Ode to KALLAX

The piece of IKEA furniture that has seen it all

On Labor Day Weekend 2014 I had just moved into an apartment off of the Halsey J stop in Bushwick, Brooklyn, after spending the summer in a still-sort-of-wrecked-by-Hurricane-Sandy Rockaway Park, Queens, in my mom’s cousin Ed’s apartment a block from the ocean. I commuted every day that summer from the Rockaways to Union Square to my internship at a news website and I was relieved to cut my commute in half by moving to Brooklyn. The Bushwick apartment was on Bushwick Avenue. It was actually spacious, but it was kind of a disaster apartment in the sense that we did not take very good care of it, and that lack of care seemed to have preceded us. Yet for the first time in a couple years I had a bedroom to myself. Of course the room itself was the size of a shoebox, but it had a window and a closet (I did not yet understand that these were considered luxuries in some Brooklyn apartments) and most importantly, my rent was like $450, which was a godsend for all of us (One of my roommates worked at a boutique in Carroll Gardens and the other was an unpaid intern at a photobooth startup (again, it was 2014)). I moved with no furniture, so that weekend I moved in I completed a sort of pilgrimage I had never before experienced: A trip to the Red Hook IKEA. I bought a mattress, a box spring, a lamp, and crucially, a KALLAX shelving unit.

(Top half of my KALLAX, currently)

You are familiar with the KALLAX. It is a cube-y storage and shelving unit sold by IKEA, named, apparently, for a Swedish town that has 321 inhabitants. The KALLAX is simple, but it’s cheap, which is why I bought it. There are countless home improvement and DIY blogs that have dedicated space on Al Gore’s internet to tips, tricks, and hacks for making the most of your KALLAX. A ubiquitous piece of furniture in starter apartments, the KALLAX is commonly found discarded and well-worn on a curb, showing up abandoned outside of Stuytown and appearing on discarded NYC furniture Instagram aggregator @stoopingnyc with a comment like “Needs some love but a great piece! Think of the potential!” The KALLAX, according to IKEA’s own website, is “stylish and simple but it does many things.” Over the years my own two-unit-by-four-unit KALLAX has served different purposes: storage, dresser, bookcase. It can sit on its side, horizontally, or high up, vertically. If you had a bigger space or a studio you could use a larger KALLAX to strategically divide your living situation, creating an artificial wall. My KALLAX is white, ostensibly, though years of use have made it more of an offwhite situation. 

In my first apartment in Bushwick my KALLAX served as a sort of dresser, complete with those wicker baskets IKEA sells that fit perfectly into the KALLAX cells. I took the KALLAX with me the next year when I moved into an apartment in Ridgewood with my college boyfriend, and it sat against a wall in our bedroom. I don’t remember what it held but I do remember that in our subsequent breakup I took the KALLAX with me to an apartment in Astoria (but while I won the KALLAX in the breakup I lost my KitchenAid stand mixer, which I assume is still sitting somewhere in a storage unit in Maspeth, Queens). When we moved to our second Astoria apartment once again the KALLAX traveled with me. Its purpose has transformed over time: When I moved to Crown Heights, the KALLAX was relegated to the basement as a storage unit, but when I moved to Fort Greene it became a bookcase in my bedroom. I’m moving again next week and the KALLAX is coming with me: I think it will probably sit in my bedroom closet as storage, or in the living room as a bookcase. All told, the KALLAX has bore witness to about a half-dozen moves; a series of breakups and admissions of relationship transgressions; one bedbug infestation; three years of living with Larissa’s cat, Blu; five full-time jobs; and one incident in which a New Year’s Eve 2017 party attendee drunkenly sat on and nearly broke the KALLAX.

In recent years I’ve gradually upgraded my furniture. My IKEA mattress I bought in 2014 is long gone. I trawl Instagram midcentury modern and vintage furniture reseller accounts during the week, bidding on stuff I can mostly afford, replacing my nightstand, my bedframe, my dresser, my desk. But I can’t bring myself to part with the KALLAX. I don’t understand why: seven years and five apartment moves after I initially bought it, it’s pretty beat up; it’s not really the “vibe” or “aesthetic” I’m cultivating in my new space. Yet when I itemized my furniture for my movers I included “storage cube unit (IKEA KALLAX)” with a little hyperlink to the KALLAX page on the IKEA website without a second thought. Eventually the KALLAX will fall apart, or I’ll run out of room for it, or my friends will have an intervention and force me to drag the KALLAX out to the curb for someone else to pick up, but it’s cheap and it holds most of my books for now, so in a few days I will again clean it out and prepare it to be hauled down a flight of stairs and into another moving truck for another move.