Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Today we drove through Illinois to my daughter's new apartment in Madison Wisconsin where she is starting grad school this fall. Along the way we stopped at Ikea in western Chicago and bought a desk which we assembled today after moving her things into a second story apartment. If you have never assembled something from Ikea, you could find it interesting. Two boxes contained over a dozen pre-finished softwood parts and a large bag of fasteners, drawer guides, screws and dowels. It is amazing how every part is machined to perfection, and it is also amazing that they have made the shipping and assembly of furniture almost fool proof provided you can follow instructions. No clamps or glue required.

The key is in the materials. If you wanted something done in real hardwoods, the price you pay will be much greater, and more expertise will be required in the design and assembly. The trade-off is that you can make more beautiful and lasting work. In fact, well crafted hardwood furniture will last over a hundred years if you care for it in the least, and furniture from Ikea will begin showing wear at a much earlier age. But it is so cheap you can afford to throw it away after a short time.

We missed moving day in Madison by just a week and if we had been here a few days earlier, we'd have found more cheap furniture than anyone could imagine placed at curbside as students swapped apartments. Ikea for free anyone? The price of Ikea makes it hard for a small town professional craftsman to compete. And we are in a mobile, throw-away culture and economy that may rub some the wrong way. As we drove through the upper midwest we saw huge plateaus built from solid waste. Land fills are distinct in shape, rising above the surrounding terrain a hundred and fifty feet or more, perfectly level on top and constructed layer upon layer of garbage and discarded objects from the past 50 years. It is all kind of shocking to consider and not the high point of our civilization.

One thing I enjoyed at Ikea was seeing so much Scandinavian design, and I was reminded of Educational Sloyd. No doubt there is a connection between the excellence of design and a long history of manual arts. But regardless of how cheap the Ikea, there are values other than money.

Make, fix and create...

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