, reassuring yet colorful appearance. I didn't know Ikea sold blogs.

I too share your deep-seated love of Ikea. I live in a nexus of 3 Ikeas within 40 minutes drive. It is an embarrasment of riches.

Mr. Middlebrow said...

As if your pilgrimage to Fallingwater weren't enough to peg my envy needle...except that envy is not an IKEA virtue. While I could never begrudge anyone easy access, a choice of three stores seems a bit excessive. How's that bumper sticker go? Nobody should have two IKEAs until everybody has one?

We're about four hours from Potomac Mills. Definitely do-able, but not in a single day. Not with a toddler in tow, anyway. Hopefully this last trip will hold us for a while. At least until the new store in Charlotte is finished.

Oh, and the timing of the post and the makeover is just a happy (and tasteful) coincidence.