Oak, Pine, Handful of Norsemen, Creativity
June 20, 2011 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Studio apartment 2.0: What are some simple and affordable tweaks I can make to basic furnishings that let me shop at IKEA without looking like all I did was shop at IKEA?

I'm getting my first studio apartment in the fall, and I couldn't be more excited. I'm also really excited to put together my ultimate utilitarian, grad-school-ready living and working space with modern furniture. For price reasons (and because I won't have a car to weed through the tons of crap that's on Craigslist to find the gems), that's pretty much IKEA. Still, I'm hip to the fact that the apartment that's furnished from one trip to IKEA can look a little stale and catalogue-y. I've got time and attention to spend customizing my pieces - I don't have much money to invest or space to keep large tools.

What are some simple projects or ideas for ways I can customize bookcases, tables, desks, endtables, etc. to make them a little more inviting? Bonus points for anything that emphasizes wood grain, leather, or minimalistic style. Assume I've read most of IKEA Hackers and love it to pieces. I'm living in Seattle, if that matters.
posted by Apropos of Something to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Accessories are the key. Ikea furniture is a great backdrop because it's so plain. Look for funky fabrics you can use for throw pillows and window treatments. Be creative with artwork and what you put on the walls. Don't buy this stuff from Ikea.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:49 AM on June 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Be creative with artwork and what you put on the walls.

Ooh, yes. To give some sense of my style, here's what's going on the walls.
posted by Apropos of Something at 6:52 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've tried this route and my advice is to start with IKEA items that aren't iconic (no Poang, no Expedit) and then add wood. I put together my desk using two Helmer drawer units (without casters) and a piece of plywood from Home Depot on top. I stained the plywood, put quarter round on the edges, and attached some extra pieces of quarter round to the underside in places that would keep the top from slipping around on the Helmers. While someone who knew IKEA's line well would recognize the Helmers, the whole piece doesn't scream IKEA.
posted by synchronia at 6:52 AM on June 20, 2011

I've made these dressers and upholstered the headboard of a bed with great success, assuming you have access to a Home Depot or a hardware store for materials.
posted by kitkatcathy at 7:17 AM on June 20, 2011

If you're getting Billy bookcases, wallpaper/paint/upholster the back panel.
posted by Sourisnoire at 7:20 AM on June 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

In Canada, our TJ maxx equivalent has a housewares & furniture section & sibling called - go there for bedding, filing supplies, maybe a carpet.

Thrift stores, estate sales, and Craigslist are definitely good cheap furniture options. Remember that you dont always have to "cash & carry" from these places - you can claim something and then take a few days to get it home.

If you scan CL only for things with photos, and start as early as possible, you will absolutely be able to find a desk or couch that suits your needs without chasing all over town. Don't forget the "free" section. Take transit to the seller, hire a "man with a van" to take the object to your studio.

World market has decent cheap stuff to add colour & style.

Good luck & have fun
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 7:25 AM on June 20, 2011

Paint and decoupage are your friends. As is repurposing Ikea items meant for another room. I have a corner kitchen wall cabinet on the floor full of paperwork in my dining/office space. It has wrapping paper on top and may get a roll up fabric door. If you paint a dresser, and add new handles only an afficionado will know it is Ikea.

Choose your lines carefully. I would recognise Malm anywhere. (Although I love it and have it myself.)
posted by plonkee at 7:34 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Check out Ikea Hackers! (Har).

One thing I've found is that, particularly in a small space, you want as little clutter visible as possible. To that end, I really like the Billy bookcase with the glass doors, and then PAINTING the inside of the glass doors a lovely color. I think the black Billys with either white or bright red doors look really fun. Alternatively if you have a few in a row, paint each door a different jaunty color. Must be jaunty.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:43 AM on June 20, 2011

Response by poster: To that end, I really like the Billy bookcase with the glass doors, and then PAINTING the inside of the glass doors a lovely color

This sounds super awesome. Any chance I could take a dry erase marker to the front of, say, this? If so, I'm totally sold.
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:46 AM on June 20, 2011

Any chance I could take a dry erase marker to the front of, say, this?

Yes definitely. Any glass or mirror surface can be used for dry erase markers. I used my full length mirror in college as a to-do list for homework etc
posted by rmless at 7:58 AM on June 20, 2011

When you do look at craigslist, check out the "Materials" and "Arts and Crafts" categories. Materials might be, you know, bathroom sinks or gutters or whatever, but it also often includes random pieces of granite, tile, wood, glass blocks, and the like that you could use. Arts and crafts includes supplies as well as finished work. You might find some Mod Podge, or stamps or whatnot to use.

Seattle has great resale stores; unfortunately when I'm out there I'm not able to hit those. Take some photos and get them enlarged for artwork. Look at Apartment Therapy for their "Before and After" and "Good Question" posts.
posted by jgirl at 9:16 AM on June 20, 2011

There's a standard square glass lamp which is very easy to decoupage (use Mod Podge and negatives, for example) or to sew a cover for. If I could remember the name I'd give you links, but I just remember it cost £3 or so.
posted by mippy at 9:23 AM on June 20, 2011

Don't forget houseplants. Helps your place not look like a furniture showroom.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:39 AM on June 20, 2011

This is counterintuitive, but if there's a product line you genuinely like (not just it looks decent enough and is in your pricerange) then buy it. Buy it all. Love it. Have no fear. It is perfectly okay to say YES to the Expedit bookcases and buy as many as it takes to hold all your stuff, and cover an entire wall of your living room in Expedits. Personally, I find that much less "don't you know that other stores besides IKEA also sell furniture?" than seeing variety of pieces patchworked together: a Billy, the Stockholm you got off Craigslist because it's better furniture, and the Expedit you picked up later after you ran out of space...

That said, try and ration out your IKEA, spread it around the space. If you cover a wall in Expedits, that's kind of it for the living room area, no Lack coffee table, no strongly IKEA style sofa, no matchymatchy baskets and trinkets and desk toys decorating the Expedit pockets.

About customization and fabric panels: IKEA fabrics are cool looking, but covering a Billy bookcase in striking Scandinavian print does not decrease your IKEA quotient. Take a trip to Joann's or something.
posted by aimedwander at 9:48 AM on June 20, 2011

Response by poster: That said, try and ration out your IKEA, spread it around the space.

My problem here is that I've got very little space to work with. I'm tempted towards the Expedit because it with the new drawer and basket inserts can store everything: books, dry goods, random objects that look good in a square, etc. It appeals to my utilitarian instincts, but I don't know whether that reads to someone else as completely depersonalizing.
posted by Apropos of Something at 10:08 AM on June 20, 2011

Best answer: I wouldn't worry about depersonalizing if the storage method is good!

Take a look at the IKEA shelving Flickr pool.
posted by jgirl at 11:33 AM on June 20, 2011

Best answer: I think you could furnish your entire room in unaltered IKEA furniture and not have it look depersonalized or cataloguesque as long as you're not accessorizing with IKEA stuff, as well. Well, maybe a rug, because IKEA is a convenient source for inexpensive but not crappy rugs. Curtains, linens, throw pillows, desk or tabletop organizers - all of this should come from somewhere else. (Curtains and throw pillows aren't actually that difficult to sew, if you're patient and have access to a sewing machine.)

Houseplants are a good suggestion, and philodendrons are, in my experience, damn near indestructible. I kept two cuttings from plants of my mothers' in water, and they survived two years of college with me. The nice thing about plants that flourish in water is that bottles, vases and jars work well on narrow windowsills or shelves or in odd little nooks and crannies. They are also quite hardy when planted - at one point I had a massive philodendron that was the only survivor from a pot of "mixed foliage" purchased at Home Depot and benignly neglected on my mantle. Set a medium-sized vine-y philodendron on top of a bookcase and if it gets enough light, before long you'll barely be able to see the bookcase for the leaves. Thrift stores and yard sales would be a good place to look for bottles, vases or pots for plants - or interesting things to put plain pots and bottles in.

With a studio, while you want to keep an eye on the big picture, look for little ways to add some fun detail. I have a souvenir ashtray that I keep random things in - a plastic frog from Coney Island, some small buttons/pins, a few coins from random places - it gives people who notice it something to toy with, or ask me about. You could make something like this look like less of a hodgepodge if you gave the little objects a medium to stand up in or be tucked into - for instance, if you took a small dish and put some dried beans in it.
posted by EvaDestruction at 2:02 PM on June 20, 2011

My secret is for not everything to be IKEA. They're great as a quick and cheap resource for absolute necessities. But the gravy? The coffee/end tables, decor, kitchen stuff, etc? There are lots of other places to get those things.

Garage sales and flea markets are great places to start, especially for accent furniture and decor.

The quality of kitchen things at Target is about on par with IKEA, and they have a bunch of different brands that don't all look alike in that conspicuous IKEA way.

Don't buy accessories like vases, planters, candle-holders, and lamps at IKEA unless you really love the design in and of itself. Those sorts of things are easy to pick up from other places, even if you end up spending a little more money. None of these are necessities, and well, if you can't afford a vase you actually like, then maybe you should wait to buy a vase.
posted by Sara C. at 2:30 PM on June 20, 2011

This is not exactly what you're asking about, but if you want your money to go a bit further (to spend on customization!), and you have the time, I'd advise looking on Craigslist for the Ikea items you want once you've figured that out. People sell used Ikea stuff on there in perfect condition all the time, and prices are super low because...well, it's used Ikea furniture! You end up with practically new, modern-looking furniture already assembled for a fraction of the price. Seriously, in Portland someone lists a Malm bed for sale practically every day.

I know the lack of a car is a problem for you, but as someone noted above, you can run a CL search for items with photos, and you can narrow that down to the ones with good, clear images and normal-sounding owners who might be willing to hold items until you can rustle up a car for the day. I've also been surprised with how many people are willing to deliver their stuff (unless they specifically say they won't).

I just did this for several furniture items and saved a ton of money. Ikea is relatively cheap compared to other new furniture, but I hated the idea of spending $80 on a desk made of particle board and "foil." So I just bought the exact same one used for $40!
posted by janerica at 5:59 PM on June 20, 2011

Best answer: I bought the Heimdal bed from Ikea because it's both cheap and sturdy. It is also kind of ugly. What I did to disguise it is make a slip cover that fits over the headboard out of a mattress protector. I then cut up a bunch of vintage sheets and made covers that fit over the top of it. I get a lot of compliments on it and it's easy to switch the covers around for a different look. They only took about 10 minutes each to make even with my non-existent sewing skills.

I have a bunch of Ikea stuff but try to keep it limited to furniture only and, as others have suggested, mix it up with vintage furniture and non-Ikea accessories. For example, i have the black Expedit but rather than use the Ikea insert drawers, I've used both old wine crates and boxes I made out of ....boxes (cardboard fruit ones) to fill it.
posted by Wantok at 7:00 PM on June 20, 2011

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