Ikea’s Expedit bookcase comes in a box that weighs as much as a collapsed star and bears a decal in which two vaguely human shapes exchange knowing smiles, indicating that assembly of this piece requires two people.
I know one thing about these mute genderless persons: they are not married. Because if they were, Ikea’s graphic designers would be legally required to render the rage, frustration and recrimination that comes with building an Expedit bookcase with the person you love.
My husband hates building Ikea furniture. I adore it. Transforming a pile of particleboard and screws into a dresser with a three-year life expectancy makes me feel like God molding man from the Clay of Life. Those wordless cartoon instructions included in each box? Secretly, I call them “specs.” I’m insufferable. I know.
Shortly after our move to London, my husband and I return from Ikea with just such a box. With the Expedit’s guts spread across the living room floor, the arguments begin instantly. Of course, we install one of the pieces upside down, and of course, we discover this when it’s too late to even think of fixing it. This monstrosity would not survive a second attempt at construction, and neither would our marriage. The Swedish probably have a word for the time you spend convincing yourself the furniture is “supposed to look like that,” and another for the air of mutual resentment that permeates a room when two college graduates realize that a sexless cartoon is a better builder than they are.
At the store the Expedit looked as chic as a Berlin gallery. In our living room, decoupled from its showroom lighting and cheerily artificial surroundings, it looks like what it is – a cheap, hulking mess that dominates the room with the charm of Cousin It. It does not even lie flush against the wall, but lurches forward at a 15-degree angle like a drunk about to vomit.
I look over at my husband, who is sweating and tired and covered in a fine particulate dust. He works so hard. He spent his Saturday doing something he hates so that his wife could display her paperbacks. That is love. I know all this and yet I am still furious at him, and that is marriage.
Why has Ikea caught on? We line up in droves for meatballs and Lack tables, but at the end of the day your marriage is in worse shape and there’s an ugly bookshelf in your living room. This is no way to live. Yet still we beat on, bats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the great blue box off the freeway.