Friday, December 22, 2006

Crikea Ikea!

It was refreshing to hear that Ingvar Kamprad, the octogenarian founder of IKEA, does not necessarily furnish his house in Switzerland with the stuff. No doubt he could get a hefty discount but, in a recent interview, admitted that his favourite chair was some 32 years old and most certainly did not come from their catalogue, a catalogue which now outsells the Bible.

As the richest man in Switzerland, it is understandable that he does not want to lumber his house with the flat-pack-put-it-together-yourself-wobbly-furniture that his company specialises in.

It seems his wife says his chair needs re-upholstering, and most of us do, after 32 years. Every time she dumps it outside for the trash collection, Mr. Kamprad nips around the back and drags it back in again.

I can sympathise. My own favourite chair I found in a garage sale in Michigan some thirty odd years ago. It was sitting disconsolately, surrounded by the usual pot pourri of rubbish one finds at such events, and its former owner was sitting even more disconsolately in it.

The price tag was $30, about ten times the going rate for the other junk on display. It seems he had been told by his wife to get rid of the thing and, as it was his favourite chair, he had upped the price in the hope that no-one would buy it. I did, promising that I would take good care of it, a promise which I have kept. I wish I could let him know, but he’s probably gone to an even more comfortable place by now.

I’m reluctant to ask its age, as I was brought up to believe it was impolite to ask such a question of a lady, but I’ve got a feeling that she has seen a good deal of life.

Physically, she’s in great shape. Large enough to accommodate myself plus a cat or a dog comfortably whilst reading a book and, even better, has those wings on the back to keep out any draughts. For some reason, modern furniture designers seem to think that draughts were abolished with the death of Queen Victoria.

I defy any whizz kid from the IKEA design department to produce anything a fraction as comfortable.

My first experience of the do-it-yourself furniture business was when I ordered a wardrobe. A week or two later, I took delivery of what I wrongfully assumed was a load of firewood. Calling the company, they said, no, it was the wardrobe and that the instructions were somewhere in the package. We unearthed them and spent a couple of days, hovering on the edge of divorce, putting the thing together. Eventually we had a construction resembling a parallelogram on end that looked like the sort of thing one might see in the background of an existentialist painting. Shortly afterwards, we reverted to the original idea that it was just a load of firewood.

I have lived pretty happily ever since.

The problem with flat pack furniture is that it has only one significant advantage over more conventional products. It is flat and easy to transport. Since it has to be designed to be put together by a chimpanzee with average levels of DIY skills, the design is perforce minimal, a restriction which means that comfort and stability are pretty secondary considerations. I sympathise with the IKEA design department. Flat and comfortable rarely go hand in hand – take bosoms, for instance. I suppose they start off as pancake makers and work their way up (the IKEA designers, I mean, not bosoms) until they can squash a whole suite of furniture into a box at a graduation ceremony.

Years ago, an up-market furniture company in London, Heals, ran a series of adverts featuring a small car with an enormous piece of furniture strapped to the roof. The caption was “Heals, For that can’t wait to get it home feeling.” From IKEA this does not, of course, present a similar problem. That is if you like minimalist wobbly furniture.

Me, I’ll stick with my comfortable old chair, sadly in need of upholstering. I’ll probably die in it, it’s so comfortable.

Our dining table took three strong men to carry in but it doesn’t wobble, an invaluable characteristic unless you like the idea of whitecaps on your soup. So you can see that I’m probably not going to be flicking through the IKEA catalogue in the near future.

And I have a suspicion that, if you did an inventory of Mr. Kamprad’s house, you might not find too much from his own store there either.

A man after my own heart.


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