Mon 18 Jun
A few years ago I read an interview with Saint Bono of the Irish mega-group Bono and the U-2’s in which he justified his then-recent purchase of an exorbitant, fully-furnished new Manhattan apartment — even the silverware and bath towels were waiting at the ready for his family the day they walked in the door for the first time — using this reasoning: when wealthy rock musicians become preoccupied with furnishing their houses, buying table linens, choosing wallpaper, etc. instead of focusing on their craft, they will consequently produce absolutely crap records. By purchasing the house in a ready-to-live state, he hoped to avoid sapping his creative energies with domestic busywork, allowing him to devote his attentions fully to his art instead. And then the band released “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.” Oh well.
I have neither fame nor wealth — nor even an artistic temperament on par with Bono’s, it can be argued. But I do have a relatively new apartment that I’ve been devoting considerable time toward furnishing for the past several weeks. And I can attest, at least, to how thoroughly the act of setting up a new apartment can drain one’s creative energies.
Which is how I found myself in Elizabeth, New Jersey yesterday, trolling the huge showroom full of singularly contemporary and inexpensive furnishings at Ikea, along with a few friends who had also recently moved or will soon move into new apartments.
You can’t really avoid a trip to Ikea if you’ve just moved. Sooner or later, the lure of unconscionably cheap home goods draws you there. I bought a passel of miscellaneous household trinkets, some bedding supplies, a night stand so cheap and cheaply made that I consider it disposable, a stainless steel sauté pan, and an enormous six-foot tall mirror… all for just US$360. Insanity.
In spite of the bargains to be had, I’ve always disliked the Ikea experience, mostly because the stores are so large and so remote that it feels like being stranded in some crazy, parallel dimension. Usually, I go numb with over-stimulation there and maybe a little panicky, too.
The reason for that, I realized this time, is that Ikea is one of the most complete design experiences available anywhere. In a way, it’s a quite wonderful example of how coherent an experience can be brought to bear using a ruthlessly efficient and unsentimental mode of design. There’s almost nothing available on the premises that isn’t Ikea-branded, whether it’s furniture, forks or folders. Virtually the only branded items I saw there that didn’t sport the Ikea logo were the sodas, and even those were sold alongside Ikea meatballs. Meatballs! Apparently, they’re very popular.
Too much design is just stifling, though. When everything has been measured, planned, optimized and aestheticized within an inch of its life, it begins to weigh down with the invisible tonnage of oppression. Ikea makes me go haywire because there’s almost nothing about the experience that doesn’t feel artificial. For example: when, after following the proscribed showroom path for forty-five minutes, I began to feel the need to visit the restroom, there just happened to be one nearby. When I started to get hungry, the store’s cafeteria presented itself. When after paying I was waiting for goods to be brought out from the stockroom, it was conveniently located near the snack bar. Nothing is left to chance.
Maybe what I’m complaining about most is how time-consuming the Ikea experience is. From New York City, anyway, it’s no trivial matter to make a trip to Elizabeth, New Jersey, where the nearest store sits. Partly as a result, no trip there is quick. But the store is massive, too, and it’s laid out in such a way that there’s more or less just one single, very lengthy path from the entrance to the exit. It can’t be done briefly, no matter how hard you try… we spent three hours there on Sunday, not including travel time. Those are hours I could’ve spent rockin’ out.