Common Bond Design in IKEA Family Live Magazine

June 26, 2014 | Alex

Regular readers of the blog know that I write often about IKEA both about their products and their design philosophy. And time and time again, I rely on the Swedish home furnishings behemoth for practical and budget-friendly solution in client projects, and in my own home. So you can imagine my delight when IKEA approached me about sharing my Brooklyn apartment in the summer issue of the IKEA Family Live magazine:

If you'd like to see the full story, with more pictures, head over to IKEA Family Live! (And to address the single most popular question streaming in response to the story so far: no no, my apartment is certainly not always that clean.) Happy weekend, all.

How to Customize Ikea Furniture

February 6, 2014 | Alex

Continuing with my Ikea kick this week, I'm rounding up the best ways to customize your KARLSTAD, BESTA, AKURUM...you name it! The handy have long embraced the DIY opportunities presented by Ikea's modular, flat-pack approach. But many of the best Ikea hacks require access to power tools, a certain level of know-how, and-- most importantly-- enthusiasm for messy and physically demanding projects. For example, Jenny Komenda's recent PAX hack for Domino Magazine-- total knock-out transformation, but fairly involved for the average adult.

If you're not quite as DIY savvy as Jenny (and how many of us are?), there are a lot of "plug-and-play" customization options out there. The big caveat, as always with Ikea, is that not all are available in the US. And those that are often come with heavy duties tacked on. But notwithstanding the geographical limitations, I think it's just brilliant that a whole cottage industry is developing around Ikea customization!

Here's a run-down on the companies I'm familiar with:


Sources: 1. Bemz | 2. Superfront | 3. Pretty Pegs | 4. Superfront | 5. Shaker Cabinets by Semi-Handmade (via Smitten Studio) | 6. Bemz

+ BEMZ | Swedish company Bemz sells slipcovers for Ikea products. The website is designed so that you can search for your product by name and then preview their multitude of fabric options. Most Ikea textiles are synthetic, so an upgrade to a high-quality cotton or linen (or velvet!) can go a long way towards increasing comfort and longevity. If you like a more relaxed look, their line of "loose fit" slipcovers is very pretty. Another bonus is the range of premium textiles by major scandinavian designers, including Stig Lindberg, Göta Trägårdh, Stellan Mörner (#1 above) , Marimekko (#6 above) and more! Note: Bemz does ship to the US, but be prepared to pay double once you factor in duties. Add an item to your shopping cart (with your shipping address entered) for the real cost. As an alternative, Georgia-based Knesting offers slipcovers for Ikea furniture, but their offerings are much more limited.

Bemz's Collection of Loose Fit Slipcovers

Bemz's Collection of Loose Fit Slipcovers

+ SUPEFRONTSuperfront (also Swedish) is geared towards customizing cabinetry, like kitchen cabinets, PAX wardrobes and BESTA sideboards. The main draw, as the name suggests, is their array of "fronts" (in vibrant lacquers and mod patterns), but it's a soup-to-nuts operation-- fronts, hardware and legs...even marble and limestone tops for sideboards. They have some beautiful door handles, but keep in mind that because Ikea requires you to drill holes for their door fronts, you can use any handles you please. There's no such thing as "Ikea-specific" handles. Note: Superfront does not yet ship to the US, but they recently expanded their shipping range to other Northern European countries, so fingers crossed that we'll be next!

A Superfront kitchen and PAX wardrobe in bottle green. (via superfront.com)

A Superfront kitchen and PAX wardrobe in bottle green. (via superfront.com)

+ PRETTY PEGS | Pretty Pegs makes solid and patterned legs for Ikea furniture, in all sorts of swanky shapes. These are about as plug-and-play as you get. If you're looking for maximum impact with minimum effort, Pretty Pegs is your ticket. All you have to do is screw them in. Swapping out the legs is one of my go-to tricks for Ikea sofas and chairs. If Pretty Pegs is out of your budget and you have a little DIY pep in you, you can buy replacement legs at Home Depot or Tablelegs.com. Just make sure they come with a hanger bolt installed. (You have to pay extra for this at tablelegs.com. They come standard with most Home Depot feet.) Also know that they'll require sanding and finishing/painting, unless the raw wood look is what you're going for. Note: Free shipping worldwide! Hooray!

Pretty Peg founders Ana Cagin and Mikael Söderblom (via  prettypegs.com )

Pretty Peg founders Ana Cagin and Mikael Söderblom (via prettypegs.com)

+ SEMI-HANDMADE DOORS | Semi-Handmade Doors is a California-based woodshop that makes kitchen cabinet fronts for Ikea cabinets. If you're looking for a wood-veneer finish that looks custom (without a custom price-tag), I strongly recommend checking out Semi-Handmade. They do everything from laminate to exotic and reclaimed woods. I also like that they're committed to working with you on all elements of your kitchen. For example, if you need an integrated appliance panel to match your ikea fronts, you can provide Semi-Handmade with the specs. If you're looking for lacquered shaker or flat-front cabinets, they'll ship you the unfinished fronts to have sprayed locally.

Flat-sawn Walnut Fronts by Semihandmade (via  Facebook )

Flat-sawn Walnut Fronts by Semihandmade (via Facebook)

Two caveats with Semi-Handmade: 1) If you're not West Coast based, remember that you'll be paying to ship a kitchen's worth of drawer and cabinet fronts, side panels, etc. across the country. It might be worth seeing if you can convince a local cabinetry shop to make Ikea-sized fronts for you. 2) If you do go the unfinished route (what Semi-Handmade calls the "DIY" option), be prepared to a) paint 'em with a brush or roller, and live with the resulting texture (remember, food gunk will cling to texture); b) invest in a spray gun and rent an air compressor to spray 'em yourself; c) spend a lot of time and money finding a pro to paint them for you (the blogosphere is filled with urban myths of spray job makeovers, but don't for a second think it's cheap. Also, some facilities are hesitant to take on small jobs or even spray things they haven't built themselves. If you don't have trade connections, it's not even easy to find a facility! You might get lucky with your local autobody shop...but you might get a lot of gruff rejections instead.)

I have Ikea kitchen cabinets in my apartment (and I've worked with them in clients' apartments) and I cannot recommend them highly enough. The soft-close mechanism works like a dream. But the standard front options do scream Ikea-- even if I do love me some Abstrakt. The rise of custom fronts for Ikea cabinetry is a major game-changer in the kitchen design world!

Do you know of any other Ikea-oriented companies? Tell me if I missed any!

Shop: What's New (and New-ish) at Ikea for 2014

February 4, 2014 | Alex

Good news, bad news. The bad news first: remember when I reported that Ikea's new Brakig Collection was a show-stopper? Well, it turns out the collection won't be made available in North America. My bad! Seriously, I'm sorry about the journalistic oversight.

The good news is, there's plenty else to be excited about at Ikea, including with the Trendig Collection that just hit Red Hook. While the white oak round and rectangular dining tables are my personal picks from the new collection, the Trendig bar cart is generating a lot of chatter in the blogosphere:

via  Varpunen

Doesn't she look pretty, all gussied up? One of my favorite bloggers, Daniel of Manhattan Nest just scored a bar cart too. I can't wait to see what he does with it.

To make up for any dashed hopes on the Brakig Collection, I scoured Ikea for my favorite new (and new-ish) items. Clearly, I'm gravitating heavily towards white and light tone wood-- but it is, after all, what Ikea does best. I think the secret to satisfaction at Ikea is to embrace their strengths and skip products that are trying to hard to obscure their roots.



  1. VALKLAND Candlestick (4-pack) - $9.99
  2. RAGRUND Mirror - $59.99
  3. FJALKINGE Shelving Unit - $130*
  4. TRENDIG 2014 Dining Table - $249
  5. FJALLBERGET Conference Chair - $199
  6. TRENDIG 2014 Occasional Table - $99

* Margot just installed one adjacent to her kitchen, to accommodate spillover cookbooks and cookware. It looks amazing!

PS I sort of love this fish pillow-- am I crazy?

Shop: Ikea's Brakig Collection 2014, Limited Edition

January 23, 2014 | Alex

Update 2/1/2014: Unfortunately, the Brakig Collection will not be available in North America. Major disappointment. I'm sorry to have raised any hopes with false info. If you have your heart set on a FROSTA, try searching ebay or craigs list for the originals-- they occasionally pop up.

I'm always surprised when people use Ikea as a synonym for "cheap and shoddy." I know Ikea can be divisive and, yes, they do have some disappointing products. But as a devotee of affordable and accessible design, I find myself in a constant state of amazement that the company can continue to design simple, elegant products for staggeringly low prices. Ikea's core business strategy-- maximizing economies of scale, passing on the savings from operational efficiencies (like flat-pack shipping, self-assembly and illustrated directions) to the consumer, etc-- is the key to the democratization of design. And Ikea pioneered it!

I also love that they embrace the adage "you get what you pay for" in a positive way by arming their customers with a range of choices. No business can afford to offer something for nothing (ahem, US financial regulators). But they can afford you the freedom to make economic choices that best suit your priorities and resources-- an a la carte menu of products and services. For example: at this stage of my life, I opt to stagger the 30 blocks from the Red Hook Ikea to my apartment with 60 lbs of boxes strapped to my back. It's worth it to me to save the $65 delivery fee (hey, that's 3-5 dinners!) In 10 years, I may feel that $65 is a steal for the time and backache it saves me. With their kitchen line, they've extended the "you get what you pay for" principle to materials. You select from a melamine, lacquered or wood-veneer finish (in increasing order of price) and accept the associated longevity. 

Ok, so I really like Ikea. You get it. The point is, a couple times a year Ikea debuts their limited edition collections and my enthusiasm for Ikea triples. The collections, like the annual Stockholm and the new Brakig, are where Ikea really flexes their design muscles. The recently announced Brakig is no exception. And it's generated extra buzz with the return of the fan favorite FROSTA stool. (Side note: this is where Ikea gets even more controversial. The FROSTA is "inspired by" Artek's Stool 60 by Alvar Aalto. I'm not going to delve into the intellectual property issue, not because I shy away from controversy, but because it's a subject on which I'm personally conflicted. Also, its been exhaustively covered by the design community-- including Morgan Satterfield's very funny commentary.) 

Here are a few of my favorites from the Brakig Collection, including the polarizing FROSTA:



  1. Floating Shelf (Pale Pink) *Not part of the Brakig collection. Will be available in the US.
  2. FROSTA Stool (Blue and Mint. Also available in Pale Pink)
  3. Pastel Floor Rugs
  4. Copper Trestle and Plywood Desk

Product names and prices not yet available. Check your local Ikea store for the launch of the Brakig Collection.