Tuesday 27 September 2016

All mod cons: Hackers raise the bar (and shelves) with customised flatpack furniture

Published 15/04/2016 | 02:30

Bemz Soderhamn sofa cover by Christian Lacroix
Bemz Soderhamn sofa cover by Christian Lacroix
Superfront furniture front design
Flight drawer from hacker site thisismykea.com.
The floating Billy bookcases made by Karine Schenveld and Erik Roscam.
Hanging reading lights by another hacker.
Jules Yap

When Ikea first opened its Dublin store in 2009, I foresaw a generation of globalised interiors, filled with generic flatpack furniture.

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But I'm a sucker for affordable design and Ikea soon won me over. Now, I'm a fan. I like the furniture, the ambiance and especially the prices. I even like the meatballs.

It's when I get home that the problems begin…

The biggest challenge of using Ikea is their furniture comes in a box, often several boxes, and you have to construct it yourself. This process quickly reduces me to tears, but other people are fearless in the face of power drills and rawl plugs.

Some are so proficient they abandon the rulebook and get creative with flatpack construction, adding their own customised bits and bobs to the basic kit. These hard-bitten campaigners are known as 'Ikea hackers'.

Ikea 'hacking' or 'modding' is about repurposing or modifying Ikea furniture. The results range from simple embellishments to ingenious hybrids made from one or more Ikea pieces, often combined with other materials. The basic idea is that you use your flatpack furniture as the raw material for creating something a little better than the intended design.

Sometimes it's as straightforward as wall mounting a Billy bookcase (€50) so the normally chunky shelving seems to float a couple of inches from the floor.

"Pretty simple, but everyone thinks we had them handmade for us," commented Karine Schenveld and Erik Roscam Abbing from Rotterdam, who posted the hack on their blog.

Ikea hackers tend to share their creations online. There's an element of boasting here, but also a genuine spirit of generosity in the sharing of ideas.

Another hacker turned the traditional arrangement of reading-lamp-on-nightstand quite literally on its head by placing a Lack wall shelf (€12) above the bed and mounting two Forså work lamps (€20 each) upside down on the bottom of the shelf. The result is a nice display shelf with adjustable down-lighting so that you can read in bed.

Someone else made a classy looking studio from Trofast toy boxes (€5 each). The white plastic boxes were wall mounted, some of them cut open so they could store magazines and some of them closed with LEDs inside. The light shines through the plastic. The ceiling was covered with smaller versions of the box (€2 each) over strips of LEDs.

I found these examples on IkeaHackers.net. This is one of the flagship sites of the Ikea hacking movement and it's run by a Kuala Lumpur-based blogger who calls herself Jules Yap. "It's a pseudonym I came up with when I started the blog," she writes.

"I was flipping through the Ikea catalogue and saw the Jules chair and thought, why not?"

Yap makes the link between hacker culture and modified furniture. "In its own little way, it breaks into the Ikea code of furniture assembly and repurposes, challenges and creates with surprising results."

Ikea itself has "no official statement" on flatpack hackers. In 2014, the giant furniture company objected to Yap's use of their name on her site, but quickly backed down. Possibly they were unwilling to offend their fan base. The hacker community loves their Ikea furniture and buys a lot of it. They just want to assemble it differently.

Successful hacking requires a fair amount of skill. For people who want to get creative with their flatpack but need a bit of help, a number of European countries have begun selling accessories designed to embellish your basic Ikea product.

The new Swedish company Superfront makes fronts, handles, legs, sides and tops to fit Ikea's most popular cabinets, including Pax wardrobes, Metod and Faktum kitchens, and Bestå sideboards.

The fronts aren't available in Ireland yet, but the legs and handles are available online. The handles cost between €5 for a simple Ball handle in a range of colours and finishes to €145 for a Pharmacy handle in handmade silver and Bakelite.

Given that you could easily spend more on the handles than you did on the original Ikea cabinet, it's safe to say people buy these products for reasons of style rather than economy.

Some of the Superfront products are super-luxurious. Others are quite simple. Their Trestle bed leg (€22) is a two-pronged leg made out of solid wood - the manufacturers describe it as "steady as a bow-legged cowboy". Colours include fake coral red and bottle green and, in my opinion, it would make a big difference to the appearance of a basic bed frame. They've designed it for the Sultan bed frame. Ikea's Sultan beg-leg costs €6.50 and is not an object of beauty.

Prettypegs, based in Stockholm, also sell attractive legs for Ikea (and other) furniture. Once again, the legs cost more than the Ikea originals but have more character.

Bemz, also from Sweden, make and sell designer covers specifically fitted for Ikea sofas. A three-seat Stockholm sofa from Ikea costs €1,200 in emerald green fabric. It comes with a removable fabric cover. A replacement cover from Bemz costs €529 in a sandy grey, €729 in a print called Saga Forest and €1,029 in Harlequin print.

Ikea also sell loose covers for some of their sofas, but the choice is limited. A two-seat Ektorp sofa from Ikea costs €375, including a removable cover. A replacement cover from Ikea costs €155 in dark beige and is made of polyester, modacrylic, and cotton. A plain cover in pure linen for the same sofa costs €521 from Bemz.

Once again, you need to be clear on your reasons for choosing the product. It's not about money, it's about doing something cool and creative with bog standard flatpack furniture.

Ikea hackers are like boy and girl racers who frequently spend more on pimping their ride than they did on the vehicle itself.

For more info, see ikeahackers.net; superfront.com; bemz.com; prettypegs.com.

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