Ikea, but like, the *good* Ikea
March 9, 2021 4:42 AM   Subscribe

I am soon to be in the market for new furniture. My price point is roughly Ikea-level, but I want to make the most of that price point. What items at Ikea (or similar retailers) are high-quality and durable?

The quality and durability of Ikea furniture is pretty variable. For example, you can get the Linmon desktop, which is made of "honeycomb structure paper filling", or you can get the Arkelstorp desk, which is made of solid wood. One of those is clearly higher quality and is going to hold up better than the other to sustained, possibly heavy use. What else at Ikea is going to be more Arkelstorp-like - sturdy and likely to hold up to long-term or heavy use? Conversely, what are the items to avoid because they're low-quality? Comfort is also a factor, for relevant items - no use getting a couch that's super-durable if it's also hard as a rock and nobody wants to sit on it.

Assume that I'm ok with paying more for higher quality, but only within the Ikea-type price point - no $4000 couches even if they "will last for decades!".

I'm also open to recommendations for quality, durable furniture from retailers at a similar price point to Ikea - perhaps Wayfair or something? ( I am in the northeastern US, so only looking for retailers who sell in the US.) I'm particularly interested in beds and couches, but open to hearing about all types of furniture, as I'm soon to have a whole house to furnish (whee!).
posted by Hold your seahorses to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
I mean, it depends really on what "heavy use" means. We've had Expedit bookshelves (no longer made, predecessor to the Kallax) that we've had for 13 years that have been through two moves (one overseas) and still don't have a scratch. The Expedit was made with the same "honeycomb structure paper filling" you mention.
posted by Master Gunner at 5:03 AM on March 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

For some time, we stuck to the Hemnes solid wood line. The problem is that they are kind of aesthetically boring. I’ve had some luck on Wayfair and Amazon (our bed is the bestseller there), and places like West Elm. At some point, I gave up on the idea of “quality” and settled for things that are not obviously college dorm type furniture and fit my aesthetic preferences.
posted by redlines at 5:19 AM on March 9, 2021

Generally everything at Ikea that's solid wood or metal should be very durable, though as with everything cosmetic damage can happen - thankfully most of them are easily repaintable too. Be careful with Hemnes, there's a slightly cheaper MDF version (the lacquered white) of a lot of the items, and it doesn't hold up half as well. The kitchens are very good, and the Molger line of bamboo furniture. Mind you, a lot of the durability is in putting it together very well; tighten everything hard unless the instructions explicitly tell you not to.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 5:22 AM on March 9, 2021 [8 favorites]

Anecdata: in general I’m a fan of all solid wood IKEA, but my TARVA queen bed recently broke!! YMMV
posted by 8603 at 5:31 AM on March 9, 2021

The key to finding decent furniture at Ikea or any other low-cost store is the materials. The particle board (wood chips glued together) with a foil (an Ikea term for colored plastic sheets applied to the surface to give it a finished appearance, either solid color or wood grain) doesn't have as good of a chance to be durable as solid wood. There are some solid wood pieces at Target, Wayfair, Walmart, Menards, Value City Furniture, Ashley, and your local cheap furniture dealer. Here's a list of companies that sell flat-pack furniture, some are competitive with Ikea. If you google "flat-pack furniture" there are tons. Some of the magazine articles in that google search have suggestions too.

When it's time to assemble your flat-pack furniture, get yourself a bottle of wood glue from the hardware store and drop a 1/4 teaspoon of glue in each peg hole when you're assembling the furniture. The wood glue helps increase the furniture's strength.
posted by dlwr300 at 5:34 AM on March 9, 2021 [13 favorites]

At Ikea, the Stockholm and PS lines are generally good. The kitchens represent very good value for money, I see the Pax wardrobes in lots of homes and they look like they hold up well, I have had Malm dressers for years and they look good although I didn't really move them once built. The veneer darkens over time, just like wood. Overall, you want to aim for mid-priced or higher items there and to take care when you put them together.

Wayfair and Overstock can be good, particularly if you carefully take account of the reviews.

I have never had much luck with bed frames. I'm currently sleeping on the Ikea Hemnes daybed frame which has held up over a few years, but when we get our permanent bed it'll be at at a price point that's about Ikea x 1.5.
posted by plonkee at 5:36 AM on March 9, 2021

I'm going to rhapsodize for a moment about my MÖRBYLÅNGA dining room table , which is my favorite IKEA purchase ever, and which I liked better than any table I saw at Pottery Barn etc, agnostic to price. It's gorgeous and sturdy (this thing's literally 180 pounds when bolted together and I can't ever move because it will never get through the door, and in fact will most likely survive both the inevitable asteroid and a subsequent journey tumbling endlessly through outer space), and at seven feet long, you could perform surgery on it. I've re-screened a door on it. I've ironed on it, folded laundry, painted on it, used it as my desk, served and eaten meals on it. Often several of those things at once. There's also a 55" version, but I had room for the 86". It's a stunner.

I have a tall, narrow HEMNES dresser in my bathroom and it's a good choice, although the white painted finish doesn't do well with the humidity. I can't attest to the quality of the couches or bedframes (I've never found one I liked, and most of them whisper if not scream IKEA) but I've had one of the mattresses and they are definitely worth a look.

I've rifled through various IKEA stuff for years, and items have come and gone. IKEA's exceptionally great at stuff like well-priced down duvets and cotton duvet covers, feather pillows, any kind of window coverings made with natural fibers (I have some great linen ones that are simply dreamy), lots of the rugs. The seasonal home goods collections are typically great.

For cookware, I am obsessed (OBSESSED!) with the TROVÄRDIG skillets, which are a fantastic value and I use mine daily. They cook evenly, they can go directly from the burner into the oven, they wear astonishingly well with very little care. I even throw mine in the dishwasher.
posted by mochapickle at 5:47 AM on March 9, 2021 [6 favorites]

Since you are in the northeast, strong recommendation to seek out a local Amish/Mennonite furniture store. It's very solid, well made furniture with clean lines and pretty comparable in price to Ikea hardwood. They'll likely also make you custom furniture and might offer discounts if you want to furnish the house. I've had great experiences.

Sometimes they work by word-of-mouth, so this is also the sort of thing you can ask about on neighborhood listservs, the local library etc.

Finally — I'll just note that if you go the Ikea route, keep in mind that the quality on the lines tends to degrade with time, as they make small but relevant tradeoffs to keep price increases minimal. If there is something from Ikea I want, I will probably seek out a vintage version on craigslist first.
posted by veery at 5:58 AM on March 9, 2021 [9 favorites]

It can depend a lot on your planned usage. For example, the veneer on the Limnon tabletops can get scratched or scuffed, especially during moves; they don't hold up as well with things like heavy clamped monitor arms; and good luck if you ever want to cut or drill into them.

But the pine desktops (at least the ones I've experienced - I haven't seen the specific one you link to) are also pretty soft wood, so they can easily accumulate scratches and gouges. Sometimes you can even mar them by pressing a fingernail into them - something that doesn't happen with veneered ones. And they can be harder to clean and often get a pretty lived-in look after a while. (But of course you have the option to sand and re-finish them.)

what are the items to avoid because they're low-quality?

I've had bad experiences with various lines of MDF dressers during moves - chips and some breakages. MDF basically has to be moved or wrapped really carefully so that it doesn't sustain impacts on edges or corners. Disassembly also often leads to chipped MDF at connection points and can make reassembly harder or even impossible. The dressers were all fine in their original placements, though, and probably would have held up for many years.
posted by trig at 6:01 AM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

I recall seeing multiple articles on what are good quality Ikea furniture items and which ones tend to fall apart. This is not one of the ones I've seen before, but is in the general genre.

In general, Ikea mattresses seem to get not-great reviews, on the lists I found on a quick Google search. Local dedicated mattress stores are plentiful, and my experience is that getting a good quality mattress from an experienced mattress manufacturing brand is worth the investment. I had the thickest futon for seven or eight years, and then bought a real mattress. The improvement in my sleep quality was dramatic, and I'm still getting good sleeps 12 or 13 years later.

For bed frames, I got one of Ikea's metal Kopardal frames a year ago (using it with the box spring and mattress that I had before). It had mixed reviews online, and possibly some people use their beds more, uh, energetically or in ways that involve more energetic impacts or jerk. But we tightened all the screws quite thoroughly on assembly (you can get a torque wrench if hand strength is an impediment to this) and it's been quite solid and stable. Ikea's wooden bed frames seem to get mixed reviews online, even the solid wood ones.

A friend who worked at a furniture store says that Wayfair is generally overpriced. I'd also strongly caution against buying mattresses or seating online, without getting a chance to test it out in person first. I personally find most Ikea couches somewhat uncomfortable, with the exception of one or two of their more expensive options. As a not super tall or large person, I've been really happy with my couch, which was the cheapest option at Design Within Reach about 10-12 years ago (structure, cushions, and fabric have all held up well for me, even through multiple moves); but larger friends find my couch quite uncomfortable and less sturdy-feeling. Some people prefer a super soft couch that you can sink into, while others prefer something firmer. If you nap on your couch or expect to have visitors sleeping on it, I'd recommend a single cushion or three cushion option over a two cushion option (having slept on many couches over the years, the split between the two cushions on a two cushion couch is in exactly the place to completely fail to support my lower torso, leading to a v-shaped sleeping position that inevitably results in lower back pain by morning). Anyway, your average local small chain mid-market furniture store will have equivalent couches to Wayfair, at equivalent prices, that you can actually test-sit before buying. Though the upper end Ikea ones will also be about the same value and a little more to my own personal style preferences. Most couches at more boutique furniture stores will be more expensive, but it can be worth a look there as well (eg. a West Elm or some non-chain place local to you) in case their low end model suits your preferences, like the low end DWR couch suited me. In any case, look into the various upholstery options, and don't just go with the cheapest fabric if you can afford it. Having a longer lasting upholstery (in a color and texture that you like) will go a long way toward having a positive long-term experience with your new couch, including in your experience of its durability. Particularly true for Ikea upholstery options.
posted by eviemath at 6:15 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Our Ektorp sofa is about 15 years old. I've replaced the slipcover but the couch is still in decent shape and very comfortable. We sleep on an IKEA mattress on a frame with slats (not IKEA) and it's going on 10 I think. Will need to replace it in the next few years but it's still comfortable. Have several IKEA bookcases which have survived one move and not super heavy use. Poang chair is still in good shape although I did replace the seat cushions.
posted by leslies at 6:22 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

The metal on the PS cabinet isn't thick, but it's sturdy to the point that you're only likely to dent it if you bang something into it with force, for instance when you're moving. A few rough edges inside, though. (The equivalent drawer unit is the same, but apparently discontinued.)

I'd agree about preferring solid wood, but the hardware also matters: the little $40 RAST is a bargain, but the QC for pre-drilled holes is sometimes a bit off, and the drawer stops are not ideal for everyday use. (You can find better quality replacements on eBay, but they're $15 per set, which makes it less of a bargain.) The $100 IVAR is somewhat wider, so not exactly comparable, but it comes with much better drawer runners.

Beyond that: old standbys like the EXPEDIT/KALLAX and BILLY do the job they're meant for: they're structurally sound things in which to stash your stuff. But veery makes a really good point: items that have been around a while and are pinned to a specific, familiar price point go through periodic revisions that shave off costs, especially around the hardware. The RAST is a good example of this.

Alternatives? For functional stuff -- desks, drawer units, bookcases -- I've had decent luck with local places that sell gently-used office furniture.
posted by holgate at 6:22 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also on the topic of upholstery, and something I wish I had known when I was first buying longer-term furnishings: an Ashely furniture or similar furniture store will have more options, and different upholstery can make a significant difference in the appearance of a couch - eg. can influence whether it looks more like a holdover from the 1970s, something in a 1980s modern style, cottage or mid-century, etc. (Upholstery won't on its own change a lay-z-boy couch into an antique French divan, of course, but it does influence the apparent style a fair amount.) So a good strategy can be to find a couch that is comfortable and the right size, and then worry about upholstery to get it to match your aesthetic.
posted by eviemath at 6:25 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Ikea is the best Ikea. My experience with Wayfair has been a mixed bag - largely because I think their underlying suppliers are a mixed bag. And returns to Wayfair are super difficult, whereas at Ikea you just take it back, and get a 50c hot dog on the way out.

I'm really attracted to West Elm but everything I've seen on the internet makes me think it's sexy garbage. I think "common wisdom" or whatever is that between Ikea and Room&Board you're just paying for style, not quality.

On the subject of wood furniture: there's nothing inherently wrong with foil over cardboard. It's cheap, it's light, and it's engineered to suit it's purpose. It has a design life. If your intended use is within the design life, then it's worth considering. We don't always have to have old growth oak to hold up a couple plates or some pens and a laptop. Ikea already uses like 1% of the global wood supply. And just because it's wood doesn't mean it's better - it could be shitty wood, it could be "wood" by which I mean mostly glue with some splinters and dust ... or it could be the wrong wood for the purpose (ie, splinter easilty, dent with a fingernail, or whatever). It could be that the foil-over-cardboard is better for the planet and different kind of "adult" decision to roll with it.

That said - Etsy is great for this kind of thing! There are some made-to-order semi-customizable vendors shipping at roughly the West Elm pricepoint. And there's tons of used furniture (anywhere from upcycled junk to Danish Modern).
posted by everythings_interrelated at 6:28 AM on March 9, 2021 [7 favorites]

If 1) you have the flexibility to wait, and 2) are willing to be flexible on style and color, and 3) can move it yourself or find a mover, then your dollars will go a lot further with used furniture. Pieces in good to excellent used condition are typically a third to a half of their new price, so instead of a new $500 Ikea sofa, you can get a 1-2 year old higher qualify sofa (such as from Room and Board), which will in general be more comfortable and more durable.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:39 AM on March 9, 2021 [6 favorites]

I got this Zinus platform bed on a whim and was shocked at the quality for the price. I've only had it for just under a year, so I can't speak to long-term durability, but so far (and especially while assembling it), it has been great, and much better than my previous, more-expensive bed frame. I have not tried any of their other products, though.
posted by sillysally at 6:46 AM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Seconding Hemnes. Most solid wood stuff that isn't the cheapest option from Ikea is usually pretty good. Cloth Klippan and leather Morabo couches have lasted for years in two homes and are very comfortable.

My experience a few times while trying to ditch Ikea a while back is that most vendors that cost three times the price will sell you something less well-made than Ikea, assembled badly by someone who doesn't care about what they're doing. It's not until you get to six or seven times the price (or the used equivalent) that you get anything better. (Paint-it-yourself unvarnished wood shops are worth a look, if there's one in your town. Especially for tables and night-stands and such.)
posted by eotvos at 6:52 AM on March 9, 2021

I have been leery of Wayfair since the news in 2019 that they were supplying ICE detention centers.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:04 AM on March 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

I scavenged an Ikea Äpplarö gateleg table from a back alley a few years ago, solid acacia wood, and except for needing a little tightening up after I brought it home, it was fine. This is outdoor furniture, and while I keep this one inside through winter, I'm pretty sure it endured a few outdoor winters before I found it. A friend's condo building also has some Äpplarö pieces on the common deck, and they also hold up well.
posted by zadcat at 7:47 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Consider buying vintage furniture on Craigslist or similar platforms. I have some midcentury Danish furniture that's beautifully made that I got free or for very little money after waiting for the right listings to come along (even 60-year-old sofas are easy to keep using now if they're the kind with replaceable cushions). I have a well-built desk from 1920 that was also free and nicer than factory-built furniture now. It's better for the environment to buy used, and you can get better quality pieces. You can also get more expensive current brands (Room & Board, whatever) for little or nothing on Craigslist if you wait long enough.
posted by pinochiette at 8:37 AM on March 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

Concur with the advice to look for used/vintage furniture if you have the luxury of flexible timing. Anything old will have the double benefits of better materials (even if you're comparing hardwood to hardwood, older stuff will be made with better wood and higher quality simply because lumber quality has declined over time) and cheaper because when you're buying used you aren't paying for anyone's labor, just the market value of the piece. (And market values have dropped because of Ikea et al.) Some trendy vintage stuff isn't cheap, but there's plenty out there to be had for very good prices if you're willing to do some looking, and anything made out of solid wood that's survived for a few decades will outlast anything cost-effective and new today.
posted by lhputtgrass at 9:13 AM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

FWIW one of our three HEMNES bookcases failed. The anchors ripped out of the middle shelf that’s supposed to hold the whole thing together. Without that stability one side bowed out, and three shelves full of books pancaked down, with one falling in such a way the books dumped out onto the floor. Our BILLY bookcases have held up better overall.
posted by fedward at 9:39 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

In addition to what's been mentioned, Costco furniture can be a good value.
posted by medusa at 10:18 AM on March 9, 2021

Since others have covered what IKEA furniture is durable, I'll add that in terms of used furniture, most cities I've lived in have something like a "ReStore" that sells repurposed furniture. These sorts of places often have items in very good condition, sometimes even reupholstered.
posted by coffeecat at 11:01 AM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

For sofas in particular, I'd recommend Article. Higher price point than Ikea for sure, but not crazy higher. I just replaced my 20-year-old Ikea Ängby (long-discontinued, but one of the higher-end models way back when) with an Article Timber, and it's a really huge upgrade. (It's also literally really huge, so make sure you measure your space first!)
posted by neroli at 12:36 PM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

And one specific Ikea recommendation, for the Fjällbo series. The aesthetic is probably not for everyone, but if you like it, you can get some really solid stuff for very low prices -- it's all painted steel with solid pine shelves.

We got a TV unit just as a placeholder for the perfect MCM credenza we've been searching for, but it turned out way more attractive and useful than expected. Looking to get a couple more pieces now.
posted by neroli at 12:48 PM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

I will say that the platform bed frame we got from KD Frames has been rock-solid and makes a box spring unnecessary. (You can also get under-bed rolling drawers, though they can cost as much as the frame.) It's made from tulip poplar, which is the softer end of hardwood, but it's well-designed and easy(ish) to put together.
posted by holgate at 1:53 PM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

As somebody with a house that's about 50/50 IKEA and higher end stuff, there's no difference in durability.

Does that KALLAX have a ding in it? Sure, but that four-figure-price-tag Belgian parquetry table split. Did that IKEA dining chair need tightening? Yes, but so does this expensive one that came with the formal dining table.

Over time, we've just started replacing larger, heavier, more expensive and supposedly more robust pieces with smaller, lighter, much less expensive low-key Scandinavian wood veneer over cardboard stuff and it's just fine, particularly when we want to move a room around. The sofas and entertainment units were a game changers.

Gluing as well as screwing seems to make a big difference to IKEA furniture.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 5:52 PM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of Macy's furniture, especially for upholstered items. It tends to be slightly more expensive than the nice IKEA stuff when on sale (which seems to be pretty much most of the time, I think the "sale" prices are just the actual prices) but better-made and you don't have to put it together yourself (though that does mean you probably have to pay for delivery for larger pieces). The aesthetic is all over the place, though they do have lines that are more modern and IKEA-ish. This is the sofa I have from Macy's, it's very comfortable and has held up well to 5 years of me using it as my office and my dog using it as his bed.
posted by lunasol at 3:22 PM on May 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

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