Why Ikea are hard to beat

There are a couple of pieces of furniture we wanted to replace/upgrade, a new desk for the study and a new chest of drawers for our bedroom. We’d been quietly hunting for ages, checking out various shops as we strolled around looking for the other thing we’d like to replace sometime, the sofa and chairs. There’s actually a fairly limited choice once you exclude all the ‘traditional’ furniture that would look at home in 80% of apartments either today or 30 years ago. The stuff you find in most of the cheap hotels in Poland and is often described as “Ludwig XV” but would be better described as “Communist Neanderthal”.

In desperation, we decided on Saturday to visit the Orange Tree Indian furniture ‘warehouse’ that’s located on the road to Garwolin about a 45 minute drive from centre of Warsaw. It wouldn’t take that long normally but they are building the worlds biggest concrete spaghetti-monster at the junction of Ostrobramska and Płowiecka and it’s very easy to slip into a parallel universe without realising it, which wastes a bit of time. Possibly the messiest and most confusing road-building site I’ve ever seen and has been for over a year now.

Orange Tree is a great example of how to take a good idea and make it a less good idea. When we first visited it was a place where you could buy quirky bits of furniture that more or less did what you wanted in an interesting way and at no greater cost, often less cost, than the traditional stuff. Some of their items probably do come from India or similarly exotic places and in the old days even the fake stuff looked like it might have come from Delhi or Zanzibar. Unfortunately, their success led them to do two things – firstly to increase the prices rather dramatically (like double!) and secondly (perhaps because of demand outstripping exotic supply) to introduce a lot of furniture that looks like it was made by Uncle Włodek in his garden shed but has hieroglyphs carved into it by way of pretending it passed through Cairo on the way here.

We searched through Orange Tree 1 and Orange Tree 2 (just down the road) and managed to find nothing very exciting although there was one set that might possibly work if we bought two of them. The total cost would have been just over 5,000 PLN. Now, in the old days the stuff would have been more instantly appealing and would have cost 2,000 in which case we might well have stopped there and bought the things but for that price and being not quite right we left and headed for Ikea, the last resort of desperate furnishers.

[A very Polish aside] On the way back to civilisation we noticed a gigantic billboard advertising “XYZ Meble – Colonial and whatever, 800m right”. We turned right, drove at least 5km and found nothing at all. The billboard is pretty new so it’s not like they went out of business, they just spent considerably more effort on the billboard to get you down the right street than they did on a sign outside the shop so you could find the place itself! For those who don’t know, this happens all the time.

Anyway, Ikea. Fortunately they had some new stock, which meant we found a decent & large enough chest of drawers for the bedroom. I’d also revised my measurements for the study desk and so they had one of those too. Along the way we also found a new carpet for Zosia’s room, a plant, some mats and pencil holders for the new desk, a new chair for the study and other things I’ve already forgotten about. The cost of everything, including delivery for the big stuff was less than 3,000 zlots. The point being that for roughly half the cost Orange Tree wanted to charge us for just the bedroom drawers we got better drawers, a whole new study and other things besides. Fair enough, it won’t last for a thousand years and I had to sweat buckets screwing it all together but even so it is great value and that’s what makes them such a success, despite their blandness and somewhat tacky image.

During the arduous construction process it was nice to see that they are actually making progress with their design. One common feature of Ikea furniture was the bottom falling out of the drawers. The bottoms are made of a few layers of toilet paper held together with sap from Swedish trees and are unable to support any weight greater than 5 pairs of socks. This meant that the bottoms were always sagging and then popping out. This always appeared to me to be a fundamental design flaw given that a drawer without a bottom is like a fish without a bicycle. This new edifice of drawerdom I have manfully constructed has a brand new feature to prevent this happening. The metal runners with wheels that you have to attach to the sides of each drawer now fit right at the bottom and have right-angled “lips” that grasp the bottom and hold it tight – more tea vicar! One small step for Ikea, one giant leap for sock storage!

Interesting moments in the food store on the way out of Ikea. Their hot-dogs are addictive as I have commented on before and we were unable to walk past but I did remember to ask the lady how many they sell. The answer was about 4,000 a day. Whilst eating said hot-dogs a lady came up to us with a clipboard and asked if we were shopping at Ikea today or just visiting? I was tempted to ask who the hell would come to Ikea for anything other than buying some furniture but having fought through the crowds of sightseers and meatball munchers, I didn’t bother.

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12 thoughts on “Why Ikea are hard to beat

  1. Paula and I bought our bed, a bathroom uhh clothes/towels storage thingie, a coffee table and two kitchen chairs at Ikea a few months back. I was a bit worried about the quality of all that stuff but …so far, so good. Nothing was even wobbly, although one of the coffee table legs was about 1mm too short, though it might be due to a warped floor. At any rate, square of cardboard sorted that right out. Amazingly the chairs have been 100% ok.

  2. I just loved this–laughed out loud, too. Great that they’ve upgraded the designs. The one thing I hate and now practically refuse to do is put furniture together. I’d rather pay to have it done or buy it off the showroom floor while batting my eyelashes and trying to convince the salesperson that I’m actually as daft as I appear to be. And even though they quite easily believe me (imagine that!), sometimes they don’t want to risk losing their jobs over it or they just don’t want to assemble another floor model. No one likes putting that stuff together.

  3. I’ve been to Ikea twice – for the first time and for the last time. Design – totally wonderful compared to the rough-hewn Polish furniture on display at places like Agata (eg. a bed with a monstrous mahogany backrest carved into the shape of a huge lily). Ikea’s design is world class. I wondered around the first floor showroom wanting it all. But when it came to buying it…

    “You mean I have to put this together?” I go downstairs to a warehouse full of cardboard boxes. I find one that matches the product I wish to buy. Inside the box a handful of screws, an axe, and a map of the forest showing where I can cut down the trees necessary for the construction of this piece of furniture*, and a simple diagram of how I should then assemble said wardrobe from the resultant planks I’ve just laboriously fashioned.

    * Incidentally, ‘piece of furniture’ is a rare example of English lacking a simple two-syllable noun (mebel) that Polish uses to describe something requiring three words and five syllables. Compare to ‘clockwise’ = zgodnie z kierunkiem wzkazówek zegarka

  4. When we bought our flat we had to furnish it and spent aaaages looking for acceptable stuff. It was either “Commie-shit” (stuff my parents had during the Communist occupation that is beyond ugly) and “M-jak shit” (nuveau-riche crap that is beyond ugly, named after M jak Milosc, where most people seem to live in horribly decorated, nuveau-riche-style flats). With resigned sighs, we went forth to Ikea, which was an even in itself as we didn’t have a car. But we LOVED our Ikea furniture…sure, everyone else has the same, and it won’t last ages and ages (won’t be passing it onto my grandchildren). When we moved back to the UK this summer, we went online (ah, online Ikea shopping in the UK rocks) and bought copies of the furniture we had in Poland (because we knew it would serve us well). Well, almost all of it: they no longer sell the Leksvik bookcase we really like and the wardrobes we had in our huge flat won’t fit in a standard UK bedroom. Still…love Ikea. And those hotdogs…

  5. Given the price of furniture in England a lot of my stuff comes from Ikea.

    We had an Ilva in Manchester for a while, my 2 sofas and some floor lights came from there, they never had stock, everything had to be ordered in (I took the gamble in the end as the only other place that the floor lights was in Harrogate and wanted 3x as much).

    Unsurprisingly, they went out of business.

    Whilst Ikea stuff is not the best, it generally is pretty good for the money and I have yet to break the bottom of a drawer despite having 30 pairs of socks in it, I hate to think how much Scatts socks weigh.

  6. About half of my flat’s furniture is from Ikea. The beds bought 15 years ago still as good and strong as they were back then!

    The only think I don’t like are the drawer units – the drawer runners always break. I totally agree with the total weight capacity being 5 pairs of socks! However I did find a company who sell replacement drawer runners for all Ikea furniture and have used them several times for different items of furniture. They are based in London but supply many countries. The website is http://www.sdslondon.co.uk and the drawer runner section is http://sdslondon.co.uk/drawer-runners.html My friend got replacement cupboard knobs from them as Ikea ones tend to break. I bought a huge storage unit from Ikea but had to replace all the hinges as Ikeas didn’t work properly.

    I bought a sofa from Ilva, the Essex branch was excellent. Was miffed to find it closed down.

  7. Orco officially claims, that the only condition for the new loan was to have a valid building permit.
    so now, wait and see. we have now even better view :)

    Ps. and still the neighbours (gossip says that they are now even bigger and stronger group) can try to stop this project.

    PPs. I luv your comment regarding the Marsa/ Plowiecka construction site. It is unbelievably chaotic!

  8. My amazing super-comfy sofa is from Ikea. It did come in two separate bits but was fairly easy to put together and only took two men to get it up the stairs (six flights of them). I carried the cushion covers.
    I’ve tried to buy non-flatpack furniture: it looks so nice in the shop, but as soon as I start to envisage carrying it up those six flights of stairs, it’s suddenly not so attractive…

  9. Pingback: Global Voices in English » CEE: IKEA

  10. Pingback: Official Russia | CEE: IKEA

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