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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 February, 2005, 20:49 GMT
The pleasure and pain of Ikea
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News

A stampede at the opening of an Ikea in north London has thrown the spotlight on a furniture store that enjoys a unique place in British life.

If Dante had written his Inferno today, he might have added a tenth circle of hell - visiting Ikea on a Sunday.

Billy bookcase
If you don't own one of these...
Ikea is one of the few reasons why having a job where you work weekends - and have the odd weekday off - is a godsend.

Visit an outlet of the furniture giant on a Tuesday afternoon and it's just a trip to the shops. Visit on a Saturday or a Sunday and you may well end up with Vietnam-style flashbacks.

Ikea has played a huge part in the lives of Britons since the opening of the first store in 1987.

On any given Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people in the UK visit an Ikea. Last year 33 million people visited one of the stores.

It has even been estimated that one in 10 Europeans are conceived in an Ikea bed.

Indeed, if you bump into a Briton under the age of 50 who has never visited Ikea, it is not unlikely that they are either from the Hebrides, or a member of the aristocracy.

The newly-teenaged

In much of the rest of Europe, it's a similar story, leaving founder Ingvar Kamprad as one of the world's richest men, with his firm now having 179 branches in 23 countries.

Whether it's couples fitting out their first one-bedroom flat, or parents of children who have woken up one day as teenagers and require the replacement of all their cartoon-character themed bedroom furnishings, all must go to Ikea as a modern rite of passage.

The advent of Ikea may leave customers with the unnerving feeling of recognising all the furniture in other people's homes, but there is no doubt that it has improved our interiors.

Klippan sofa
...then you probably own of these...
Continuing the work started by Habitat in remedying the generally bland, even poor, design of British mass-produced furniture, Ikea has brought ordinary people good design at low prices.

It is easy to conclude that its 6 lamps and 100 sofas have helped spark the current home improvement obsession.

Duncan Riches, of contemporary classic design firm SCP, said: "It has changed the market in British interiors. People are more interested in contemporary design, there is increased interest in the home in general.

"They do lines that look like classic designs. It is similar to the fashion world where you have the high-end stuff like the Guccis and that distils down to the High Street.

"Ikea take classic design and make them available to the High Street market."

'A dark place'

Unfortunately, Ikea is a car thing. The company trumpets its commitment to boosting use of public transport, but these grand temples to the flatpack are located with the car in mind.

Commonly on retail parks near motorway junctions, the traffic nearby at a weekend can leave you thinking that even free samples of the elixir of life could not generate worse queues.

Hardened Ikea veteran Ian Hall, 27, has visited the store a dozen times - mostly by foot - since moving to London four years ago.

Lack table
...or this
"Visiting Ikea is like going to a dark place, and their reasonably-priced lamps are no consolation," he says.

"The branches seem to be in particularly inaccessible locations for those who rely on public transport.

"The walk from Neasden tube to the Brent Park outlet [in north-west London] is not the sort of walk I would do alone.

"The journey takes in dark alleyways, a confusing footbridge over the thundering North Circular, navigating a bus stand and having to enter over a small canal full of litter and shopping trolleys and through the ill-lit car park."

Customers will put up with the pain of the queues
Liz Morrell
Retail Week
The Brent Park outlet is the busiest of Ikea's UK stores, with five million people passing through it each year.

Traffic problems of epic proportions are common, although the Edmonton store was meant to ease that.

Liz Morrell, from trade publication Retail Week, says we accept the stress as a price worth paying.

"Customers will put up with the pain of the queues and the battling and the traffic for a place that is offering design at affordable prices."

Trips to Ikea should be organised with military precision. As in any superstore designed by retail psychology's finest minds, a typical Ikea is laid out so you need to pass through most of the shop before getting to the tills.

The uninitiated can often leave with trolleys full of unwanted houseplants and seagrass mats if they do not keep their wits about them.

But shoppers will continue to be amazed at just what you can get for 6.

Here is a selection of your comments.

I just love Ikea. I find its furniture spiritually fulfilling. I often sit on my Ikea chair staring at my Ikea bookshelf on my Ikea carpet, thinking, what would life be without Ikea? All you people blaspheming against this sacred lifestyle should be punished. Severely.
Fran, UK

Ikea is great in principle - affordable, stylish, Scandinavian - but in practice it's second only to dealing with estate agents and lawyers when it comes to painful life experiences.
Helen, USA

I hate any furniture I have to put together myself.
Joanne, UK

The Ikea phenomenon is also identical in Italy, where, despite a tendency, traditionally, to favour more classical styles in furniture, Italians are very attracted to Ikea's convivial atmosphere, value for money, and coherently varied stylistic range.
Don Pilarz, Italy

Add together your petrol and, if it won't fit in your car, the price of delivery, time off work to take delivery and the time to put it all together... still cheap?
Chris, UK

Ikea is not just a furniture store, it is a religion. A true follower has to make regular pilgrimages to its temples and know its catalogue back to front. All the queuing and hassle is worth it as ultimately you will find peace and contentment amongst your purchases and life will be better.
Sue Beverley, UK

Every time we go to Ikea we ensure that when we get out of the car we both declare undying love to each other. Once we reach the checkouts it's all we have left - our nerves and patience have usually long gone!
Catherine H, Letchworth, UK

Don't bother going in on the weekend, just go in the evening. I frequently use the Bristol store and if you go in after about 6pm on a week night the place is deserted.
Hannah, Oxford, England

I am an Ikea regular and must have suffered nearly everything they can throw at you. Try taking an item back for exchange. You'll love it! Check an item is in stock, drive to the store, only to find it is at shelf 7 height which means they have to get the forklift to it.
Charles, UK

I love Ikea, where else can you kit out your first home at such a reasonable price? I find the place addictive even if I do leave with a few additional items that I regret buying when I get home - come on they were a bargain!!
Lisa, East Sussex

Regular visits to Ikea became such a fix that my partner and I have now taken to taking the long route to avoid "popping in" for a hot dog and meatballs instead of going out for a meal!
Neil, Liverpool, UK

This phenomenon is the exact same in the US. The local store to me is a about half an hour by car. The weekday is the best time to go, even on Friday right after work, but go there at the weekend and be prepared to fight for those precious "loading up" spots.
Niel, USA


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