Why Our Furniture Should Last Longer Than Our Politicians | David Mitchell


HHow often would you say the chairs break? I will open the auction with “not very often”. Not ever. God no. I’m not saying that ! I won’t be stuck in such a nonsensical statement. It would be “Liz Truss will never be Prime Minister again”! But my general expectation, in a room, is that most chairs will remain functional until I leave it. The same was said of prime ministers.

More often than seeing a chair break, you encounter one that’s basically already broken, betraying naughty glimpses of peg, for the imps of fate to guide a sensitive soul’s ample posterior to a relatively public occasion, to preferably while the soul is holding a large slice of cake.

On the right, the tables. How often do they break? You can already tell this is going to be a scintillating read. Well, that is basically never. Dining tables, I mean. Kitchen tables, meeting tables. The big ones in wood, they are eternal. Side tables are not forever, however. They are both deadly and occasional and tend to nest to strengthen themselves. I wouldn’t say they drop exactly like flies, though.

Cabinets afterwards. Well, the doors and all the drawers are a weakness, but it’s all fixable – and more easily fixable than the studded chair that managed to win the rear attentions of a teary big-assed pastry fan whose joints turned into sawdust. The fundamental structure of a wardrobe is difficult to destroy. In my mind, I can see them in the photos of the blitz, opening on the upper floors of the houses without frontage. Nothing wrong with them that a few screws and some Pledge won’t fix. Take that, Hitler!

So how come there is so much new furniture constantly on sale? Why is this such an important retail item? Anecdotally, at least, old furniture doesn’t seem to expire fast enough to make room for all of this. The current low population growth rate is not enough to explain it either. I think people throw away really good furniture.

When a chair breaks, I feel like it’s probably an Ikea chair that was purchased relatively recently. But that’s right, I hasten to add for obvious legal reasons, my personal feeling and my non-representative experience, but if there is any truth, it may be because Ikea chairs have often been assembled by amateurs. This is not a reflection on the manufacturing process of Ikea, whose professionalism I would not dare question in a paragraph already full of risks. I’m referring to the fact that Ikea products are often assembled by the company’s customers who, statistically speaking, are highly unlikely to be professional cabinet makers.

That’s the problem with kit furniture – you put it together yourself and then it breaks because you don’t really know how to make furniture, which ironically was one of the main reasons you are forced to endure the hell of a visit to an out-of-town furniture store. It’s like the opposite of those expensive cooking kits that give out exact instructions and ingredients to give someone the illusion that they’ve cooked their own dinner. Ikea gives us the inexpensive illusion that we didn’t have to build our own furniture.

Not so cheap anymore, though. It was reported last week that Ikea’s prices were skyrocketing by up to 80% due, according to the retailer, to “macro-economic developments…from the rising cost of materials and transport to the war in Ukraine and inflation”. These steeply rising prices at a time when disposable income is shrinking dramatically must surely jeopardize the chain’s business model and spell the end of thousands of dream salons.

By “dream salon”, I do not mean a new kind of therapy where the stressed and well-to-do are invited into white, soothing rooms in order to fall asleep less grumpily in the midst of therapists who keep their faces resolutely impassive – even though i suspect these kind of dream salons might also have been impacted by macro developments and need to reduce the frequency with which they rinse translucent pebble bowls. No, I’m talking about the home makeover, popularized by dozens of interior design-based television formats, the attempt to transform our living spaces into something brighter, calmer, cleaner or somehow differently bland.

For people who need furniture, Ikea’s price increase is a bad thing. But for anyone who’s just craving a change, who’s in the mood to throw away perfectly good stuff and replace it with a load of flat shit (or “flat shit” – like cow dung, but slightly easier to put together in a library), I don’t think that’s a bad thing. The idea that the interiors of people’s homes should respond to fashion on a similar timescale to the clothes they wear is unsustainable, both financially and ecologically.

The chairs should be quite expensive but built to last so you never have to replace them. You should have the same hopes of longevity for the furniture in your home as you do for its wiring. If done correctly, you shouldn’t have to touch it for ages, if ever. If that means the end of home renovations and a return to the idea that you don’t replace something unless it’s broken beyond repair, then that’s very good news.

This would, however, close another path to “economic growth”. I reveal myself as a full member of the anti-growth coalition, except that there is no membership to pay because it would be an economic activity that we in the coalition to hate. Replace chairs that don’t need to be replaced with chairs that look a little different but don’t last, and if they do accidentally last, they’re made obsolete over the decade to maintain all the empty elimination and redemption loop, gets nothing good. It sends us skint and it screws up the planet. But it drives up GDP, which has become politicians’ go-to measure of whether our collective existence is worthwhile.

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