In making a ‘No IKEA’ rule for my new apartment, it accidentally turned into a contemporary design showroom. Perhaps it comes with a this stage of life for our generation—the late-20s, early 30s, not-quite millennials, bouncing around from city to city during the frothy Naughties and post-2008 austerity—living here for six months, there for a year-long job, studying somewhere remote for a few years, and existing everywhere and nowhere in between times. The only common denominator to this transient 21st century global existence, adding some sense of belonging to our nomadism, is an IKEA conveniently nearby, its Köttbullar Swedish meatballs beckoning.
It’s the same drill every time, whether I’ve just moved to a ‘global city’ or an ‘up-and-coming’ second-tier city, I can always count on an IKEA to supply those unassuming domestic staples. Resisting the temptation to pick up a cheap Billy bookcase, Lack side table, or fold-out futon—Lövås or Grankulla?—is always a losing battle. Once you’ve been to one IKEA, you’ve been to them all. And that’s exactly the point, you think to yourself: “This works. I guess I can live with this I guess. Again.” But do you really want to?
“Resisting the temptation to pick up a cheap Billy bookcase, Lack side table, or fold-out futon is always a losing battle”
My wife and I have been to so many IKEAs in so many cities over the years—Rome, Montreal, Brussels, Copenhagen, Paris, Brooklyn—that when we finally settled down in New York in an apartment of our own, we decided to forgo that ubiquitous blue and yellow warehouse. Instead, slowly and conscientiously, we resolved to acquire the things we’ve always wanted, which also means politely refusing hand-me-downs simply because they’re convenient.
In keeping with this ethos, some sub-rules emerge: no single-use items (no fondue sets, nut-crackers, etc.), only multi-purpose things that have lasting value. It is a great way to justify a seemingly pricey purchase – it might seem expensive right now, but if I divide that price by multiple uses and years, it’s a steal, right?
“It might seem expensive right now, but if I divide that price by multiple uses and years, it’s a steal, right?”
To keep a visual tally of the pricier objects we lust over while sitting in our empty apartment, we use Are.na – it’s like Pinterest, if Marshall McLuhan made Pinterest. Separating the whimsical buy from the high-value object is an inexact science to be sure, but Are.na is one way to stick to our principles, not to cave in to the impulse buy. Not buying something is just a form of getting over FOMO IRL: think of it as an exercise in restraint.
You might wonder: if I shun IKEA, what do I end up with? A necessary mantra of the No IKEA rule is Charles Eames’s outlook, that “design may, if it is good enough, later be judged as art.” Contemporary designers are making domestic pieces destined to become future classics, and with a bit of research and intuition, you can be part of making that future a reality. Below are some of our preferred IKEA alternatives.
Our itinerant life would have been table-less if not for the Accordion trestle table designed by Makers With Agendas (MWA) – mine was shipped from Copenhagen to New York, brought as a carry-on to Montreal, and then schlepped back to NY. How many tables can you fly with as a carry-on? Alas, the Accordion trestle table isn’t sturdy enough for those impromptu sex-on-the-dinner-table moments, but I hear their Pull-Pong table is.
“Makers With Agendas’ Accordion trestle table isn’t sturdy enough for those impromptu sex-on-the-dinner-table moments, but I hear their Pull-Pong table is”
Next in our Are.na channel is pretty much everything designed by Max Lamb. Within a week of moving in we acquired two Last Stools, constructed out of a single sheet of metal, available in a variety of natural and powder-coated finishes, and handsomely stackable. Marmoreal, an engineered marble by Max Lamb and produced by Dzek, is stunning and available as furniture or raw slabs. Our last infatuation is the triangular-patterned Pewter Stools: beautiful as finished objects, and astounding on a whole other level once you see how they’re made.
For the softer touches, we’re breathing new life into an old couch by recovering it in the Maharam-produced, Sarah Morris-designed pattern “A Band Apart.” In another symptom of incremental adulthood, we’ve complied with our building’s 80 percent floor-covering requirement with raw bolts of natural felt from FilzFelt, embracing our inner Joseph Beuys – sans animal fat.
“When you move into a new place and you feel the urge to buy the same IKEA side table that you’ve bought in five other cities, call a friend for support”
I sometimes wonder if it’s humanly possible to dislike anything designed by the Bouroullec brothers. We certainly couldn’t resist the Steelwood Armchair made by Herman Miller, the only point of contention was white or black? And the last thing we’re saving up for? It might not be contemporary, but the iconic Ettore Sottsass designed Alessi MP0210 Pepper Mill is a fun touch of Neo Post Modernist Memphis revival.
So when you move into a new place and you feel the urge to buy the same Lack side table that you’ve bought in five other cities, call a friend for support. Without the encouragement of my wife Elena, I probably would have caved and gone to IKEA.