I miss IKEA.

I’ve recently embarked on a quest to find the perfect coffee table. And when I say perfect, I mean an adequate coffee table that won’t require me to sell my right kidney to an Uzbek organ dealer to finance it. That sounds pretty simple, right? You’d be forgiven for thinking that. However perusing the furniture stores of Lebanon isn’t as straightforward an experience as you might envision.

Products fall into three broad categories. First off, you have the ridiculously unaffordable foreign brands. “Ooh, look, such a pretty desk lamp. Oh wait, it costs three months salary”. Secondly, you have the highly talented local designers, who’ve appropriated tradtional approaches to craft and who make coasters that cost more than my undergraduate education. The final and most prevalent category is the plethora of nauseating “galleries” selling faux Louis XVI armchairs and gold-plated dog bowls.

So it is with wistful melancholy, in a showroom that redefined my understanding of how many shades of grey the world has to offer, that my mind wandered to Neasden. “Not THE Neasden!” I hear you clamour. “You mean the Neasden where the UK’s first McDonald’s drive-thru opened its greasy doors in 1988?” That very one, ladies and gents. The streets of this fair neighbourhood are lined with semi-detached houses with boarded up windows, and burnt out 1993 Ford Fiestas sit idly in their drive-ways. It’s what I like to call “ASBO chic”.

But my nostalgia for this bastion of urban decay and suburban squalor isn’t tied to the golden arches or the rolled up copies of the News of the World in the dash of every Transit van. This part of the picturesque borough of Brent was home to my preferred branch of IKEA.

Man, I miss IKEA. Furnishing a flat was such an easy task. I was so enamoured by this Swedish cathedral to flat-pack furniture that I regularly volunteered to help friends with their trips to the place, even if I didn’t need anything.

Any IKEA excursion worth its salt starts with a hearty meal. You head to the canteen and savour the Swedish Meat Balls and Elderflower presse, and the endless supply of Daim bars. Once you are fully satiated, you can embark upon the epic journey that awaits you.

There’s no feeling on Earth quite like that of being gently shepherded through a maze of great-value-for-money furniture. In an orgy of blue and yellow and cheap prices, your eye wonders in amazement.  You go to IKEA wanting to buy new curtains and leave with a Wok, 16 shot glasses and a life-size painting of Audrey Hepburn. All for 6.99. No wonder more people go to IKEA than to church on a typical Sunday in the UK. And that’s a fact.

IKEA has more than 313 stores in 38 countries. Imagine how many people that represents on a Sunday, all over the world. An army of bickering couples armed with little tiny pens, product numbers and oversized blue carrier bags full of trinkets they never knew they needed. That’s millions of people every week negotiating the labyrinth of Scandinavian design. I tried to depart from the indicated route they want you to take through the shop once, and I got sucked into a wormhole that sent me to medieval Hungary. Never deviate from the path. The flat-pack gods want you to tread a certain route. Do not incur their wrath.

The product names are glorious. A true festival of vowels, with little circles on the As and bars through the Os. Someone told me once that all the cool products, like leather couches, had Swedish names and all the crappy (literally) products, like toilet brushes, had Norwegian names. I really hope that’s true, because that would make it the most elaborate national rivalry gag of all time.

After the burst of colour and fake perfectly-designed living rooms of the display areas, you get to the real face of IKEA. You arm yourself with an industrial-sized trolley and prepare to face the rows upon rows of brown cardboard boxes. “ooh, here’s that dining room table I saw that looked so cool. Hang on, why does it fit in a box the size of an ice cream cone.” The reason that entire table fits in the palm of your hand, is because you’re going to spend 18 hours putting it together when you get home. A process that will cost you three friends and 4 fingers. And you’ll have to buy a new screwdriver, because you keep losing yours.

Once you’ve packed your Wok, Coffee Table and set of 16 book-ends into a bag, you can then proceed to look like a pillock for the entirety of your Tube journey home. Once there, you lay out all the pieces on the floor and grab the instruction manual. When I say manual, I actually mean “flimsy piece of A4 paper crammed with 500 steps which involve 67 types of screw”.

234 man-hours later, you have a beautiful coffee table in your living room. And it only cost you half the price of a pack of Wrigleys Chewing Gum. Of course, it’s probably cost you an arm and a leg (and those four fingers) in terms of time lost, but you’ve got a piece of Scandinavian design in your home for close to nothing.

And that’s essentially what IKEA has been doing for decades, democratizing design. Just like H&M (also Swedes) and those siesta-loving people at Zara have been doing for fashion, those big yellow and blue hangars allow people to bring functionality and beauty into their homes.

I highly doubt that IKEA will ever open its doors in Lebanon. First of all, the hangar itself would engulf 78% of the country. Secondly, we don’t really have enough people who move house often enough to justify the business model (contrarily to the huge expat communities in the Gulf). We still live in households with Teta and Jedo, and that aunt who never got married and where the couch has been passed down through 13 generations. “Just reupholster it! It will look fantastic! Aslan halla2 sarrit Art Deco!

So, my friends, I’m heading off to buy some wood, some nails, and some paint to recreate my own IKEA experience but hammering together a table on my balcony. I’ll lose a few fingers, and a few hours, but I’ll have a cool table I love at the end of it. Let the spirit of Neasden live on!

19 Responses to “I miss IKEA.”

  1. Mich
    January 7, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    Hehehe! Laughed me head off reading that. Sooooo totally true! When I lived in London, all my flat came from there. You should see the one in Dubai! And they deliver and assemble, so no more lost fingers! Great post :-)

  2. Loryne
    January 7, 2011 at 7:37 pm #

    Fantastic post and you got me reminiscing on when I was furnishing my place in Boston – getting ingulfed in screws, wooden planks and custom screw drivers. But it was all worth it and I too miss it. And those Swedish meatballs.. Yum!! :-)

    God bless the Disneyland of home furnishing and domestic fantasy!

  3. Leila Jisr Moussa
    January 7, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    you touched a nerve!!!! I have lived with Ikea all my life, from Copenhagen to Paris, have even shipped 20 year old cupboards(self built!)from Denmark to my kids room! i dream of Ikea, and live in the hope of an opening soon in this country (i can find a perfect place if you want!)…rumors have it that Damascus will have its own Ikea…? do you know that Ikea sells black rye bread mix, where you just add water and bake?? I LOVE IKEA!

  4. T.A.I.
    January 8, 2011 at 6:53 am #

    I’ve actually worked for Ikea, but not in the store though…they’re really good employers! Loved the part about not deviating from the path. You’re so good at describing things exactly how they are while humorously exaggerating at the same time…if that makes any sense.

    Ikea is great for anyone who doesn’t swim in money, but I would advise mixing their stuff with other original pieces. Original doesn’t have to be expensive. My desk was an old banged up thing from the 1950’s until I restored it. It now harmoniously sits next to Ikea shelves and bookcases. I’ve actually planned to write about this on my blog when I finally get around to making one. Seriously, stop writing about stuff I want to write about! 😛

    Anyways, I heard there are some places in or near Beirut selling antique or second hand furniture…restoring an oldie is much easier than building from scratch. If you’re willing to go through the junk, you just might find what you’re looking for.

  5. Shells
    January 9, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    I am hoping to move to Beirut in August and thought of losing my access to IKEA breaks my heart. I live in Abu Dhabi and the largest IKEA in the ME just opened..it’s hard not to skip through with excitement..now I’m wondering if I should ship my beloved IKEA furniture to Lebanon…honestly I’ve seen the ornate shops of golden furniture..are there really no other options??

  6. R.E.D
    January 10, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    Perhaps you should wait. IKEA are apparently opening a store in Hazmieh a bit later this year.

  7. Danielle
    January 10, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    This is just fantastic. Really enjoyed reading it. Although I’ve heard rumors of an IKEA opening up in the new city center super shopping mall complex in Hazmieh!

  8. Walidib
    January 10, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    SO TRUE!!

    With minor modification in the Saudi market where the Sundays are replaced by Fridays and the blue yellow orgy is scrambled with Black and White!!

  9. gingerbeirut
    January 13, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    You are not alone! Obviously no-one wants an all-Ikea furnished flat but when you are in relatively temporary accommodation in a country that blows up every now and then you really do want the cheap simple option sometimes.
    Anyone recommend a place for a plain bathroom cupboard which isn’t Louis XVI and laden with dust friendly carvings?

  10. Leon
    January 17, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    I feel like a man every time i assemble an IKEA table, that’s why i love it!!

  11. Loul
    January 23, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    Thumbs up for the three categories description … I miss IKEA too !

  12. Mansoor
    February 4, 2011 at 5:15 am #

    Boy you contradict yourself every two secs. Was reading your previous posts. You said in one of them that u absolutely hated ikea. I guess diarrhea doesn’t just apply to nbr 2. This blog is flatulence at best

  13. Arwa
    March 12, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    LOL this made me laugh so hard. You reminded me so much of my old life in Manchester :( I’ve been living here for a year, your blog really makes it better! Thank you

  14. Nasri Atallah
    March 12, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    glad to help :)

  15. Andre khoury
    May 23, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    nice topic , would like to know if ikea is already in lebanon if anyone can help with accurate info pls email me andre_khoury_79@hotmail.com thanks

  16. Cher
    September 25, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    hahahahaahahahha SO TRUE!!!! I miss IKEA too :( just recently moved from London to Lebanon and went through the same hassle with buying furniture. It’s overpriced and most of it is damn ugly! Is there anyway we could start a petition to ask the CEO of IKEA to open a branch here maybe?

  17. Nasri Atallah
    September 26, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    Cher – I heard an IKEA was opening in the City Center mall thing at Hazmieh. Although it really doesn’t make sense given their business model (volume and numbers etc). We’ll see.

  18. Ahasbany
    November 21, 2011 at 12:53 am #

    I came home to lebanon few month back after a 10 year stay in Geneva. i found in my parents house my old oak bedroom still the same since 30 years without a scratch on it. Excuse the laguage but who needs swedish Ikea crap that breaks after 6 month when you can have the elegance and quality of hand made lebanese furniture.

  19. Abboud
    March 1, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    I miss IKEA in LEBANON

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