Is West Elm really better than Ikea?
May 8, 2013 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Is West Elm worth the price premium over Ikea?

We are looking for a dresser and other basic furniture storage for a temporary sublet. The priorities are cheap, quickly available, and not so crappy that I'll resent buying it every time I use it. It does need to last 2-3 years, be sturdy enough to withstand toddlers and fat cats, and not a complete nightmare to assemble.

I can see online that Ikea is in the sub $300 range, while West Elm is almost three times as much. Is the price premium worth it in our circumstances? Bonus points for other options in the same price range.
posted by snickerdoodle to Shopping (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The rule for West Elm is actually pretty much the same for Ikea:

Never touch the particle board stuff. Wood construction is awesome.

I have a West Elm sofa and a bunch of my friends have other models; we all generally like them. I have a West Elm bed and it's all solid wood and metal and it's awesome, already handled two moves like it wasn't no thang. But they also sell some particle-board stuff and there's basically no way to make that not suck.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:45 AM on May 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

I have no experience with West Elm, but I can tell you that the higher end Ikea stuff will be exactly what you're looking for. The $99 dresser will likely be irritating to use (drawer fittings not aligned properly, particleboard bowing if you put heavy stuff in the drawers), but the $299, real wood dresser will work great for years to come. I have Ikea furniture in the $200-$400 range that has survived multiple moves over the course of a decade.
posted by decathecting at 6:47 AM on May 8, 2013 [9 favorites]

We have West Elm couches and some pieces of furniture. We've had them for years and they still look great. We have Ikea dressers in our bedroom and they sucked right out of the box.
posted by lydhre at 6:48 AM on May 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have two Ikea Aneboda 3 drawer dressers that I've been using the last 4 years and am still very happy with. Don't see it on the current Ikea site, but I would assume other Ikea dressers would be pretty comparable. It's particle board, but they've worked great for storing tshirts & jeans so far.

Ikea Hacker has an article on the Aneboda where someone covered up the plastic inserts, if you want to see what it looks like. It appears that the BRIMNES dresser in the current catalog is pretty similar.
posted by lyra4 at 6:49 AM on May 8, 2013

In my experience, the quality of West Elm LOOKS a lot nicer. And there's also the convenience factor. (Ikea is extremely inconvenient in New York.)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:52 AM on May 8, 2013

I have very little patience with Ikea product assembly and also feel like they tend to look a bit "samey." I think a lot of West Elm stuff is put together much better, especially things like end tables that you can get all of a piece.

Also like roomthreeseventeen says convenience is a factor - there's a West Elm just down the street from me.
posted by sweetkid at 7:08 AM on May 8, 2013

Is Craigslist an option for you? You can get furniture for almost nothing. The new grid search makes it much easier to filter out the really ugly stuff, and even if you just search for West Elm or IKEA you will pay just a small fraction of what it costs in the store. It'll already be assembled, and you'll get an idea of how well it holds up.
posted by payoto at 7:13 AM on May 8, 2013

For furniture, yes; for textiles, no.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:17 AM on May 8, 2013

If you're in NYC, you might take a trip to Pearl River Mart in Soho; they have a furniture store that has a lot of reasonably priced, funky stuff. And I can't believe people in NYC find IKEA inconvenient! You can take the ferry to the one in Brooklyn from lower Manhattan (gorgeous ride, particularly this time of year) and take a minivan-cab back back from the cab dispatch in the parking lot. Surely West Elm can't offer that kind of service.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:19 AM on May 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't know about West Elm, but I have the Hemnes dresser from Ikea. My wife liked it so much that she got the larger one for herself and we got one of the smaller ones for our baby/toddler's changing table/dresser.

They're solidly made and have served us well for quite a while now (7 years for me, 1.5 years for wife and toddler). Their assembly does not rise to the level of "complete nightmare," but just the level of standard "Ikea nightmare."

I've linked to one color, but they come in other colors, too.
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:31 AM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Frankly while I love the West Elm look, I've found their quality to be disappointing. They use the same soft, cheap woods as Ikea, and while they have a bit of an edge over Ikea in terms of being a bit heavier and therefore more sturdy, their finishes seem to chip and wear more, probably because they prefer fragile veneers to the painted or stained finishes Ikea uses, and so show their age sooner. So basically you're paying double the price to be on trend, and since the styles are usually so "of the moment" the stuff looks really dated when it shows up on Craigslist a few years later.

Honestly, having furnished an apartment on a budget but willing to put extensive time into shopping around just about 2 years ago, Ikea is the gold standard for "cheap yet serviceable" for a reason. Buying their more expensive options made from real wood is really the cheapest and most hassle-free way to get acceptable quality that you'll find. Take the savings and hire someone to assemble it for you.
posted by psycheslamp at 8:12 AM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Hemnes from IKEA--we have two, one black and one natural wood (which we are about to paint). My wife put them together by herself. My only gripe is that the one in the kids' room has loose and broken knobs from the kids using them as toe-holds to get up on the dresser (wtf?), but if you were planning to use different pulls anyway, this is no problem (and it's not for us since we are about to paint it and it makes it harder for the kids to get in and throw their clothes everywhere).

We have not purchased any West Elm stuff, but have gone in there three or four times shopping for a sectional couch (we ultimately bought an IKEA one with slipcovers on account of our inexplicably filthy children) and just were not impressed by the materials or construction that the extra cost was worth it. While we weren't actively shopping for dressers, nothing struck me as being much different than IKEA's offerings.
posted by resurrexit at 8:32 AM on May 8, 2013

My rule is that I never buy the cheapest stuff at IKEA — but the second-cheapest stuff is solid quality for way less than you'd pay anywhere else, West Elm included. I have a six-year-old MALM bedroom set that's happily survived one move and is surprisingly strong and pleasant. Should be just right for your requirements. (I do like WE for decorations and textiles which are still affordable but more suited to my tastes, but I've never bought furniture from them and probably wouldn't)
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:40 AM on May 8, 2013

Surely West Elm can't offer that kind of service.

West Elm is like 5 blocks from my apartment and delivers.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:41 AM on May 8, 2013

Thanks, everyone! A couple of quick notes:

1. I'm expecting another baby in a month, so that's why we need things quick and easy to assemble. I'd go used, but am in no shape to help with moving things, etc.

2. I can't actually find anything on the Ikea site that's not made of particle wood. Are there specific models you'd recommend?

3. Every Ikea dresser I've seen has a warning about toppling over. Should I be worried about this?
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:49 AM on May 8, 2013

Pretty much any dresser or bookcase could tip over if you climb on it or there's an earthquake. If you're feeling worried about that you can attach them to the wall. (Just the first one I found, no particular recommendation.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:56 AM on May 8, 2013

IKEA furniture almost always comes with anti-tip brackets, right? And if it's not included in the box, grab one on the way out of the store in the customer service department (the box where they have all the little commonly-lost or -missing parts). They only come with one screw (the one that goes into the furniture), so you'll have to get your own to screw into your wall.
posted by resurrexit at 9:05 AM on May 8, 2013

Wait, we don't have the Hemnes in the kids' room, it's this thing. It's all wood, and it hasn't tipped over yet!
posted by resurrexit at 9:08 AM on May 8, 2013

We have the 3 drawer and the 6 drawer IKEA dressers; I think the 6-drawer could possibly topple if you opened enough of the drawers and somebody pulled on it from below, but I don't think the 3-drawers could tip, they're too short.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:11 AM on May 8, 2013

I have the wide Hemnes dresser, and I would never buy it again. The drawers have sagged from the impossible weight of, you know, CLOTHING, and one of the drawers has actually come apart. I like the look of it but it did not hold up well at all.
posted by OolooKitty at 9:13 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ikea search for Solid Wood, results sorted to chests of drawers category, will get you solid wood chests of drawers.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:13 AM on May 8, 2013

In the spirit of experimentation, I just attempted to tip our 3-drawer Hemnes/changing table. With the top drawer out, it can definitely tip. (Attaching it to the wall this weekend, whoa.)

I love both the 3- and 6-drawer Hemnes. The big one has lasted for more than 7 years for us.
posted by purpleclover at 9:16 AM on May 8, 2013

Interesting! The Hemnes, for instance shows up in DarlingBri's link but has this in the description:

-Top panel: Particleboard, ABS plastic, Acrylic paint, Foil
-Leg/ Drawer bottom/ Support rail, front/ Side frame: Fiberboard, Acrylic paint
-Side panel: Particleboard, Acrylic paint, Foil
-Back: Fiberboard
-Drawer front panel: Particleboard, Acrylic paint, Foil, ABS plastic
-Drawer sides/ Drawer back/ Support rail, back/ Plinth back: Solid pine
-Leg rail: Solid beech or birch
-Supporting leg: Solid beech or birch, Acrylic paint

Is the consensus that the solid wood legs + more expensive particle board good enough?
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:19 AM on May 8, 2013

Do I think these Hemnes dressers will become family heirlooms? No. Are they so bad they're worth replacing with $3,000 solid-wood Room & Board dressers*? Hells no. They are fine and (for me) have held up fine. Plus, the red one is super-cute in a kid's room. (Assembly was about one extremely annoying hour.)

*A thing I briefly considered when pregnant.
posted by purpleclover at 9:28 AM on May 8, 2013

You must be choosing the white Hemnes dressers, which are finished particleboard. The ones that look like wood are pretty much solid pine, except for the backs and drawer bottoms, which are fiberboard. I like the red versions, too.
posted by maudlin at 9:30 AM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have the hemnes 8-drawer in black-brown and can confirm that it is real wood and has survived being moved 4 times in 3 years, one of which was cross-country.
posted by namewithoutwords at 10:00 AM on May 8, 2013

We bought our kiddo the $99 5-drawer IKEA TARVA (sorry can't link from work) which is solid pine except for fiberboard back and drawer bottoms (we stained and polyurethaned it ourselves). We did replace the knobs with cuter ones. I've been very happy with it, and there hasn't been any bowing that I've noticed. It's not as nice as the Hemnes but I won't care as much when the kid plasters it with stickers and runs into it with his scooter.

I would anchor almost any child's dresser to the wall, either with the enclosed doohickey or with bookshelf straps, which are simple to put on--most dresser will get tippy if you use the drawers as stairs or pull out all the drawers and yank, and I can totally see my kid doing that.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:06 AM on May 8, 2013

Ah, I mean, I have the 8-drawer and the 3-drawer. Not 6-drawer.
posted by purpleclover at 10:10 AM on May 8, 2013

We have three of the black-brown Hemnes dressers (two of the 3-drawer ones, one of which is in the toddler's room and also functions as a changing table), and one of the 8-drawer. They are all solid wood. They survived a recent move that involved multiple sets of interior stairs (old house and new house) AND a set of exterior stairs. They are pretty sturdy. One of the bottom drawers on the 8-drawer has a bit of a problem where one of the the screws holding the roller-rail to the frame has slipped, but a bit of wood glue will fix it up whenever I get around to working on it.

I also have a West Elm desk that I love (the Jay desk, no longer made). Here's the big difference -- the drawer bottom and backing on the IKEA dresser are fiberboard; the West Elm desk has a (thin but solid) wood drawer bottom. The fasteners on the West Elm desk seem to sit a little better also. And the finish on the wood is slightly higher end, so the desk overall has a more "polished" look. Otherwise, though, they're basically the same stuff.

For the price difference and for a short timeframe, I'd go with IKEA.
posted by devinemissk at 10:36 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

The nice thing about West Elm is that when you order furniture from them, it is not just shipped to you-- they actually have two guys in a truck bring it over and assemble it for you. You don't necessarily get that with IKEA. Oh, and if you go into the store to order items you get a discount.

I have a dining room table and lots of textiles and dinnerware from West Elm and I love everything I have bought there. Much cuter than IKEA and so far the quality has been a whole lot better.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:51 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nth-ing the Hemnes. I have the 8 drawer in black-brown and could not love it more. I think it looks handsome. My husband has the 6 drawer. It was, though, a LOT of pieces to put together. I love assembly, so I had fun, but have someone with you to help build those drawers so it doesn't take all day, and you need an extra person to hold the other end when you're putting together the biggest parts.

I moved last year and filled the new house with Ikea stuff. At least a couple pieces included instructions to go back and tighten the screws after a few weeks once things had settled. I have indeed needed to go back and tighten some cam locks on the drawers on our Hemnes dressers when I noticed a gap between the drawer front and the sides (although maybe I didn't get them completely tight on assembly). Only had to do it once, then they seemed to stick.

I think the topple warning must be a legal requirement. Any tallish piece of furniture I've bought had the warnings and usually a bracket/screw/etc. to attach it to the wall. I've never bothered with that step, and have not injured myself or others with falling furniture. Yet. Once you get it put together, give it a shake, screw it to the wall if that'd make you feel better.
posted by katieinshoes at 6:28 PM on May 8, 2013

A few points in addition:

  • You can get IKEA assembly service.

  • Another vote for HEMNES (this one is white particleboard) successfully withstanding a move. Won't be a heritage piece but certainly stable enough. Attaching it to the wall with brackets will make it super secure.

  • And other sources in similar price range:
  • CB2 (can't vouch for quality)

  • Big brother of CB2 - Crate and Barrel - very sturdy couch from here that stood up to naps, cats, moves

  • A few other sources

  • posted by olya at 1:19 PM on May 9, 2013

    Don't buy furniture from West Elm. I own a metal bed from that store. It looks awesome, but the way it was designed to be put together is downright silly. It wobbled so badly, I had to take it to a local metalworks shop to have braces built into it. I'm not even talking about sexy-yay-time wobbling. I mean, all you had to do was sit down and it would squeak and sway.

    West Elm designs things to look good. Textiles? Awesome! Knickknacks and such? Sure! Furniture? No Effing Way.

    I own sheets from West Elm. They're super soft and look great!
    I own a reed diffuser too. It looks great and smells fantastic.
    And I own that damn bed from West Elm. When I took it to a place to have it fixed (improved, really), the guy laughed at how poorly the thing was designed. It looked amazing, but functionally, it's crap. And that's the story of West Elm.

    I find West Elm's furniture to be worse than Ikea, not better. Oh, sure, it LOOKS better, but that's it. 100% appearance. The furniture itself is garbage.

    I'd only let someone I don't like buy furniture from West Elm.
    posted by 2oh1 at 10:46 PM on May 10, 2013

    « Older Mass text alerts - what are my options?   |   Chilean coffee does not exist. Or does it? Newer »
    This thread is closed to new comments.