Saturday, March 18, 2017

Giant Step

Talk about innovation! What would you say if I told you a company had figured out how to make something way better. It uses completely new technology and fewer parts, resulting in lower cost and less chance of failure. It gives you back hours of your day, and reduces frustration by a factor of at least five. It even ships lighter, saving freight costs not to mention your back. You'd say "What did Apple come up with?" Or "I knew Amazon could do it!" Or "That's the reason Google is such an inspiration." But you'd be wrong every time.

Because you didn't think of Ikea.

The Swedish home goods maker is known for a lot of things. There are the labyrinth stores that let you in one end and make you wander past endless demo rooms until you escape two hours later through the lingonberry jam gift display at the far end. There's the seemingly infinite variety of basic furniture like beds and bookcases and coffee tables. And there are the model names always screaming at you in upper case, showcasing consonants and vowels in tongue twisting combinations, like VOOKEGHLEAR and SAANGHWODNFION.

Those hallmarks are all familiar to the most casual furniture shopper. But if you've ever bought a CJEODWORJAAS desk or a NEQQUAISLFOOB shelving unit, the single thing that likely stands out is the assembly process. Open up your FIIKISTOOOR stereo stand, and what tumbles out is an assortment of puzzle pieces, a set of hieroglyphic instructions and a plastic bag filled with screws, dowels, glue, nuts, bolts, metal sleeves and a single hex wrench in a size that fits nothing else in the known universe.

Assuming you've had both a stiff cup of coffee and a dose of anti-anxiety medication, it's a simple matter to assemble all the pieces into your new BAATRONQQUIN vanity. You just have to insure that screw #3 which is 2 millimeters wider than screw #4 is used on the back vs. the front. And that dowel #9 is glued on the narrower end first, while you start with the fat end of dowel #13. And once it's all done, wonder which shelf is missing a metal sleeve #2, as you seem to have one left over. Or was it just an extra in the package? Hint: it the shelf tilts when you put something on it, it wasn't an extra.

Ikea is not totally ignorant of this challenge. And so the R&D folks back in Stockholm have been hard at work doing other things beside coming up with new ways to use pressboard. In an advance that ranks right up there with the invention of the PIZENATOOBORG combination paper towel stand/lemon holder, they have reimagined how you put the stuff together, and created the wedge dowel.

Essentially a ridged end on one piece and grooved hole on another, it enables the various components of a table or chair to seamlessly "snap" together. What used to take hours and sometimes days can now take just minutes. But beyond the benefit of not needing tools or incurring skinned knuckles, there's another upside. According to IKEA's Jesper Brodin, the system allows you to easily disassemble, move the furniture and reassemble it without losing any strength or durability. Brodin was quoted in industry publications as noting "people move a lot more frequently, and there are more divorces. So if you get kicked out [of your house] in the morning you can reassemble your table in the afternoon." No doubt that the first thing you're going to thinking of as your laundry winds up on the front lawn is rebuilding your GLOOPERINGENSAAB dresser nice and tight, but at least you know something in your life at that point will work.

Regardless, it's a notable advancement in DIY furniture construction. IKEA intends to roll out the wedge dowel system across its entire furniture range. Look for it first in LISABO tables and chairs later this year, and eventually to the vast majority of its offerings. This all points to that time the not-too-distant future when your kid graduates college, and you help them set up their first apartment. As they effortlessly snap together their YOOSLQUIIP bed frame, you say, "Boy, in my day, we needed an allen key to do that!" And they go, "Dad, what's an allen key?"

Mark my words: that day is coming.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has put together more Ikea furniture than he cares to admit. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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