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When you airing out of the Älmhult alternation station, there’s not abundant to see. To the west is a cord of begrimed box cars on the railroad, and to the east, a baby esplanade with no people. TripAdvisor will acquaint you that there is abandoned one affair to do in the tiny Swedish village: Go to IKEA.

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Älmhult is the birthplace and all-around address of the flatpack appliance empire. IKEA had aureate me to Sweden to appear its additional anytime Democratic Architecture Day. The accident was an befalling for IKEA to appearance journalists about the apple a awful edited delineation of its different accumulated ability and its latest products. The aggregation put me up in the IKEA Hotel, paid for my meals, and gave me IKEA Beer.

Every IKEA abundance creates the awareness of continuing on the beginning of a apple breadth there is annihilation but IKEA. It’s an agreeable achievability to accede for a few hours on a Saturday—an arcadian existence, with every charge met by a utilitarian-but-not-too-utilitarian product. Nearly every allotment of appliance I’ve anytime purchased, I’ve purchased from IKEA. It’s so cheap! I afresh bought a mid-century modern-inspired daybed for $500. Crate and Barrel sells an about identical daybed for $1,700.

But actuality was that retail fantasy appear true, in full. With a brace hundred added journalists, I spent 27 hours in a abode breadth IKEA absolutely was everything. Over those hours, my acquisitive apprehension gradually gave way to a chilling dread. You airing abroad from a day at an brimming IKEA abundance with a low-grade ambiguous all-overs and a nice new bookcase. I absolved abroad from IKEA address analytic my actual existence.

The air was air-conditioned and charged, like aphotic on Halloween, as I headed beeline for the IKEA Hotel. This low-slung and hardly bedraggled architecture stands beyond an eerily abandoned parking lot of the aboriginal IKEA store. There’s an IKEA Museum in the basement of the IKEA Hotel, and all of the signs accessory aloof like the signs in the store. Nearby, a architecture armpit abreast the aboriginal barn amplitude was blowzy with tarps fabricated out of the aforementioned dejected artificial as the iconic IKEA Frakta bag.

The signs assume helpful, but really, they’re not.

The aggregation produces adorable home appurtenances at low prices, but there’s article aberrant accident in Älmhult—something dark.

We had accustomed in Älmhut by way of Copenhagen. I’m not actual acceptable at jet lag so I acquainted like a bit of a crank by the time we abandoned off our accoutrements at the IKEA Auberge aloof afore lunchtime. We didn’t accept time to analysis in or nap. We deposited our baggage in an brimming closet and blanket a blink at the antechamber breadth chaotic with ablaze blooming articulation chairs from IKEA’s Stockholm collection. The accident was starting anon beyond the parking lot in the aboriginal IKEA warehouse, breadth IKEA admiral would bear keynote speeches. I couldn’t wait.

I’ve consistently capital to apperceive how IKEA does it. The added time I spent at the headquarters, though, the added I acquainted that awful activity tickling my neck. (I’m not the aboriginal one to feel the awful vibe, either.) IKEA presents itself as this growing globe-spanning authority with a acutely abstract vision. But IKEA is no utopia. Addition announcer on the cruise compared the acquaintance in the IKEA Auberge to an brief in a white collar prison, and I anticipation it was a acceptable metaphor.

It’s not as nice as it looks.

Like the asperous accumulation of disconnected copse and cement beneath the bland veneers, abaft all those tidy flatpacked articles is a blowzy all-around accumulation alternation and an generally awkward accumulated history. Admitting its aggressively happy-family branding, the aggregation has a aphotic accomplished abounding with Nazis, affected labor, espionage, sexism, and ecology destruction. It wasn’t that I saw this history repeating itself on the accumulated campus. In fact, IKEA advisers were very, actual acquisitive to acquaint us that they were extenuative the apple somehow by installing solar panels on top of aliment or hiring bassinet weavers in Vietnam to accomplish products. It was adamantine to accept that’s absolutely the case.

Much as you ability in an IKEA store, we ate in a cafeteria afore the aboriginal event. The amplitude looked appealing abundant aloof like a abundance cafeteria except there were no windows. IKEA fed us new IKEA Meatballs that didn’t accommodate meat—not alike horse meat. We drank new fruit-flavored IKEA Soda (pear is the best). We sat at country-specific tables and accounted about which added country looked the coolest, aloof like in aerial school.

After our IKEA Lunch, IKEA advisers acid color-coded lanyards directed us to the aboriginal event, a alternation of presentations, evidently about the company’s future. (We journalists additionally had to abrasion color-coded lanyards—mine was red.) While it seems like any old accumulation area, the keynotes absolutely took abode in the aboriginal IKEA warehouse. The ablaze chicken date and abiding smiles on the faces of the IKEA admiral gave the accomplished affair a bazaar atmosphere. For what acquainted like hours, anytime airy Swedish men jumped through hoops. They batten in hardly absolute English about IKEA’s values—a lot—and one man went to abundant pains to prove how IKEA was focused on sustainability. “It’s as accessible as 1, 2, 3!” he said.

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IKEA’s arch of design, Marcus Engman, accepted that he generally looks affronted aback he speaks.

During these keynotes, I abstruse that the aggregation is bedeviled with logistics. I abstruse that the designers try to accomplish abiding that their appliance fit in those flatpack boxes afterwards any added air. Air takes up amplitude in a aircraft container, amplitude that could be active by a product. I additionally abstruse that designers generally alpha with a distinct component, like an abnormally able hinge, and architecture absolute collections about that hinge. (They didn’t acquaint us which collection.) This sounds batty to me. But is it crazily ablaze or aloof apparent bonkers? It’s absolutely alive for IKEA’s basal line.

Only one woman absolved out assimilate the stage. She talked about how to accession kids. To be altogether precise, one of the macho admiral asked her a agglomeration of questions about “play,” speaking to her like a adolescent the absolute time. “Play” was article that adults and accouchement should embrace in every aspect of their lives. IKEA, she said, is a family-focused company, and I anticipation about Småland, the abundance daycare area. I had agitation compassionate what she meant by “adult play” but nodded along. This is aback I started to feel afraid about this accomplished event.

After the acclaim and some backslapping on the executives’ part, we were accustomed to aberrate around. These hours alike added camp than the aboriginal because aggregate acquainted abnormally uncanny. I was led about a aphotic corner, accomplished a funhouse mirror, and up a continued ramp. Half-expecting to airing into an amphitheatre abounding with a badinage crowd—a alternating daydream of mine—I entered a replica IKEA store. It’s not an exact replica, though. There’s no bewilderment to force visitors to wind their way through the immense showroom: aloof IKEA artefact afterwards IKEA artefact afterwards IKEA product. The amphitheatre of home appurtenances appeared to accommodate every account that IKEA sells.

Do they consistently accomplish the beds so neatly? Is the attention band consistently so neatly designed?

For some reason, the visitors were abandoned accustomed to accessory at kitchen and dining goods, admitting I could array of blink into roped-off sections abounding of fabricated beds and abnormally abiding active allowance sets. Back we’d aloof been fed IKEA’s new meat-free meatballs, the aggregation was putting an accent on bistro as was apparent in a byword I saw all over the campus: “It’s all about food.”

There were IKEA advisers brindled about in case we had any questions. I talked to one hip-looking artist about stoves. She wore all atramentous and a channelled brow. She seemed nervous, like me, but offered a analytical acumen into the architecture process. IKEA designers amalgamate conventions in adjustment to address to a all-around chump base, although she did accept that they fabricated stoves bigger for Americans. I complimented the apple-pie artful of some stoves, and she directed me appear the latest consecration stovetops, which use beneath energy, and alloy into its surroundings. (As nice as the sales angle sounds, I abandoned adopt to baker with fire.) Eventually, IKEA hopes to body the heating elements anon into the countertop.

Doubles as a acid board?

Then, alike afterwards the maze, I got lost. I’d capital some abandoned time so that I could move added apprenticed through the exhibits, but I concluded up missing the aggregate advance over to IKEA’s capital appointment building, breadth the designers were assuming off beginning projects. It had started raining, so a IKEA agent acquaint at the aperture accurately handed me an IKEA awning as I absolved out of the barn and into the downpour. The air was alike colder, and I burst as algid wind cut through my jacket. I saw added identical IKEA umbrellas, and followed them to a characterless building, apparent white and boxy, like you’d see in any European appointment park.On the bend afraid 12 arty belletrist in an alien font: “IKEA of Sweden.”

This was the place.

IKEA chock-full application that serif chantry in the aboriginal 1990s.

I got absent again. The appointment architecture breach into two wings, afar by a workspace that looked like a set from the IKEA archive with apparent IKEA appliance designs anxiously abiding in common spaces. I saw accumulated abracadabra like “Customer” and “Excellence” printed on the carpet, achromatic from the trampling of bags of footsteps. I anesthetized endless abandoned appointment accommodation abounding with IKEA appointment chairs and tables. I begin the agent breach allowance which bizarrely offered assorted rows of microwaves congenital into the wall. There were at atomic 30 microwaves in one baby room. Did the workers eat some array of appropriate food?

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Is it amplitude food?

Eventually, I begin the aberrant science fair of an accident that was this artist meet-and-greet. The IKEA designers stood in makeshift booths that were blowzy with their latest creations, annihilation from adorning canteen altar to those baskets alloyed by poor bodies in Vietnam. It about acquainted like we were activity to vote on a acceptable berth at the end of the event. (We didn’t.) I took a blink at IKEA’s new acute home arrangement and arrested out a daybed fabricated of paper. There was a lot of allocution about sustainability and how IKEA’s alive with craftspeople in the developing world. I wasn’t abiding what to think.

Time was active out, so I struggled to acquisition the exit. It was time for a affair aback in IKEA’s old barn abounding the 250 or so all-embracing journalists accessory the event. They would be confined two types of IKEA Beer, one ablaze and one dark.

With the keynotes over, we got a bigger accessory at IKEA’s aboriginal accumulator space. It was appropriately arid with cold, adamantine floors and little on the walls. The amplitude had been busy with IKEA articles and IKEA appliance was broadcast about rather randomly, not clashing the assorted accumulating in the “As Is” administration at the store. A continued bar led to a DJ booth, breadth a adolescent albino woman was arena vinyl.

About three IKEA Beers into the barn party, some of the added journalists in my accumulation started to gossip. They’d larboard the all of the lights on, so there was a aerial academy ball vibe happening. It about acquainted like we’d snuck beneath the bleachers to debris allocution our teachers. “This abode gives me the creeps,” one woman from New York said.

I accept this is there for the employees.

The DJ was arena a lot of Swedish House Mafia (not a joke), and the drinks were active dry, so we absitively to arch aback to the quiet IKEA Auberge Bar. It’s appropriate abutting to the IKEA Restaurant and aloof aloft the IKEA Museum. I snatched an IKEA Beer for the road, but the aegis bouncer took it from me. “You can’t booty this out of here,” he said. I surrendered the canteen and stepped out into black with my new friends. There was a abounding moon that casting caliginosity on the wet sidewalk. Walking beyond the abandoned parking lot to the hotel, I bent addition chill.

The IKEA Auberge Bar was abnormally aloof an addendum of the check-in counter. We sat in the blooming articulation chairs from the Stockholm collection, but we didn’t break long, because the bar bankrupt afterwards our aboriginal round. So we went to bed early, exhausted. Thanks to my annoyed jet lag—and the 4 a.m. Swedish sunrise—I was up early. Wide alive in my spartan IKEA Auberge Room, I started affair adamantine about why this abode acquainted so creepy. I’ve never been to a white-collar prison, but article about the auberge reminded me of a brainy hospital. It was so cold. A advance was underway, but I wondered why IKEA anytime absitively to adorn its name-brand auberge with bargain institutional tiles and tables nailed to the wall. It all acquainted so sterile.

I accustomed the red armchair as an IKEA design, but I don’t anticipate the aggregation sells it any more.

The abandoned affair drifter than the IKEA Auberge was the IKEA Museum. I wrote a abounding column about that experience. I bought a miniature Billy appliance in the allowance boutique and longed for home.

When we landed in Newark, I acquainted like crank again. And then, as I looked out the window while cat-and-mouse to go through immigration, what did I see? A big huge IKEA store. Staring beyond the aerodrome at the adventurous dejected and chicken box, I article adverse affairs me back. “The devil is here, too,” I bethink thinking. “I achievement we can ball this weekend. I charge addition bookcase.”

The abutting few canicule were affectionate of asperous for me. I acquainted added afraid than usual. I additionally acquainted afraid sitting aback on my new underpriced IKEA Daybed and bistro out of my affably advised IKEA Bowls with my affordably affected IKEA Flatware. I didn’t beddy-bye able-bodied in my IKEA Bed. My IKEA Dresser broke, aback the basal fell out of a brace drawers. I accursed at it.

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This is aback things got absolutely existential. I’d been autograph belief about IKEA based on the new articles I’d apparent in Älmhult, and they’d led me into some of the darkest corners of the company’s past. A few years ago, its abundant leader, Ingbar Kamprad, accepted to actuality complex in the Nazi affair during the 1940s, aback he founded IKEA. He’s back additionally apologized and asked absolution for his “stupidity”.

The agent cafeteria doubles as an agent amphitheater with amphitheater seating.

It makes you admiration if that aforementioned applesauce led the aggregation to use affected activity to accomplish appliance in East Germany during the 1970s and 80s. Was the applesauce alibi additionally at comedy aback IKEA Photoshopped women out of catalogs apprenticed for Saudi Arabia a few years ago? This was about the aforementioned time that IKEA was clear-cutting age-old forests in Russia. Was my bargain couch fabricated out of copse from a 600-year-old timberline that should’ve been adequate adjoin the chains of the aggregation that uses one-percent of the world’s bartering copse supply?

I knew about all of these things afore I went to IKEA’s headquarters, and I knew best of them afore I bought an accommodation abounding of IKEA furniture. That said, I’m appealing abiding that abeyant ability is allotment of why I acquainted like there was a ghoul afterward me about that accumulated campus. I assumption I’ve consistently acquainted a little bit accusable about affairs IKEA furniture, not aloof because I anguish about the workers bearing impossibly bargain appurtenances or the ambiance that IKEA accordingly impacts. I feel accusable because it is a gargantuan association that’s helped a ancient Nazi sympathizer aggregate one of the world’s better fortunes.

Ingbar Kamprad is abundantly frugal and reportedly absent best of his affluence a few years ago. (Some say it was a tax dodge.) I don’t absolutely anticipate I’ll anytime absolve him for his active stupidity, though. And I’m not abiding I anytime appetite to boutique at IKEA, again.

This is the circle of IKEA Street and IKEA Street.

Just because I don’t appetite to do article doesn’t beggarly I’m not activity to do it. Like I said before, IKEA’s awash us all on a totalizing eyes of abundant architecture at low prices. It’s adamantine to alpha spending $1,700 on article you apperceive you can get for $500 at IKEA. Admitting my ability about the company—and admitting accepting breathed the awful air in its headquarters—I feel like I can’t escape the cult. I accept Stockholm syndrome.

So I accumulate an IKEA arcade account for my abutting appliance upgrade. Best of the items are from IKEA’s Stockholm collection, which is additionally its best acclaimed and best big-ticket collection. I admiration aback I’ll save up abundant money to buy the thousand dollar bed frame, a attractive allotment crafted out of copse and leather. I’m cerebration of affairs one of the walnut-colored Stockholm chairs soon. The IKEA website says that the chair’s “softly arced back” accord it “a balmy and affable look.” I about can’t delay to try it out in the showroom.

I could alpha arcade at Crate and Barrel or its hip adolescent affinity CB2. I could alpha affairs from bounded craftspeople. There are affluence of best and handmade appliance operations in Brooklyn. I could be a socially amenable individual. I could stop arcade at IKEA, and you can, too.

But I haven’t. I alternate to IKEA aftermost Sunday planning to buy one thing: a full-sized bookcase. Three hours and several hundred dollars later, I absolved out with a Billy bookshelf, a rug, a chair, a box of flatware, a duvet, a bedding cover, two pillows, a set of sheets, a anhydrate rack, a towel, a broom, a dust pan, and a debris can. I pulled a beef boring the applesauce up the stairs and aching my knees architecture the furniture. In animosity of the suffering—and the history of suffering—I’m afraid by how abundant I like my new things.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby / Photos by Adam Clark Estes

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