How much do we love a boat ride? Isn’t the best part of going to Fire Island taking the ferry? And today, instead of bingo in the Grove and tea dancing in the Pines, whenyou get off the boat there will be cheap things to buy: Notoriously flimsy bookshelves! Ugly Scandinavian rugs! Not to mention that iconic Ikea staple: the Swedish meatball.
The slight rocking of the free water taxi to Ikea in Red Hook is faintly sick-making but, oddly, does not dent my enthusiasm for meatballs, which I plan to inhale immediately upon arrival. As the boat glides gracefully into the Ikea dock, it passes a series of rotting abandoned red-brick warehouses, some of which no doubt contain rusted desks and flea-bitten chairs—just the sort of things that litter my own apartment. But not everyone chooses to furnish with Salvation Army rejects, which is why the opening of an Ikea you can reach by subway, sort of (you have to take a shuttle bus, too), is such a big deal.
Here we are! This is fun! A gaggle of clowns hired by the Ikea people to ratchet up the festive opening-day atmosphere crowds the entrance, and a DJ is spinning, which is all very nice, but where’s the restaurant? Despite Ikea’s penchant for signage, I’m not sure whether the bistro is actually something called the Marketplace until I spy a poster that says, “Why should you clear your table?” As soon as I see something like this, I am determined to leave my filthy tray languishing on the table for eternity—a bit of pathetic rebellion I am not able to indulge, since the place is so packed that I give up on the meatballs and am forced to shop hungry. (This part of Brooklyn still appears to be a McDonald’s-free zone, a situation that is sure to change soon and that the community is reportedly unthrilled about.)
A clown torments a little girl at the entrance of the kiddie department (“Don’t you love Dora? Everyone loves Dora!”), where I am inexplicably drawn to a huge inflatable plush creature—a turtle? a dinosaur?—that costs $25.99. Is this the extra seating my apartment needs? Or do I need a gray metal bed for $99.99 that looks as if it escaped from a road-company production of Annie? Or a chest of drawers that could perhaps be redeemed from ordinariness with a can of gold spray paint?
Lest you have any doubt as to how to deploy this merchandise in your own home, Ikea has set up model rooms, including one bearing a large photo of a hipster—he’s carrying a skateboard and has some kind of musical instrument in a case strapped to his back—with the legend: “My loft is the most important place in the world.” He’s indulging in a bit of youthful hyperbole with that word “loft,” because his space, according to Ikea, is a paltry 235 square feet. Unfortunately, it’s horrible—there’s a loft bed smack in the middle, everything is pitch black or metal, and, as if it weren’t cluttered enough, a bike hangs from the wall. Plus I’m furious that even at 235 square feet total, this jerk’s kitchen is bigger than mine. (If I’m a hipster, then he and I are the only ones here—the place is full to the brim with Brooklynites pushing baby carriages, Hassids with vast families in tow, teenagers saying things like, “Miss Washington says I have enough credits to go to the ninth grade!” into their cell phones, but nary a boho in sight.)
In a bow to the linked obsessions of Carrie Bradshaw and Imelda Marcos, Ikea offers a vast shoe closet with rolling racks meant to accommodate seemingly hundreds of pairs. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to figure out how much this or many other items cost, since when you read the price tag—for this thing, a hefty $1,030—you can’t tell whether it’s for one closet, or the three that are displayed together and form a great wall of footwear.
This problem reaches its zenith in the lipstick-red kitchen, which I love though it’s bigger than my whole apartment. A welter of tags gives prices for everything from a single handle to a drawer, but unless you, unlike me, know how to buy a faucet and somehow stick on a sink, how useful is this information? I walk another half mile or so—the place is huge—and decide that maybe I should just settle for Skruvsta, which is not the name of a Scandinavian supermodel but rather refers to a swivel chair that is a modest $139.
If you are one of those rare persons who have never been to Ikea—there must be someone—you might naively think that you’d just pick up that chair and carry it to the water taxi, and that would be that. What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know that there’s always a catch? In order to purchase this putatively cheap furniture, you must visit a special rung of hell known as the self-service furniture department. In this vast, woodsy-smelling cavern, floor-to-ceiling stacks of all that cute little furniture you saw upstairs—the gaily printed sofas, those prison beds, the glass-front bookcases that will transform your living room into the Bodleian Library—are packed in inch-high flat cartons that you are supposed to bring home and somehow magically bring to life.
I once bought one of those hanging canvas closets at Bed Bath & Beyond in order to keep the moths off my cashmere sweaters (didn’t work). The assembly was so simple that the package didn’t even include instructions. I nevertheless managed to cut my hand on this contraption and spurt blood all over the canvas, so I am clearly not the customer to erect a ceiling-high chifforobe from a tiny cardboard box.
Good thing too, since the checkout line of foolish little lambs panting to undertake these projects is 10 times longer than the meatball queue. That’s a shame, because I hate to leave a store empty-handed and could probably have been persuaded to purchase a $3.99 laundry bag or a $1 lint roller (I love lint rollers!) or even a bag of $5.99 tea lights. (What are you supposed to do with these things? Bounce them in the tub?)
On my way out, a not-very-butch clown stops me and says, “I love your dress! Your haircut, too!” and suddenly I remember that at least a decade ago, Ikea aired what must have been the first TV commercial showing a same-sex couple shopping together. I like to think that that pair weren’t professional actors at all but were a couple in real life, and that maybe they got married in California this week and are right now receiving Bekvam kitchen trolleys and Aneboda wardrobes from their many friends and well-wishers. Have fun assembling your new gifts, Adam and Steve!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 24, 2008