WOAH - We're going to Ikea!
March 8, 2013 5:50 AM   Subscribe

We are moving into our first flat! Hooray! However, it is unfurnished, so we need to buy us some furniture - specifically, a good sofa and a good dining/gaming table. If we go Ikea, what's the sweet spot between price and durability?

Useful information: we are in the UK, specifically London, with access to a van/car when we move but not otherwise. (Neither of us drive.) While we will keep an eye out for good quality used stuff, at the moment we are working on the principle that we'll have to buy new, as we will need something to sit on when we move in and also it's difficult to pick up furniture without a car from Gumtree etc. As we are renting, we have to work on the principle that we will need to move it eventually, which makes me wonder whether 'investing' in furniture is a false economy.

Like Michael Heseltine, we will have to buy our own furniture. IKEA is by far the easiest option as a) we've been told it holds up better than Argos b) we don't have a massive budget as we're going to have to buy a lot of stuff for the first time. At the same time, we don't want something that will fall apart before we re-sign our contract.

What we are looking for:
- a sofa that sits at least two people, preferably more so friends can visit. In the UK, renters cannot paint the walls, put up wallpaper or knock nails into walls to hang art, so for the past few years, I've been living in a succession of plain magnolia rooms with the only colour coming from my books and bedsheets. (I'm also very much looking forward to having a nice sofa I can sit on after three years of living somewhere where I can't really use the sitting room. I'm tempted to get a lavender velvet chaise longue and never leave it again.) My instinct is to go for something in a lovely rich, bright plain colour to counter-act the white, but MrM wants to go for something neutral. One thing we are agreed on is that we don't want white - so if it comes in a nice colour or has washable/removable covers, that is a bonus. We also really don't want leather.

- a dining table. The important thing here is that we will be using this for dining and tea and cake when people come over, but also we will be using it for hobbies - for playing boardgames on, and for putting my sewing machine on. It needs to be big enough to take a good-sized game, and durable enough for a lot of use. An extending table may be the answer here, but we didn't see anything in Ikea that stood out - the fold-up top table my previous place had seems to have been discontinued. We definitely don't want a drop-leaf table, as the chances of me accidentally leaning on it and snapping it are very high.

If you have any recommendations for non-IKEA British furniture shops, feel free to give us those too. I have had a look at Made.com but I think it might be outwith our budget for now. I've also looked at a few online places but can't work out whether they really offer better value for money.
posted by mippy to Home & Garden (39 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I've always found that it's mostly a matter of learning to be critical of the design when you look at the thing. Don't be afraid to take a good look at the underside of a piece of furniture. Give it a wobble - the showroom furniture has often seen a lot of wear and tear, and you'll spot the failure points. Sometimes the addition of a few cheap metal brackets or an bit of thin plywood can make a cheap bit of Ikea crap into something much more durable.

Everything we've ever bought from Ikea that is chipboard- or MDF-based has failed after a few years. Generally speaking, these items are ok until you've moved them around a couple of times. Then they get permanently wobbly as the screws and fixings work loose. The exception to this is our Malm bed, which is still as solid as a rock after 10 years. We also bought Malm chests of drawers; I've had to reinforce the drawer bottoms, but otherwise they've been pretty solid.

Things with metal frames (e.g. sofas) seem to be much more durable. We have a couple of leather Kramfors sofas (sadly now discontinued) and they're so good that I can't imagine ever wanting to replace them.

We had a Bjursta extending table for a long time and it stood up to a lot of abuse (not to mention children's mealtimes). I'd certainly buy one again if I need a table for a small space.
posted by pipeski at 6:07 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

For the sofa, what about a medium-to-dark grey, but then colourful throw pillows that have easy to wash/change covers?

The JOKKMOKK table & chairs set is inexpensive and sturdy enough for your use, I should think, though I've never put a sewing machine on mine. For added colour, put covers or cushions on the chairs.

How many do you normally entertain, though, when you have guests?
posted by knile at 6:08 AM on March 8, 2013

Response by poster: Let's say 4-6, for gaming purposes. I have two folding chairs at the moment if needs be.
posted by mippy at 6:10 AM on March 8, 2013

I've had an Ektorp couch for over three years that's been through 4 moves and it's just fine. I also have a 5x5 Expedit bookcase which is a gigantic pain to move and it's also survived 3 moves and holding up well.
posted by pravit at 6:14 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

We have the JOKKMOKK and it is fine. Solid wood, durable, cheap.
We also got the cheapest couch, the two-person KLIPPAN which is available is lots of colors. It lasted for years and the only problem was that the fabric cover will always, always look sort of wrinkly.
posted by steinwald at 6:14 AM on March 8, 2013

We've had a Karlstad sofa for a while, and have no complaints. It's inexpensive, comfortable, and available in myriad colors. And, the best part for us, is that the covers are replaceable, so if you get tired of one color (or if your cats destroy it), it's dead simple to replace it with another.

We also used a Vika Amon desk top (150 x 75cm) as a dining/work table; it was big enough for my wife to quilt on successfully, and cheap.
posted by The Michael The at 6:15 AM on March 8, 2013

I have an extending table from Ikea called Kronvik which I would highly recommend. It seems to be discontinued but you might be able to get one second hand.
posted by crocomancer at 6:18 AM on March 8, 2013

Here is a tip: after you narrow down what furniture you think you want to get (especially the sofa), search for it on Craigslist. Not necessarily to buy (although that's a bonus if you find what you want for sale nearby), but to get a sense of how well it holds up. You can tell from people's photos if sofa cushions are sagging, if something has broken or scratched terribly, etc.
posted by payoto at 6:21 AM on March 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

I also have the JOKKMOKK table. Its nice and sturdy after being moved several times. I have the Klippan loveseat too, other than being faded on one side from sitting in a sunny window, it has also held up quite well. I would buy either of them again.
posted by florencetnoa at 6:22 AM on March 8, 2013

I will tell you how you can get color on your walls and not annoy your landlord.

Use Fabric as wallpaper and laundry starch to apply it.

So now you can go all out on your place! Ikea has awesome fabrics at popular prices!

If you're looking for good used furniture, check out Danish Modern. It has the modern lines of Ikea furniture, but it's WAY more durable.

I've had this desk for 30 Years! It was brilliant when I was young and broke because I could flip that back part over, and it became a table.

I've got our TV sitting on a Danish Modern Buffet and it's got storage and it looks great! I have to say, that this stuff continues to look modern and age beautifully. My Mom gave me a coffee table that she bought when I was 10--40 years ago. She shipped it in a huge box across the US and it arrived in perfect condition.

The Stockholm stuff at Ikea is in the same vein, so if you can't find furniture on Craigslist (or whatever the UK equivalent is) those would be excellent investment pieces.

As for a table, they're cheap and disposable, so get what you like at a price you enjoy. I personally like tables that expand, either with a leaf, or with magical parts that slide out from under the main table. the STORNÄS looks like a good bet to me.

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:27 AM on March 8, 2013

I move around a lot.

A lot.

Generally I scrounge on craigslist and buy older solid wooden stuff people are getting rid of. If it has lasted 50 years it's probably pretty quality. Buying new furniture means you usually end up with something that isn't going to last. And furniture gets really expensive, really quickly ...long before you start to actually begin to buy quality.

Mattresses and couches though, gotta be new. A man has to have standards. Usually that means I go without. Or air mattress.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 6:30 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Ruthless Bunny - our lease specifically forbids blu-tack, so I don't want to take the risk of starching anything to the walls. Plus, if the landlord comes round for an inspection (common here) they'll be a bit confused as to why there's stuff all over the walls, and could theoretically evict us if they doen't like it.

payoto - Craigslist isn't a thing here. Our local equivalent is Gumtree - but we could take a look on that for research purposes.

hobo - we have a bed and mattress already, so that's not a problem. We can't do second-hand easily due to lack of transport, as above. As someone who's tried to get a chair home on a bus before and refused entry (after several tries I gave up and dragged it home very slowly) I'm pretty sure there will be no way in hell that we will get a sofa or a table onto buses or trains.
posted by mippy at 6:35 AM on March 8, 2013

One tip that is useful in gauging how a piece of IKEA furniture will hold up "in the wild" is to peruse photos of used items for sale on craigslist or ebay. It seems to me that the upholstered seating lines with washable/replaceable covers often wind up looking a little wrinkly and sloppy, even if the piece is in generally good condition.
posted by drlith at 6:37 AM on March 8, 2013

I have the NORDEN gateleg table and it's quite sturdy; it would be virtually impossible to accidentally break it. I think that it would be a bit of a stretch to fit 6 people at it given the placement of the legs, but there is an extendable version as well. My parents still have BILLY bookcases that are well into 2.5 decades and I'm using a desk as a utensil drawer from when we were six. So yes, some of them are actually quite sturdy.

The downside is that the sturdy pieces weigh a metric ton. Does IKEA do drop off in the UK? It was nearly impossible to lift the box the NORDEN came from by myself and to carry it twenty feet, and I am a fairly strong individual. The good news is that most of it comes in pieces so once it's at your flat, you can open the box and cart the pieces up the steps individually...but you should either invest in renting a car for another day or having them drop it off.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:42 AM on March 8, 2013

I second the Bjursta. We actually just gave ours away on Freecycle, try that.
posted by like_neon at 6:45 AM on March 8, 2013

payoto - Craigslist isn't a thing here. Our local equivalent is Gumtree - but we could take a look on that for research purposes.

To be clear, I meant search Craigslist everywhere. Since Ikea stuff is sold worldwide, you could find someone in Tennessee who has the sofa you're looking for -- it's just to get an idea of how it wears.
posted by payoto at 6:47 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Second-hand transport: rent a car, a truck, or take a taxi/car service. You're not thinking creatively enough if "bus" is your only option. I have friends who moved apartments completely by taxi.
posted by valeries at 7:01 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

We have an EKTORP two seater sofa that I bought off Gumtree nearly four years ago. It has survived two cats and a baby and still is holding up impressively. Removable covers are amazing. I would never buy a sofa now without them. (Plus, you could get one of the fun covers for now and then replace them sometime down the line if you get sick of hot pink (or whatever)).

It might be worth seeing if someone on Gumtree is willing to deliver if you find a table or sofa on there that you like (especially if it's a bit older and not a hot item - ie IKEA)). We have a gate leg table on that I've been trying to get rid of for ages and at this point, I would practically be willing to carry it to any willing buyer.
posted by brambory at 7:05 AM on March 8, 2013

I have the JOKKMOKK table and chairs and I have used a sewing machine on it, and it's fine. But it would probably be too small for six people to eat or game at.
posted by mskyle at 7:12 AM on March 8, 2013

Response by poster: valeries - we can't drive. We can't do anything with a car or truck because we don't know how to make it go. There are friends who do drive, but we can't plan around when people are likely to be available, willing and happy to go through the hassle of booking it for us (the license holder has to book it), as it's difficult when you are dependent on others. I also doubt that a minicab will let us stick a sofa in it.

There's a reason why I said we can't do anything with a car in the OP, because it avoids me having to explain this and avoids getting answers which only work if we have a car and driver available to us.
posted by mippy at 7:13 AM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

I furnished almost an entire lake home with IKEA.....except for the linens.... got those at an outlet place. Our IKEA furniture has held up well, lots of kids, dogs, wet kids, wet dogs.... I've been pleased!!
posted by pearlybob at 7:17 AM on March 8, 2013

Having sold all of my UK furniture much of it from IKEA my advice is to hit ebay for the IKEA items you want. You can get it for about 2/3rd of the store price and you won't have to go to IKEA (which is always an ordeal - just ask the monkey). You can restrict an IKEA search down to 5 miles (more than enough if you are in a city) and plenty of people will deliver for a small fee. There are also man with van services that will pick up and deliver IKEA purchases.

Perversely IKEA furniture probably has the highest resale value of anything I sold (and I sold everything I owned). I assume it is because IKEA stores are inconveniently located and people pay for others to import the furniture into the city and because the furniture is easily judged/clearly described using their catalogue and website. We had some nice antique pieces that went for next to nothing and IKEA particle board stuff that went for about 95% of what we paid for it 15 years ago.
posted by srboisvert at 7:25 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

FWIW you can hire a 'man with a van'. He drives, you help with the loading/unloading. I moved house this way several years ago. There will be someone in your area who offers this service.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 7:30 AM on March 8, 2013

Response by poster: srbosivert - I've noticed that some people have a sideline in selling IKEA stuff on eBay, presumably for that reason. Growing up, our nearest one was in Warrington which was about 100miles away. When the one near my house (20 min bus ride, but still out of my way) didn't have the sheets I wanted and went specifically to buy, I ended up buying them from an eBay reseller.
posted by mippy at 7:30 AM on March 8, 2013

It looks like all your IKEAs deliver.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:35 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

We also have the Norden gateleg table, it's well engineered and very sturdy.

We've seated 6 round it for dinner and used it for largeish boardgames.
posted by protorp at 7:47 AM on March 8, 2013

FWIW, I've had furniture delivered from the Edmonton store. It cost about £15.
posted by hot soup girl at 8:22 AM on March 8, 2013

I find that the floor models in IKEA itself are a great indicator of the quality of the piece. The cheap stuff looks cheap, and if it's been on display for a little while, you can see exactly how it will wear.

Re moving again later -- just don't buy anything too big to get through your doors after assembly. This can be a little deceptive since the furniture comes into your house flat-packed. A friend of mine bought one of those HUGE Expedit bookcases, assembled it in his bedroom, then realized he was going to have to deconstruct it and rebuild it in his new apartment. Needless to say, that did not turn out to be an "investment" piece.

Sofa: just don't buy the cheapest ones and you should be OK. Keep size in mind, too. A lot of IKEA's cheaper couches are TINY. I would also err on the side of something that looks and feels like a real couch and not some kind of futuristic sci fi set decor. Most IKEA couches have covers available in a few colors, though you may be limited to the stock at your particular store. Keep in mind that you can probably have a cover made up in any fabric you like, if you know someone who sews, or simply drape it with the cloth of your choice.

Dining table: Go for something made of real wood. Look carefully at the floor model. Is it wobbly? Does it look completely shop-worn and sad? You should be able to get a sense of sizes and how many people it seats in the showroom.

Word of advice: measure the space you have for these large furniture pieces BEFORE you go to the store to pick something out. IKEA includes measurements in the product specs, and even has little paper measuring tapes available so you can get a sense of size. It's helpful to know your size range before you get there.
posted by Sara C. at 8:46 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have two folding chairs at the moment if needs be.

One of the hidden amazing secrets of IKEA is that they sell absolutely brilliant and unbelievably cheap folding chairs. I would err on the side of not getting the absolute cheapest ones, but the midrange ones are great, and the top of the line ones are still very cheap for what you get.
posted by Sara C. at 8:49 AM on March 8, 2013

Thirding the Karlstad sofa. It's holding up much better than the Crate and Barrel sofa sitting across the living room from it.
posted by zenon at 9:08 AM on March 8, 2013

I have this table (linking to ikea.ca, it's the Bjursta with 2 leaves if that doesn't work for you). We use it as a dining room table, a doing-the-taxes table, a sewing machine table and a board game table. It's held up vey well to all uses, it looks really good (in the brown colour) and those extra leaves make it AMAZING for boardgames -- last week we had 8 people playing two different board games on it and it was totally fine. I'm not sure if it's 100% real wood, but it looks enough like it is and it's very sturdy.
posted by AmandaA at 9:16 AM on March 8, 2013

Our Ektorp sofa is doing well after 5+ years. I didn't like the color that my fiance had it in (chosen before me) so I got new covers for it this year.
It's nice to have a sofa that I know will still have other cover options around when/if I decide to change again. Slipcovers can be incredibly expensive and sloppy looking, so this is a big bonus.

I have a solid pine coffeetable from them that is holding up great, but the glass tables and mdf stuff has gotten wobbly and not wonderful looking.
posted by rmless at 9:23 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a Karlstad sofa in mid-grey and I painted the legs hot pink. So you could do that. I think it is a mistake to get a too neutral Ikea price sofa in a rented place. For the cost of new covers you can update it and it's a great place to bring in colour and pattern when you can't paint the walls.

I second the idea that looking at the wear on the floor models will give you an idea of what holds up. My Ikea in Birmingham will deliver things you buy in store the next day. I believe that includes Sundays.
posted by plonkee at 10:18 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not sure if you're looking for a sleeper sofa, but our Manstad has held up pretty well after a year and a half and visitors who sleep on it have remarked on how comfortable it is. The 'L' shape is also more conducive to socializing.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 10:48 AM on March 8, 2013

I would like to second the Karlstad. It's not super expensive, it's comfortable, and it's available in many colors. Easy to put together, as well.

For a dining room table, look into second hand stores in your area. Ikea tables are total crap unless you spend a lot of money, and a lot of places will deliver and make your life a lot easier.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:21 AM on March 8, 2013

For bookshelves, the Billy range is great. I am a book hoarder and my bookshelves have been through the wars, yet they still look good.
posted by kariebookish at 11:30 AM on March 8, 2013

I seem to have an attachment to IKEA that age or means has not rid me of but I will give you my one IKEA rule: you get TWO moves. After that it will wear, break or fail often in unexpected ways. So as long as you don't see yourself changing flats every year, go for it.
posted by saradarlin at 1:14 PM on March 8, 2013

Congratulations on your flat, mippy! I don't know anything about Ikea furniture, but I will point you to 3M Command picture hooks. They don't leave any marks at all, and you can buy them at Homebase for £5 for a packet of three. Having said that, I have asked if I can cross that part (no picture hooks) out of every lease I've had in my nine years (five homes) as a tenant in London and it's always been granted. YMMV, of course, but I'd go spare if I couldn't have anything on the walls.

Additionally, I've never had an inspection from a landlord or management company, even though it's in the lease that there will be an inspection every six months. So I don't worry about that, at all, any more. As long as you pay your rent and only hassle them when it's necessary, they don't care less.

Is your new place around Ealing still? I can recommend several local secondhand furniture shops that deliver, if you are - however, one thing that flatpack furniture has in its favour (I'm not a fan) is that you can dissemble it in order to remove it. You need to measure your space, and your doorways, before you buy anything - make sure it fits! Some London flats have stupidly small doorways that don't fit regular, ordinary furniture. If your flat is one such home, make sure that if you can take it in, you can take it out again. Converted Victorian terraces, lovely as they are, are the worst for this; new build flats far less so.

Also - I love my DFS sofa, sad as that may be. Mine took nine weeks to build and deliver, but it was really cheap in one of their constant sales (and interest-free, the only thing I've ever bought on HP and no regrets whatsoever, in fact it's good for my credit rating) and it is marvellous. If you can wait, or get one that is ready-made that they don't have to build for you, I highly recommend them.

Also - I have a car and work from home, so my time is flexible. If you do need help moving, please let me know. I'm in Hanwell and would be happy to help.
posted by goo at 2:38 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

As we are renting, we have to work on the principle that we will need to move it eventually, which makes me wonder whether 'investing' in furniture is a false economy.

This is key. As others have said, Ikea durability is better measured in moves than years. For sofas and dining tables, assuming you're only going to use them for the intended purpose, even the cheapest ones will last pretty well until you try to transport them to another house. (When you 'pack your bags and leave this town', as the Vengaboys put it.) After that, you may get lucky or you may be better dumping it. I sold an Ikea bed, wardrobes etc. to my landlord for close to the purchase price, as taking them with me would have been expensive and risked damage.

Many Ikea sofas are sofabeds, many have storage space; decide whether these are factors before you find yourself making a snap decision in the shop.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 10:12 AM on March 11, 2013

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