I loved going to IKEA as a kid. My mom would drop me off at the child care section and go off to do some shopping. I would jump around the ball pit and play Super Mario Bros. on the NES. When my mom would pick me up, we would go eat. I would always get chicken fingers at the restaurant and then a cookie for the way home. With all those benefits, IKEA was my favorite shop to visit, infinitely better than my childhood nemesis Dillard’s.
That fondness has continued into adulthood but for different reasons. Recently, my mom and I took another trip to IKEA, so I could get some furniture for my new apartment. Upon first entering, we saw the ball pit through the window on the first floor. A twinge of nostalgia ran through my body. My disappointment was quickly replaced by excitement as we took the escalator to the second floor showroom.
As someone who works retail, I recognize that IKEA is the greatest retailing space I have ever seen. Walking through the showroom is a shopping experience. The modeled spaces make you believe with a few hundred dollars of fiberboard furniture you can transform a shitty studio apartment into a beautiful environment in which to live. I never use the shortcuts to skip sections of the store. Even though I have no need to buy a children’s bunk bed, I still want to see every option available to me.
Once I have made my furniture decisions, my mom and I head downstairs to grab our flat-packed furniture. Spending time here is the only part of the IKEA experience I do not like. Warehouses freak me out due to the fact it reminds me of my day job when I have to unload pallets at a grocery store. With the help of an electric pallet jack and my own incompetence with heavy machinery, I frequently almost break a pallet of product, run over an employee, or rip off the air conditioning vent on the ceiling of the wareroom. Fortunately though with no power tools at my disposal, picking out my dining room table and chairs was no issue.
After checking out and loading up the car, we go and get lunch at the cafeteria. IKEA’s Swedish meatballs are the only real option. While gravlax or chicken meatballs are also available, you cannot beat the classics. The pork and beef meatballs are nothing to rave about, but a $4.99 warm lunch is always appreciated.
On the way home, I start thinking of how crazy it is that I love furniture shopping. Younger me would have thought nothing could beat IKEA’s NES, but nowadays I genuinely prefer trying out the different couches. When you are a child, your home is meaningless to you. You don’t think of the possibility of losing it, and you do nothing to contribute to it. But once you move out, you miss the nostalgia of home while falling in love with the opportunity to build your own space. DIY and furniture stores take on a fulfilling role in your life.
The last challenge comes when I get home and have to build the dining room table and chairs. Prebuilt furniture is for the weak who need to be given everything with no work involved. It is for those who let pretentious designers make decisions for them. On the other hand, Ikea furniture is a partnership between you and a bunch of genius Swedish engineers to build something greater than mere particleboard. You decode the secrets of the instruction booklets. You use tools, the things that separate us from the animals, to gain mastery over the raw materials. And at the end, you have crafted not just a monument to the comfort of modern living but a sense of accomplishment to go alongside it.
One of my chairs is a little wobbly though.