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Best place to by furniture: IKEA

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Since IKEA Pittsburgh opened, in 1989, I've had seven apartments and have purchased about 50 items of furniture. If you factor in the accessories, I've lost count. One thing I've never bought, however, is a dog penis. But thanks to the North American IKEA catalog, urban legend has it, every dog has now had its day.

At first glance, the photo on page 3 of the 2006 IKEA catalog merely depicts a couple with two children and a dog lying in bed. An innocent image, fairly standard catalog fare. Until, that is, someone pointed out that the dog appears to be equipped with a large human penis! Web sites, blogs and radio call-in shows were suddenly teeming with speculation.

After all, the IKEA catalog already features just about everything else. IKEA offers some 12,000 products, and its catalogue consumes 75 percent of the company's marketing budget. It's published in 52 editions, 25 languages and 34 countries at a quantity of 174 million copies worldwide. The catalogue has surpassed the Bible as the most published work by nearly threefold. Jesus may have been the son of a carpenter, but he never made a Billy bookcase, Björkudden table or a Leksvik hat rack.

The official word from IKEA was that the "object in question" is merely the dog's leg. This explanation would be the most likely, although conspiracy theorists maintain the "OIQ" was deliberately "photoshopped" into the image. Did some disgruntled designer give the dog a bone? We may never know the answer. Which raises another question: What do we really know about this mysterious foreign entity within our midst? Is "IKEA" even a real word?

Founded in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad, the company took as its name an acronym of his initials coupled with the first letters of the area in which he grew up: Elmtaryd Agunnaryd. Originally, Kamprad sold pens, watches, wallets and other sundries, but he added furniture in 1947 and began designing the store's own furniture line in 1955. IKEA debuted in the United States in 1985, with the Pittsburgh store arriving four years later. By 2005, IKEA had 247 stores in 34 countries.

I've always had some difficulty with IKEA product names, especially since up until 1989 my entire understanding of the vocabulary came from a certain culinary master who was often found with Jim Henson's hand up his backside. To some, the product names seem nonsensical or humorous, but the words are in fact Swedish, Danish, Finnish or Norwegian in origin, and follow a special naming system developed by IKEA.

Here's a brief guide: Dining tables and chairs get Finnish place names; bookcases are named after occupations; children's items take on the names of mammals, birds and adjectives; while chairs and desks get men's names. It's no Da Vinci Code, but it gets the job done.

Much of IKEA furniture must be self-assembled, and although this leads to extra work for the consumer, there is a method to the dårskap. IKEA's flat-package concept dates back to the 1950s, when an employee could not fit a table in the trunk of a car. The worker decided to take the legs off and reattach them later. By shipping furniture unassembled in flat packages, IKEA saved on shipping and assembly, which in turn keeps the prices lower than other furniture retailers and enables you to fit even more items in your auto! This is a quite practical point for many of IKEA's European customers using public transportation. Imagine the Port Authority bus bike-rack doubling as a TRÄBY rack.

When I was a student, IKEA was the ideal solution for tight spaces and small budgets. As my career, finances and dwellings expanded, so did my sense of interior design. Eventually, vintage Danish Modern pieces supplanted my living area, but IKEA still supplies my accessories and incidental furnishings. My latest project is renovating my studio/office, and I will undoubtedly be filling the hatch of my Kia Tetris-style in the weeks to come.

With a page of measurements and a copy of the IKEA catalog, I can't help but glance back at page 3 and give paws.

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