One of my favorite pastimes is heading to Ikea. Luckily for me, my friends and family know my obsession with snap-together sofas and “easy”-to-assemble armoires. At Christmastime, I’m fortunate that I almost always get presented with an Ikea gift card, which means that I have the chance to take my holiday cash in my hot little hand and trundle home with some attractive, boldly colored accessories.
What I love about Ikea is that the whole store is set up as a series of vignettes. Each squared-off area shows how delightful life can be in even the most cramped circumstances. I swear, this last time I went, the interior designers were showing how a family could exist comfortably and stylishly in under 300 feet. It was mind-blowing to see so much good taste and ingenuity shrunk down to a home no bigger than a camper! I shook my head in awe at the clever use of space and optical illusions, and figured the person who created this cityscape was the Old Lady Who Lived in the Shoe! Only that architecturally challenged woman could understand how to make such a tiny space into a well-heeled home!
For me, the hours fly by at Ikea, and I think part of it—in fact, it could be the main reason—is that it shoots me back to my carefree days of playing house. When I was a child, I had a whole series of easy-to-carry Barbie dollhouses. These were marvels of space-saving engineering. Rather than having a stationary house that would take up room and lead to potential eye sores, the Mattel designers fashioned a home for Barbie that could be packed up and transported. Made of vinyl, cardboard, and plastic—the house was certainly not eco-friendly—it had a pointed roof with a handle attached. When it was placed on the ground for imagination time, its owner could unsnap it and it would swing open to reveal one, two, three, or four rooms. Depending upon the price—and how generous Santa was feeling that year—I was gifted with a few of these models.
To say that I loved those Barbie abodes would be an understatement. I adored them. No, more than adored. I adoved them—a blending of adored and loved. Yes, I adoved them, and their bright, bold, mod color schemes—with state-of-the-art sleek and groovy furniture—equaled everything that was sophisticated, contemporary, and desirable for me.
No wonder as I wander through the Scandinavian labyrinth of this modern-day furniture empire, I am in a giddy, face-flushing trance. It’s as if all of my hours and days and years of doll playing have sprung to life. Each little furniture setup is an invitation to revisit what I was aspiring to when I was 6 and 7 and 8 and even 20! These room boxes appeal to the little girl I once was—a child who innocently thought that all homes cost the same and you simply bought the one that you liked best. They also whisper to the younger me who was in her twenties, wiser to the world, but still optimistic about what her future house and home would hold.
Wending one’s way through Ikea, shoppers are encouraged to envision themselves in the prearranged room décor. They are enticed to imagine dinner parties centered around the granite-appointed kitchen island; or picture a posse of striped-footed-pajama-clad kiddies cavorting across the overstuffed couches that are perched before floor-to-ceiling bookcases. The gaggle of children are loud and boisterous, but not clutzy or clumsy. Even though they are freely frolicking in the bookworm’s living room, nary an artfully arranged vase or oversized table lamp gets knocked over.
Ikea is an ideal place to dream about what you’d like your life to look like. Even if the psychic scars and real-life emotional boo-boos can’t be corrected, the four walls that box us in can be spruced up and renewed. Meandering through the maze of bedrooms, bathrooms, and boardrooms, I know that I indulge in teleporting myself to different dimensions, different decades of my life (real and imagined). A toll on the turnpike is a small price to pay for this retail therapy—so much cheaper than a session with a shrink or a life coach.
I think that’s why I always enjoy going there in the New Year as part of my post-Christmas tradition. When I stroll through the multiple floors, I am able to absorb the multiple lives on display there. I have my favorite setups for different imaginary lifestyles that I wish I could have. (It’s like being transported into the Gwyneth Paltrow romantic comedy “Sliding Doors.” Check it out if you haven’t seen it already. It shows how different a person’s life could be, for better or worse, with the ease of a sliding door.)
Each room box at Ikea is a different potential. I have my “single career girl pad,” where I would host nightly talk-a-thons and scintillating soirees. There’s my “well-to-do domestic goddess” country home, where I am the bright, competent, popular, and exciting equal to Martha Stewart and Kate Middleton. Or, my high-powered executive modern-mogul suite. Picture Donald Trump’s oasis, but with taste. (You might as well dream big if you’re going to dream at all.) And then there are the room boxes that are closer to my own reality: functional but fun, cluttered but comfortable, hardly spacious but especially heartfelt.
My early doll playing allowed me to project myself into the future. My Barbie had multiple jobs and satisfying careers: she was in theater and films, in radio, in publishing as a writer, in the home as a mom and wife, and in politics as president. These are all positions I’ve had, to one degree or another, in my real life, except for being prez. (Though I’ve been a guest at the White House—the ultimate great big dollhouse for decorators—on two incredible occasions.)
I guess that’s the beauty of playing with a dollhouse and taking a trek to Ikea: both allow you to open up your mind and your heart to possibilities and to hidden potentials. And I’m not alone in this correlation, as some doll and design professionals joined forces to create the ultimate, inspirational Ikea ideal (http://www.homedit.com/eco-barbie-dollhouse-inspired-by-ikea/).
When it’s all said and done, you might not always achieve everything you want, need, or desire in life. But at the end of the day, when you’re sitting down in the store’s cafeteria to a meal of Swedish meatballs and a lingonberry spritzer, you realize you’ve done quite a lot of what you imagined. Maybe not every dream or fantasy has come true, but you’ve accomplished samples and swaths of your aspirations. Or are even now poised to do so, given time and encouragement. And who could have imagined that!