The closest I have come of late to building something with my hands is putting together a few bits and pieces from Ikea. You can hardly call it craft. Fumbling with screws in plastic packets, floundering with instructions, cursing the cartoon man who goads me in my failure to construct the item correctly and urges me to call the helpline. "Admit it," he seems to heckle from the crumpled page, "you don't know why you have three screws and a piece of wood left over."
It seems I am not alone. Few people living in flats have space for a workshop bedecked with tools, nor do they need a wide range of implements beyond a screwdriver and perhaps a drill. Assembling Ikea furniture has become one of the last occasions where city dwellers are called upon to make something for themselves from wood.
It is - to push this mundane activity to breaking point - one of the last refuges of the urban woodsman.
In an academic study conducted in 2009, Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely found that we have a predilection for products in whose making we had a hand.
Dubbed the Ikea effect, the study asked a group of people to do origami and bid on the creations. It found that people paid more for their own work. This study showed "labour enhances affection for its results", even if the results happened to be feeble.
Of course, if you fail to finish your creation, the effect disappears. Hence the likelihood of these DIY events being satisfying and exasperating in equal measure.
My latest encounter with the Swedish purveyor of minimalist plywood fabrications came at the weekend. We've been searching for a play kitchen for Astrid for the past few weeks. She has been playing in the real kitchen a lot, putting things such as face cream in the microwave and hiding dolls in the miniature Arctic wastelands of the freezer. The search for the play kitchen was proving difficult because we wanted it to be made from wood rather than plastic and we didn't want its cost to border on that of refurbishing our kitchen. These two requirements scuppered the majority of the toy kitchens on offer in the city.
The answer came from a website called Ikea Hacker (ikeahacker.blogspot.com), which catalogues the inventive ways in which people have used Ikea furniture. Amid the hamster homes built from Expedit bookcases and chicken coops created from Mydal bunk beds, there are instructions for a play kitchen made from a Rast bedside table. It involves cutting a hole for a bowl, adding shelves, cooker knobs and a door. The results, displayed on the website in a series of artful photographs, look remarkably good.
Ikea Hacker takes the Ikea effect and amplifies it. The hack imbues the process of constructing an Ikea bedside table with a hint of creativity. It also adds a touch of subversion (within the realm of home furnishing). You may be following instructions, but it feels like you are literally doing it yourself.
The most satisfying aspect is literally the hack itself. There is something undeniably pleasurable about sawing wood and hitting nails. Astrid may have hated the drill - a high-pitched, noisier vacuum cleaner spitting sawdust - but she loved the rest of the process, from the various tools lying about to the bashing of the nails with the hammer to the final tidying up and polishing of the wondrous creation. She loves the kitchen and plays with it every day. Perhaps the Ikea effect applies to children as well as adults.
* Robert Carroll