(Hey it’s a bank holiday weekend so while it’s Monday it’s still the weekend…sort of) Well at last the slowly disintegrating chest of drawers collapsed thus fermenting the idea of replacement and as I had brilliantly repaired my chair (jubilee clips on the shaft, take that gas lift failure!) thus preventing waste and not increasing consumption it was permissible. And after much prevarication (probably really a couple of years) teeth were gritted and a solution researched, after no luck in the second-hand sphere I eventually settled on a combination of drawers and shelves that would both be strong and cheap compared to any other option. But alas it meant a 5 hour plus round trip to…Ikea!
An Ethnographic Survey of Globalised Northern European Furniture Retail Superstores in the Warrington Area.
i. The idealised iconography of the furniture buying couple.
The attractive affluent couple touring Ikea together (sometimes with newborn in pushchair) is surely western civilisations ideal- sex, love, consuming, this is what it is meant to be about, you work, you meet someone, you get a place together, you furnish it! Nirvana is achieved. Is it wrong that the only way to keep the waves of smugness these people project back is to imagine at least one of them is cheating or that child isn’t really his, they will break up within a few months, they have a family member captive in their cellars! Ok yes, that’s probably wrong, but…
ii. The Refugee Discourse of Commodities
Wandering along the proscribed path (hey it took 2 ½ hours to get here, I’m getting my expensive fuel’s worth) you go among and past many staged living areas, suggestions on how to furnish your home, fake bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms. It made me think that this was a refugee centre, an emergency camp where instead of people, all the furniture had been saved and then arranged back into how it was in the evacuated homes (or a new combination based on a rigorous determination of the owners taste or lack thereof). At last we have done away with valuing human life and consumer society has got its neoliberal priorities right and is rescuing objects not puny humans. Or perhaps less drastically this was a refugee centre for upper middle class people, who pay private insurance for just such an eventuality. Cover that includes saving the bourgeois family’s furnishings as well as them. There’d be three levels of cover Bronze, Silver and Gold (maybe even a fourth, Platinum! Where they just airlift out the house whole with huge cargo helicopters) which explains why you get fake cardboard computers and TV’s, that’s the Bronze level. At Silver you get real ones provided for you (but a bit old and manky), at Gold they bring yours with you and set them up in the Ikea camp and have a dedicated IT support team on 24 hour call- I say Darling I want to email Imelda and tell her how many poor people died in the slums when the flood came but I can’t remember my password, oh the stress!
iii. Warehousing Expectations
It really all comes down to- is there still stock on the warehouse shelf? While pre-checking stock will save you some misery you still might be trumped in shop by a rush on the items you came for. Is it paranoid to think that every person ahead of you has come for exactly the same items you have and they will snatch them all up? Erm yes, it is, but…couldn’t hurt to race ahead, and maybe kick a few over as you pass. So after the Disney-esque ride through the showroom the realities of life step in, dream all you like, but you need cash and the items being in stock to even get entry to the Ikea dream! So in dark shelves the struggle to realise your flatpack enabled fantasises is made or broken. The façade of the showroom is untenable without the hard reality of warehouse work, workers of the world unite! For my paltry items (chest of drawers and some Ivar shelving) all was well.
iv. The Rise of the Machines
Frankly after the sweaty (it was a very sultry day) trip and heavy items there is nothing better than the Ikea ice cream, now the staff only sell you a cone, then you go to a machine where you place the cone in a little round metal holder and press a button, the machine then raises the cone towards the nozzle and excretes softy ice cream type substance. The shop staff have to be eyeing that and seeing their future, a future where they are not needed yet where will they get the money to buy softy ice cream? Oh the automation dilemma of labour. Also people go a bit mad with the free refills on soft drinks, then wander around with a bloated bladder all fizzy sugariness like doped zeppelins full of piss.
v. Transitory Logistics
They used to not allow you to take the trolley thing to your car, you had to bring the car to the load dock, but in Warrington to increase parking space they have abandoned that and you can wheel over to your automobile (a fine Peugeot 406 saloon [diesel/vegoil], oh yes that’s how I roll). Then figure out a cunning way to get 226cm long uprights inside and shut the boot. It may be a negligible skill but frankly I am really good at loading things and making the best use of space. On a location shoot I once got two transit’s worth of gear into just one van, largely to avoid having to come back, do another load and thus end up working about 20 hours that day instead of the meagre 17.
vi. The Journey as Flight
Not on this occasion but once before helping a friend buy and transport two bed frames we had them tied to a Fiesta roof, but in such a way and they were of such shape that they acting like wings and as we drove they wanted to take flight. So we stopped inverted them (didn’t really help, more like sails maybe), re-roped and with hands stuck out the windows holding on we slowly made out way home.
vii. Creative Destruction
Before you build your new piney nirvana you must remove what is there, much heavy lifting and ultimately hacking the crappy old stuff apart and chucking out the door. Then- a blank space, a quick vacuuming later and- a clean blank space. You have furnishally cleansed the region!
viii. Play Roles in Construction
I think the best toy is Lego, I loved it as a kid and it’s possibly the only reason to have children, so you can buy them big Lego kits and build them under the guise of ‘helping’. Putting together Ikea furniture is like a big real Lego kit and almost as enjoyable. Now with Lego there are two types of user, the dullard who buys the kit and builds it. That’s pretty well much it, they are not creative or questioning. The second type is the creative anarchist, you eye kits not for what they are meant to be, but what they could contribute in parts to your own creations. Yes when you first buy it you build the manufacturers design, you also do the suggested-in-picture ones (more just to keep your hand in, see what the latest thinking form Lego HQ was), but really after that the real creation begins, that curvy bit, that transparent bit, the angled bricks, the wheels etc etc! You combine them with your other Lego and you achieve your vision, a wholly original and fantastic creation made of many disparate sets. Sadly this is not so easy (or advisable) with Ikea stuff unless you have- a. loads of money and b. a huge house. So mostly it’s building to their plan and some alterations to fit your space if needed (some were) and contrary to hack stand up comedians ancient material the instructions are not hard to follow (it might be they are a basic intelligence tests, those who self identify as mystified by them helpfully out themselves as stupid) and generally there are not bits missing. Now some copyists of Ikea do fall prey to these clichés but with Ikea I have never had a problem, maybe I’ve just been lucky. Also always scan through the whole instructions, sometimes the steps are better in a different order, always get an overview before reducing to discrete construction sequences, always see the forest not just the (pine) trees.
ix. Tool Use
Apart from the basic screwdrivers (crosshead, Philips, pozidrive in a variety of sizes are good. A flathead, Stanley knife and Allen keys) always have a mallet. If you’re whacking wood with a metal hammer (but do also have a small steel hammer for light nailing, no good whaling on a tack with a sledgehammer) it will knacker the wood, use a wooden or rubber mallet and if on a visible surface consider a cloth to protect the finish. Also consider spicing the construction up with some glue or doing the building naked save for a butt plug and some body glitter!
x. End Stage Aesthetics
So if you have overcome the myriad challenges to acquiring your new furniture (measuring, choosing, saving, buying, transporting, building) you now have some new stuff and if you have done it correctly it- a. works and b. looks right. It is always pleasing to increase your spatial efficiency while retaining or increasing functionality. Pure form or pure function are useless abstracts in some shelves or some drawers, they must do both. Can you keep your socks in them and do they look better than the decrepit white laminated 70’s chipboard monstrosity you made do with before? If yes, you have now achieved your woody goal. Enjoy!