Yesterday afternoon I was changing a number of lightbulbs in hallway ceiling fixtures, and standing on an Ikea stepstool to do it. I have always appreciated its simple curved design, with side cutouts just right for carrying it from here to there in my wandering lightbulb-changing quest. I use it to reach baking ingredients on the top shelf of a corner cabinet, or vases stored out of reach. Maybe I love the stepstool because it signals the happy activities of bringing more light, or baking holiday cookies (we do Hanukkah, Christmas and airplane-shaped cookies—my stepmom is a pilot), or arranging roses. Or maybe I love its design.
A while back, my daughter and I had dinner at Vong, an Asian fusion place in New York, since closed, and we were both taken by the Eames chairs, low-slung in red lacquered wood. Why couldn’t our house resemble Vong? Why did we own boring ladderback chairs, and a cheap-as-hell farmhouse table bought forever ago at the Bradlees next to the supermarket on Cape Cod? Couldn’t we toss the assortment of hand-me-down sofas and buy that Italian L-shaped red one? Well, so, I bought a stepstool at Ikea for $6.99 or whatever it was. Ikea has its purposes.
Imagine, the founder of Ikea, Ingvar Kamprad, as I learned from Lauren Collins’ piece in the October 3rd New Yorker, started out selling matches at age 5. Which reminds me that I must start reading Nicholson Baker’s novel, A Box of Matches, in order to repair my damaged sensibilities after having read his novel House of Holes: A Book of Raunch, which made me feel disgusting for ever wanting to have sex. I enjoyed much more his excellent novel The Anthologist, about a man who is supposed to be writing the introduction to a poetry anthology, but who instead procrastinates so elaborately that his partner leaves him, and he spends some mornings sitting in a barn singing loudly. It was maybe a bad idea to read that novel when I am supposed to be writing an anthology introduction myself, which I am avoiding by writing this. No matter. The point is, Ikea has its purposes, and even if my stepstool is made of laminated, glued-together pseudo-wood, it is still a beautiful thing. Collins calls Ikea furniture “placeholder furniture, the prelude to an always imminent upgrade.” But what if you don’t upgrade? What if the furniture is made well enough, and the customer is discerning and thrifty enough (Swedish values akin to Little House on the Prairie values), that the furniture hangs around for a good long span?
Taking inventory in one room, I note that youngest child sleeps on a solid-wood Ikea twin bed, and that he’s the third child to do so. It’s a simple bed with an arched headboard, which so resembles the bed in a Van Gogh painting of the artist’s bedroom that we have a print hung right over the bed—in an Ikea wooden picture frame. During the winter I will put a white down quilt under his bedspread, a serviceable lightweight one bought at Ikea. Youngest child has recently had me set up a drawing table, an excellent-looking cobalt rectangle tabletop on round wooden column legs. Ikea, of course. It still looks stylish thirteen years after purchase for oldest child. The room would be more attractive if I tossed out the cheap hand-me-down brass floor lamp and plastic Wal-Mart toy bins and bought more stuff at Ikea.
This morning I had a number of problems photographing my object. First, I couldn’t find a place in the house that was uncluttered enough for a backdrop, so I carried it out to the yard. Even the yard looked cluttered, with fallen leaves and dying perennials and the neighbors’ houses, but I found a good patch of lawn. Then I couldn’t locate my card reader to upload the photo because of course I lost the cable, and youngest child had been playing with the card reader. He kept pulling off and putting on the two end caps. “They shouldn’t make these things so entertaining,” he said. And then what? Where did he leave it? He would be in Ikea customer demographic category called “starting school,” the age when people love to pick up objects and play with them and learn how they work. I guess the Ikea designers know that everyone likes to play with objects. The place could be seen as a museum where you can fondle everything, not to mention plunk your butt down on every pretty sofa and hug a brightly patterned pillow to your chest—or maybe I am thinking in this gross way because of Baker’s raunchy novel! It is time to get on to his essays, and especially the one titled “The History of Punctuation.” Anyone who meditates on the semicolon is a hero to me.