The Integrity of Fast Furniture
Updated: Jan 9, 2021
You wander through dozens of immaculately designed rooms. A modern white L-shaped sofa paired with grey accent pillows sits opposite a large gold-rimmed mirror. Succulents populate the shiny gold side tables, and a shag rug unites the couch and tables in harmony. You turn to the right to see a completely different yet equally impressive living room. You start frantically filling up your blue and yellow tarp bag with decorative pillows. Yes, you are in IKEA.
The confusing maze of an IKEA store is one of the Swedish company’s many marketing strategies. Many shoppers treat the warehouse as a giant dollhouse. Why go to the park when you can go to a giant furniture museum and temporarily relapse into a home-improvement phase? We enjoy trying out all the comfy chairs. We can’t help but open up the empty fridges and cabinets like we are searching for a magical surprise. Some claim that the warehouse is the best location for a giant game of hide-and-seek; others claim that it’s the best location for a date. Young couples frolic from room to room, meeting up in the office setups, flirting as they pretend to cook together in the unfunctional kitchens, lounging on the living room furniture, and then progressing to the bedroom sections. Fittingly, the children’s showrooms are next. And if that’s too serious for you, then continue on to the plant section and get a love fern instead.
The unique layout not only ensures that shoppers spend time looking at each furniture piece in an ideal context, but it also makes it difficult for shoppers to turn back and grab items that they previously passed. It encourages shoppers to buy impulsively. This can be demonstrated, in part, through the technique that IKEA calls “bulla bulla,” in which large bins are filled with blankets, pillows, pans, and other handheld items to exaggerate inexpensiveness. Shoppers gravitate to these bins in hopes of snagging the “best deals” in the store, which in essence, resembles a high-end yard sale.
There is satisfaction in walking through a predesigned yet uninhabited residential space. You don’t have to imagine what different furniture arrangements and designs will look like– you can see it with your own eyes. Better yet, you can inhabit it for a short period of time. Take a seat on the couch, for example, and imagine you are home with your family. Don’t you love how the sheer curtains complement the couch texture? Oh, and of course, there’s the proven fact that touching items will make you desire them more. As we traverse through the store touching everything like toddlers, our bags fill up proportionally.
IKEA made its name through two revolutionary concepts: flat-pack furniture and unbeatable prices. The idea to ship furniture in pieces came from founder Ingvar Kamprad, who decided to remove the legs of a table to fit it into a truck. The notion of build-it-yourself furniture was born. Not only did it cut manufacturing and shipping costs, but it also inadvertently created what is called “the IKEA effect.” This scientifically-proven effect causes individuals to value a furniture piece more if they built it themselves. It’s a win-win, one could say. But are you truly building the furniture or simply completing the assembly one screw at a time? Authentic furniture builders surely disagree. It’s like making brownies from scratch versus using Betty Crocker brownie mix. Is it the same? No, but to the average person, it’s pretty damn close.
The value of flat-pack furniture reflects the norms of younger generations. From home to college to graduate school to job transfers, we are constantly moving. The last thing a moving college student wants is an expensive two-hundred-pound dresser that needs to be moved. On top of that, there’s also the fact that IKEA takes out of the stress of making an investment purchase of quality furniture. Career business journalist Warren Shoulberg describes IKEA as the “Xanax for home furnishings.” You can skip the whole process of getting fabric samples and consulting an interior designer. IKEA enables you to make low-risk decisions when it comes to furnishing your home.
As if mobile furniture wasn’t already attractive, what really draws people to IKEA is the mind-boggling affordability. The message is clear: Anyone can have a picture-perfect home. Sofas that normally sell for several thousand dollars are replicated and sold by IKEA for a couple hundred dollars. Though the pieces may be made of cheaper materials, IKEA does well to mimic expensive furniture. In fact, some famous designers like Lisa Holt post YouTube videos dedicated to presenting IKEA’s best design pieces. These addicting videos are like Gen Z’s version of HGTV. Even, beyond YouTube videos, customers are drawn to carefully staged pictures in the IKEA catalogue. “As reading material, the IKEA catalogue is only slightly less popular than Harry Potter books,” Lauren Collins writes in The New Yorker. Viewing the free catalogue pleases our aesthetics like flipping through a twenty-dollar home magazine, yet it also provides direct ways to buy everything presented.
The combination of YouTube videos and IKEA catalogues creates an irresistible self-help guide for living at home. With just a couple of purchases, we can transform any space into the simple yet aesthetic vibe that floods our instagram feeds. We assume, with reason, that someone with a put-together home must also, themselves, be put-together. In this way, the space becomes a reflection of the individual, and IKEA furniture creates the notion of an organized, fashionable, and thus, desirable, life.
It’s not hard to link IKEA with fast fashion companies like SHEIN or Forever21. The convenience of buying cheap and in-style is irresistible to many. It becomes the opposite of well-thought-out investments and perhaps adulthood itself. It’s easy to buy furniture online, install it, and then toss it a year later when it goes out of style. The byproduct of our generation’s commitment issues is massive waste. Though many try to resell their furniture, it’s difficult to convince people to buy a used item when they can buy it brand new for cheap. At the start of every semester, college students living off-campus will toss their IKEA mattresses in their front yards with For Free: First Come First Serve signs. Others will post ads on their school’s Free and For Sale Facebook pages. In truth, these students aren’t seeking major profit. Rather, they are looking for people to take the mattresses off their hands. Still, around 20 million mattresses are thrown out each year. Who knows how many Billy Bookcases, Alex Desk Drawers, Malm Dressers, and 365+ Dishes will be tossed by the end of the decade? Now more than ever, people all around the world are seeking to upgrade their residential spaces for quarantined remote work. And with the economy teetering, we turn to IKEA, our fairy godmother, to provide a cheap and magical upgrade.
You have now reached the end of IKEA maze and, look at that, you’ve made it to the restaurant. After all that sensational overload, you must be hungry. You order Swedish meatballs and sit down to eat. As you nibble off the meatball on the end of your fork, you giddily look through all of your purchases. In the back of your mind, you probably recognize how IKEA is secretly capitalizing on all of current society’s flaws– from impulsive buying to homogeneous aesthetics. The flaw of fast furniture is, well, that it’s fast. Our put-together facade crumbles as soon as the IKEA furniture loses its first screw. What you are left with depends on you. You may be left with emptiness and inspired to make more stable investments. More likely than not, however, you will find yourself returning to your nearest IKEA store. A dismal cycle, one might say, but hey, at least your SINNERLIG bamboo pendant lamp always gets compliments from your in-laws.
Bhattarai, Abha. “Ikea Has Changed the Way We Think about Furniture.” Washington Post. www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2018/01/28/ikea-has-changed-the-way-we-think-about-furniture/. Accessed 10 Nov. 2020.
Collins, Lauren. “House Perfect.” The New Yorker, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/10/03/house-perfect. Accessed 10 Nov. 2020.
Danziger, Pamela N. “Ikea Gets No Respect, But It Should.” Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/pamdanziger/2018/01/17/ikea-gets-no-respect-but-it-should/. Accessed 10 Nov. 2020.
“This Is No Place for a Mattress - Industry Taking Lead to Recycle.” BedTimes Magazine, 2 Mar. 2013,https://bedtimesmagazine.com/2013/03/this-is-no-place-for-a-mattress-industry-taking-lead-to-recycle/.