I am no exert on Orthodoxy, nor do I claim to be!!
Being a former Protestant (Baptist, then Fundamentalist, Happy Clapper (Pentecostal), then back and forward, this seminary, then that seminary - you get my drift - when I also started being interested in Orthodoxy, it was when I was given a Russian Icon by my father - a devout Protestant minister, after he went to Russia on a trip.
I too struggled with having an icon, let alone praying before one. There is a great write up in the book "The Law of God", and many others on the internet (type in 'icons/icon corners'). The understanding I have is that they are not idols, and they are not idols we pray to - they are a reminder of the faith of these people, and they are no more an idol than having a photo of a loved one with you, and when you look at it, you say 'I love you'. We don't adore or worship/pray to the piece of wood/plastic, but the image is a reminder of that person (ie Jesus/Mary/a saint), and we use the icon as a symbol! Look, I am no Orthodox theologian, and I may be wrong here, but when I pray in front of an icon, it's not to the icon, but to whom it represents. The icon just makes me feel closer to God, Jesus, and the saints whom I pray to to intercede for me.
Read 'Becoming Orthodox' by Peter Gillquist, an ex Protestant who overcame this and many other "orthodox theologies" and joined the Church.
If I have erred in my understanding, I apologise, and am open to correction.