Like Coca-Cola or Honda, Ikea is ubiquitous. Even if you haven’t personally traversed the labyrinthine halls of one of its stores or scarfed down a plate of its meatballs (now with 84 percent meat content!), you have most assuredly parked yourself on an Ikea chair or sofa in a dorm room, a dentist’s office or a buddy’s living room.
Ikea’s dominance in the furniture sector is a result of good products with bad caveats. The products are great pieces of design that happen to be affordable. But affordability usually comes at the cost of cheap materials and questionable build quality, and many individuals have rightfully leveled criticism at the company for perpetuating throwaway culture in the furniture world.
Moving on from Ikea requires the willingness to invest in furniture — a fundamental shift away from the placeholder mentality that drives us to its stores. But it doesn’t demand we ditch the Scandinavian aesthetic. For those who love the Ikea look but want something that’ll last, here are five upgrades to iconic (and totally ubiquitous) Ikea furniture.
The Original: Ikea Poäng
The bentwood frame. The cantilevered seat. The ergonomically-shaped back. The Poäng, designed by Noboru Nakamura, very well could be the poster child for Ikea, given that it’s been continuously produced and sold since Nakamura completed the design in 1976. It’s hard not to love, especially if you have a tendency to rock and bounce in your seat, but its cushions don’t typically age well and the screws in its frame have a tendency to loosen over time.
The Upgrade: Artek Alvar Aalto 406
The 406 almost looks like a dead-ringer for the Poäng, but it actually predates the Ikea icon by nearly 40 years. Designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, has a similar cantilever frame made from solid birchwood and favors a seat made from webbed textile. Admittedly the 406’s price tag is considerably larger than Poäng’s $79 starting price, but the seamless construction of the frame (no exposed screws!) hints at how much better the build quality is, especially given that you don’t have to slap it together yourself.
The Original: Ikea Kallax
In 2014, Ikea killed off the Expedit shelving system, an item so beloved by customers that a Facebook group with some 20,000 members popped up to try and save it. Their fears were more or less unfounded, given that the Kallax system that replaced it is essentially identical, save for a slightly smaller footprint on the outside while keeping the same internal dimensions for the cubicles. That fervor goes to show just how useful Ikea’s shelves are. Stackable, expandable and versatile, they can be been used to house everything.
The Upgrade: Muji Stacking Shelves
Muji, the so-called “Ikea of Japan,” is a newbie in the U.S. market. But while it doesn’t have as expansive an inventory as the Swedish store, its products follow a similar philosophy. As such, you can find all the good in the Kallax system in Muji’s own stacking shelves, which are modular and expandable. The difference? Sturdier, heavier, better quality wood veneer surface in oak or walnut, and larger shelf compartments that can accommodate TVs and stereo systems, too.
The Original: Ikea Malm
Ikea’s Malm bed has been a hit since 2002 thanks to a combo of versatile storage and sleek looks (though you can get a version with no dresser drawers if you so choose). Its design is inoffensively simple, but like many Ikea products, its particle-board-and-veneer construction means minor wear weighs heavy.
The Upgrade: Akron Street Dris Bed
Brooklyn-based Akron Street uses Applacian-sourced solid American White Oak for its furniture, and the Dris bed is made almost entirely of the stuff, meaning it should last longer and imbue a much richer look than Ikea’s veneer. Like the Malm, the Dris is an exercise in efficiency, offering two- or four-drawer configurations, because space never stops being a precious commodity, even as you get older.
Couch or Sofa
The Original: Ikea Klippan
The Klippan, like the Poäng, is another stalwart Ikea design, having been first introduced in 1979. It remains a popular item today because it’s light, compact, can be modified with new covers and, well, where else are you going to get a sofa for under $300? Ikea’s former head of design, Marcus Engman, even called it his favorite Ikea product of all time.
The Upgrade: Floyd Sofa
Floyd’s philosophy is the antithese to the throwaway culture that Ikea inadvertantly promotes. You’ll find heartier construction and modularity (thus, replaceable parts) as the part and parcel of its design ethos. That’s clearly seen in its sofa, available as a loveseat, a three-seater and a chaise sectional; it’s available in a multitude of configurations, but is always space-efficient and visually light.
The Original: Ikea Lack
Let’s give the Lack credit: it’s astoundingly cheap. But obviously that comes at a cost, because Lack tables have a tendency to wobble and buckle under small amounts of weight pretty much out of the box. It’s also incredibly simple, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it drives home the point that you don’t buy a Lack as a centerpiece for your living room, you buy it as a cheap surface that will do in a pinch. Until it breaks.
The Upgrade: Hay Eiffel Rectangular Coffee Table
Though founded in 2002, Hay launched in earnest in the U.S. in 2018, making its accessible scandinavian designs, well, more accessible to us Americans. While the Eiffel coffee table costs about ten times as much as a Lack, one could argue it’ll last ten times as long. It’s made from powder-coated aluminum and MDF and, like the Lack, it’s simple, making it something that’ll blend in with most interiors offering a blank canvas.
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