Saturday, August 6, 2011

(RE)Discovering Ikea

We learned this weekend that we will be able to move into our house a couple of weeks earlier than we originally thought.  Apparently our container will reach us by the end of this week, so we were able to talk the home owner into allowing us to move in earlier so that we can get settled before the kids start back to school.  Fortunately, the home owner's wife happened to be at the house yesterday when I drove my friend M by to see it. I have been wanting to get a second look at the house in order to determine what all we needed to purchase, preferably prior to our move in date.

One of the many quirky things about houses in Europe is that when you lease a home, light fixtures are not generally included.  In most cases your rooms will have a random assortment of wires dangling from either the wall or ceiling, or, in some cases, a random lightbulb hanging from a wire.  The other thing you have to note is that very few homes have closets.  Now, coming from Texas where walk-in-closets are a must for a home buyer, this can create some distress.  Suddenly you are confronted with the reality that you have either 1) collected WAY too many clothes (at my age, that generally means your skinny wardrobe and your not-so-skinny wardrobe), or 2) you are at risk of appearing on that scary hoarders show on cable.  Either way, knowing that you have a container full of "stuff" arriving in a week means you have to have some place for the said "stuff" to go.  The European solution?  Ikea.  Ikea is the ultimate storage solution, and the must-go location when you are in need of a wardrobe, cabinet, shelving, or any other item you deem necessary, but really don't want to invest your life savings in.  Remember, all things (with exception of wine and cheese) are generally more expensive here and the exchange rate between the dollar and euro never helps.

Well, after checking out the house yesterday, I determined that we need 18 light fixtures and at least enough wardrobe space for our clothes (none of our bedrooms in the house has a closet, but at least the boys have little rooms next to theirs that we can retrofit into walk-in closets with the assistance of some rolling rods we purchased at The Container Store back in Dallas).  We also happen to have an extra bedroom that we don't need for any other reason, so we are likely going to convert that into our master closet with some assistance from Ikea.

Interestingly, the closest Ikea to Luxembourg is literally less than a mile past the Belgium-Lux border.  I don't know the details, but from what I have heard, when Ikea wanted to build here in Luxembourg, the powers that be on such decisions declined the request, so Ikea built as close as they could in the closest proximity they could - Belgium.  So, after a couple of preliminary trips to Belgium this past week to scout things out, I was ready to drag the family out to Ikea for our major purchasing trip.  As much as I hate doing such things on a Saturday, we really had no choice.  Joe works late most evenings, and most stores are not open on Sundays.  So, after a quick trip to the local antique/consignment store to knock out what purchases we could, we made our trek out to Belgium.

I will be honest - I have only been in an Ikea once before about 15 or so years ago in Chicago.  We had just bought our first home and had several empty rooms that we were hoping to fill with the basics, but the store was so vast and way out in the suburbs that we never ended up purchasing anything.  I know many folks purchase their first apartment or dorm room furniture there (after browsing their prices, I can totally understand why), but coming from Corpus Christi, I had never heard of Ikea before, so that opportunity escaped me.  Also, most of their inventory is on the contemporary side of things, so once we moved out of our first home, I never thought to go there.  In Europe, however, Ikea is the equivalent of Target or WalMart.  You need some cheap dishes or glasses?  Ikea.  You need a one-stop shop for housewares and furniture? Ikea.  Need basic decorating items like candles or frames?  Ikea.  There just isn't any other equivalent at a similar price.

In the U.S., I am a very loyal Target customer.  Stores like Sam's or Costco have always overwhelmed me a bit.  I literally get tired just driving into the parking lot knowing that I will be there for at least an hour, will have walked up and down a couple of miles or so of aisles, will have to bag my own items, and will rarely leave without spending at least $100 or more.  Ikea is that same experience, times ten.  That enormous blue building on the horizon gives me a headache a mile away.  But, grin and bear it I must if I want a place to hang clothes or have overhead lighting!  If you have been to a Central Market in Texas, you will recognize the shopping process.  You enter the store in one spot, follow a serpentine route through the store that will eventually lead you to the cash registers.  However, customer beware if you forget something and must swim up river to retrieve an item.  The aisles are narrow and you will inevitably be the recipient of dirty looks for pushing your basket upstream.  Ikea is the same way.  You enter an enormous revolving door on the right hand side of the building.  If you have young children that are tantrum prone, there is a rather interesting "playroom" near the entrance where you can check in your children for the duration of your visit.  Not having young children, I have no idea if there is a cost involved, but the kids do appear rather entertained by the room full of ramps and toys, not too unlike a McDonald's play land.  However, given how long you are likely to be there, it would be well worth the investment if necessary.

Once past the entrance, you are then ushered upstairs to the showroom area of the store.  You follow the serpentine aisle around the floor, where you have the opportunity to view the various products in showrooms reflecting their usage - mini set ups of kitchens, dining rooms, offices, etc. Ikea is not unlike any other furniture store in that respect, with the exception of the throng of customers making their way through the aisles with bright yellow metal carts (similar to dollies) with large mesh bags attached to hold their treasures.  If you are a veteran Ikea shopper, you learn quickly that the dollies just don't cut it and you find the shopping or flatbed carts hidden off to the side.  Two preliminary trips and I still hadn't learned this.  The dollies are a disaster, especially with kids who are not always paying attention and clip your ankles with them, or the adults who abandon the dollies midway through the store in search of the necessary shopping cart, thus creating a maze of unwanted dollies for you to weave your cart through.  On a Saturday afternoon, when it seems half of Europe is hitting the local Ikea, this becomes a large nuisance.  The other detail you learn is that in order to know what to order, or in my case, remember what it was I liked going through the showroom, there are stands of order forms and eraser-less pencils scattered throughout the store.  You must use these order forms to write down the item and its location numbers if you hope to know where to find the item in the warehouse you will eventually reach on the bottom floor.  You also need the item number in order to look it up on the kiosks of computers in the warehouse in case you can't find the item. You search for the item's warehouse location code, or find out if you need to ask for assistance from one of the information desk employees who will inevitably inform you that the item you want is on backorder or out of stock.  On the positive side, the store layout is pretty logical (unlike the local grocery stores).  All linens are in one place, lighting in another, kitchen items in their space, and so on.

Having arrived at the store after noon, we started our visit with lunch up in the cafeteria.  Surprisingly, this was one of the cheapest family meals we have had in Europe and the kids loved it.  Again, you enter a serpentine line, make your way through a cafeteria style process, and pay the cashier at the end.  The meatballs and "frites" were the entree of choice, not to mention the free refills on soda (another great luxury!)  Following lunch, we hit the showroom.  Having made two previous trips to the store, I was on a mission to get through the showroom, choose what we needed, and make our way downstairs to the warehouse to collect our goodies.  Given the large crowd, this process still took us over an hour to accomplish.  We knew we would have to have most of what we selected delivered to our new home after our move in date, so we mostly just wrote down the item numbers, assuming that once we reached the end, any items we weren't taking with us would be tallied up, collected, and put aside for delivery.  So, once we reached the cashiers just past the warehouse, I sent Joe to the delivery/customer service desk to order the items we had not pulled from the floor.  I went through the self-checkout line with the few items that would fit in our car and met Joe up at the service counter.  Thankfully, the customer service representative who helped us was fluent in English since we were novices at this whole experience.  She was very nice (and apologetic), explaining to us that no, you do have to take carts into the warehouse and pull each part of the item from the shelves yourself, go through the cashier lines, pay, then go to the service desk to arrange for delivery. On this information, I am sure my mouth dropped open.  Two of our items were very large wardrobes that required about 50+ pieces each. We were already a bit overwhelmed knowing we would have to assemble each of our items.  It never once crossed our minds that we would have to pull the inventory of these items ourselves.  But, that's Ikea for you, and that is how they are able to keep their prices so low. Now, not having been to an Ikea in the states for years, I have no basis for comparison, but Joe and I both question whether the stores in the U.S. work the same way.  Many of the pieces to the large items weigh over 50 pounds.  I can't tell you how many times Joe had to stop what he was doing to assist some small or older woman visiting the store (on her own) with some huge item she was trying to drag onto a cart.  He generally assisted them, simply because he needed her out of the way in order to get to what he needed in the warehouse racks.  What started as a planned 2-3 hour trip, transpired into a 5 hour ordeal.  On top of all that, I will still have to trek it back out to Belgium on Monday morning for the 7 or so pieces to the wardrobes that were out of stock (and are too large to fit in our car), in hopes of getting them on our delivery shipment.  All in all, I know this was the most economical way of meeting our storage and lighting needs, but I will honestly admit that I would have happily paid a surcharge to have some strappy Belgian teenager pull the inventory for me, rather than taking the necessary 2 hours to pull the items onto the 5 flatbed carts it eventually took to get the items through the cashier lines and up to the delivery desk.  After that ordeal, it is no wonder we hit a local pizzeria for dinner and quickly downed a very nice bottle of Chianti with our friends!

PS - On a side note, our last planned visit of the day was supposed to be to the local appliance store to order our badly needed washer and dryer.  Our apartment washer/dryer from hell spewed a couple of more gallons of water onto our laundry room floor again this morning, requiring us to utilize all of the towels I had just washed yesterday to mop up the mess.  *sigh*  Washer/Dryer from hell 2, D's zip.

1 comment:

  1. Just an FYI the Ikea in the states is exactly the same. Although there usually are a few ware house guys wandering to help you lift some of the larger items into your cart but its all basically very self service.