Judith Ann Moriarty

Designer meatballz and more!

By - Feb 23rd, 2010 04:00 am
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Made it to the big blue-and-yellow monster.

Dead ahead! A screaming yellow and royal-blue monstrosity rises out of the plains where corn once grew. Flat, featureless and at 9:30 a.m. on this rain-spittin’ Saturday, the asphalt field fronting IKEA buzzes with trucks, vans and beat-up sedans. Folks stampede in droves headed for the biggest revolving door I’ve ever seen, one in which ten shoppers could easily fit. Well, maybe ten skinny shoppers or 20 little kids, of which there are plenty in tow.

So in I go … my maiden visit to a spot I’ve heard lots about, though the “lots” is usually from the inexperienced mouths of twenty-somethings. Still, what young consumer in their right mind wants to drag Grandma’s 1,000-pound solid oak, hand-carved chest of drawers cross-country to the next thing in their career climb? No, what they seek is something cheap and disposable, a leave-behind item that’s no skin off of their collective noses. Call it curbside kill suitable for today’s lifestyle. Or, call it IKEA.

Perhaps, I should never have ventured south on the concrete racetrack to where IKEA looms. I’m strictly a mid-century modernist and most of what I have in the way of furnishings is from that era. My stash is streamlined, solidly constructed and worth holding on to, which is what I’ve done for (my god), can it be 50-plus years? Note: In the early ’60s when I began furnishing my home in generic Brookfield, I was hard-pressed to find anything in the modernist mode. So, I tarted up my tri-level with a mix of Spanish and French Country, and along the way I scored a pair of splendid modernist lamps, which became talking points during neighborhood cocktail parties when Old Fashioneds and Rusty Nails flowed like water. Those were my John Updike years.

There’s something sneaky about the idea behind IKEA, though certainly it makes a valiant attempt to define itself as “Swedish” by calling up visions of fine craftsmanship wrought, well, finely. Their headquarters are indeed in Sweden (actually, their earliest products were made by communist workers in Poland), but it doesn’t take long to determine that almost everything is not from the land of blue-eyed blondes, but from far flung places. Turkey comes to mind. When you see a pair of bonneted Amish ladies rifling through heaps of kitchen items, you can be sure you’re not really in Sweden, Toto. Do you really swallow those “Amish” ads for bearded and hatted Amish males making mantles to embrace heating units? Tsk. Tsk.

IKEA is a bit of Walmart, a tad of Target, a dollop of Disney and everything in between. Relax and enjoy the pitch:

Even folks with limited means might appreciate good design at reasonable prices.”

So, forget the craftsmanship (is that cardboard?) and admit that the shoppers are really concerned about price, and to hell with design, which is a clever hook. I do like re-thinking Grandpa’s old wingback chair (like that one there with the funky ’70s fabric). It’s fun.

The corporate trick is to scoop up consumers looking for something to do on a rainy, kind-of-depressing Saturday in Illinois. A young, very pregnant lady asks if I have kids. She’s testing out IKEA chairs, hoping to find one that she can sit in to nurse her impending arrival. I point out that the one she’s rocking in has upholstery that won’t be easily cleaned when junior burps and dribbles mother’s milk onto its pristine polyester surface. I advise her to keep on truckin’. Later, I see her happily pushing a cart round and round the never-ending circuit known as IKEA. Quite possibly, she could give birth en route.


The proof is in the balls.

Frankly, I feel dizzy and disoriented in the yellow-blue monster, what with all those escalators and glassy elevators transporting the terminally dazzled to multiple floors. Up and down; down and up. Round and round. My handsome tour guide for the day says what’s needed is a big whopping plate of Swedish meatballs, with all the trimmings (just over $4). And over there, he says, is the cafeteria-style feeding trough. Listen up. I’ve eaten Swedish meatballs made by my mother, not sorta Swedish, but really Swedish, and by yumpin’ yiminy, made from an authentic handwritten Swedish recipe straight from Stanton, IA, home to the world’s largest water-tower shaped like a coffee pot. I know meatballs, so don’t try to snooker me. Okay, so it’s not the idea of the “meatballs”… it’s the Swedish hype that counts. Think Swede.

Actually, for IKEA meatballs, they aren’t half bad, though certainly the nutmeg and touch of sweet is gone missing from the gravy. The presentation of the food on a white plate served from the kitchen of a big box store (yah!)  is assembly line, to say the least. As we clear off the table, a hysterical clump rushes forth to claim it, chatting wildly about “Swedish” meatballs and how they have to have some. At the checkout lines (endless) are more kind-of Swedish items all in a row. Take your pick and then stuff your face with a fresh-baked cinnamon bun. Yah!

Driving back to staid Milwaukee (harboring thoughts of my modernist store of choice, the much-more expensive, but fabulous Design Within Reach), I curse (not in Swedish) that among all of the multiple choices at IKEA, not one simple wooden scoop did I discover. You remember those scoops, don’t you? In the long ago, I used them to scoop flour and sugar from sacks, all in preparation for baking a pie filled with lingonberries, which grow abundantly in Washington state and can be purchased at IKEA.


0 thoughts on “Designer meatballz and more!”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I love IKEA, but what you really forgot in the cost is the 10 percent tax you pay for your purchases in Schaumberg, the $5 in tolls to get there and whatever you lost in gas. I only go if it’s on the way, but I must admit I have found some interesting things there. Is it the good-old fashioned quality of your (and my hand-me-downs from parents) was? No. But if someone tries the Swedish meatballs and thinks they’re being adventerous, maybe they’ll be more willing to venture down to 5th and National next and try a meal out of the Mexican lunch trucks.

  2. Anonymous says:

    patti: i see you are a fan of a website devoted to Wisconsin..you share that fervor with my son who lives in scottsdale and each Wisconsin fall, threatens to move back here. good info about the sales tax (though I didn’t buy anything)and other fees which I also didn’t pay as a handsome guy anted up for both the gas and the jaws of the toll booth…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hey, if a handsome man is willing to pay for gas and the tolls, I say go for it! 🙂

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