Sunday, September 24, 2006

When you come to visit us, please admire our furniture straightaway

London, we were assured repeatedly as we made our final decisions back in the States about whether to ship or store our belongings, has a longstanding tradition of furnished rental properties. "A furnished house or flat," our relocation guidebook enthusiastically advised us, "will include beds, sofas, armchairs, dining table and chairs, coffee table, lamps and kitchen equipment, china and cutlery. At best, there will be everything (except food and guests!) to give a dinner party on the first night!" I would have settled for the basics to make my kids a grilled cheese and tuck them in bed. A dinner party sounded even better.

Email conversations with other expats seemed to confirm these upbeat assertions. "We brought only a single chest of drawers from home," one told me. "Furnished is definitely the way to go," others agreed. From a practical standpoint, renting a furnished property certainly made sense. Making decisions about which furniture to bring without having yet found a property was nearly impossible (How many rooms would we have to fill? What sizes would they be?) and acquiring interim items while our stuff was in transit sounded daunting and expensive. It was worth giving up some of the familiar comforts of home, it seemed, for the convenience factor. And so we decided; we would go the furnished route, we informed our relocation adviser. She said that sounded like a fine plan to her. We packed our houseful of furniture and housewares into storage and headed for London, shipping only clothing, toys and a few personal items for use over the next two years.

With that lead in, I don't suppose it's really necessary to spell out what happened next. Surprisingly bleak rental market for this time of year, blah, blah, very little furnished inventory, blah, blah, blah, have to be flexible given the current rental climate, blah, blah, blah, blah. Two frustrating days and 26 properties later, we put in our offer on the only decent property we had seen in our entire search. It was a well laid out, spacious flat occupying the entire first floor (that's one flight up here in the UK) of a beautiful restored Victorian. It was on a quiet, leafy street that felt like an oasis from the hustle and bustle of city life. It was only a few blocks away from a school that had space for our children and an equally short walk to 3 tube stations, 2 great downtowns, a huge park and a synagogue. It was available immediately. And it was (say it with me folks) unfurnished.

The rent on our new home was low enough that we knew we would be able to furnish it, though that wasn't obviously our ideal scenario. We tried to send for the things we'd put in storage ("so sorry, too late"), we tried halfheartedly to convince the landlord he wanted to furnish the place (a flat "no") and we looked into renting everything that we would need from a third party. In the end, it became clear to us that of the options available to us, the best route might be Ikea.

Ikea. The stuff of my post-college dreams. We had finally just started to dispose of the last of our Ikea bookshelves back home as we transitioned at long last into the Ethan Allen era of our lives. Not so fast, as it turns out. We knew that we could find a decent selection of furniture at Ikea which would hold up well enough to take us through the next 2 years. It frankly didn't look all that different than the stuff in the furniture rental catalogues. We would be able to get exactly what we needed, no more, no less. No one else would have used it before us. And at the end of our tenancy here in the U.K., we could either sell everything or donate the lot to a worthy cause. Ikea seemed the thrifty and responsible decision, a far better return on this little unexpected investment than dropping endless pounds into renting furniture. Why not?

Why not indeed. We have just spent the better part of our second weekend in London sightseeing not at Buckingham Palace or the Tower of London but at the great big universal Swedish monolith that is Ikea. We have made 2 visits to a not-quite-centrally-located London branch (involving a grand total of 8 tube rides, 3 bus rides and a cab ride) and spent about 10 total hours of our lives comparing laminate finishes and searching for part 2 of each item's 3-part packing list in the warehouse. We have encouraged and coerced our children to continue on this sojourn with every bribe and promise we could think of. We have wheeled giant trolleys piled high with flat packed boxes through tightly packed spaces, relying only on our crass American accents and our wide loads to guide us through the fray. And we've had quite a few conversations with our American credit card company confirming that yes, we really are the fools responsible for charging thousands of dollars worth of Ikea furniture here in Great Britain.

We now have the bare bones essentials we will need to inhabit our new home for the first week or two, all of which will arrive via Ikea delivery at some point tomorrow (hopefully after we actually receive the keys at 9:45 a.m., but we're choosing not to dwell on that minor detail at the moment). We will spend the whole damn week screwing Part A into Tab B. And then we will go back to Ikea next weekend and do this all over again to get the rest of what we need. In the meantime, we have also been crazy online shopping fiends, stocking up on necessary items like can openers, brooms, wine glasses and pillows with any online merchant willing to offer fast local delivery. I have no idea where we'll put any of that stuff when it arrives, but arrive it will (yes, Citibank... it's still us). We are not only thrifty and responsible, it turns out. We are also stubborn, crazy fools. But we are stubborn crazy fools with a beautiful flat in Hampstead and a whole bunch of particle board furniture. How many people can say that?

I will be offline for a few days as we wait for our broadband connection to get hooked up in our new home. It's probably just as well, since I'll be in furniture assembly hell, anyway. I suspect that by the time I'm back online, both of my children will know how to use an electric screwdriver and how to swear like a sailor, Paul and I will no longer be speaking to each other and we will own a great deal of incorrectly assembled furniture. But we will finally have a place to call home. This international move thing, it's glamorous as hell, let me tell you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part A into Part B is all well and good. It's when it gets to Part 3.14159 into Part 6.022 x 10^23 that it gets tricky. I hope you bought two beds for you and your husband, because, my guess is that you'll be sleeping in separate quarters by the time all that furniture is assembled.

That said, I can't *wait* to sleep in the IKEA-furnished guest room ;-)

9:19 PM  
Anonymous orangemanmike said...

Well, look at it this way. Suppose you found your dream house and it WAS furnished. What, then, would you blog about. It get's pretty boring when everything is coming up roses! Now, you have conflict! A story! Something worthy of the British tabloids! (Well, maybe not yet - but it's early). ;-)

And with you being so close to Sweden, maybe you can go visit the Ikea factory! Who needs Buckingham Palace?

10:08 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Kristy, all guests will be required to assemble at least one piece of furniture before entering the flat. When should we expect you?

C, so THAT's where that tent went!

Oh, and Mike, nice try. But... no.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Liesl said...

Oh, man, Rebecca, I hope something goes right for all of you soon. You deserve a break!

At least you've got the coffeepot working. Sounds like you'll be needing it. Along with some wine...

12:31 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

If ONLY Ikea used "Part A" and "Part B" instructions. The instructions for my new Ikea work desk (the one that took us 3 hours (yes, hours) to pick out and actually purchase at our Ikea and then took another 2 hours to assemble) showed only pictures of the strange, round, androgynous Ikea people -- no actually written instruction. Um, yeah.

But, I am commenting to you while sitting at it and when all was said and done, it was affordable and I actually like it.

So. Good night and good luck. And enjoy, eventually.

1:37 AM  
Blogger Dana said...

Ah, Ikea furniture has a special place in my heart. Yes, it almost caused a divorce. But now that many years have passed and the nightmare has mellowed, Pat and I are able to laugh together at shared memories. ;-)

You have so much to look forward to.

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brad will be there in April. I guess hell will freeze before I get there! Crap, it took four years for me to get to the East Coast. ;)

Take pictures so I can admire from a far.

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good luck with your furniture assmebly marathon!

10:09 AM  
Blogger Lisa(lildaus) said...

Damn, if your marriage survives THAT (assembling multiple pieces), you're good as gold!!!

It's when you get to the end of a project and you still have extra pieces that you start yelling WTF??? over and over again..... :)


2:04 PM  
Blogger Rosemary said...

Hmmmmm, can I assemble my contribution inside the house??????

The flat sounds lovely!

9:05 PM  

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