When we decided to get an unfurnished apartment, we just shrugged and said, "I guess we'll just go to IKEA." Our real estate agent laughed and said the same thing. There is an IKEA in Haarlem, either 10 minutes by bike or less by train. Some guests who stayed with us believed it is the biggest IKEA in the world, and while it certainly looks like it from the train, I think it's unlikely. Every IKEA looks like the mother of all IKEAs.
When I think of European design, I've got visions of wood and wicker and stylized metal and solid old stuff that just smells real and earthy. We'd like to think that we can go to the book market and the flea market and just happen to end up with some fabulous piece of functional, gorgeous history. But we are soft Canadians raised on convenience, and I think this hunt is one that requires a lot of know-how, patience and smarts that we are somewhat lacking in. You have to be pretty darn sharp to do this in Europe without a car or spending much money. And, you have to know how to get real furniture up and down deathstairs without wrecking anything or killing someone.
In an expensive time and expensive place IKEA is the solution that many of the people we have spoken to recommend with a rueful laugh and a sigh. We love IKEA, we hate IKEA and we go there and we love and hate it so much more.
We did our research. We checked the equivalent of Craigslist here in the Netherlands, Marktplatz.nl, and hunted for good deals close to home. We started casing the furnishing stores around our area and checking out seasonal and closing sales. We scouted out all the bargain shops nearby for the little things. We even checked a website dedicated to second-hand IKEA furniture, IK2A.nl. The sad truth is that it is so hard to beat IKEA because on top of impossible prices, they make it so damn easy. Everything looks so modern and sleek, you can choose your colours, and you can have it all, from forks to washers and dryers to lint rollers, picked out and delivered within 48 hours. You can do that, and you know you will hate yourself later because the couch is a piece of crap and the bowls lock together and the kitchen table keeps sliding around because it's made of sawdust and air.
Brian and I are pretty easy going people but I have to tell you that IKEA almost broke us. We did two scouting missions before we made some decisions about the larger purchases. The place is overwhelming. I don't have to tell you that, I'm sure. You wind your way through the never ending showroom, making note of unpronounceable product names and tallying the numbers, and you suddenly realize how much more you need than you thought. It was all the more confusing because we'd just spent the past few months downsizing and putting our possessions into storage back in Edmonton. Now, we were going to buy more stuff, with just our savings in the bank and no income to replenish it.
The rivers of price and quality pool into murky waters at IKEA, and if you have rigid perimeters like we do around space, budget, transport, timing and need, you are forced to define what you are trying to accomplish in about twenty words or less. We can tell you from experience, it's not a conversation you can have on an Ektorp sofa on Saturday in IKEA. I didn't want to live out of suitcases any more and was looking forward to establishing a home, but Brian, in kind of a startling role reversal, was fixated on the bottom line and making do with as little stuff as possible so that we could spend more on experiences. As we started compiling a list of items we would need to compare prices on, apparently everything was fair game. "Do we really need a mixing/serving bowl?" was an actual argument we had.
Neither of us was wrong, of course, but the experience underscored the importance of making intentional choices about the things in our lives. We only want things in our lives that are going to bring us joy and comfort. That made narrowing our choices and making final decisions easier. Everything we buy, we use and everything we experience, we make the most of. Now we can tease each other about alternatively being miserly and/or big spenders and we can go to the monolithic IKEA like it's any regular store. Thank heavens.
The week of our moving date, we went to IKEA again (this would be the third visit.) We went through the showroom department by department and made final decisions on major purchases that would need to be delivered. Each department made us a "shopping list" that could be easily compiled at the end. Although we had a few changes in colours to contend with, it was easy and we were happy with the items we decided on. We continued through the housewares section making note of specific items and their prices so that we could compare quality and price at other stores, and easily breeze through the IKEA on our next visit.
At the end, we had a thorough list and a few small items that we could carry on the back of our bikes. We were told we would have to come back the next day in order to book the delivery for the date we wanted (they book a maximum of two days in advance), but the hard work was already done: we had our itemized shopping lists.
We rode back the next day to finalize our order for picking and delivery. It was extremely easy. Too easy, maybe? When we got home we noticed that the legs for our table were missing from the order so we planned for Brian to ride to IKEA for the table legs after we got possession of the new apartment while I waited at home for the delivery.
On our first day in the new place, our IKEA furniture arrived on time and Brian actually had a good time at IKEA by himself picking out odds and ends in addition to the table legs. As he said, there was no one (me!) there telling him what he could and couldn't buy! Well, I’m just glad he had a good time!
We had a fun time putting the furniture together that night, especially because I always put something in backwards or upside down (the good thing is I usually figure it out before it's too late). We had some good laughs and some wine, and when we noticed that some more pieces were missing, we had a laugh about that too. The slats for our bedframe were apparently a separate item we neglected to buy, so we had to leave the mattress on the floor like college kids.
The next day we were exhausted, and tried to complete an online order for the beds slats and a few other items to fill the still rather empty, echo-y apartment, but realized that we'd have to wait weeks for delivery. We were faced with another visit to IKEA to get our "within 48 hours" delivery. We were getting frustrated and at some point Brian suggested we tackle it "tomorrow when we are more mentally prepared" to which I responded that I'd rather "power through so that we could be done with IKEA once and for all and never speak of it again.” But we had other necessities to get in town and we'd wasted so much time on the IKEA website that we decided to accomplish something and leave IKEA for another day.
The next day it was raining, but we rode our bikes dutifully to the IKEA anyway, which gave me the opportunity to contemplate how unfair it is that we have to pass by a bacon factory and its delicious aroma - you know it, everyone knows the call of the bacon - every damn time we have to go back to IKEA.
It was a Sunday and packed with people but we stayed focused and made it through to the warehouse. In retrospect we would have paid the picking fee again to avoid some hassle, but we found all of our items, and the checkout line was long but not unmanageable. The delivery desk was easy and we would get our items the following day. We took home all the little items on our bikes in the rain and we arrived soaked but happy.
The next day was Remembrance Day, and knowing that Brian was itching for a bike ride and would also like to check out some WWII monuments, I offered to stay at home for the delivery that afternoon. It never came. I waited longer and it still never came. I started to investigate and found a tracking form online which said that my shipment had been delivered, hours previous. Our apartment is such that it would have been impossible to miss a delivery or attempted delivery, but there was a period of time when the street was blocked for construction. I figured they passed by and didn’t think it was worth their time. But then why mark it “delivered?”
I tried to call customer service. The line is an automated system, all in Dutch, but I knew enough to hear “transport, press 2,” but every single number you press takes you to a rotating loop of menus. I’m not even joking, I heard the same menu about a hundred times and I went through every single option like a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Pressing zero does not take you past GO either. Google had no other numbers for me.
I tried asking “Anna” their online person-bot, why is my delivery late? She told me that IKEA offers a delivery service! Great. When she asked if that was helpful, I said no, and in probably the most infuriating moment of the evening, which is embarrassing given that I was talking to a robot, she said, “well sorry, I guess I can’t help you then.” Is no one from IKEA going to even try to help me?!
IKEA Help has a Twitter account, but its “open” hours had already passed so I didn’t bother tweeting until the next morning. I think Brian assumed I was being rather dramatic about the evening’s events, until he got stuck in the same customer service phone loop that I did. Then all bets were off. We lingered around for a little bit, half hoping the delivery would magically arrive, but it did not. So Brian suited up for another visit to IKEA. Once there, he bypassed the Customer Service line and went straight to Transport, which already annoyed the woman working at the desk. She gave Brian a lot of attitude, and told him that we would have to pay for another delivery attempt, which was of course unacceptable. Despite her argument that people buy IKEA stuff all the time and then refuse to accept the deliveries, after much haranguing, Brian managed to get a free delivery set up for the next day.
The next day was a special holiday in the Netherlands, Bevrijdingsdag, which the people get off work once every five years to celebrate Liberation Day and the freedom of the Dutch people. We were annoyed that our enjoyment of this day was interrupted by an IKEA delivery, but hey, at least the delivery came. We each got to work assembling the items, which all had the most convoluted instructions, and we had a little less fun doing it because we didn’t have any wine. But in the end, our furniture was built, our mattress was off the floor and the cat had a new favourite spot on the sofa bed. It wasn’t until the following day that I heard back from IKEA Help. I mean, better late than never, I suppose?
So, back to the question. To love IKEA or to hate IKEA? I think that loving IKEA is out of the question. We love the stuff we bought, so we’ll just have to look past their unfortunate origins at the store-that-shall-not-be-named. But hate is such a strong word for the company that brought us sad lamp and parka monkey, and all the cheapest home furnishings money can buy. We’ll just have to forgive and forget… until next time.
~ Erica ~ Brian