Blog: Volcanoes, Legos and the lessons of war

Reaching into Santa’s toy bag for a few end-of-year surprises

In light of Omicron putting a party-pooping damper on global travel, I invite you to hop on Air Carroll for this virtual whirlwind flight to Denmark and the Philippines, two of my favorite home furnishings destinations from my time covering furniture trade shows. An Oculus headset might be on your holiday wish list, but I can save you $400 right here, right now. 

Buckle up, and make sure your tray tables are stowed and that your seats are in their upright and locked positions. Now it’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.

Our first stop is Pasay City, the Philippines, where in the Mall of Asia, Ikea just opened its largest store in the world – 700,000 square feet. 

That the gargantuan store opened at all should give us hope as we near 2022 and dare to dream, yet again, that we can clear the universal fog brought on by pandemic and approach something like normal. Ikea’s delay is attributable to some of the world’s most restrictive lockdown and social distancing measures, which had a profound impact on construction workers, supply chain challenges, and the eruption of the Taal volcano in Batangas, Philippines, in January 2020. 

Whatever our challenges are as we close out 2021, we can thank God they don’t include volcanoes. . . . Yet! (I don’t mean, however, to make light of a catastrophe that displaced 376,000 people, nor of the continuing threat Taal presents its neighboring towns.)

Roughly the size of the Palace of Versailles and the Swedish chain’s first in the Philippines, the new Ikea that opened over Thanksgiving weekend notably requires a reservation to enter, because even though it can accommodate 8,000 shoppers at a time, the Philippines’ restrictions on movement and distancing have cut that capacity in half. But, if only for a moment, imagine a world in which furniture shoppers made reservations just as they might for, say, I don’t know, a tour of the Palace of Versailles. Now that’s becoming a destination location. 

At the time of this writing, the Pasay City store was fully booked well into December.

Ethics in advertising

Here at Berry College, I teach a course called Visual Rhetoric, which is sort of like an English composition course, only we use images rather than words. One of our big projects is creating an ad for Ikea that attempts to speak to U.S. Muslims. An implicit goal of the project is to learn, using persuasive images, to treat people and people groups of equal value but at the very same time to respect their uniqueness and appreciate what makes them different. It’s about ethics in advertising, to juxtapose two words rarely caught out in public together.

Even beyond advertising, ethical, inclusive representation should guide all facets of a business.

The new Ikea store models this maxim by incorporating Filipino details that include capiz (or kapis) doors and windows and Spanish tiles. Adjacent to Manila Bay, Pasay City is part of metro Manila, which still has a thriving Intramuros, or Old Spanish Town, a holdover from Spanish colonialization. (The late, great Dan Wistehuff once took me on a tour of Intramuros on our way to Cebu City.) 

Another cool feature of the new store are room vignettes designed to inspire shoppers who live in smaller spaces. According to a report in the Philippine newspaper, the Business Mirror, one of these showroom spaces imagines a single woman living in a studio apartment, another a single male video gamer, and still another a “struggling” artist. 

Run, Forrest! Run!

Now, in the army, they teach you to be careful, find a cool, dry place to stash your mind, and then hang on until it’s over. The year in lockdown must have often felt a bit like war, but Filipinos hung on, and analysts predict they’re ready to start revenge buying. This is an economy with a booming middle class that drives consumer spending of as much as 90% of GDP, which is even higher than the consumption-crazed United States (82%), according to 2020 numbers from the World Bank.

And this was during lockdown. 

Compare this Filipino appetite for goods and services with those of the country’s regional neighbors: Thailand’s appetite was 71%, Indonesia’s clocked in at 68%, and Singapore lagged at 45%.

Filipinos’ easy access to credit and a blistering real estate boom (sound familiar?) has Ikea well-situated in Manila Bay to cast its formidable nets to pull in middle market furniture shoppers by the proverbial boat loads. 

Ikea is also planning expansion into Korea, Japan and Singapore. 

That was fun, but our itinerary says it’s time to crash Copenhagen. Probably not the best choice of words for even virtual travel, but, hey, we’re vaccinated, so for us, Copenhagen is open for business!

They call me Ishmael

Writing a column from Rome, Ga., makes me something of an information whale, plying a migratory route through the “interwebs” to take in interesting home furnishings tidbits, straining them through my insatiable baleen, and then figuring out what sense to make of them. 

A $220 stackable Lego desk drawer sold in light or dark red oak. 
Photo from Room Copenhagen.

The currents and tides of world news led me to a company called Room Copenhagen, which has partnered with Crayola and, most recently, Lego for licensed home furnishings collections that I can just picture gleaming under the Christmas trees of proud parents the world over.

While not surprisingly playful, the Lego pieces aren’t childish, and they’re made of wood rather than brightly colored plastic. The result is something we might call “sophisticated stackability.”

Room Copenhagen is a design company that sells through, Macy’s, and Walmart, among other U.S. distribution channels. The company collaborated with Lego to develop book racks, desks and desk drawers, shelving, and photo frames, among other household items. For a sense of price points, the stackable desk drawers will retail for about $220 each.  

The collaboration marks Lego’s return to wood. The toy giant began in 1932 as a workshop for carpentry, which explains why Lego bricks were first made out of wood. They weren’t made out of plastic until the 1950s. 

Lego is using European red oak certified by the nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council, the same responsible forestry accountability group with which Ikea collaborates. This is yet another indication of the premium global brands are placing on sustainability.  

Time to boogie on home. We don’t want to happen to us in Copenhagen what befell nearly two dozen Ikea employees and six customers in Aalborg in north Denmark in early December, when a foot of snow trapped them all inside an Ikea for the night. 

I hope you enjoyed the flight. Please check the overhead bins and the space beneath your seat for any personal belongings. And, as always, thank you for choosing Air Carroll. Happy holidays!

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll covered the international home furnishings industry for 15 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He chairs the Department of Communication at Berry College in Northwest Georgia, where he has been a professor since 2003.

View all posts by Brian Carroll →

2 thoughts on “Blog: Volcanoes, Legos and the lessons of war

  1. Enjoyed the post.

    I’m especially intrigued by the Visual Rhetoric course you teach at Berry. (My husband and I have been in graphic design for 40 something years. yeah, we are old).

    Have you written/posted anything about the class or the project you described. Would love to know more.

    1. Absolutely, Molly. The course webpage is here: I think you’ll be more interested in the blog content that accompanies the course, which is located at, though it’s a personal blog, so there are lots of other things, as well (baseball, home furnishings, Good Life philosophy, etc.), but also quite a bit for the course.

      On the course webpage, our graphic design module covers weeks 11 and 12, and I’m ALWAYS looking for new case studies, content, artifacts, so as you think of things, please, please send them along.

      Thanks so much for your interest!

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