Best Ikea alternatives?
November 23, 2004 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Tomorrow, we are returning to Ikea for the first time in nearly a decade. Though we were not pleased with the quality of items purchased on our last visit, cost was and is still the overriding factor. We intend to avoid particleboard items for anything that will bear a significant load. What places would you recommend as alternatives? (more inside)

We've looked locally with no success. We'd love to purchase from West Elm, but can't afford the luxury. We'd likely pony up for items from Innovation, but their items are selectively imported by local and web retailers. If you know of good sites to shop for their products or a store that might carry the full line in the Northeast, I'd be quite happy.

Words and phrases that have been used to describe our taste include retro, 1939 World's Fair, fifties dinner (think contemporary Kitchen Aid appliances, not Happy Days), minimalist, Bauhaus, industrial, modern and urban.

Thanks for any suggestions! Previous threads you may remember on the same topic would also be helpful. Searches yielded little helpful other than advice about Ikea.
posted by sequential to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
West Elm isn't really luxury, just expensive. In my experience if you stick to the hardwood stuff from IKEA you'll be better off than - er - as well off as you would be if purchasing hard wood items from anywhere else. And the IKEA stuff is just cheaper. Do, however make sure it is the solid pine or birch. The particle board they use is v inconsistent in quality.
posted by jmgorman at 1:05 PM on November 23, 2004

Oh - and for an alternative, Room and Board, has some very well constructed, pretty descent stuff for cheaper than most furniture retailers. Not IKEA cheap, but much better than Ethan Allen or the like. Good luck.
posted by jmgorman at 1:10 PM on November 23, 2004

West Elm isn't really luxury, just expensive.
I've never actually seen their furniture in person, just in their catalog. Thanks for the heads up and the link to Room and Board.
posted by sequential at 1:16 PM on November 23, 2004

West Elm furniture is TEH CRAP.

I actually believe that, when looking for inexpensive furniture, one is much better served by buying furniture built before 1970. Such furniture is available in all sorts of venues, from second-hand shops to yard sales to charity shops.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:18 PM on November 23, 2004

Depending on what you're looking for, you might be well served by taking a drive to Gardner, Massachusetts (maybe an hour and a half from your location as given in the profile) and cruising the various furniture showrooms. My hubcap and I got our fantastic dining room chairs made by Canadel there (at Rome Furniture) for maybe $110 each. They are the most comfortable chairs ever, incredibly sturdy, and quite attractive.

Gardner is not a great place to find bookcases or upholstered furniture, but it is a fantastic place for wooden chairs, tables, bureaus, and armoires.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:23 PM on November 23, 2004

politically correct, lily-livered bleeding-heart infidels like me usually point out that there is better furniture than IKEA's, not necessarily more expensive than IKEA's, not to mention that

Founder of Ikea store haunted by Nazi past

IKEA accused of exploiting child workers
posted by matteo at 1:28 PM on November 23, 2004

If you like Retro, you might want to try some second-hand furniture places. Of course, these vary in quality depending on where you live, and sometimes the search can be frustrating.

But I've seen plenty of fantastic pieces that were found this way.

Good Luck!

(On preview, I see Sidhedevil beat me to it... I've never been to Gardner, Mass but I second the second hand shops/charity shops/yard sale post. )
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 1:32 PM on November 23, 2004

Matteo - yet you don't mention what those alternatives are, how helpful.

I second (or third) what Sidhedevil says about the "furniture capital of New England". Although those might be a bit spendy and not your taste. 10 years is a long time, you may be happy with Ikea these days, and the New Haven location is fairly roomy so you shouldn't have a problem lounging around various pieces to see about their durability.

Boston Interiors, while more expensive than Ikea, often has good deals. Bowl and Board may not be your style, but also has reasonable items on occasion.
posted by FreezBoy at 1:33 PM on November 23, 2004

I'll second Boston Interiors - We got a modern-ish couch and loveseat (Rowe's "Horizon" collection - you'll need to scroll to the right) there for a very good price, and they've held up extremely well. The price was the same for having them made with our choice of fabric, and they had a whole wall of colors/patterns/textures to choose from (though some add to the cost).
posted by jalexei at 1:45 PM on November 23, 2004

Thanks, Sidhedevil (and others). We've been to Gardner, Brimfield, auction houses and antique shops dotting the entire east coast and have had little luck. Demand has been high and supply for originals is limited, putting much of what I like out of my price range.

matteo, thanks for the links about Ikea. Off topic, but my partner will genuinely appreciate them.

FreezBoy, thanks for the additional links. Bowl and Board is a bit too contemporary for me, but it has a lot of accent items for us to poke through. We've been to Boston Interiors and had little luck, but remember the price being right. Is the pricing available on the web somewhere? As it turns out, I've only visited stores without their full line of products.
posted by sequential at 1:56 PM on November 23, 2004

Used/discarded furniture is the shiznit. One could drive around Los Angeles and surf craigslist for a week and completely furnish a 5 bedroom house. Though, you'd probably want to not pick up any mattresses or other softgoods off the street. I've seen high end stuff on the streets, too, like famous Eames bentwood chair and stool combo.

Yeah, sure, it's often battered and/or ugly. Yeah, it makes "decorating" to a specific taste or style difficult.

But it keeps perfectly good stuff out of the landfill.

The chair I'm sitting on, the desk, and both monitors on my desktop are all rescues, and all are perfectly functional. The bookshelves, futon couch frame, and assorted other stuff in the living room are also rescues. My GF and I just picked up an awesome hardwood and black metal lamp at a Goodwill for about 8 bucks, and it matches the black bookcases and futon frame nicely.

I pretty much loath Ikea; GF loves it. I can't stand the ever-declining quality to price ratios. For the kind of money most furniture stores charge for (dubious) quality product these days, you can nearly outfit a simple woodworking shop that's quite capable of decent furniture making or repair. (I'm thinking table saw, miter saw, and a good multi-tool kit capable of planing, drilling, routing, sanding, etc. Some of these multitools offer kits and bits for doing dowelling, dados, dovetails and much more. Just about everything you'd need to do basic furniture.)
posted by loquacious at 1:58 PM on November 23, 2004

Crate & Barrel is usually a bit less expensive as West Elm, and seems to have higher quality stuff. It's not cheap, but it'll last.

Otherwise, hit the resale and antique shops.
posted by me3dia at 2:04 PM on November 23, 2004

loquacious, thanks for sharing your success with us. We're not giving up, but would like to patch together a living space in the mean time without blowing our budget entirely. With the holidays coming up, our families have ponied up some cash to help (or push, as the case may be). The chair I'm sitting in is a rescue. Dumpsters and dumps don't scare us.

As an aside, when we were in Florida, we noticed trash picking and robbing the dead were big business. Things were cheaper there by a healthy margin, but even the Eames Bentwood I saw, in horrible condition mind you, were over our entire budget. (That's a bit unfair, as Eames is very collectible and dealers will out spend most average consumers even if resotrative work is needed.) If you ever see any Eames on the street, I'll pay shipping and a finders fee if you don't mind my antique dealing mother considering you a part of the family. ;-)

me3dia, we totally forgot Crate & Barrel, thanks for the reminder.
posted by sequential at 2:22 PM on November 23, 2004

Do you have Craigslist in your area? Because there can be faboo deals on there, and if someone's taken good care of their stuff it'll be much stronger than IKEA's w├╝ndermush creations.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:23 PM on November 23, 2004

i wasn't going to bother to suggest this, but because you say that you had forgotten crate & barrel, i'm going to. have you checked whatever your big regional department store is? the twice-yearly sales at ours have yielded high quality at a very good price (particularly if you don't care that the entire room isn't from the same collection).
posted by crush-onastick at 2:34 PM on November 23, 2004

cb2 is a branch of crate & barrel that has nicer furniture than ikea and is more modern than crate & barrel. the prices are higher as well, but not prohibitively expensive like design outside of your reach.
posted by alicila at 2:35 PM on November 23, 2004

amazingly, my friend has furnished (beautifully, BTW) her entire condo from eBay. for reals. she looks for furniture being sold in the general vicinity of her home and then arranges deals for delivery or pick up with the sellers. she's got some gorgeous, not pricey, eclectic stuff!
posted by tristeza at 2:39 PM on November 23, 2004

I recommend taking the 1 and 1/2 to 2 hour drive to Kittery, ME to check out the outlets - especially the Crate and Barrel outlet which has really good prices. I made the trip up there a lot when I lived in Boston. I have to warn you, though, this outlet doesn't carry large items , like couches, but usually has lots of smaller tables, bookshelves, etc. I was surprised by how cheap it was.

And if you go north on 93 towards Manchester and then east on 101 to the coast (not the most efficient route from the Fitchburg area), there are decent antique shops between Derry and Portsmouth in places like Raymond and Epping. I know you've tried the shops on the coast, but wasn't sure if you've been to these ones. Most of them are visible from the road but you can pick up a guide at the first NH rest stop off of 93 for all the antique shops in the area.
posted by sophie at 3:00 PM on November 23, 2004

Yes, yes, yes for the Crate and Barrel outlet! Also, don't forget eBay. I've bought some cool furniture on eBay (including my supercheap Hag Credo chair for less than 20% of the list price).
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:19 PM on November 23, 2004

We've had quite a few pieces of IKEA furniture for quite a few years and found no problems with the quality. Hang on to that hex key and tighten things up from time to time.

As far as socially responsible companies, doesn't IKEA practice a lot of energy and resource conservation and treat their employees quite well? I haven't researched it but this is what I gather.
posted by sudama at 3:34 PM on November 23, 2004

Bought some LEKSVIK bookshelves from IKEA for the new place a few months ago. Also a coffee table and a TV stand. These are all solid wood, and feel sturdy, so I'd expect them to hold up reasonably well. They weren't that much more expensive than the particle board models, either.
posted by kindall at 3:51 PM on November 23, 2004

You get a lot more at IKEA if you pay just a little more. In my experience, the second-least-expensive model is often better than the very least expensive. I have BILLY bookcases that I love.

To second loquacious' idea, we have a lot of furniture that was hauled out of alleys. In my experience it is best to look in rich neighborhoods where people throw away nice things and in college neighborhoods where people move often.

Another idea in the Craigslist vein is to see if a nearby college or University has a marketplace site. Oftentimes people not affiliated with the school can look at the site but not post ads. Depending on the time of year (end of the school year is best, but end of summer and end of semester are also good) you can get excellent deals.
posted by mai at 9:47 PM on November 23, 2004

What mai said--"the second-least-expensive model is often better than the very least expensive model"--is true not only at IKEA but in many contexts.

The second-least-expensive model is almost always a better value than the least expensive model. This is one of the few useful rules for living imparted to me by my annoyingly WASPY family.

I always buy either the second-most-expensive thing (if it's something I'm going to have for a long time and use a lot) or the second-least-expensive thing (if it's something of limited utility, or if I'm feeling really tight in the budget).

The least expensive thing is known to all as a pile of junk. They just have it to get the punters in the door. The most expensive thing is overpriced. They just have it to get the conspicuously-consuming punters in the door. This is usually true of furniture, wine, clothes, name it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:44 AM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

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