I have gotten painstakingly re-acquainted with IKEA over the past few weeks, even though my kids are neither babies nor college-dorm-age; having spent many, many pennies to build our home offices, there are precious little left to furnish them. "How was it?" a friend (a fellow middle-ager, need I add) asked dubiously, when I mentioned my third or fourth forage.
My answer: As fabulous as I remember when The Dude and I took a bus to the only IKEA around, in Elizabeth, NJ, to furnish our 400-square-foot studio in Manhattan. How long that was ago, I leave to your imagination.
Now, I know IKEA is everything I have said I hate; as big-box as it gets, with furniture so cheap they practically invented the throw-away mentality. Give me a visual: "An old futon I bought at IKEA." You're picturing something left at the curb for the bulky trash collectors, right? I rest my case. So, when I bought a house, I figured I'd grown out of IKEA, and devoted my floorspace to antiques (the ultimate recyclables!).
Well, the stuff is still cheap, but much more durable than I remember -- of course, there aren't (many) drunk folks stumbling and retching all over it. It's still cannily designed and bright. The assemblage instructions are still wordless, but are less confusing.
And somehow the place still seems to give off the vibe of simple, small living (amid the mounds of crap for sale). They do good things environmentally, and let you know it all the way along, by not giving out plastic bags, for example, and by trying to minimize waste in manufacture and packaging.
Further, IKEA products are as chemical-free as the toughest legislation out there, EU Reach, mandates. That means no PVC in kids' toys, formaldehyde-free paint, and flame-retardant-free furniture. Plus, they just gave $48 million to UNICEF, which scores big points with me. They are also scrupulously careful, by all reports, about the use of child labor.
Lastly, the cafe, with its big play area, is the perfect haven for tired parents with kids. The food is excellent yet cheap, and comes in wee servings for kids to minimize waste. The people-spotting is fun; apparently a certain arty crowd has never deserted IKEA (nor have Manhattanites), along with chic Europeans and their precociously stylish offspring.
The Verdict: Want. Now and forever.