Cherri EllisIt’s hard to resist the allure of well-designed, inexpensive, Swedish goods. 

by Cherri Ellis


I know that Ikea sounds like a good idea on the front end. My recent experience with them began at the Livestrong Lake Lanier Open Water Swim. My friend Elizabeth was swimming to raise money for cancer; I was hanging out in the event T-shirt, eating a free granola bar, and trying to look like I was getting in the water. “Let’s go to Ikea tomorrow,” she said as she headed off to the water’s edge in a sea of yellow swim caps. “Sure,” I said, not realizing that I had just jumped down the rabbit hole.

Ikea is not so much a store as a retail labyrinth. It is a massive space sub-divided into little disorienting displays of all things Swedish. How Swedish, you ask? The CEO is named Torbjörn Lööf. Unlike a Lowes or Home Depot, you cannot see the edges of where you are at any time while inside. It is configured so that you have to wind around through the store’s entirety before you can pay and leave, and along the way, you pass by anything you need to furnish your life. At checkout, the teller sells you a .59-cent blue and yellow reusable shopping bag big enough to hold a loveseat. When we left, we had each spent more than $300 on dishes, glasses, scissors, wall clocks, mirrors, a rug, and some 10-foot-tall decorative sticks. We were sad to leave the loft bed Elizabeth wanted for her teenage son’s room behind, but the car was already so packed that I spent the drive home in a slightly piked position.

Because the loft bed cost $299 and the delivery charge was $300, she borrowed a truck to go back and get it. I bragged a little about the time I had single-handedly put together a gas grill, and then I offered to help her assemble it if she would also bring back the stuff I had seen and now could not live without. In retrospect, I believe this is where I went wrong.

The bed came in two boxes so big and heavy we couldn’t get them inside her house.  We had to open them on her deck and carry the long wooden pieces inside a few at a time through each room, trying (at least initially) not to damage the walls.  What we ended up with was a pile of black painted boards of different lengths—none of which were labeled—234 fasteners of various types, and a 40-page booklet of instructions with no words. The very first page had three little simple cartoons in “before and after” format. The first showed an unhappy man and then two happy men. The second showed an unhappy man with a pile of parts, then a happy man holding instructions. The third showed an unhappy man with a question mark, then a happy man talking on the phone to Ikea. Simple enough. What followed were 39 pages of pictures of boards, identifiable only by how many miniscule holes were drilled into them and in what order. Did I mention nothing was labeled?

If we had actually used the little Allen wrenches that came with the set, her son would have been in college before we finished. We addressed this problem with a power drill, at which point I learned that it’s easy to screw something in so tight that the board will crack. This knowledge resulted in my loss of power drill privileges until she adjusted the torque.

Cherri Ellis 2We cranked up music and surrendered to the fact that we’d been Ikea’d. Over the course of the day and night, we said things like, “If we face it this way, the ceiling fan might not decapitate him,” and, “It’s not too high. He’s not supposed to be able to sit up—he’s in bed.” On our final run to Target, Elizabeth looked at the wine we had wisely added to our purchase and said, “Getting drunk is the only thing that could hurt us.”  I looked her dead in the eye and responded, “Getting drunk might be the only thing that can save us.”

The project took until midnight. At one point while I worked, I noticed I had been alone for a while but I didn’t think much about it until she came flying through the door sort of hyperventilating. Apparently, she had been locked in a concrete room in the basement and had escaped through a window; I hadn’t been able to hear her yelling over Pandora. I told her to quit being so dramatic and go open the other bottle of wine. Once the bed was assembled a quick six hours later, our bravado launched the decision to paint the chests to match. When we finished, our heads were swimming with success…or perhaps that was the combination of exhaustion, alcohol, minor injuries, and inadequate ventilation. “Whatever!” we cheered, trying to high five and missing by six inches. As we cleaned ourselves off with Costco disinfectant wipes, we did the math.

When you add up two trips to Atlanta, two to a hardware store, one to Target, one to The Fresh Market  (a girl’s gotta eat)—plus the carload of cool Swedish impulse purchases—I figure we were 20 hours and more than a thousand dollars in.  Those Swedish people are crafty.

I hope “swag” means something positive, because her son said it about 20 times in the video she sent of the big reveal from her phone the next day. I am happy for him, but I feel the need to write a letter:


Dear Ikea,  

I like your store full of Swedish stuff.  It’s funny how you sell lingonberry jam next to couches. Your meatballs and your furniture are good. Please put some words in your instructions. All of your customers can read, damn it.




P.S. I had one long bolt and two screws left over. Is that bad?

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