Monday, September 6, 2010

Self-Service Furniture

Our first apartment – all 500 square feet of it – was basically a spread from the 2000 IKEA catalog. The walls were lined with BILLY bookcases, the living room was lit by tall paper-shaded lamps that resembled cigars. A bulky blanket shed clumps of red wool that collected in the far corners of the room.

And then there was the TIMRA. We needed a TV stand, and this was about as basic a TV stand as IKEA offered. The TIMRA boasted four bulky wheels, two retro steel bars and a whole lotta beech veneer – which was apparent from the moment we sliced open the box. “This is beech, not birch,” I moaned. “We have to take it back.”

Will gave me his most gentle smile, the one that said without saying, I love you dear, but I’m not driving 90 minutes back to Emoryville to exchange this thing.

An hour later, the TIMRA assembled and wheeled into position by the cable hook-up, I’d made my peace with it. The TIMRA was clearly a temporary fixture in my life. It would hold the TV and VCR, the Playstation (three guesses which of us brought a Playstation into the relationship), stray cat toys, melted candles and random pieces of mail that defied categorization. And soon, we would replace it with real furniture.

Fast forward ten years. Not only did the TIMRA survive the three air-conditionless years in our apartment, but it also made the move to our house, where it has sat for the last seven years, all but buried beneath DVDs of Seinfeld and the Godfather. And at least once a month during this decade, I pestered my dad to build us an armoire.

“Think of your favorite daughter living with beech veneer,” I pleaded. He was always amenable, even sketching plans for what would be the world’s coolest armoire, but somehow always ran short on time. When he wasn’t busy, we were. When he could find the right wood, I was too poor to place an order. Eventually, I stopped pressing the point – mostly because styles had changed. The plans would need to be redrawn, since it would no longer be housing a 30-inch deep TV.

This weekend, overwhelmed by the possibilities of three days off in a row, Will and I made a spontaneous trip to IKEA. I composed a mental list as Will drove: a new slipcover for the “Baxter chair,” some sort of shelving for my classroom, wall art for Will’s office. New potholders, wrapping paper, plant pots. Other random, bright, cheap things. Swedish meatballs.

And then, wandering through the IKEA showrooms, marveling at the 200-square foot apartment and the coolest kids’ bedrooms on earth, Will and I saw it at the same time. A HEMNES TV stand – solid pine, black/brown finish, three drawers, perfect for the flat screen TV we will someday own. We gasped. Our eyes met across an EKTORP sofa.

“What do you think about –”

“I love it.”

Later that night, the unassembled pieces of the HEMNES strewn across the room, I didn’t love it quite as much. I was beginning to wonder, in fact, if it wasn’t easier to just box the thing up again and drive it back to West Sacramento, receipt in hand. There were no less than 31 steps to assembling this beauty, and each step was accompanied by vague pictures of boards and screws that all looked basically the same. It was a warm night and we had the windows closed while the air conditioner hummed. Otherwise, our neighbors might have overheard something like:

“Where did the other allen wrench go?”

(Deleted swearing.) “It looks like we’re missing a dowel.”

“It looks fine like it is. Let’s just leave it that way.”

“Wait – which side is the front again?”

“This thing is impossible! How can an average person put this together? I mean, don’t you figure we’re smarter than the average IKEA customer?”

“Apparently not.”

“Maybe we only need two drawers, anyway.”

“You know, I have a renewed respect for the TIMRA. Simple, elegant in its own way, already assembled.”

At one point, I decided it was best for everyone involved if I took Baxter for a walk. The walls had started to close in on us – and with all the scattered materials and shredded cardboard, there was nowhere to sit, anyway. Will took advantage of my absence and somehow – miraculously – assembled the entire rest of the thing in twenty minutes. Perhaps he had only been toying with me for the past three hours?

Anyway – the HEMNES is beautiful. Black, sleek, practically gleaming in its newness. I mentioned this to Will, who stared at me blankly.

“The what?”

“The HEMNES… hello?”

“Oh, that,” he said. “I guess I’ll always think of it as the TIMRA.”

1 comment:

  1. This is too funny. (Best line: Perhaps he had only been toying with me for the past three hours?-!!!) I think everyone can relate to this frustration. We once bought a child's playhouse at Sam's Club that boasted "Two Hour Assembly!" on the box. The directions inside were an ominous "assembly takes two moderately experienced adults ten hours."