I’ve shopped at Ikea since 1986, when the huge Swedish retailer opened its first U.S. store in Virginia. That store is still one of the state’s top tourist destinations. Now my Ikea is in Tempe, Arizona, 420 miles from El Paso. Inside you’ll find five football fields of colorful design, contemporary furniture and creative environments at very affordable prices.

When I had a contractor renovate my master bathroom, I didn’t need a custom treatment in the master closet, so I headed to Tempe. An Ikea closet specialist helped me come up with a space-efficient three-section closet design and built-in dresser, all for about $1,300 plus $39 shipping.

He posted the diagrams and parts lists on my Ikea account and I ordered online when I got back to El Paso. A few weeks later, everything arrived in a perfectly packed pallet.

My contractor installed the big closet frames, then over a weekend, I did the rest – assembling pull-out shoe racks and soft-closing, glass-front drawers. Attaching the drawer slides and shoe racks was challenging, but the directions were impeccable. Hundreds of screws and a minimum of profanity later, I had the closet of my dreams.

Before you go Visit Ikea.com to check out room designs and more than 12,000 products. They’re known for furniture and kitchen cabinets, but they sell just about everything for a home, including appliances, lighting, pet items and rugs.

Measure, measure Take measurements, then measure again. Add them to a rough drawing of your project. When shopping for furniture, measure the available space and take pictures of your room for reference on colors and placement.

Serious shopping Once you're there, head up the escalator and follow the arrows. Every Ikea has a similar floor plan winding through about 50 room settings and countless product displays.

Book a consultant Ikea's kitchen departments offer dozens of cabinet options and floor plans. If you’re renovating a kitchen, bathroom or utility room using kitchen cabinets, book a two-hour appointment with an Ikea design consultant.

Smart Schedule Call at least two weeks ahead to make a design appointment, especially during fall and spring kitchen sales. You’ll get a printout of the design and a parts list. The $45 fee is refunded when you order.

IKEA for kids If your little ones are potty trained and 37 inches to 54 inches tall, drop them off at Smaland, the free, supervised and secure play area near the entrance.

Eat at IKEA Head to the 300-seat cafeteria for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Most popular: Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables and lingonberries for $5. The salads and salmon are great, too. Save time to browse the Marketplace downstairs for home goods and décor.

Drive or fly? It’s easy to drive. Get on Interstate 10 and head west for six hours. Sure, you can fly nonstop on Southwest or American Airlines. But when you see what’s in the Ikea Marketplace, you’ll exceed your baggage allowance.

IKEA Vacation If you want to make a vacation out of your Ikea trip, nearby Phoenix is full of luxury resorts. My favorites: Hyatt Regency at Gainey Ranch and JW Marriott Camelback Inn. Schedule tee times and spa appointments before you go.

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