This week The New Yorker drops an epically huge 12-page feature about Ikea. Penned by staff writer Lauren Collins, the story profiles the 9,000-product-strong home-furnishings company that invented flat-pack furniture in 1951, sold more than $23B worth of goods last year, put gay couples in its ads way back in 1994 (and as recently as this year), is the world's third-largest consumer of wood, published 197M catalogues in 29 languages last year, and is controlled, ironically enough, by a Dutch tax-exempt non-profit foundation. Other topics explored: the recent Danville, Va., unionizing brouhaha, the company's emphasis on environmentalism (which, Collins points out, is undermined by the fact that one usually needs to drive far to access a store), and IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, who is something of a sect leader within Ikea's sometimes-suffocating corporate culture. (Employees dissect personal faxes from Kamprad based on the salutation he uses, and in 2007 all IKEA employees received a DVD of the first 60 years of the now-85-year-old's life—as holiday gifts.) Upon visiting the first-ever IKEA, in Älmhult, Sweden, Collins found only two books by her bedside at the nearby IKEA Hotel: the New Testament and an IKEA catalogue.
The best lines of the piece, in no particular order:
1) "IKEA's employees are some of the world's foremost anthropologists of home life. From them I learned that people want twice the storage in bathrooms, because men how have as many grooming products as women do."
2) "Just as the goal of a real room is to look like a fake one, the goal of a fake room is to look like a real one."
3) "Amy Poelher once said that IKEA is Swedish for 'argument.'"
4) "There were several apartments in the West Village, and one, farther south, in which my parents and I spent a long night trying to assemble an IKEA bookshelf with the guidance of only a stick man with a mute smirk."
5) "When IKEA stopped selling incandescent light bulbs, last year, six hundred and twenty-six million people became environmentalists."
6) "It is said that one in ten Europeans is conceived in an IKEA bed."
7) "IKEA products are intended to work as well in Riyadh as they do in Reykjavik. (Pigs and skeletons, for example, are banned motifs."
8) "It costs fifty-nine pence, which makes it what IKEA calls a 'breathtaking item'—so affordable that you can't afford not to buy it. We took two. IKEA offers the serendipity of the yard sale without the mothballs."
9) "IKEA is Legos for grownups, connecting the furniture of our adulthoods with the toys of our childhoods."
10) "IKEA is obsessed with lista, which translates to 'making do.' IKEA employees, including the C.E.O., travel in coach. To save money, the company uses employees as models for its catalogues."
11) "Traditionally, the names of IKEA's bookcases derive from different occupations; curtains are given names from mathematics; and bathroom products are named for lakes and rivers."
12) "The Main Aisle is supposed to curve every fifty feet or so, to keep the customer interested. A path that is straight for any longer than that is called an Autobahn—a big, boring mistake."
13) "In recent months, middle-aged singles have taken to congregating in a Shanghai IKEA in such numbers that management has been forced to cordon off a designated 'match-making corner.'"
14) "IKEA has made interiors ephemeral."
15) Twenty-five hundred of [the Swedish town of] Älmhult's [where the first IKEA store opened in1958] eight-five hundred inhabitants work for IKEA. Spending time in Älmhult is a prerequisite for advancing one's career at IKEA, and the social scene is as intense as the professional one."
16) "In 1963, IKEA opened its first store outside Sweden, in Oslo. Ten years later, IKEA was expanding so frantically that German executives accidentally opened a store in Konstanze when they had meant to open one in Koblenz."
17) "Whenever an IKEA designer creates a room set, for the catalogue or in a store, he or she writes up a detailed treatment. The treatment for the bed-and-breakfast read, 'Story: a weekend hobby that turned into a full-time business, this B. and B. is nestled in the countryside untroubled by tourists. It is popular among those taking a break form the city and looking for peace and quiet. Despite its rural setting, this B. and B. is tastefully decorated to appeal to its urban guests.'"
· House Perfect [The New Yorker]