IKEA Centennial is, like, whoa (a preview)

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Frankly, I'm a little embarrassed to be so excited about a furniture store. Still, at today's press preview and tour of the brand-spanking-new IKEA Centennial, which opens July 27, it was clear that the store does not fail to live up to the hype, at least for what it's hyped to be: a giant, intuitively laid-out palace of sleek, Euro-tastic, impeccable design at inexpensive prices that also has meatballs and herring. All of which was enough to draw out no fewer than three Westword writers and two of our random guests, whose time IKEA immediately justified by offering up the meatballs and herring first. After lunch, which fellow journalist Joel Warner and I were pleased to note we absolutely destroyed, it was time for a tour of the store, and we all split off into different groups; Joel and I got the "tea lights" group, along with fellow writer Jenn Wohletz and a our tiny entourage, plus three women from the staff of Colorado Parent. Since Joel and I were out to recreate the time we went to Circus Circus and Jenn hardly ever says anything that's not a masturbation reference, tensions within the group were immediately apparent. Can't get enough? Take the IKEA Photo Tour

First stop: the children's play area, cleverly called Småland, which featured a ball pit that Jenn was all over. Joel quickly discovered a cabinet with a seemingly inexplicable length of rope in it (the tour guide did not appreciate our kid-hanging/lassoing jokes); she explained that it was some sort of elaborate escape route. Which I didn't fully understand, but it seemed pretty awesome -- like you kind of hoped there would be an emergency.

One of the cool things about IKEA -- given its incredible size -- is the way that it's set up: The main floor is basically an enormous showroom, with a Yellow-Brick-Road-style path to guide you through areas with furnishings from public to private: first the living room, then the kitchen, then the bedroom, then the kids' areas. You don't really buy the furniture off the floor, but rather use a pad, pencil and ruler (provided at the front) to select what you want and then use a tag to later go find a packaged version of it in the warehouse.

More Photos: Take the IKEA Slide Show Tour

Particularly neat are the display apartments -- basically little model homes along the showroom that give you the square feet of a small place and show you what IKEA can do with it. And no doubt, they're pretty impressive, but I also wondered: If you're living in a 270 square-foot apartment, are you really likely to have thousands of dollars to spend on IKEA furnishings? I mean, the shit's reasonably cheap, but they're not exactly giving it away. Also, the display clothing in the closets kind of reminded us of American Psycho.

Speaking of psycho, the level of public excitement surrounding the opening of IKEA borders on the unstable: People are expected to start camping out in line as early as 9 a.m. on Monday (IKEA actually won't allow you to camp out any sooner, which raises the question of whether people might camp out across the street to camp out in line), and the store is encouraging that hysteria by offering free sofas to the first 38 customers and free arm chairs to the next 100. But the excitement is perhaps understandable: It's the second largest IKEA in the U.S. (Chicago's is the largest), sprawling across some 13.5 acres and 14,500 square feet of indoor space in Centennial, which actually fought pretty hard to bring the IKEA home (interesting factoid: The city reportedly waived a few zoning rules to accommodate the store's enormous sign, which can be seen from as far away as Pueblo and some satellites). It'll employ 400 people and take in untold millions in taxable revenue.

Take the IKEA Photo Tour

What's really important, though, is whether or not it's worth the while, and it is. As far as gargantuan box stores go, there's not one I can think of that's more engaging to spend time in than IKEA -- and if you don't like where you're at, there's guaranteed to be more excitement right around the corner. "Wait'll you see lighting," Jenn quipped when somebody commented on a lamp. "It'll make you want to tug yourself."

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