Local Heart, Global Soul

May 11, 2010

IKEA is a four letter word…

Filed under: Blogging & Writing,The Hague — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

Fellow blogging friends the ” Interrobangs Anonomous”  is made up of four creative ladies who write about style,  fashion, life  etc. One thing we have in common is that they love second hand shops and second hand finds (Thrifting)  and their recycling ideals and ideas appeal to me very much indeed.

In fact, this recent post http://interrobangsanon.wordpress.com/category/diy/ by Chelsie , and the cabinet that they recycled and painted green, got me thinking so much that it has inspired this post.

I try not to be judgmental but I seriously think that our secondhand/antique/found/donated furniture just has so much more character and soul than the IKEA clones that are the furniture equivalent to bad face-lifts,  stretched and tight and kind of plastic looking (even if it isn’t plastic at all).

Ever seen anyone idly and absentmindedly stroking the wood on an IKEA piece of furniture, clearly adoring the grain and smoothness and feel of the wood under their fingertips?

Hmmm, me neither.

The pieces of furniture that I love most (owned, or coveted)  have been handcrafted, or  at least been designed by craftsmen…  not entrepreneurs and robots that stamp and punch pieces of the jigsaw that will be eventually slotted together with staple-guns or have shelves that are balanced on little plastic pieces that slot into any one of the tiny holes drilled up the side of the cabinet and which are assembled with a series of clicking sounds rather than the rhythmic tap of hammers as wood is eased into a position where it is destined to stay for the next 100 years.

Now try and think “IKEA” and think of any piece lasting 100 years…  No, I can’t see it either.

The “essence of nature” contained in many modern pieces of furniture has been whittled and pared down the bare minimum, the “wood”  component now only consists of  one entire millimeter of veneer on the outside surfaces and the sad pulped remnants of trees shredded and pressed on the inside.

This furniture  must surely weep if they are ever placed in a room next to an antique piece made of Oak or Mahogany…   … polished and of solid glowing wood to the core.

If trees had the possibilities of  souls and could become ghosts, how many unhappy ones would haunt our homes?

The only redeeming feature of pulp wood is that at least it recycles something from the spindly side branches of the tree, But I suppose that in the “old days” that stuff went to fuel the fire of the artisan that crafted wood and the warmth that it passed on to him was in turn recycled into the warmth of sanding tongue-and-grove joints, and drilling slots for wooden dowel pegs to support load-bearing joints, upon which would eventually rest the weight of people or possessions.

Do I have a personal vendetta against IKEA? Well no, actually …(Himself does, but that’s an entirely different story) For me at least, IKEA is only a representation of any Make  or Brand of furniture that is constructed in a manner or style that incorporates compressed wood fibred into their “planks” and where the backs of cupboards have been reduced to ultra thin replicas of wood that look more like thick cardboard (or might actually be thick cardboard in some cases).

I know we live in a society and age where we want things cheap, But do we ever ask ourselves just how cheap we want to go? or don’t we care? What happens to the talents and skills of handcrafting that are slowly being eaten away by the competition of ridiculously cheap imitations?

We live so much in a throw-a-way society, we are busy and want “ease” and “speed”, our supermarkets are increasingly being filled with “ready meals” and stuff that is pumped full of “E” numbers, colourants, flavournoids and stabilizers… we have the possibilities of filling ourselves daily with these if wish, but with what long term impact, not only for us but for our kids?

I see any type of IKEA style furniture as “ the ready-meals of furniture” … speed and ease  Yes…but what long term impact does the “short-cut” ideal have on us, our kids and our society?

Will our kids want to learn professions where Time and Patience, and slow hard labour are key ingredients in making the final product?  or will they only want to settle for the “instant” type of jobs where everything is pressure cooked, automated and the  final product is churned out in ever increasing speed?

If they only expect to live in an “instant” society,  and accept “ready-meal  manufactured  furniture” what hope is there for the craftsman and for antiques of the future? .. and our kids view on life?


  1. Hello Kiwidutch!

    I don’t know if I agree with you, but then I might have a different perspective to yours. I like Ikea furniture – I like the fact that I can pick up a mass-produced piece of furniture and very quickly build up my house with new stuff (even if its not the best quality). But then, I’m 22 and starting my life as an independant person.

    I think getting started in life is much more expensive for my generation than previous generations. Where I live, an average house (well, lets say the ones that I would be ok in living in) cost at least $600,000. That’s nothing special – a run-down neighbourhood, maybe 2 bedrooms and a bathroom with toilet in the laundry. I’m just starting to save up for a deposit on a house, and have had advice that no bank would consider me unless I had at least $70,000 under my belt cash, ready to throw down. Now, I’m lucky – I’m still living with my parents (although, that situation has been forced on me, due to an ongoing injury), but in the past 3 months, I’ve managed to save just under 10%. Now, if we did a little time-warp and we went back 2 years, if I were thinking of buying that exact same house, I’d be looking at about $900,000. Some of these houses don’t even have indoor bathroom facilities! Can you believe that!!

    Tell me – why would I want to spend my hard-earned money on handcrafted furniture, when it could be going to laying a foundation for the rest of my life? My partner lives on his own, and is renting. He earns just over $900.00 a week after tax. His rent a week is $310.00, then he has insurance, a car payment, food and living expenses and day-to-day expenses. Doesn’t leave much money to save for a deposit, or for nice things. Why would he want to spend his money on handcrafted furniture when he could fill a whole room with nice stuff for a quater of the price??

    The other thing is (even though this sounds silly, this is a real worry for me!) – what happens if I shell out a hell of a lot of money on a piece of lovely furniture, only to have it not fit in/suit my house?? Case in point – last year, I decided to look for a new bedframe for my new mattress. I found a gorgeous one-of-a-kind cherry-wood four-poster bed. It was about $3500 for the bedroom setting. I loved it, and was prepared to spend that much on it. But then I stopped and thought – what happens if I end up buying a house with ceiling fans in the bedroom? The bed would never fit!! Also – what would happen if I bought a whole pile of country-style furniture, and then fall in love with a modern home that doesn’t suit my furniture??!

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I agree with you – some of the ikea stuff is nasty and tacky, and will probably fall apart after a few years. But for our purposes, its just right. Hopefully by the time its falling apart, I’ll have a place of my own and can start buying things that suit the house (in terms of style and size) and that I can appreciate forever.

    But, at the moment, if I see something I madly deeply love, I’ll buy it (I bought this amazing seachest and matching writing desk set, so beautiful! Currently holding all of my sewing kits that I have managed ot collect along the way but not start yet, but I have dreams of placing it on a table at the foot of my bed one day, holding all of my handmade quilts for a chilly night!), but the rest can stay ikea manufactured furniture for the moment.

    I think the thing is perspective, and where one is “at” at that particular point in their lives, and what their goals and hopes are at that particular moment. For me, I’m more interested in getting into the housing market while it is ‘cheap’ enough for me to do so, and then once I’ve acheived that milestone I’ll start worrying about the quality of the furniture that I can put in it!!

    Great blog kiwidutch!

    Comment by zara_bear — May 11, 2010 @ 12:02 pm | Reply

    • Almost a million dollars for a starter house????? with some in the same run-down area with no indoor bathroom facilities? Wow, Wow, wow !!! if only you could see my eyes as big as saucers at this !!! And I thought Dutch prices were seriously bad! (ok the Aussie Dollar is about half the Euro, so that equates to roughly 300 000 – 450 000 Euro here. Even in the biggest cities here that will buy more than a starter house/appt for sure.
      Your comment is excellent food for thought, yes, banks are asking bigger deposits on houses (but that cuts out a lot of biggest-risk loans and people who have saved for a deposit usually keep good savings habits so there is a silver lining to some degree on that one).
      Certainly it’s very hard to get onto the housing ladder for younger people these days. When I was 22 years old house prices were definitely cheaper, but I also earned a massive amount less then than a comparative job today, so it’s all relative.
      I’m definitely not talking about filling your starter home with pricey antiques… I’m talking more about recycling and refurbishing older “brown” furniture to suit your tastes and needs at the time, in all likely-hood most people will move out of their starter home and up the property ladder at some point in their lifetime, so it doesn’t matter too much if not everything suits right away. And the furniture can be passed on to someone else after you are finished with it…
      I do see your point though and understand where you are coming from, and I agree with much of it (in a roundabout way) House prices where you are are amazing! Excellent comment, Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know a different side of the coin 🙂

      Comment by kiwidutch — May 11, 2010 @ 2:45 pm | Reply

  2. I see more IKEA furniture for sale on Craigslist, which really speaks to the quality, doesn’t it? I agree with you kiwi, but zara-bear also brings up a compelling argument. I think IKEA is designed specifically for the recent college grad who needs a whole room-full of stuff for not a whole lotta money.

    Now as for me, I much prefer scouring local yard sales and thrift shops. My house is filled with treasured finds dug out of trashpiles and restored to beautiful pieces. We are in a ‘get it now’ society and it is up to parents to teach their children that it is okay to have empty rooms for bit while you acquire the items you need. Over time, you will actually save money shopping this way.

    Comment by milkayphoto — May 11, 2010 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

    • This: “up to parents to teach their children that it is okay to have empty rooms for bit while you acquire the items you need.” reminded me of something that happened to my Mother and Father years ago. The daughter of a work colleague of my Father’s invited my parents to her wedding, keep in mind that she had only met them twice at a staff family BBQ’s many years apart, and didn’t socialize with them at any other time. My parents didn’t want to accept the invite, they really didn’t know this kid but colleague told them their invite was already in the post.
      Imagine their faces when the official invite arrived… next to their names on a list was a selection of “gift suggestions” .. toaster, kettle, vases? No… wait for it… lawn mower, fridge, freezer… !!!
      My parents were stunned and peeved that it was clear that they were not wanted because they had any connection to the family,(there was none) but for the gift they might bring with them (and that the brides expectations were very rudely expensive ones at that!)
      You are SO right, WHAT happened to roughing it a bit when you start out on your own? my first bookshelves were planks resting on some rustic bricks LOL. Eventually I saved enough money to scour second-hand shops for wooden shelves.
      Sadly “Waiting until you’ve saved up” seems to be a dying art….

      Comment by Kiwidutch — May 11, 2010 @ 9:01 pm | Reply

      • That IS quite the story, kiwi! Incredible! I hope your parents sent along a lovely toaster (if they decided to send anything, that is!).

        Comment by milkayphoto — May 12, 2010 @ 4:08 pm | Reply

      • milkayphoto,
        Would you want to go to the wedding of a colleagues kid when you’d had fleeting acquaintance with said kid maybe twice? My parents were so stunned at the sheer rudeness of the expensive “gift suggestions” that the Happy Couple got the invite politely declined and a card saying “Congratulations” but absolutely nothing else. The expectation that almost total strangers could be used to help provide all the large contents of a new house was not at all well received by my parents or other work colleagues who were also given invites that also included other expensive “gift suggestions”.
        I got the idea that feelings ran so strong over it that I suspect that if that colleague had even *suggested* that people not going to the wedding were still expected to provide *any* gift that there might have been some *very* rude replies about where he could have put a toaster LOL.
        I think it was an understatement to say that the work atmosphere around this colleague wasn’t too good for a while LOL.

        Comment by kiwidutch — May 12, 2010 @ 4:57 pm | Reply

      • No! Not at all (which, I suspected, was the route your parents would take!) They handled the situation perfectly. Bravo to your parents! I believe in this situation, even Miss Manners herself would have ruled the situation deplorable! 🙂

        Comment by milkayphoto — May 12, 2010 @ 5:04 pm | Reply

      • milkayphoto, … pardon my ignorance, who might be Miss Manners please???

        Comment by kiwidutch — May 12, 2010 @ 5:40 pm | Reply

      • Ooops! Sorry! Allow me to explain: Since 1978, “Miss Manners” has written an advice column that is printed in over 200 newspapers. In the column, she answers etiquette questions contributed by her readers and writes short essays on problems of manners, or clarifies the essential qualities of politenes.

        Perhaps a reference to Emily Post would have been more universal? 🙂

        Comment by milkayphoto — May 12, 2010 @ 5:52 pm | Reply

  3. Thank you for giving me good advice, especially on how not to be in a hurry to fill up space. I have bought IKEA, when I couldn’t afford anything else and didn’t have the time to look because I was always working, but I agree with you about the character of old pieces.

    Comment by Invisible Mikey — May 11, 2010 @ 10:10 pm | Reply

  4. I generally agree with the idea that we’re becoming increasingly impatient and “instant”; in western society, it’s all buy buy buy, new new new. However, I also agree with other commenters that Ikea is “starter furniture.” When you’re just starting out, you’ve got college, or a new career, or a new family, or, for some of us, all of the above. Not only do you not have the budget for good furniture, but you don’t have the time to refurbish old thrift store pieces. So I would give young adults a pass for a few years. I think it’s once people start moving up but still rely on Ikea/McDonalds/frozen food, etc, that lowers our ability to appreciate old/good stuff. As older adults, we have to be willing to either part with a larger chunk of cash or commit sweat and elbow grease in order to have something lasting and worthwhile, something to become an heirloom. Unfortunately, the bargain has become more important than the quality for many people.

    Comment by blisterina — May 13, 2010 @ 12:52 am | Reply

  5. just a thought – i know in your response to my post, kiwi, you pointed out that you were in a similar situation when you were starting out.

    While obviously, I don’t know of your own experinces, I don’t agree with this position on the whole.

    Sure, wages have gone up, as have house prices. But here, 20 years ago, you might have earnt $500 a week, and a house was $20,000. Now, you might earn $1000 a week, but a house is anything upwards of $500,000. Yes, wages have gone up (by half), but house prices haven’t gone up at the same rate.

    Comment by zara_bear — May 18, 2010 @ 2:45 am | Reply

    • Zara,
      Excellent point, but $500?, I wish LOL! I first earned $175 per fortnight as an apprentice and thought I had it good then I moved up the ladder and earned $230 a fortnight some years later. Houses at that time cost 60-80-100 000 for a starter, depending on neighbourhood and after my rent/electricity/insurance/medical/car/petrol/food I typically had about $50-60 left. I counted every penny as I saved for a trip to Europe and around the Pacific out of that. Volleyball was my biggest hobby, and hiking, also the Public library. It at least explains my appalling knowledge of movies as I never put money in the budget for going to the movies. It also motivated me to be a home cook from a very early age.
      I was in a skilled job and people far senior to me were only clearing $1000 per fortnight by doing shifts AND regular overtime both of which entitled them to shift allowances,double time pay for part of the time, meal allowances etc.
      Then I moved to The Netherlands in 1992 I worked as a temp, 40 hours via an agency. Pay was 400 dutch guilders per week which was on par at the time with the Kiwi Dollar, but living costs were far more than double. I paid NLG 120 per month for my tram ticket to get to work alone, and NLG 550 a month for a single (very small) attic room to myself but with shared bathroom and kitchen. in 1995 I married and our apartment of total 4 rooms (=1.5 bedrooms)cost NLG 130 000. It was an *exceptionally low* price because it was the worst house in the good street and the lady had lived here since 1940 and not done any maintenance except the roof repaired in all that time. We saved like crazy and did a lot of work on it. Three weeks after we signed for the place interest rates changed and house prices started on the mad rise that continued into last year or so. With three weeks of buying our apartment it was valued NLG 15 000 more! Since we were already at our maximum budget before this, we slipped into the housing market by a whisker, it wouldn’t have been possible 3 weeks later. in 2003 we bought the apartment below us for EURO 129 000 (about NLG 300 000) and merged the two houses into one and since friends are house hunting at the moment for something as similar as possible we know that downstairs is worth more than Euro 200 000 just for the 4 rooms (1.5 bedrooms) and our original top level (fractionally larger due to stair arrangements and more light) somewhere between Euro 250-300 000! We still have no garden at all for that money. We own the middle and top floors of three, the bottom neighbour gets the garden. Gardens here means you can add about Euro 100 000 onto the asking price, and no city garden is what anyone would consider “large”.
      So although I see where you are thinking with your sums, my own experience on a practical level has been very different. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

      Comment by Kiwidutch — May 18, 2010 @ 6:36 am | Reply

      • ” Three weeks after we signed for the place interest rates changed and house prices started on the mad rise that continued into last year or so. With three weeks of buying our apartment it was valued NLG 15 000 more! ”

        Wow – were you lucky or WHAT!!?

        Obviously I can only talk about what I know my own parents earnt (and, the $500 was when my dad worked for a bakery, so I wasn’t talking about any high-flying job for the time), but I guess prices and things are different everywhere you go!

        I know that I am VERY nervous about buying my own place – I went house-hunting on the weekend and looked at a house thats just over $500,000. It was a DUMP – on a half block, a lot of work needing to be done to it, and in a VERY dodgy neighbourhood.

        My “wish list” is small (i believe, anyway – some might think I’m being a bit fussy, but I have reasons for my wish list which I’ll mention too) – I want a lock-up garage that I can enter my house from. This is because I am a slight-framed young girl who wants to be as safe as possible when coming home alone late at night or after being away from home travelling for work. My other ‘wish’ is for a house with a high fence around it (or the ability to make one!) so that my 2 lovely dogs have access from the front yard to the back yard, to help prevent theives. I would LIKE (not a want, but it’d be nice) to get a place on a full-block so that I can add-on/renovate it later….

        Comment by zara_bear — May 19, 2010 @ 3:22 am | Reply

        • I *know* and appreciate totally how lucky we were, talk about getting in on the last gasp of our budget! There were rumours about the interest rates and we managed by a fluke to find a house that “officially” went on the market the day *after* we viewed it since we were seeing another house in the same street with the same agent the day before. We told the agent it was our only bid since we were at our limit with the bank mortage approval, we ended up being the only ones who viewed it becuase the seller accepted the bid. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! We’d been hunting for a year seen some total wrecks of houses and a little luck went a long way and was highly appreciated 🙂

          Comment by kiwidutch — May 19, 2010 @ 6:02 am | Reply

  6. Thanks for the shout-out, and I agree with you on your Ikea stance. I have a desk that I got while in undergrad, and while there are some things I love about it (blonde wood, simple lines, it’s huge!), I’ve moved it 4 times and it’s been a pain each go ’round since I refuse to take it apart. I know that as soon as I unscrew everything once, it’ll be less sturdy next time I put it back together, etc. So the lovely men in my life have had to carry that huge desk around across two countries and 3 states. Eventually I’ll replace the desk (or, actually, I’ll find ways to keep using it until it falls to bits), and when I do, it’ll be with something far more substantial in structure and manufacturing history.

    Comment by Katie — May 27, 2010 @ 7:04 pm | Reply

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