Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Aah, for a little Ikea in South Africa

Eug and I find ourselves talking about Ikea a lot these days- about our favorite chair, the cheap bookshelf, the fun trips to the Stoughton Ikea.

[Ikea is perhaps the largest furniture store in the world. It keeps costs low by designing furniture to ship in flat boxes and be assembled at home by customers.]

My love for Ikea was as much for the experience- going and getting breakfast or ice-cream or Swedish meatballs, drooling over the showrooms and then coming away with something that didn't look quite the same in our house- as for the furniture. While I loved the experience and was a shameless customer, I have no doubt that Ikea contributes to a throwaway culture- Ikea furniture doesn't exactly last if you're moving a lot, and we bought new furniture because we knew it was there, it was affordable, and that we would like it. I also think that Ikea contributes to a throwaway culture in the U.S. because the U.S. is already a throwaway culture; the impact of Ikea in Europe is likely very different. Ikea also sources its materials from around the world. The energy implications of a truly multinational furniture company are staggering.

This throwaway culture meant that Craigslist (the U.S./international Gumtree equivalent) prices for all second-hand furniture were driven WAY down, and plenty of people were just trying to get rid of their furniture for free. They could just get some good Ikea stuff to replace it. And we were often the beneficiaries.

While you can get reasonable prices for some furniture on Gumtree, the overall prices are much, much higher. New furniture is hugely expensive. So we're faced with the typical consumerist dilemma- do we want a consumer culture where we have more for cheaper, or not? If not, why not?

I remain a fan of Ikea for what it's trying to do- provide creative well-designed furniture and take over the world. It's a smart company. I miss it. But I hope it doesn't come to South Africa anytime soon. We're being much more creative about finding furniture and making do than we ever were in Boston. There are fewer ready-made solutions, and that seems good, at least for now.


Tanyth said...

I've never had the pleasure of using an Ikea product but I have been told about the treasures found in their stores by friends. I do however find myself with the same sentiments as you - I hope they don't come to our shores anytime soon. Rather let there be a platform for our very talented local craftsmen to come up with a similar more viable, locally sustainable, contemporary product. The only challenge I fear would be competitive pricing compared to the likes of giants like Ikea but hey...it's a new year and I'm feeling positive! You may want to trawl Salt River and Woodstock Main Rd where you can also find pieces at a steal (they may need some love though if you're keen to put in the elbow grease) but be sure to steer clear of the folk who have already cottoned on to the idea of second hand goods becoming popular again - you can be viciously ripped off. Best of luck and welcome back to South African shores!

Concrete Gardener said...

Hi Tanyth,
I agree! We looked at Salt River/Woodstock and it was interesting how the prices tripled as you got closer to the Old Biscuit Mill. Then, on Main Rd in Obs, we saw a second hand shop, but they were unfortunately totally overpriced-as though they were catering to the "junk as treasure" crowd.

Tanyth said...

Yup - it USED to be a gold mine a couple of years... I'm busy tracking a few hidden gems in Sea Point - I'll let you know if they're any good!