Saturday, September 20, 2008


So, I'd heard about this place from my far-off internet friends. Camelot! I mean, Ikea!

Some dreamland of inexpensive, well-designed home decor, both heaven and bane of decorators on the cheap. Heaven, because you can find the best cool home stuff for modest cash outlay, and the bane because there are so many good things, it's hard to get away without more than you planned on. Ir-re-sist-able! LIke a Swedish Target with better furniture. Or something.

I heard people speak with glee and satisfaction of putting together that new orange couch or finding the perfect thingie to organize or round out the room. You'd think it was the holy grail of "the rug that pulls the whole room together."

This remained a curiosity, though, because there are no Ikea stores in my area. None, nada, zilch. We finally got a few Trader Joe's last year, and oh, happy day! But no Ikea. Okay, I can deal.

Flash forward to this Summer when we decided we had to replace/expand kitchen cabinets and countertops this year. (Must. Renovate. Before. Baby. Comes.)* And somehow in the last 5 or 6 years, the price for replacing kitchen cabinets has skyrocketed. I have an old cost estimate I worked up in the Dark Ages. $800 dollars, people. Today's prices? About $5000. *gak* Worse, I frankly hated the stuff I was now seeing at H0me Dep0t and L0wes.

*We currently have a mere 8 cabinets and 2 small countertop spaces. Renovation would at least double that.

The neighborhood listserv gave me all kinds of ideas. Many people suggested custom-built, which, as we know, is doable, but (probably) not in our better budget. But! A couple people raved about their Ikea experience. I thought, wait, you mean Ikea does kitchen cabinets too????? It took that many question marks because I had that big light bulb over my head. I lit up with the idea that Ikea was going to save us from over-priced bad design (or even over-priced good design).

I did a g0ogle search, and found that the nearest Ikea was either in DC or Atlanta, or maybe Cincinnati. Never fear, we could also order cabinets online. I poked about on the website and it was definitely worth looking into. However, we have this thing called We-need-to-see-it-in-person-to-satisfy-quality-standards-and-design-ideas. Conveniently enough, we were supposed to go to Virginia for a work/social event. What's another few hours to DC? We could do this thing AND visit the Ikea. My husband was on board with this plan, so that's what happened.

This happened to be the Hurricane Ike weekend wherein gas prices shot up way past $4/gallon, and the weather was all hot and icky, AND I was a little stressed about preparing for the work thing. But luckily, at the last minute, I found my old kitchen floor plan and notes buried in the office (under "current" house projects - ha!), and my husband drove the whole way.

Thus it was that we did our work thing Saturday, woke up Sunday morning, visited some more, then headed up I-95 to Woodbridge. Thanks to those online maps, I even knew which exit to use to get to the mall (which, by the way, appears to cover a solid two miles of acreage).

Me in my current condition, I also had to eat every couple of hours. Never fear, I told my husband, I heard they have a cafe too.

I have to admit, I felt a little shiver of excitement as we pulled into the parking garage. "Oo! oo! Ikea!" And again when we entered the store. "Look, honey! They have a loading dock!" We tried to not look like hicks visiting the big city for the first time, but it's hard to remain cool when faced with such an iconic giant.

We deliberately did not follow the crowd, pausing frequently to get our bearings. I had warned my husband that it was known as a place to get lost. But first, we had to eat. We followed the sound of clinking dinnerware past the kids' play area to the cafeteria. I was chagrined to notice they had few vegetarian options, and amused to notice that they had the desserts on display first thing in line. But we opted for penne pasta with marinara sauce and either salad or mixed vegetables, and that turned out to be the perfect lunch.

During lunch, we reviewed the paperwork I had brought with me: One kitchen floor plan to scale and some cabinet piece counts. We also reviewed strategy. There would be a lot to look at, but our priority was to hash out some ideas of kitchen design based on what they had, and still have time left to drive all the way home that night, 5+ hours.

So after lunch and a quick bathroom break (Oo, look! A mother's room!) , we started in on the cabinetry.

Right in the front of the kitchen area was the cutest little 3-D model kitchen. The walls of the doll-house, I mean, model, were gridded with measurements and the floor was littered with wooden scale models of cabinet and appliances that you would rearrange to your satisfaction. The wee wall cabinets even had magnets that would make them cling to the sides of the model. It was so darling, I immediately wanted to play with it, but we were quickly distracted by a walls worth of models of all the door finishes. But first, I had to pry my husband away from the appliances! Yes, they have dishwashers, too.

I had already narrowed down our preferences via the internet, and we zeroed in on our top two choices, asking questions and taking notes. Mr. Sweetie was in his element, looking things over with a sharp eye and analyzing data. He took their estimated price for a 10-ft kitchen space and extrapolated what our space would cost... coming up with something very doable! Okay, then!

We quickly decided that the white old-fashioned look was both more to our preference and more economical than the one wood version that would go with our existing paneling, and within minutes, reassured ourselves that this would make sense for both our stylistic ideals and our budget.

I was surprised to realize how much I liked the wooden counter tops. That might tie in to all that existing wood in the rest of the room, and they looked great with our fav cabinets. My husband then spent some time asking about the difference between Corian stone and marble countertops, even though we had soon figured out that the Corian would run 5 times as much as the wood or laminate. The prices looked similar until I noticed that the wood was priced by the piece lengths and the Corian was priced by square foot. Sneaky!

Then I was entranced by a display that had all the cabinet widths displayed in sequence: 12", 15", 18", 24", 30", 36"... So many combinations of shelves or pull out drawers, my head was spinning. What I really wanted, I declared, was a brochure that had all options and prices and pictures together, so that I wouldn't drive myself crazy trying to write down every single available option. I found one product list and started checking my cabinet dimensions against the catalogue while the Mister started browsing amongst the drawer inserts. (I really like the wooden one. Yes, honey, but we have one already.)

Then Mr. Sweetie wandered off himself and found the sample kitchen for our favorite cabinet... Oooo!

Tall Cabinet Area 72

This was bliss indeed. We wandered about that corner in a happy daze, absorbing the feel of the design, and gazing about as if we were living there. For a while, we ping-ponged around, opening cabinets and exploring, and saying, oo, I like that! How about *that* cabinet feature?
Hedra Knobs 72
I finally started to focus and correlate the display in front of us with the catalogue, and cross-checking against our floor plan. It was then we discovered that the display showed all of the mid-to-large widths.
Stove Area 72
They looked fantastic, but since our kitchen space is rather restricted, our options were also limited. No fancy glass doors for us, alas, because they were only available in widths that did not fit in our space! A big bummer to adjust to that reality. As a consolation, I started taking pictures of the info tags and pieces that *would* fit in our kitchen plan.
Corner Base Ext 72
It felt really important to be able to bring home the vision of what we wanted, so I was glad that nobody fussed at us for taking pictures. [insert pictures here] We also realized that we had enough ceiling height to put in the taller cabinets, making more use of the space we have, so at least that was a nice surprise.

After we had exhausted ourselves of all practical and feel-good activities, we realized we had been there almost two hours, and time well-spent indeed! We decided that we'd give ourselves only another 30-40 minutes to scan the *rest* of the store to see what was there was to see. There was actually a path with traffic flow arrows on it, but since the kitchen was near the end of the route, we were far from the starting point. We decided to continue in a clockwise direction, not realizing that we'd be walking against the rest of the customer traffic! D'oh! Call us nonconformists.

We walked through the rest of the kitchens and into bedrooms and into living rooms, offices, et al, skimming through the entire place.

Now, this was interesting. I did not expect my husband to be ultimately enamored of Ikea in the same way I heard my friends talk about it. But gradually, we both became really delighted with the place. Especially after trying out multiple chairs, we did find a living room reading chair/recliner that we both loved. This place was *so cool*, we agreed. We both noticed that the designs were not so overblown as to overpower our living space. Everything seemed sleek and modest rather than lavish and oversized. It must be a European thing, I concluded... and we like it! Living in a modest space, we were delighted to find furniture that would actually fit!

I was starting to get tired, but we rushed through the children's section long enough to note a few pieces of furniture for future reference. Not enough attention to really wander at that point. (Oo, look at that cute (and inexpensive) crib! And those darling little wall lamps! I want green kiddie chair!)

And then when we were leaving, Mr. Sweetie asked about getting the recliner. Um, can we get it into the car within half and hour, because I am fading fast... Can it even *fit* in our little car? No energy to contemplate, so we left the store tired but glowing, stopping only to eat some bento box sushi at one of the surrounding strip/clump malls. The food did us good, and we got back on the road by 5 p.m.

Of course, later, we were kicking ourselves for not attempting to get the box into the car, because the shipping charges would kill us. It really was a great recliner. It is. Maybe if we go up to haul the cabinets home, we can stuff the chair in the U-Haul as well.

And if we get the recliner, maybe we could get the matching chair and thereby have an even better excuse to get rid of the ugly 70s brown metal tubing chairs that I've had forever? Hmmm. And maybe a new couch someday? Oh, the possibilities!

Yup, it's official. We've been Ikeaified. And we *like* it.

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