It is the eternal home decor dilemma: your interiors taste is best suited to designer, bespoke furniture, but your budget is more atune to Ikea’s “Billy” bookcase.
Step up “Ikea hacking”. What started as an online trend, has exploded in popularity among DIY enthusiasts and is fast becoming a more professional affair.
Independent designers and architects are appealing to the style-conscious homeowner by launching products that allow them to upgrade and customise the most popular lines from the world’s largest furniture retailer.
The trend began with websites such as Ikeahackers.net that encourage you to chop up, reposition and rehang existing pieces, then post pictures of your customisations; Ikea’s Algot perforated shelves turned into a neat radiator cover, while adding legs to an Ikea Ekby Alex shelf transformed it into a slim, mid-century-style console table.
Etsy is a source of handcrafted items for those wanting to upcycle basic Ikea furniture. Several Etsy sellers make custom seat cushions for the grid-like Kallax shelving system, which, when turned on its side, becomes a bench. Quartertwenty, a hardware company, makes powder-coated steel wall stirrups for Ikea’s Ekby and Lack shelves, turning them into unique wall features.
Larger independant retailers are also setting up shop. Tim Diacon, a digital product designer, and Adam Vergette, a furniture designer and the former head of production at Vitsoe — a company that makes expensive classic pieces by the German designer Dieter Rams — launched Plykea in April.
Diacon was frustrated that his budget limited his ability to buy the bespoke plywood kitchen of his dreams. So he asked Vergette to design birch plywood doors for Ikea carcasses.
They were so pleased with the results that they started selling them to others. “We’ve been inundated with requests from America, Europe and even Australia,” says Diacon. “We have two main types of customer; people like me who knew they were going to buy an Ikea kitchen, but are looking for a way to create something different, and architects, who have specified a fully bespoke kitchen in their original designs, but budget constraints mean that it is no longer an option. By using Plykea they can achieve the look of a bespoke kitchen at a fraction of the price.”
Plykea sells doors, drawer fronts, cover panels and worktops to fit Ikea’s latest range of Metod kitchen cabinets. You can choose between wood-faced ply, in birch, oak or walnut, or Formica-faced ply in “almost limitless” colours. Handles come in cut-out grab or round, or brass pulls, while spacer panels can be fixed between cabinets to reveal the edge of the ply material, which gives the aesthetic of a bespoke cabinet carcass.
Prices vary, but ten smaller birch-ply doors cost about £580. Quotes are available online, and if you already have a design in the Ikea kitchen planner, you can send Plykea the login details and it will pull one together.
“The base cabinets from Ikea are a great product,” says Diacon, who is considering expanding the business to include the Pax wardrobe system. “They are good quality, durable and great value for money. What we do is give people the option to spend a little bit more on the surfaces that you see and touch to create something more premium.”
Plykea is the first such company in the UK, but there are several designers operating in Europe that ship to the UK.
The Danish store Reform sells fronts for Ikea Metod and Faktum kitchens, as well as doors for Pax wardrobes and Godmorgon bathroom furniture. The fronts and worktops are designed in collaboration with acclaimed architects such as Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the Copenhagen and New York-based studio whose projects include 2 World Trade Center in Manhattan.
Its doors include handles made from the black fabric used for car seatbelts, to give the kitchen a “hyper-modern quality”. A small Ikea kitchen customised by BIG would cost €2,694 (£2,386), excluding the cost of the Ikea cabinets.
If it is a designer sofa you hanker after, the Swedish company Bemz is an affordable alternative. The company was founded by Lesley Pennington, a Canadian who moved to Stockholm and set off to Ikea to buy a white Tomelilla sofa.
She was amazed to discover that there wasn’t a place to buy custom covers, so she could tweak the sofa to reflect her own style.
She set one up. Bemz offers more than 250 fabrics to cover a number of Ikea furniture ranges, old and new, from sofas and armchairs to daybeds, headboards and beanbags. Like Reform, Bemz has collaborated with big designer names including Tom Dixon, Christian Lacroix and Designers Guild. It also offers classic fabrics such as Tallyho, by the mid-century designer Stig Lindberg.
The Scandinavian company Superfront, which has showrooms in Stockholm and Oslo, also ships to the UK. All its products, from cupboard fronts and sideboards to furniture legs, fit Ikea’s most common cabinet frames, and nearly all are manufactured in Sweden.
Beautiful cabinet handles are made of brass and copper, or leather from the Swedish tannery Tarnsjo, and come with inspirational photographs of how they would work on Ikea furniture. Stone tops for Ikea’s Besta cabinets are made out of Italian carrara marble and Portuguese limestone.