My mom used to check me into Ikea’s Småland like a coat.
That’s right. At Ikea, you can leave your kids for free for an hour in a supervised play area while you shop. I just remember bright colors and the ball pit. But growing up near the big-blue box store in Virginia made it easy for me to resist last week’s frenzy of opening day in Merriam. I held out. For a week.
Nostalgia got the best of me. This is a store my friend Allisa and I used to go to just to hang out in a cool “living room” and chat comfortably among shoppers. Because we were teenagers, and Ikea is like a mall — with way better seating.
For those of you who’ve avoided the city’s newest furniture fun house because you don’t need anything like that, there’s way more to Ikea than beds and couches.
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And meatballs. There’s 359,000 square feet to explore, but on Thursday night the longest line was snaking around the store’s restaurant upstairs. I saw plates and plates of meatballs. They aren’t that big of a deal, my friends. Save yourself some wait time and buy a pack of frozen Köttbullar (Swedish for meatballs) in the downstairs market. A bag that feeds a family of four is only $9. The Gräddsås cream sauce is $1.30.
My inner teen was much more interested in the decadent smell tickling my nose and enticing me to the cafe downstairs, where I got a fresh, warm cinnamon bun for a dollar. Win. The market down there is pretty much a small Swedish version of Trader Joe’s. I skipped past the chocolates and the Swedish Fish in favor of interesting drinks. Move over Capri-Sun. I discovered elderflower and lingonberry juice boxes.
A few favorites:
▪ Kolsyrad Pärondryck (sparkling pear soda, $1.99). This is basically an alcohol-free champagne, and I love it. It sits directly in the middle of dry and sweet, and you could use it to make virgin mimosas at a baby shower or sweet 16. There’s also an apple version.
▪ Dryck Nypon (rose-hip drink, $1.99). It’s not quite a V-8, but it’s got a floral, tomato-like bite to it. Refreshing.
▪ Saft Fläder (elderflower syrup, $4.99). Don’t drink this straight. Ever. That mimosa I mentioned earlier — throw a splash of this in some dry champagne or a glass of Kolsyrad Pärondryck, then enjoy.
▪ Kakor Äpple (sandwich cookies with apple filling, $1.69). Vanilla sandwich cookies with heart cut-outs and fruit filling? Of course I bought them. I’ll buy these again and again.
But it’s not all about the food. We’re talking about Ikea, the master of easy-to-assemble fun furniture. I totally took a spin around the entire joint. I considered hiding my purse in the safety of an Ikea locker to ensure I didn’t buy any cool, chic designs. Instead, I relied on sheer self-discipline.
I barely took a few steps before I wanted to sit in a living room that looked ripe for relaxing and watching the season premiere of “Scandal.” The Söderhamn room is light blue and gray with perfect lighting and big enough for all your besties to bunch in and drink wine the way of Olivia Pope. That’s the thing about Ikea. You don’t just want to test the furniture, you want to hang out. It’s always been that way.
I saw a teenager lying on a bed, staring at the ceiling and smiling. She was having a moment in the Nordli bedroom with the Maskros lamp that hangs from the ceiling like a gigantic dandelion. In the office section, a 20-something sat at a desk texting away on his smartphone, and more than a few people had a seat in the rows and rows of colorful chairs, talking and having a good time.
By the time I made my way to the children’s section, a tinier and cutesier version of everything else, a little girl was twirling around and telling her parents, “It’s like a playground for little kids.”
Ikea: a jungle gym of comfort-design and wonder for all of us.