Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Temple of Stylish Doom

Well, the fateful day arrived and my wife dragged me, against my will, to IKEA. She had visited a few days before with her sister, and they had made decisions that I was expected to rubber-stamp.

I had been somewhat prepared for this experience by reading David Byrne’s account of his first visit to IKEA, which he compares to a video game. In all honesty, I was prepared to hate it completely.


IKEA in my town is located in a very upscale shopping district, consisting of major high-end retailers such as Bloomingdale’s and Neiman-Marcus. The place is immense. When you walk in, you’re herded into a maze of tastefully arranged displays, with arrows marking the path you are required to take.


Occasionally, a map appears, not so much to show you where to go, but to reinforce the belief that if you wander from the path, your body may never be discovered.


All of the products have a designer cachet. Things look very stylish and elegant, but prices are shockingly inexpensive, considering the fashionable neighborhood. Sometimes the designs are whimsical, sometimes simple, and sometimes weird, like these lighting products:





Even the toilets are novel; they look like normal toilets, but they have special “green” flush mechanisms:



Every product grouping has a name, but the names are all foreign (I’m guessing Swedish), which look and sound bizarre to my American eyes.


The displays are often simple, but consist of large, dramatic clusters of the product. They emphasize the IKEA concept: Develop a good product design, then make LOTS of them so you can sell them cheaply.




Sometimes the products aren’t particularly unique designs, but are available in a riot of bright colors:



The emphasis is on storage solutions, which I suppose is why IKEA is so popular in urban areas like New York. IKEA knows who their customers are – they’re women. An entire section of the store is devoted to shoe storage systems.


When we finally got to the kitchen section, we found all kinds of options, some sterile, some warm.



And there was this kitchen display, which is probably not suited to someone suffering from epilepsy.


The staff was very helpful, and we were told that it shouldn’t take more than an hour to assemble a cabinet. But in a kitchen with 15 cabinets, that’s more than an entire weekend of thankless assembly work. I found this “spare parts” display near the customer service desk. Anyone who has ever tried to assemble “flat pack” furniture will agree that this can be an absolute godsend.


We didn’t come to any decisions tonight, unfortunately. My wife has her heart set on a design I don’t like. Now comes that long, uncomfortable wait to see who will back down first.


Burton Meahl said...

Hmm - I have been skeptical about this ikea experience as well. You know - it is like a movie that everyone raves about - I mean EVERYONE. You don't get out to see it right away and begin to think - there is no way this will be THAT good - so I continue to put off seeing the movie until I can come in without bias. This is where I am with ikea. After further analysis, in the movies, it is THAT good only about half of the time.

Well Tim, you paid compliments to some of the concepts, but have not indicated whether or not you truly like ikea. What is the verdict?

Tim said...

I truly wanted to hate it. And I didn't. Now I'm angry that I didn't hate it.

Burton Meahl said...

well - my wife is wanting to get some Christmas shopping done there, so it is in our near future. The good news is we are almost done with shopping. The even better news is my boredom will lead me into a fun expedition. I will try to convince my wife that I like the colors/design in that epileptic kitchen.