People drive hours to shop at the precious few Ikea stores in the U.S. Greenbelters are just 10 minutes away, so naturally we shop at the Swedish mega-store. To furnish my new (1937) home, I acquired a few items there myself – Malm bed and night stand, two Billy bookcases, and a desk.
I’ve also picked up plenty of inspiration just walking through the showroom. You don’t have to be Scandinavian or even like modern furniture to love the look of those showrooms. Retail genius at work!
And everywhere I looked for more ideas online, there was Ikea. Apartment Therapy quickly became my favorite decorating blog and by putting “ikea” into their search engine you discover that they can’t stop talking about the place. (No kidding. There are 133,000 results for “ikea”!)
And for Ikea buffs who are also handy the Ikea Hackers blog offers a continuous source of ideas and how-to for turning their products into just about anything. (Apartment Therapy collects its own- favorite Ikea hacks, too.)
I was feeling pretty smug about my Ikea purchases – so attractive and yet so cheap! – until I read a long expose of the company in the New Yorker, ominously titled “Is the Ikea ethos comfy or creepy?” Fun facts: Ikea has 326 stores in 38 countries. Its founder was once a member of the Swedish Fascist movement, which hasn’t stopped his hero status in the country today. Ikea’s design and pricing philosophy reflects social democratic ideas about creating a classless “people’s home,” and Ikea employees have what the author calls a messianic faith in the rightness of the company’s cause. There are investigations into the company’s (supposed) charitable contributions. The company’s Danville, Virginia factory is known for its anti-union practices. And so on.
Ikea by some measures is the world’s third-largest wood consumer. The company declines to pay a premium to ensure that all timber is legally harvested, citing costs that would be passed along to the consumer. IKEA furniture is made of particleboard and pine is not meant to last a lifetime. Ikea positions outlets far from city centers, where taxes are low and commuting costs high—the average IKEA customer drives 50 miles round-trip. Designed but not crafted, IKEA bookcases and chairs, like most cheap objects, resist involvement: when they break or malfunction, we tend not to fix them. Rather, we buy new ones.
YET!@ I found still more articles in left-leaning magazines touting Ikea’s cheeky yet highly successful advertising practices, including one particularly progressive touch: showing a gay couple shopping for a dining room table (using the slogan “A leaf means commitment”) in 1994!! And recently Ikea erected a 581-square foot apartment within a Paris train station which manages to house five people casually going about their lives as though they’re not accomplishing major feats in downsizing. So that’s green, right?
This all reminds me of the 2004 presidential campaign when websites compiled for us long lists of “blue companies” and “red companies” depending on which party they donated to. Interesting, but ultimately discouraging. Sometimes ya have to stop at 7-Eleven whether you want to support their politics or not.
With Ikea, the situation is far more complicated. Mainly, I just want to know if it’s true their products don’t last long. (Say it isn’t so!)