Saturday, January 1, 2011

Don't Go To Ikea! It's Not For Small Apartment Living!

When Manina and I lived in a small home an hour's drive from an IKEA, I had a few wonderful shopping trips there!  It was great for creative storage containers, and did wonders for our Montessori age 0-3 homeschool setup. 

The one item we bought that required significant assembly was a disaster, and required a return in the end, but as long as we stuck to items that didn't need us to go to alternate sites for pickup (the things that require only a little assembly, IKEA keeps either on the floor or in the storage area right before the checkout), we seemed to do okay. 

I liked that IKEA was interested in innovation, and I liked that IKEA demonstrated some ecological awareness, talking from very early on in company history about things like using wood from sustainable resources.  So understand, all in all, I was an IKEA fan.

For a while after we moved to that house, I would pour over the IKEA catalogs, which really were more like big books, for inspiration.  When I knew I was headed to IKEA -- usually a trip necessitated by my work -- I'd get all excited and spend the days ahead planning the visit. 

Then we moved to a slightly larger house a two hour drive from IKEA.  We learned that it was worthless to try to order something online, and we were well-stocked enough for our home that we didn't need anything enough to justify the drive.  So for a few years, save for one or two trips, our relationship with IKEA has been on hiatus.

Well, the big news is that where we will be living next year is most likely going to be within two or three miles of IKEA!  It all seemed so perfect, when I first realized.  After all, when folks talk about strategies for living in small spaces, IKEA does tend to come up in conversation.  What a blessing, I thought, to have IKEA right there for all my small space creative furnishings.

And just before Christmas, while in our new city touring the local elementary schools to get an idea of what lies ahead for our future, I gave myself a solid block of time to peruse IKEA.  I didn't have money to spend, but I had my notebook and was all ready to plan out my apartment.  I was pretty hyped! 

What a disappointment.  I looked around, completely uninspired, for as long as I could tolerate, and left at least an hour before planned.

Did IKEA change, or is it just my changing needs? 

My hunch is that IKEA is running on fumes of an earlier time.  Here is what I found in my IKEA trip:
  • Most of the same "inspired ideas" setups, or small variations of the same setups, on display in the showroom.  Nothing to see here folks!  Move along!
  • A couple new innovative items, but mostly the same products, or small variations of the same products, that I chose not to buy when I first moved to my small home an hour from IKEA in 2002.
  • A lack of some of the products I first loved at IKEA, but hadn't yet gotten around to buying.  For example, whatever happened to the ladder you nail to the wall for kids to climb?   (Oh, and don't bother trying to contact IKEA through their website to ask them.  They will never reply.)
IKEA, if it ever was, is no longer the go-to place for small apartment living. 

First of all, perhaps because Target has been breaking new ground for itself repeatedly over the last few years, IKEA resembles the sprawl-version of Target.  Sure, they have more showroom floorspace, but that means you'll be taking a hike to see the same types of products, and if you've been to IKEA more than a time or two, you've seen it all before.  If you need a go-to place, Target seems as good a candidate as any.

Second of all, I can't help but feeling like when I am in IKEA, I am getting the supersized American version.  Sure, the furniture is still on the modest end in terms of sizes, as a whole.  If you want a couch, yes, you better be ready to say "how low can you go?" when you sit down.  But I don't get the feeling that IKEA is designing their stuff for American showrooms with the person living in a small space in mind.

Check it out.  Just click over to the ideas and inspiration section of IKEA's website and look at the type of rooms they think you'll be living in.  Sorry, but for a place with a reputation of being the go-to place for those of us living in small spaces, I think that is crap.  Out of eleven featured space, I see only one...maybe two...places that would look remotely recognizable to those coping with low square footage.  Seriously, just click the link and see.

Click on sofas, and then the first item under sofas, which is "fabric sofas," and the first thumbnail you'll see is this:

EKTORP series



Dealing with a teeny, tiny kids room where you have multiple kids sharing a space?  Don't get too excited.  You will no longer see a trundle or bunk bed at IKEA, and sadly, IKEA has never taken to perfecting the Murphy bed concept in inexpensive form.  The best they have to offer is this...
KURA Reversible bed dark blue Length: 78 3/8 " Width: 41 3/8 " Height: 45 5/8 " Mattress length: 74 3/4 " Mattress width: 38 "  Length: 199 cm Width: 105 cm Height: 116 cm Mattress length: 190 cm Mattress width: 96.5 cm
I'll give them credit.  It's nice and streamlined, and it gives you some floorspace for a desk (if it is tall enough...I can't tell and don't recall), even if your child does have to remember not to trip over the "threshold," but what to do with more than one child, I have no idea.  Without a trundle or bunk, I can't figure out how any two beds are not going to take over my children's room.  Would I need to buy this and a second bed to put inside and perpendicular to this one, making an L-shape I suppose??  Do they have a second bed made to accompany it?  Not that I can tell.

And let's move to the dining room, shall we?

I posted earlier about some dining table options I easily found at my local "discount furniture store."  You would think a store known as the go-to place for folks living in small spaces would have some equally attractive options for families without a lot of square footage.  Aside from the one small table (might seat one...maybe two) that folds out from the wall, which I might use for adding some counterspace to my kitchen but that clearly couldn't accomodate my family of four, however, I left the dining showroom feeling frustrated.  I mean, they did have this...
FUSION Table and 4 chairs brown-black Width: 35 3/8 " Height: 29 1/2 " Total height: 29 7/8 " Seat width: 21 5/8 " Seat depth: 15 3/8 " Seat height: 18 1/8 "  Width: 90 cm Height: 75 cm Total height: 76 cm Seat width: 55 cm Seat depth: 39 cm Seat height: 46 cm
...which would neatly tuck away the chairs.  But then what?  Because that table would take a huge hunk out of our living room floorspace that we can't afford.

 They did have some flimsy-looking, so-not-my-style drop-leaf tables, such as the one pictured below, and some equally flimsing-looking tables that expand outward by pulling a leaf from the bottomside of the table.  But they were clumsy and unimpressive, and they did not inspire in me any confidence that they could withstand two young children.
MUDDUS Drop-leaf table white Min. length: 18 7/8 " Max. length: 36 1/4 " Width: 23 5/8 " Height: 29 1/8 "  Min. length: 48 cm Max. length: 92 cm Width: 60 cm Height: 74 cm

As for the kitchen, I can only say that I am still looking for creative combinations of appliances that lead to reduced numbers of appliances being needed.  I would have loved to have found, but did not, a full system of stainless steel stacking pots with small or collapsible handles that take up a very small amount of space.  And I am still looking for creative combinations of cooking utensils and the like for the same reason.  Clicking on "kitchen organization," for example, leads to thumbnails such as:

CELEBER series

And I found far less in the way of convienent, compact kitchen appliance and utensil storage than I remember.  Though, I think it is commendable that they have a number of different nice "hanging hooks" options for hanging a wide variety of things on the wall.

Maybe IKEA could hire me as a product designer.  I have a lot of good ideas for families of four living in less than 550 square feet.  Or maybe I should check their international sites to compare what they offer.

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