observations and opinion
the hex that cannot be undone
When IKEA started business in North America, it was the go-to furniture store for The Broke. Otherwise known as those starting out. I remember buying a big gleaming red tabletop, with four tubular steel legs which screwed in. That was my desk in university. It was cool. I have lived, loved, worked, goofed around, drawn pictures, cuddled babies, cuddled other people, slept, eaten and kept my books on this stuff from the day I left home, which was a while ago. You probably have too.
At the start, IKEA was a rite of passage. But like everything else they touch, the Boomers have dragged IKEA into middle and later age. If you’re buying Billy bookcases today, it’s just as likely it’s for the condo you’re downsizing into, as for a dorm room. Thus shall it remain in all things, until the last Boomer dies.
The implement of choice “back when” was the Allen key, more poetically known as “the Hex key” – the six sided little stick of metal that you had to insert into tiny holes and then crank, like churning butter, to assemble an item of IKEA furniture. The Allen key demanded no skill other than the ability to turn one’s wrist. A lot.
I am not the most experienced handyman on the planet (I am in fact, not a handyman on any planet) but for me the Allen “hex” key has been useful in precisely one situation: assembling IKEA furniture. It came as a surprise then to learn, as I recently did, that there is actually a company called “Allen” and it is the originator of…you guessed it, the hex key. According to their website, the tool was invented in 1910 as a safer alternative to normal screwdrivers. This is rather cool, that a handheld tool was designed for purposes of reducing injuries to workmen. It also may explain why IKEA chose it for the fumbling fingers of their global customer base.
The challenge of IKEA furniture is first unscrambling the directions, which although simple to some look like rocket engine diagrams to me most of the time. There is the insertion of the little silver gizmo that sits in the bored hole that receives the bolt. One grips the Allen key fast between thumb and forefinger and then, well, twists. And then of course, as one progresses, there is the wrong-side-up-oops-reverse-that-unscrew-it-try-again process, which has occurred with every one of the 9,000 IKEA items I’ve tackled so far.
What has always struck me as amusing about IKEA furniture of course, are the names. There is a parlour game I play, with myself inside my head, to re-name objects in IKEA nomenclature. Nomen, for example, would make a great desk lamp. Clature – drop the “e”, so Clatur, that sounds like a dish rack. I think they should name a sofa after Ingmar Bergman. There’s probably a chair called “Ingmar” but “Bergman” would be like naming it “Jones.” Just weird. Being Swedish, it seems wrong to me that they haven’t named something “Angst.” “Stress” is a good one too, with an umlaut over the “e”. Undoubtedly they sold something called “Borg” but who among us that watched Star Trek TGN could put anything called “Borg” in our house?
There is certainly a Borg-like aspect to IKEA. You will be assimilated and resistance really is futile. But what the hell? The stuff is attractive, functional and doesn’t cost much. Surrender to it. Which is what we do. But then as time passes, regret can seep in. Not so much because they’re not good products (they are, I endorse IKEA heartily) but because of the core truth: IKEA furniture is just like people. Think about it:
We have all had our flings with Klingsbo and Besta, our long term affairs with Billy, Pax and Hemnes. Every girl wants to marry Karlstad and many have regretted their adventures with Poang. Ever bang your head against a Brimnes? And who hasn’t had a relationship summed up with the simple word “Lack” ?
The whole idea behind IKEA, I have read, was to pack furniture in boxes that people could fit in their Volvos and Saabs. But when they got the box home, the magic happened. If they had the key.
I have the only key to your heart