My fiancee and I just went a-sofa hunting, which in our little world is a big event, indeed. It requires strategic planning, research, and collaboration and compromise. We rented a car and drove out to Jersey, wherein the malls and outlets dwell. Beginning with our rental car wobbling through Harlem over thick sheets of snow, and ending in unrelenting rush hour traffic in northern Jersey, this was a day that made me more than happy that driving out here is only a once-in-a-blue-moon kinda thing. It’s stressful and the frequency of near-death experiences is just too darned high.
Anyway, so we had a whole slew of sofa joints lined up out on Route 4: Macy’s, Jennifer Convertibles, Bob’s, and Ikea (as a last resort). Macy’s furniture outlet was a good place to start, as they had every type of sofa you could think of, so we warmed up our haunches trying out the many different styles and began to learn our own butt and back preferences, in addition to style and taste factors. We discovered that we were into “classic” or even “retro” type sofas–sofas that didn’t make a big deal about them being sofas, they just did the job well. I learned that I like rounded leather sofas and that I like them firm and with low arm rests. We almost went in for this glaring orange 70s style sofa tucked in the corner in the back on sale. We were both surprised that we liked it. If it had been a shade of darker orange and not as blinding, we might well have purchased it.
After Macy’s furniture outlet, Jennifer Convertibles felt boring. The couches look nice, but they aren’t anything amazing. They are reasonably priced, of course, but that’s about all they got going for them. None of them had quite the butt and back feel that we’d begun to ascertain as desirable in certain sofas at Macy’s. There was also this weird thing the store had with putting these fake ice cream cups with plastic spillage around them on every single couch. At first we thought they were real. Then we noticed that every single sofa had one on them. Then it was even weirder. Jennifer Convertibles are the kind of sofas that you get if you don’t really give a shit about a sofa other than just the way it looks. They look nice. They look like real sofas.
We then moved onto Bob’s, king of discounts. I have become aware that every furniture store kind of has it’s own style of sofa. Bob’s sofas are all the kind of sofa that say “Hey, look at me, I’m a sofa” and they’re all big and puffy and your feet don’t touch the ground when you sit on them. I’m not into that brand of sofa. I don’t need a sofa to hit you over the head with it’s sofa-ness, I just want it to look somewhat stylish in a classic way and support my butt and my back adequately without too much give. Bob’s didn’t do it for me at all. I didn’t find any of them comfy or appealing in style. It was at Bob’s that I struck on a rule of quality sofas: a quality sofa does not require an extra cushion in order to support your back. You should be able to sit back on a quality sofa without any extras and it should feel just right. This rule is somewhat equivalent to my rule for quality bread: a quality bread does not require any extra condiments–including butter or oil–to make it palatable. A quality bread tastes great au naturale. You can see the linkage, here.
At this point, we were getting hungry and cranky, so it was onto Ikea to discuss our options so far. We weren’t even planning on considering Ikea’s sofas, we just wanted to eat lunch, because their lunch is cheap and I’m Swedish. But as soon as we walked in, there was this corduroy sofa near the entrance that we liked right away. So we ate our meatballs and lingonberries and drank some coffee and decided to peruse the Ikea stock.
Now let me just say something about Ikea. Let me digress for a minute on the topic of Ikea. I love Ikea. I love it because my grandma was Swedish and she made some wonderful Swedish meatballs and Ikea has meatballs for $3.99 that are reminiscent of those meatballs. I love Ikea because it is an international store that is unabashedly Swedish, from the blue-yellow signage to its practical business model of eco-industrial efficiency. It makes me proud to have some Swedish blood when I walk into an Ikea. How often do I get to celebrate my ancestry?
So we ate our fill and then commenced on the Ikea walkabout. We ended up purchasing the very same couch that we had seen upon our entrance to the joint in pursuit of meatballs. This couch was relatively cheap, it had a great ass and back feel, and it was stylish in that Ikea classic kind of way that seemed to suit our sensibilities. This was a sofa that didn’t make a big deal about the fact that it was a sofa, but it still looked good.
I won’t go into the nightmare that was trying to find the cover we had picked out in those back alleyways of boxes, and then not finding it and having to pick another one, then waiting in line to get a home delivery, as there was no way my fiancee was going to haul the giant box up 4 flights of stairs, nor would it fit in our rented Scion anyway. I almost lost some love for Ikea due to that end of purchase experience.
Anyway, the sofa was delivered unto us in a box the next day, carried up our 4 flights of stairs. I then had the pleasure of putting together our sofa over the next 2 hours. This is another reason why I love Ikea. The fact that you become intimate with your product by putting in the blood and sweat necessary to make it whole. You have to strain to make intelligible the abstract drawings that pass as instructions, as you turn pieces this way and that. You curse as you scratch your wood floor, cut your fingers, and twist little screws in with metal pieces. But you gotta hand it to Ikea. It’s ingenious because at the end of the day you can’t really blame them if a product doesn’t work out. It may just be that you didn’t put it together perfectly.
It’s all about the design, you see. Sure, their furniture is made of particle board, pine, and little plastic pieces and whatnot. But the furniture is intelligently designed. It’s made to be assembled and disassembled by nincompoops. It gives average people like us this great feeling of accomplishment, this connection to our furnituremaking forbears. We gain insight into the process of design. We sweat and strain to get the stupid covers over the frame and then velcro all the sides on perfectly, which proves to be nigh impossible. And then once it is all complete. . . it’s truly ours.
I love our new sofa!
- In Ikea’s China Stores, Loitering Is Encouraged (businessweek.com)