IKEA: A Lovëstöry with Ümläuts

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If you ever meet a person that has moved or redecorated, lives near a major city, and is even the slightest bit frugal; then chances are that person knows, visits, and possibly loves IKEA.  For those of you who don’t that fit that category, you maybe have heard of IKEA … but then again, you may have put about as much weight into that brand as folks do that know it.  Some of you readers, especially those who fit none of those categories above and never paid attention to a major trend in brand names & hip culture (looking at you dad), could have no idea what IKEA is.  I, however, have grown to love the place; and it has seem to replaced my hobby of going to open houses.  It’s a love that … well heck … I just have to share.

For the un-hip, IKEA is in essence a furniture store … but then again, Dodger Stadium is in essence a place to get a hot dog.  The furniture they sell touch on every room in your house to every level, from kitchen cabinetry, to full bedroom suites.  They have couches, desks, chairs, lamps, tables, just to name a few.  You can go in to get a light bulb, or get everything you need to build a home office minus the home.  Nearly all of it is IKEA products of IKEA design and IKEA build.  By that, I mean that they are of modern design, made to decent quality, and still relatively inexpensive.  It gets the butt of jokes from the assembly and cheapness, but also how ‘everyman’ IKEA furniture can be … from a running joke in Dead Pool to a lost but key point in my favorite book (and up there in my movie list) Fight Club.  If you haven’t heard of IKEA, it’s worth paying attention to.

IKEA is also very Scandinavian.  Started in Sweden, the chain of products and stores grew at first throughout Europe and now touches nearly every country and every continent.  All their products, though, are still designed in Scandinavia, either in Sweden or Norway.  This is pretty apparent when you look at the names of the products.  Sure they are clearly described as ‘chairs’ but they have brand names that have more Umlauts in them (that’s those cool little döuble döts you see above letters).

Part of what makes IKEA such a unique experience are the stores themselves.  As it turned out, I moved to the area just at a big time for IKEA in LA.  Burbank just opened the largest IKEA store in North America; so close to the hotel I stayed at when we moved to town that they renamed the street address of the hotel from 321 First Street to 321 IKEA Way.  In fact, the hotel’s main group staying there were IKEA team members helping to set it up.  Now IKEA dominates the Burbank skyline as much as the Verdugos do.  It’s so big that on weekends, they use nearly as many traffic directors around the parking lot as Universal Studios.

The stores have three distinctly quirky areas, and a few other quirky parts.  First of all, you walk into the smell of meatballs … like for serious.  IKEA stores almost always include a restaurant where they serve Swedish Meatballs most the day, and Swedish pancakes for breakfast.  Before you wonder why anyone would go get a meal at a furniture store … Average price per person is less than $4.  You can’t even eat at a McDonalds for that price .. and the meat balls are made of more meat than a Big Mac patty.  Once you ate your full, you head out onto the shop floor.  Most stores are designed into a maze of household rooms; like a section on bedroom furniture, a section on baths, etc.  There is a specific path laid out, and you just have to follow it to get through (there are not-so-secret shortcuts, but still).  Thing is, the stuff that is there, isn’t really there for sale … they are, but you just make note of the numbers on most of them; because the last section is the crazy part.  Once you wound through the show room, you enter the ‘self-service’ warehouse.  In Burbank, this thing is MASSIVE.  Some sixty rows of stacks nearly a quarter-mile wide and reaching up four stories to the roof.  From there, you pick the boxes for the furniture you want, and head to check-out.

If you have heard of IKEA, you likely have heard of the assembly.  The thing about IKEA products is that most of the time, some assembly is required … and sometimes an Engineering Degree is required.  Most are put together with tools that come with the products, like small allen wrenches.  Most have multiple steps to build.  Most have just enough challenge to them that it can go horribly wrong pretty quickly.  Truth be told, of all I bought from IKEA, I only really struggled to put together one item … and that was mostly because it was for the outside deck, the sun was setting, and I was through two glasses of wine.

To this point, I’ve made probably 4 trips to IKEA for the new house and dropped about $1000.  My entire upper back deck is IKEA, including a table, two chairs, a bench, and a yet to be assembled storage box.  I have a book shelf complete, and plans for another.  The real project was my closet; that basically needed to be turned from a single bar to hang clothes to a full up waredrobe. With the IKEA website, I designed a frankenstiened up set-up that required 26 different individual parts to be purchased and assembled together; a project that took about 6 hours to complete.

I still have some IKEA work to do.  I am considering a home office sweet, a potential laundry box, the man cave, the living room, and even redoing the entire kitchen with IKEA.  But that is how addicting these guys can be, you get started, you get building, you get hungry for meatballs.

Of course, this week I am traveling, so I don’t get much IKEA time, but that will change, and I will likely need something with an umlaut to ease my needs.  Come that day, I know where to.

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