Pack your gear and head to the Ikea wilderness

A new – albeit temporary – camping hot spot opened for business Monday morning. This one, however, trades sweeping mountain vistas and wildflowers for asphalt and some yellow and blue… a whole lotta yellow and blue.

This is Ikea, folks, and it’s coming bigger, and more Swedish, than ever.

The Ikea faithful are welcomed, nay, encouraged, to begin their pilgrimage early. The store doesn’t open until Wednesday, however, Ikea is counting on the fact that their followers will show up early in order to claim the street cred that goes with being first into the store. They’ve opened their parking area for tents, and encouraged the faithful to arrive starting at 9 a.m. It’s like Black Friday, but in the heat of July. Gods bless commercialism.

Sure, it is quite cult-like. But even semi-cynical me has to admit this store is pretty damn cool.

Last week, the store opened to the press for a preview. I hadn’t set foot in an Ikea in about 20 years, and I’m happy to say that the first thing we did was eat. Feed us media types, and we’ll be more likely to follow you around on a 1.5 hour tour, no problem. Clearly Ikea knows a bit about reporters’ salaries and our diet of coffee, Reese’s Pieces and Top Ramen.

Tasteful and understated - yet still affordable - rooms are the hallmark of Ikea style

The spread was a giant smorgasboard filled with foods as far as the eye could see. In addition to Ikea’s so-famous-they-have-a-Facebook-page Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce, it became apparent Swedes like herring. Really, really like herring. Pickled herring, smoked herring, herring in sauce, herring plain. And oh, did I mention herring? So many herrings you could easily find one to cut down the mightiest tree in the forest.

(And yes, in case you were wondering, there was in fact a mustachioed man with a Swedish accent, serving up the food. He even offered me meatballs. I was waiting for the “BORK!” It was not easy to maintain composure. Hey, I never claimed to be mature. Carry on.)

Ikea has everything - we mean everything - you need for a home. Here, kitchen accessories pop with color.

So what’s it like? Well, the 415,000 square feet space is laid out masterfully, taking customers on a windy path through every single department. Still, be sure to grab a map before making your way in. Each area is designed with skill and panache, allowing the visitor to imagine their very own Ikea-ized home and what kind of dining set defines them as a person. The overall vibe is that with a little Ikea, we could all live more efficiently and cleaner lives. It’s a bit sterile, especially with the monotone clothes hanging in the closet, but for pure aesthetic design sake, there’s nothing better. This is especially true for decorating-challenged folks like me who are creative with the pen, but can’t lay out a room to save our souls.

The Ikea flavor is minimalist, futuristic and clean, and the store designers play this to the hilt. It’s also safe – with the exception of some odd-looking light fixtures, you won’t find too much in the way of outlandish here. What you will find, however, are rooms that are practically perfect in every way. Ikea is not just a furniture store. Oh no, don’t be fooled. They are selling a lifestyle, and they do it well. You’ll definitely start out seeing things you want as you walk through the display areas. This want, however, transforms to a NEED the further you wander into the belly of this beast. It’s easy to imagine kicking back in an Ikea living room while the kids play in their pristine Ikea bedroom and the hubby whips up a delicious meal in the sparkling Ikea kitchen. They are masters at making it look easy and effortless, to the extent that suddenly everything in my house seemed shabby, inferior and just too damn cluttered. Sure, it might be a bit cookie cutter, but it’s a quite delicious, very affordable, enticing cookie for the masses.

Opinion on this light fixture was mixed. Most loved it. Some said it looked like a spore. What do you think?

Still, it struck me as quite funny that every product in the store sounds like it’s named after a Hobbit. Couches, pillows, chairs, candles, frames and even toilet brushes carry monikers like “Tekla,” “Grundtal,” and my personal favorite, a bathroom set named “Godmorgan.” All hail the mighty toilet deity. Even funnier, after reading all the product names (Swedish chef accented, of course,) was finding a chair named “Jeff.” See if you can find it, and have a laugh with me here, kids.

Ikea has spared nothing ensuring every detail has been addressed. Need handles for a cupboard? Every style imaginable – from traditional brass to funky colored glass – hang on individual plaques, enabling customers to carry them over to rows of cabinets and create their personal perfect combination.

Green technology and/or sustainable materials are highlighted at every turn, ensuring customers are educated when deciding on new desks or countertops. Services like design help and room planning are available, and free measuring tapes certainly do come in handy when dreams of a new bedroom set grow beyond the teeny space you have available. Best yet, many of the product colors work together, somewhat like furniture Garanimals.

One of the sample bedrooms - clean, simple, understated.

I have to also give big props on the green aspects of the store. The Centennial Ikea  includes the company’s first geothermal project in the U.S., as well as the largest rooftop single-use commercial rooftop solar project in Colorado.

Those brave enough to venture out to Centennial in the first few days will have the chance to win lots of free stuff. The first 38 customers through the doors on Wednesday get a free Ektorp sofa, and the next 100 receive a Poang armchair. The rest of the week includes giveaways of thousands of dollars worth of Ikea stuff, such as gift cards, free food and even mattresses. They like us. They really like us.

Now, go get you some meatballs.

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