IKEA—30 Years of What?

“IKEA—Democratisation of design” ????

Visually neat and relatively cheap at first glance, but they are basic and they resolve the need in a new and young family for storage. The pinnacle of three-dimensional cubism!


Yup! a couple of newspaper writers (maybe more, knowing British journalism) reported the same thing in a short space of time, both hailing IKEA as a ‘democratising’ force revolutionising people’s perspectives on furniture design. Both articles were interesting in the way some articles can be, you know, contributing interesting points of view sometimes but not much to societal needs as such really. They are time filling on a lazy Sunday and that may be purpose enough. What actually struck me most between their somewhat opposing points of views was the unifying thread in their use of the terms “democratisation of design”  and “democratising design and the theme of creating affordable, non-fusty furniture for the masses.” As far as I have seen through the years is it is not so much IKEAS ability to design and democratise but more their ability to produce zero- or minimalist-design products that seem less to be concepts of style, shape or form  but mostly the selling of square-edged, styleless, plank-type items in the form of very, very plain boxes. Yes, I do understand the needs of young families for low cost storage and first year students to furnish their rooms, but democratisers of design???!!!

More cubbies for more boxes and that is what IKEA does truly well. Democratising or demoralising? I’m not sure which really. They mostly neaten up cluttered homes but what they make does not last well at all.

Unpretentious though their lines are, you can hardly say they are designs so much as meagre assemblies and of course assemblies you generally have to take care in the way they are used because the selling points are their lightweight cheapness, transportability, dismantle-ability and simple (or complex) self-assembly products. You might be better to strike out into similar fashion statements rejecting the classics of old and adopt an equally classless line of unimagination by using old scaffold planks for dining tables and benches or, say, a shipping pallet coffee table on commercial galvanised swivel casters. I never liked lazy, press-release type journalism (as we are used to in British woodworking magazines) because it can be the same as lazy design work; both lacking any true imagination. But the two authors, each celebrating IKEA’s birth for opposite and then too the same reasons, seemed more focussed on this issue of IKEA somehow ‘democratising’ something rather than considering what could be in essence more a diktat. I question whether IKEA makes products that people actually want or makes people want what they make by virtue of cheapness and driving out competition, but then what do I know? I know this though, IKEA only sells what it wants you to buy, sells stuff so cheap that no one else can compete, and devalues the market by forcing down prices to a level that promotes mainly quite dumbed down designs. I don’t ever recall much in IKEA’s selling centres that I would describe as at all imaginative. People buy there because it’s cheap. To zone in on the reporting world, on Beeb 4 a day later a reporter interviewed some head of IKEA UK and allowed way too much waffling claptrap boasting IKEA’s products were now no longer going into the landfill after a short lifespan, as the reporter suggested, which is of course absolutely true, but onto the secondhand market, which IKEA wants to include in its ‘widening circle of circulation’.

Pressed fibreboard and just a bit of wood doesn’t really make for good long term prospects and reupholstery.

Oh, just a mention, India Knight stated that she had reupholstered her IKEA sofa “umpteen times” in 20 years since she bought it. Wow! I never knew anyone that reupholstered their furniture more than once let alone over and over.

No wood, just MDF and veneer in this small table. They say this is poplar???
The reality before it even leaves the store. It’s small now but it will grow. I do not think I could ever use MDF and veneer as a long term solution for furniture.

In reality IKEA design, non existent though it is, is not to tackle design concepts but to provide the seemingly endless need for good storage space and personally I do give IKEA credit for coming up with some nifty concepts even though they mostly date back through centuries of industrial evolution, mostly being advantaged by the developments of plastics and plastic and metal versions. Take a close look at IKEA’s units and you should readily see that shelf units and cabinets are basic coloured boxes in metal and particle board. Within such units they provide fabric covered cardboard totes as containers for the family paraphernalia. You know, the stuff of drawer filling. They have very few drawer units for sale. Why? Because there is twice as much material hidden on the inside than you can see on the outer case. They’re too expensive even for IKEA.

IKEA basically bridges the gap between those who can afford more high-end pieces and those who could never afford such quality. It sells baskets and containers and alongside large amounts of disposable stuff, items not designed to absorb the pounding of a young family and that includes its furniture most of which is designed to sell but not last. By virtue of putting competition out of business it then builds in planned obsolescence into it’s own products and that is why most products they make or have made for them last only a few years, months and in some cases just weeks.

But is it real wood? Well, kinda sorta. You know, bits are and bits not. You have to interpret you see. Democratise!

On the one hand Rhiannon Cosslett article in the Guardian describes IKEA accurately as the “symbol of impermanence”, but she also follows the same track as India Knight in stating that this IKEA is enabling people to shed their ties with “snobbery regarding middle-class home decoration”.The woman reporting in the Times, India Knight, describes the pretension of owning a semi (duplex, USA) and adding furniture that emulates the chintz (a word used in the two articles) of the rich and famed owners living in UK mansions past as a kind of mindless hypocrisy. I agree to some degree, but then there are those millions of others who follow the IKEA trending in equally mindless ways buying into its philosophies purely on the basis that it’s IKEA, as though IKEA holds the keys to concepts of good design. This, in my mind at least, shows how lacking we can become in discerning just what a good design is.I might liken IKEA designs to all the nations County Councils use of standardised street and buildings signage. Yes, they work effectively, but only because they have a created dull and unimaginative examples that stand out because of dullness. The main difference here of course is that for safety reasons the County Councils have a get-out clause.

Superficially you might think that this is made from a good grade of thick, heavy-duty plywood. Such is being at the pinnacle of falsehood. It”s faux plywood and it’s hollow.

I have yet to walk through an IKEA store without thinking (smelling too) MDF, pressed fibreboard, resins and plastic but how is it even possible that any company could put so much effort into creating so much artificiality.

Nope, not plywood, faux ply ‘engineered hollow core particle board.’

I’m afraid that, of these two writers, India Knight fared the worse in that she did indeed fail to see the irony in her extolling IKEA as the great liberator of past pretence and the democratiser of taste when all that IKEA produces is indeed totally faked and in that pretentious in that everything it sells that looks remotely like wood (though cleverly done) only pretends to be actual wood at all. What IKEA makes does not last because it cannot last. Additionally, when I am in IKEA, I automatically think cheap, robots, automation, throwaway, and why on earth would anyone buy this unsustainable, irreparable, earth-costing, democratised j***k? I have yet to find something, anything, where I say to myself ‘Oh, now that is nice.’ and then too, ‘I would like that in my home or office or workplace.’ If we do finally give up and start extolling the virtue of IKEA as a great designer and conceptualiser of well designed goods and especially democratised furniture, my personal area of expertise, rather than the fabricator of low grade throw-it-in-the-landfill stuff, we are in danger of seriously misconstruing what’s actually taking place.

Ask yourself this. If these legs were indeed solid wood, why would they veneer the end grain as well? Most legs like this are particle board, a fact not hidden by the description as long as you can interpret and, indeed, you know what particle board is.

I will be glad when we finally see that IKEA is little or even nothing more than a producer of low-grade, poor quality boxes in many diverse materials the least of which will be wood itself. And that these simply stack crate-like as shelves to put the world’s ever increasing excesses of stuff on or into. It meets the needs we feel we have as working people without disposable income and who cannot afford to pay any more into this false economy of manufacturing offered by IKEA (and many others like it). My suggestion? DIY! Go ahead, pick up some cardboard boxes, paint them, cover them with fabric, and save up for better. Better still, start making your own.


  1. Agree, however IKEA is what brought me to woodworking few years ago. When I got married I got this 8 slots black shelf (the one in your pictures) and while assembling it I realized how poor it was. They have good and simple contemporary designs but with a very poor quality. Then I decided to learn woodworking so that I can do my own furniture with a solid wood.

    By the way, the first thing I learned is from your video on how to sharpen a chisel and it took me several days to learn how to do it right 🙂

    Thanks Paul

    1. I spent a few hours there with Hannah this week and we mentally dismantled many pieces to see just how much actual wood was in its original condition in the pieces and how much was pulverised to reconstitute wood for so-called engineered panels. Of course our conclusions were already formed before we arrived in a way so our visit confirmed our expectations with no real surprises.

      1. Yes Paul, you can certainly smell the content of IKEA when you walk through the shop, and largely made of chipboard so very heavy.
        Lazy journalism? Almost certainly a regurgitation of a press release!

      2. Hi Paul,
        I hope you are well and more people get interested to put their hands to make something for themselves, like me.
        However, I cannot write off or agree all that you mentioned. My sob is already 29, his bed cum storage were all bought from Ikea when he was 5, till today he still refused to replace them. They are firm, sturdy and practical in form and factor.
        I do agree, fashion, design or art form is not their main focus, but they know their strength and know what a modern small apartment’s needs, and they are extremely efficient and exploit that “singular” concept better than any to have survived so many years.
        I am one of those, like you mentioned – young and striking out”, having to balance all the needs, baby, new home, car, higher education and what knots, and fully appreciate what Ikea had to offer, which is, small, simple, effective and yet affordable units for my small apartment. As I climb up the corporate ladder, I moved to a “bigger” apartment, but still small compared to homes in US or UK. I started to get some “real” furnitures, but there are still areas that possesses real challenges. Many furniture cannot fit into these apartments, to make to order costs 3 to 4 times what was offered in Ikea. That’s where many people, me included, mix and match to balance the books and also the needs. We also do not have the luxury of “make it yourself”, as its just impossible to diy in a 60 square meter apartment. Not counting the time and cost involved, which will inadvertently be much higher than Ikea.
        So, as mentioned, I agree with you on “fashion, design” not being their main focus, but had to I must give credit to Ikea, for their contributions to the society. Hope you can agree to disagree.
        Respectfully, your humble follower and apprentice in wood working by hand.

        1. I like people to have their view. I have all the way through this discussion agreed to disagree but only until someone extols the virtue of IKEA as “democrtatisers of design” and that is basically what was opposed and said by me from the beginning. Beyond that my view is that anything made by or for IKEA is little more than a vast range of coloured storage boxes that stack reasonably well. In your case what you bought 25 years ago is still working and others have said the same of say a bookcase and such. I have no problems with that but the assumption is that all people will take the same care you did or that what was made 25-30 years ago has remained the same. My view that what IKEA produces for the masses is basically made of low grade poor quality materials and that in effect this constitutes junk remains firm and resolute. Most buyers, unlike we woodworkers, do not know that the products are made flawed by virtue of the fact that the materials themselves are basically insufficient if you want lasting quality for the rough and tumble of family or student life. I recently took apart an IKEA table, sawed through all the components. It was indeed quite sickening to see the shallowness of what they sell and what it’s made from and I don’t really care how cheap the table was. One day soon my hope is that people will indeed consider all the more that they can make their own pieces.

  2. In their defence, IKEA did/does fill a void in the market at a particular price point, and people want to pay it.

    I still have a bed, bought there in the Wembley branch just after it opened, (so that makes it nearly 30 years old!) It’s now a guest bed, but it really is still in excellent condition… OK it might not last another hundred years, but for what I paid for it it’s been excellent value.

    A few years later in 1992 I bought a dining table for my new flat. At the time, (though I was practical and had good general DIY skills I couldn’t contemplate making a dining table), no-one else had a dining table at a price I could afford; There were either really cheap ones at the £35-£40 rice, or expensive ones for many hundred pounds. IKEA were the only retailer that had something I could afford. It was an expanding, (2 insert-able extension leaves), circular, real solid wood, with a top that was about 1 1/2″ thick. I cost me about £130 if I remember correctly.

    It was still in excellent condition when I sold it a little over a year ago, (as we now have a big oak table). I have no doubt that said table is a long way from half way through it’s life!

    I wouldn’t claim that most of their furniture is good quality, or even much of it! But it does depend on what you want from it! For most folk it has an excellent balance of cost/function/durability, especially for folk needing to kit out a first home. I don’t think we should decry folk in that financial position who make that choice, or the retailers who cater for it.

    I’m now retired and fortunately my financial situation means I’m not constrained by the IKEA price point… but I’d consider their stuff when shopping…. I just hate the actual shops, all that walking round to find something. Grr!

  3. There is actually a particle board song.
    It starts out like this:
    By Rob Paravonian

    I took a good look at my life
    What I saw I didn’t like
    Cause there was nothing that was built to last
    Underneath all the cheap veneer
    There’s nothing that can stand the years
    It all falls apart so fast

    A good friend of mine who has the good grace to call me a “carpenter” asked me to trim his IKEA shelves for a bookcase he bought. They were actually cardboard core covered with a plastic layer that acted as a stress skin to give it strength, not even particle board.

    Perhaps truly good furniture is a sign of permanence and stability while cheaply built furniture represents something that’s temporary. People may be expressing that their situation as just a temporary one by buying the cheap um, …stuff. College dorms might be an example of temporary!

  4. I’ve been wondering about MDF and other forms of pressed cardboard for some time.

    What should we humans be doing with all the foresty by-products if not making pressed products? I can think of several things including fuel for pellet stoves and simply returning the majority of the biomass to the forest eco system. OTOH at least using sawdust may be better than sending it directly to a landfill.

    It might be interesting to objectively compare material efficiency of permanent furniture out of wood or well designed sawdust and that of poorly designed furniture made entirely of sawdust.

    I’ve used these products of course and sometimes it works fine and for a long time with care but it is nothing close to solid wood for durability or maintainability. Should we challenge ourselves to create designs where it can used in a durable fashion?

    OSB seems to be fairly good in NA as a sheeting (houses) material and I use it for other things as I find it not unlike plywood for durability in a lot of rough situations even occasional wetness which usually fails even my human made glued joints in solid wood.

    I have not found a really good use for MDF or particle board other than it makes fairly decent boxes as long as you don’t use it horizontal with any load on it :-).

    1. I think I need to add a little balance here. Because of quantity, greed and consumerism, IKEA manufactures its engineered boards from raw trees and not waste forest materials, which most people feel to be the case too.Sawdust, chips and shavings to create sheet goods like MDF, pressed particle board and Oriented Strand Board products are fully developed from raw materials and that’s full trees and not waste product in general. We want to believe otherwise because we want to believe that companies like IKEA are basically good rather than hierarchical corporate empires structured to mass manufacture disposable goods before they even get consumed.
      The only reason I put this article post together was to counter the statements that IKEA is a democratising company somehow liberating this recent generation.

      1. I feared this might be the case.

        Cutting and drying wood is good hard work even with modern automation.

        I have seen machines that can just drive through a forest and grind them up in a way that would be easy to reform into sheet goods and into future landfill.

      2. There is a place in this world for fibre particleboard, MDF and a host of other names we give the material. Mostly to reduce cost to the consumer, but often to maximise production profit from a manufacturing system that simply does not care about the consumer, as long as they keep buying, or resources, as long as they still afford a healthy profit margin. Remove either or both from the equation, and the likes of IKEA will fold and go away.

        Thanks to Paul, I now use real tools by hand, something I thought I would never need to go back to, My power table saw, My disk sander and my thicknesser are still important to me as I make bee hive parts as and when I can. I have COPD, so an full upper body workout leaves me knackered for days if I work too hard.

        But in essence, I agree with Paul’s perspective on Ikea and the others, generally, the products are made to appear something better than they are, if they did not, you would not buy them, and IKEA would go away. Ikea exists, not to benefit the customer, but to make the shareholders a good profit.

        1. Just to add important stuff into the equation. Yesterday Hannah and I worked on restoring a mahogany chest. By doing this `I was able to show here workmanship from the mid to late 1800s, an era devoid of man-made or engineered materials. Our dissecting the industry of that era, not literally, enabled me to show how they dealt with expansions and contractions that would then take place over the following 150 years. We should have filmed it really but time did not allow. Drawing comparisons between what we discovered in IKEA showed how IKEA, John Lewis and all the others could not possibly produce anywhere near the craftsmanship in the pieces they made and that what they used was not necessary only about cheaper production costs but about developing projects that no longer expanded and contracted, gave total uniformity to the complex machining processes that did indeed rely on very tight, inflexible tolerances and much more. In the piece we were mentally dismantling these workmen made judicious cuts that allowed for variations to take place through the centuries. They indeed thought into the future by decades and centuries and not weeks and months. In an era with much less control over variations in atmospheric moisture levels, their inclusivity of variables as actual likelihood rather than mere possibilities seriously affected their decisions. They knew that for something to last that long all things must be considered. Their whole reputations relied on a local level of traffic to their shops and not so much national or, as now, global. I don’t think anything made in IKEA and the others will be made in the UK or the USA or even many European countries any more. I could be wrong.
          So we see that, accompanying the development of the machine age in woodworking, highly improved levels of engineering improved machine performance necessary for improved mass production levels. It was essential also that the rise of materials used remained stable. Unlike solid wood as wider panels, MDF, pressed fibreboard, plywood and so on, remained dimensionally the same throughout the life of the product Without this guarantee it would require much more involvement from operatives on the production line.
          Another much less considered issue is veneering materials and my regular harkening to the artificiality and faux fronts. Manufacturers relying on unwood materials like particle boards and such wrap their outer surfaces with thin veneers of wood and plastic. These surfaces are paper thin and they are indeed intended to look like real wood. Some do well and some are obviously not. In the formative years of veneering it was rarely to present a cheat front but to expand the possibilities. The veneers were never paper thin but millimetres thick. They were indeed as thick as possible so as to resist wear but thinned down so that there was no conflict in allowing for expansion and contraction. Primarily it was to allow the very beautiful grain configuration that would not be possible if made from solid wood. It also allowed for the perfect colour matching, book matching of veneers and much more. It really was rarely used to create an illusion or to cheat anyone.

  5. IKEA has been in the US for only a short time, and has become synonymous with junk – cluttering our landfills.
    I understand the draw, however – it’s cheaper than most ‘furniture’ stores that charge more for the same or only slightly better quality cookie-cutter throw-away furniture, and in a consumption society quality furniture isn’t valued by most as much as a mobile phone (that will itself be obsolete in 3 to 5 years). But quality furniture – furniture built to last – cannot be found a prices that most of us can afford. Ironically, the best piece of furniture most of us experience is a casket, and even those are now coming mass produced.
    That is why I joined woodworking masterclasses – so I could replace every substandard piece of ‘consumer’ furniture with that which has come off my hand tools, and return to dust in a pine box of the my own making.

      1. And I thought I was the only one toying with the idea of making my own casket/coffin and thought the idea a tad too morbid to mention to others.

        But hopefully I’m interpreting mr. Sellers’ reply here correctly….

  6. Somebody posted a picture on Instagram the other day of a piece from IKEA that had a stamp on the bottom that said “Made in China”. A Swedish lady replied and said they started outsourcing to China because Swedish labor was too pricy.
    So, part of their marketing is being Swiss designed and made and the latter is no longer true.
    Just another thought to go along with yours.
    Thanks Paul!


  7. The Swedish MFI, the kind of stuff we used to knock together in woodwork at school in the 80’s. laminatedChipboard R Us.

    In 10 years working for British Gas, one of the most soul destroying things was going from one house to the next and seeing the same junk everywhere, down to the pictures on the wall, you know, whatever Matalan was flogging cheap. You’d crave some sign of originality; one day I stumbled across a photographer in York who’s pictures were his own, every print taken no more than 15 minutes from his front door. Restored my faith.

  8. Ikea the way I look at it in the USA The Woodworking trade for real woodworker are few and far between their articles are expensive people want fast and easy and look good that’s why Ikea gets a lot of customers age of material the public doesn’t understand the quality they’re so busy they Overlook. As for woodworker that are professionals have a lot of pride and vision for what they make, the regular public is more about Electronics then their needs at their home it’s sad to see but it’s reality I saw in the fifties in the 40s furniture that was made it was nice it deteriorated in the sixties and seventies so Ikea comes along gives then a price break something that looks good and they swallow it just like a lot of electronics everybody’s in a hurry, women can’t wait for things to be built men have no craftsmanship there is a small percentage that do 10% but they’re too busy trying to make a living. We live in a throwaway Society

  9. Hi Paul,
    I sell residential furniture for a major chain here in the States. It is by no means heirloom. We get a real charge out of people coming in to say IKEA falls apart when they move it. Your point about painting cardboard boxes is well taken. Actually using screws would make it stronger than theirs.

  10. The beeb praising european business models that drive nation state local businesses into the ground,I never watch or read anything the beeb publishes anymore,they are even trying to politisize the bloody USA gp by goading Hamilton to taking a knee.

    Ikea is a grade dustbin that creates the illusion of cheapness but actually isn’t,when I moved in with my girlfriend of 7yrs,I had to rearrange all her furniture when decorating the house,most of it fell apart due to the fixings used,slowly forming rhomboidal before complete collapse.

    This is why I love to see those diy channels on YouTube,where they take pallet wood,some screws glue and nails and make the same easy designed furniture and even flooring for next to no cost

  11. Bravo Paul!
    IKEA is, like all the big box stores (no pun intended) a blight on the retail landscape that has metastasized over the past 30 or so years, the brick and mortar versions of Amazon. Your observation regarding the obliteration of competition is particularly insightful.
    Thank you!

  12. Ah, the liberalization of markets, the so-called globalization! May the gods of Eden protect me!
    How can we escape this market?
    Learning and working, teaching our descendants that the World does not end tomorrow.
    See you next time.

  13. Paul
    I truly didn’t realize that IKEA turned perfectly good trees into rubbish.
    I thought it was all byproducts from sawmills and waste from manufacturing plants.
    I really thought it was all recycled materials.
    Am I the only one who didn’t know this?

  14. IKEA is really a product of what the mass wants. Same with Walmart, Amazon, Social Media, etc. Any of these will die when the mass wants something else.

    Since we who are reading this blog or commenting are by and large woodworkers, we, of course, look at IKEA products as “second rate” if you may. The writers Paul refers to are, unless I am mistaken, not woodworkers and don’t have the background to write as a woodworker. Their choices of words are understandably not what a woodworking author might have used.

    A lot of it has to do with money. My daughter loves the hardwood furniture, mostly one-of-a-kind, I built for her, but she has her share of IKEA pieces, because either I don’t have time to fill her place with my work, or the style she likes — readily available from IKEA — is not something I am interested in building.

    I agree that most IKEA pieces are boxes, square edged, etc. But when what a consumer needs is just a box for storage, not for display, not to enjoy as a creative or pleasing piece, not to impress and not to deserve the time and effort of a skilled woodworker to make, why not buy it from IKEA? Why pay $50, $100 or more for something that serves the same purpose, but that is not going to be appreciated?

    I won’t build something I can get from IKEA, but I must say after 20 years of use, my IKEA pieces (cupboards, bookshelves, and whatnot are nowhere near to be heading to the landfill.

    1. Thanks Richard. I was in IKEA when I read Paul’s post. Unlike many who ship there I know what I’m buying when I do and to be fair there is a lot of design in the place despite Paul’s opinion, I get a lot of ideas there. The words that come to mind for me are ‘fit for purpose’. And for me a lot of the time I buy and change IKEA stuff to do what I need. I love IKEA for all the options it affords me and my home is lovely because of it. I wish I could post photos to show examples, my proudest achievement was a bed for our two kids. I got the solid timber frame from IKEA and built it in a night for my son to sleep on. Next I bought slats for the bottom level and then built a boat along one side for my daughter. I left the frame varnished and painted the boat red with blue waves along the bottom. It’s gorgeous and I did it all by hand using Paul’s methods. It doesn’t look like an IKEA bed now but if I was to do the whole thing myself it would never have been finished because I don’t have a workshop. Most of what I made was in my kitchen or on my knees on the floor.

  15. I doubt anyone would equate IKEA with quality furniture. A bit like going to McDonalds to get a healthy, nourishing haute cuisine meal: one is likely to get disappointed, no matter how many romantic TV commercials and advertising slogans IKEA throws at you (‘aandacht maakt alles mooier’, i.e. ‘attention makes everything more beautiful’. Their TV ads even show someone wielding an honest hand plane over a bit of real wood!)

    Sorry, mr. Sellers, but that’s the only hand plane that you will see here on TV nowadays…. it’s in an IKEA commercial!

    I recall a TV programme a while ago (I think it was ‘How it’s made’) filmed at IKEA. It showed how their furniture was made: corrugated cardboard honeycomb inner structure, covered by a thin layer of veneer, resulting in a light, stiff and cheap board.

    Though I dislike IKEA and similar stores and chains to the core, they do fulfill a role in our society. The public is as much, if not more, to blame, for it is to them that IKEA caters. If the people want garbage, then who are we to judge the company that sells them that garbage?

    Also, just because IKEA sells disposable furniture, that doesn’t mean one has to dispose of it quickly. My office chair is from IKEA, was thrown out by the previous owner about 10 years ago, picked-up by me and is still in use up to this day, as I’m sitting on it writing this. I’ve re-upholstered it once and later also made a seat-cover for it as it was getting tatty again. The removable cover is much easier to clean. Similarly, I have a little drawer rack, bought for 1 or 2 Euro at a thrift store. Made of real plywood, but was only nailed together by the previous owner, so not very solid and stable. I removed the nails, took it apart, glued every joint together and it’s now a sturdy small cabinet. Perfectly fine for the shed to store nuts and bolts in.

    I think it’s not so much the IKEA furniture in itself as more the mindset of the public. IKEA furniture needn’t be considered disposable, as with a bit of care, maintenance and occasional repair, it can last – at least my lifetime, I expect. Even the corrugated cardboard stuff, if one’s careful.

    That being so, I don’t expect I will ever buy anything from them new. Just the thought of going into the store (or similar ones like it) is enough to give me shivers. Not sure if you have a chain store like we have over here, called ‘TrendHopper’. Just that name alone does it for me, I’m afraid.

    And so we merrily hop from trend to trend, following the latest fashion.

    Nevertheless, I know a few people who enjoy spending their leisure time in an IKEA store. Though I suspect quite a few people go there not so much for the fine furniture as for the competitively priced food….

    1. “IKEA sells disposable furniture”

      By whose definition? IKEA has never billed itself as a seller of disposable furniture.

      I have seen many non-IKEA furniture dumped on the sidewalk or in the trash bins (commercial) due to lack of care in its use. I have also not come across any owners of IKEA items who look at their IKEA possessions as disposable like disposable forks, knives or napkins.

      I think we woodworkers like to look at mass-produced furniture as poor and not long-lasting. Some of it is, but abuse or lack of care in use is often the reason for its decay.

      1. The danger of making anything low cost and then making it so available to any and all is that people really lose respect for it. As with the McDonalds hamburger and such. Not a lot different than the way food is wasted because after all we can buy ten bananas for a £1 and four tins of baked beans for the same. If we did indeed grow and then wash and can the food, weed the garden, water it, keep things alive and growing through the season and so on, we’d have a different view of it. Just because mass made makes it affordable it is easy to say, ‘Oh I lost my spanner or my shoe! Oh well, I’ll just have to buy another.’ In my day we had to eat anything and everything put on our plate whether we liked it or not, gagged on it or not or were hungry or not. Whereas I might not agree with the whole of that today, it did teach me not to be wasteful. So there is still a culpability when people are saying to themselves, “It’ll work for now.” And words to that effect. I did it myself when one of my sons went to university and needed a desk. So I am guilty of that, but at the end of the day we are talking mostly about IKEA being a democratiser of good design.

  16. I just wish you to know. Sending you a part of artickle.

    Child labor in Ikea’s supplier country
    Child labor under compulsory forms, health hazardous work environment and very low wages.
    By TT
      May 1, 2005
      Save Article
    Share the article:
    Child labor in Ikea’s supplier country
    The conditions for workers in Turkmenistan are difficult.

    Last year, Ikea started trading with Turkmenistan – but the company can not guarantee that suppliers do not use child workers.

    “We can never promise, but we can promise we will do everything possible to prevent that situation,” says Fredrik Wahrolén, Information Manager at Ikea Sweden.

  17. Hey, I love this discussion!

    When they first opened in the US, a store took over a warehouse district down the street from where I worked. Those from the office snuck down at lunch and returned with glowing praise. I went down and was immediately confronted by cloying guidance, and hierarchical parking preference.

    Inside was a real horror. Someone else mentioned the sticky maize trap … “I just hate the actual shops, all that walking round to find something. Grr!” For me, add an extreme case of claustrophobia, something that rarely happens, and only when I become disoriented, and in confined spaces.

    So much for the grand entry…. Thanks for the tour and critique.

  18. The child labor thing applies not just to furniture but to all things that can sell to a richer market (mostly in the west): clothing, shoes, etc.

    Amazon, like Walmart and many others, would have little to sell if everything they carry must source from producers who meet the same ethical, labor, safety, environmental and legal requirements and standards that are in place in the west. I know for a fact that many Made in China or India or Indonesia or (fill in the name of any second or third world country here) goods are competitively priced because they don’t have the kind of constraints businesses in the west face.

    On the one hand, people complain about loss of jobs but on the other, the same people want the best at the lowest price possible. If you want the lowest prices, the goods are most likely to come from Asia or Africa or Mexico where the costs of producing are much lower. If you want to keep jobs, you have got to be willing to pay more. Are you willing to?

  19. Paul,
    Have I understood correctly that the term “democratising design” was intended to suggest that the masses have voted with their feet and flocked to IKEA because they like their furniture designs, but that you believe there is little in the way of outstanding design involved and that the attraction is purely the low cost of their cheaply made furniture?

    You got me thinking about what design is and whether it could be thought of in the same way as art? Many’s the time I’ve heard people condemn an artists work as not art because perhaps it doesn’t conform to their personal perception of what art should be. Where furniture is concerned I suppose design differs in that it has both a technical element, e.g. the method of construction that makes it fit for purpose, and an aesthetic one which, like art, is more subjective.

    IKEA’s drive to maximise its profits has constricted its ability to produce an aesthetically varied range of designs and ended up, as you say, with just boxes. I guess it must be frustrating for its designers as individuals whose design abilities are restricted to the technical challenge of how to join pieces of chipboard together and of course the most efficient way of packing all the flatpack pieces into a cardboard box!

    1. ” I guess it must be frustrating for its designers as individuals whose design abilities are restricted to the technical challenge of how to join pieces of chipboard together and of course the most efficient way of packing all the flatpack pieces into a cardboard box!”

      Or, for some, not all, of these designers, they might feel so satisfying that they could achieve so much, given the limitations they are subject to.

      I recall seeing a video in which the engineers appeared so proud of a new fastener system they were working on to replace the existing joinery system (mainly dowels, nails and screws).

      1. I recall the brag that it took 60 engineers to come up with a few fasteners over a year. Staggering and questionable. Most of their fasteners already existed and are used commonly throughout the flatpack industry. Their latest product, leg-to-table-underside is remarkably like a handrail connector with an adaptation in plastic and that has existed for decades.

    2. The reality that good and well made designs cannot realistically be made to supply the masses in our day and age. Back in the late 1800s on into the post first world war, craftsmen in the western world were kept in check by low wages and an abundance of skilled workers. If one died another ten could replace him. If the purse tightened, wages were lowered to less than poverty levels. Read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell for a fuller picture of life then. Craftsmen were replaced by skilled machinists. We now have a generation of young families and singles striving to exist on incomes that do not provide for their future. They will likely never own their home and they will never repay the ridiculous debts incurred based on promises by educationalists and economist politicians allowing them to borrow £30-60,000 in student loans to get a degree only 30% of them will actually need or use. There is a promise that with a good degree you are guaranteed success and it all starts in the early teen years. It is in many cases just disingenuous at best.
      I don’t believe this is just a matter of perceptions of good design not matching my own or me being too old to run with the pack. Just that I have spent enough time listening to people buying there say it’s so cheap or I know it won’t last but I can’t afford anything else.
      I admit that a lot of what IKEA provides in flat panels to form boxes actually would be difficult to make with solid wood because solid wood would cup and bow if unrestrained by good joinery. MDF and chipboard is re,markably stable for the first few years but then it begins to break down. Fasteners speed up the process and then a crossed thread or a broken dowel, something that occurs at the start if assembly, renders the piece less resistant to stresses and strains.
      The accumulative effects are what in the end become a self destruct product even though this is most likely not the intention if IKEA at all.
      Yes people vote with their feet. But most of them ultimately buy knowing the apple was rotten and they couldn’t find the worm after they found the rot.
      What we are doing on woodworking masterclasses is having a profound effect. We have people from every walk of life who never tuned a plane in their lives making their own furniture. How about that.

      1. It was a really good explanation in historical perspective.
        So that’s the truth IKEA produces, but we who consume make sure they survive and grow. They provide a solution and we buy it because it is the best solution for our laziness or poverty or our bad taste. I have many IKEA at home but will eventually eliminate them. Maybe I can not follow my decision but at least I have the idea. Do I have time so I’m learning your videos to reach my goal. I’m a beginner but I’m a good student thank you, believe or not. In this way, I can say “thank you” to you.

      2. Thank you, Paul, for the reference to the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. I have just cracked it open, and it seems like a great read. I’m always keen to read the social histories of those who have labored to support the leisure classes.

        1. It can be a little depressing but you can apply many issues to the demise of today where a whole class of people are unable to escape the reality of working two jobs and living sometimes in poverty with no escape.

  20. I recall the first IKEA opening near me in Warrington, and I did buy a few items which were good value at the time. Back then, they sold a lot of unfinished pine. It was poor but reasonably solid. I then discovered repairing traditional furniture, and some of the pieces that I bought 30 years ago were already over 100 old. They are still going strong to this day.

    Many of these pieces were themselves cheaply made, with a veneer over very plain pine. I loved stripping dark oak back in the day when everything was stripped pine. 1930’s & 1940’s furniture was also often very basic but had the advantage of incorporating an art deco design.

    I recently found a 17th century oak drop leaf table. Redolent with the years of use and incorporating repairs made over the centuries, it would look good in a period home or in a modern minimalist home as a statement piece. What was evident was that away from the outward looks of the thing, it was virtually unfinished. The little drawer looks to have been made with an adze, and indeed I have seen this on 18th century cupboards and drawers.

    Although I don’t particularly like the shabby chic look (unless it’s the genuine article) I do at least like the ethos of recycling old furniture which would otherwise be unloved. Looking at antique chests of drawers recently I have seen wonderful 18th & 19th century examples for around £200. This is incredibly cheap given the quality and the fact that it’s lasted this long.

    Finally, I find it laughable that some journalists try to turn articles on furniture into some kind of political commentry. Stuff and nonsense, lacking imagination, and offensive to boot. I suppose they know best and would guide us poor plebs out of our ignorance. Returning to the original point of the article, buy once and buy well, as quality never goes out of fashion.

  21. I like a number of the Ikea pieces. I’ve always liked the simplicity of Scandinavian design with its understated elegance. I can appreciate both the lower quality critique as well as the market driven side, but to reduce their designs to “boxes” seems unfair.

    The question remains: What is the alternative? Very few people have the resources to purchase handmade furniture and even fewer have the time, tools, and ability to make their own. How much does a handmade oak bed frame cost and even thought it might last 100 years chances are your kids won’t want it when you are gone.

    I’ve built a good portion of the furniture in my house using hand tools only and I am grateful of for the resources, time and experience that makes that possible. Handmade anything has always been reserved for those with the wealth to purchase it. But, Paul, what about the least among us? Ikea offers plenty of people the chance to outfit their children’s rooms and to take pride in providing. It doesn’t have to last forever and it doesn’t need handout dovetail joints to have value. It only has to fill a given need.

    1. “I like a number of the Ikea pieces. I’ve always liked the simplicity of Scandinavian design with its understated elegance. I can appreciate both the lower quality critique as well as the market driven side, but to reduce their designs to “boxes” seems unfair.”
      Well my countering IKEA may not help bring clarity to what I was trying to address and that is that IKEA does provide very plain boxes for storage and stacking and inside these crate-like structures they make more boxes to stack inside them. Having just spent 3 hours looking at their goods I did indeed conclude that they catered well in creating storage but that to call their efforts democratising was really quite the journalistic stretch even for their imaginations and machinations.

      “Handmade anything has always been reserved for those with the wealth to purchase it.”
      Not if you are making things for yourself or family and friends is that the case.

      “But, Paul, what about the least among us? Ikea offers plenty of people the chance to outfit their children’s rooms and to take pride in providing.”
      I believe I did say that in my posts at different points, Matt.

      “It doesn’t have to last forever and it doesn’t need handout dovetail joints to have value. It only has to fill a given need.”

      I’m sorry but I understand that we are all trying to do our best for the next generation and not use all the world’s resources. If IKEA was responsible they could add about 10-20% to their products to improve them so that they would triple their current life span that’s all. And we are still talking mainly about whether or how IKEA is a democratising influence on furniture and product design really.

      I hear what you are saying but reflecting on it I don’t really think I was unfair to either reporters or IKEA. And I thank you for your contribution because all considerations and points will have validity to the whole. I actually tried hard not to dis anyone but I can’t really just let such ideas as IKEA being democratisers bringing some kind of freedom to the oppressed masses just slide. I too liked half a dozen and more of their ideas even if they were poorly executed toward built in obsolescence.

  22. I agree, however this what the general public can really afford, because even if you buy real wood furniture it’s not cheap, no way, and the majority of people, families their combined salary is probably 30k, a year. So even if you buy the timber – that’s so expensive too, so it’s a vicious circle, tell me how much would you sell one of your pieces of furniture for?? And make a profit, because I had this discussion with other people and they say that they are too expensive only for people with money, we have a go about poor quality from these kind of shops, and I totally agree, I think also that it’s the greedy timber merchants that have helped destroy woodworking. If wood were cheaper then I think a lot of people would have a go, and make furniture for themselves.

    1. I am afraid we all have to face culpability in driving prices. I think a computer selling for £1,000 and taking a few robotic minutes to assemble cannot compute to my making a desk by hand to keep it on if my work takes me a week of ten hour days. In both cases there are factors that determine the price but we are both competing for the same dollar. People are spending hundreds on cell phones that they will replace in a year or so without question. It’s all a matter of choices. Hw much people actually need to carry a phone around with them 24/7 is questionable but games are games and they are very captivating aren’t they. I’v actually never played a game but have looked over people’s shoulders and seen enough to know this. It just comes down to choices at the end of the day. I too do not need a cell phone. I could live well without one.

      1. Indeed Paul, it’s a question or priorities, people can’t live without their phones… They spend hundreds of pounds on them, I asked a friend who said to me why do I spend that amount on wood, I replied why do spend that amount on a phone?? He said, like you, this is my life!!

      2. Please, let’s respect each other. You buy a computer for 1000, and you see only it’s made in a couple of minutes by a robot, this is just assembly! But you don’t see thousands of hours of engineering work to produce this computer, you don’t see how much cost to produce this chips, how much engineers work for that. It looks simple but it is not simple at all, we make it looking simple for you.

        I write software, it takes a lot of time and effort, but final users use it for free, yes, you use it and even don’t know you use it. Your success: youtube, website, blog is made by our effort and enthusiasm. We are craftsmans like you, we just making computers, tools for peoples, why they play games? I don’t know.

        I think you just scratch the surface of the problem. We can say IKEA is making boxes, cheap boxes, they design for a short time of use. I can say they resolve a problem, you see what is available, you see the price and you can buy it right now, for many this is what they need. But let’s look at things designed to last, house doors. Could you explain why in London an expensive flat to rent, has cheap doors that can’t resist a year? Doors made of the same material that this cheap boxes. This doors are supposed to last at least 30-50 years, they will have the same function, nobody transport this doors from one place to another, they look almost the same as 100 years ago, but now what is made is a shame. Very expensive and very bad quality at the same time. In London, but I can give examples in other cities too.

        The problem is deeper. In my opinion in last decades our work give you some more instruments to compete with mass production. You can easier access to information, you can communicate much easier, you can sell/buy much easier, you have a lot of tools to manage your paperwork (however here states could do much more, but they won’t), you have tools to design your furniture, you even can have robots that help you compete with mass production. And all this is quite free … Now it’s your turn to think, discuss how and improve what you know better, woodworking. It’s not easy.

        I think you are on the right track. DIY can resolve part of a problem. At least for house owners. What peoples need is: to make simple furniture with their hands, they need to enjoy the process, it should be cheap to make, it should be considered prestigious again that it’s hand made by your own, it should be simple to make, it should be transportable, it should be safely made, materials should be available. I think you should look at constraints like: small space, no noise, room in a house or flat room in town.

        1. There was no disrespect re computer taking minutes by robot to make. My son has just spent years working on the Rolls Royce Trent 7000. It’s sales for 2.7bn in orders. I don’t question the investment it took nor the cost it sells for. Where the core message was on my part was that IKEA was the democratiser of good design. I highlighted what I considered to be erroneous claims that’s all and showed evidence that what they made was highly engineered cheapness.It’s not true that they were/are the democratisers as stated and you make little mention of that. Actually, I can name ten other UK EU companies that were unpretentiously democratising design and may have even paved the way for IKEA in the 1950s and 60s. They did way more than IKEA has ever done to change the face of historic and formerly classicist design and that without compromising longevity in any way. My present dining suite is teak from the 1960s; bruised and battered by decades of family use and yet not one traditional joint is compromised by looseness. I did wonder why you hardly mentioned the core issue but I respect you want to bring an alternative point of view even though you missed that I did see the hours it took to establish the computer design and it is reflected in the 1000.My point was that my personal time compared to a mass made product beyond concept was disproportionate that’s all. Investment time is months and years, I understood that, and I accounted for that when I discussed the price of the computer on the streets. The difference is that Apple makes millions in profits, as do all the others, and I just make a living with only a tiny profit that’s all. I believe that is a fair comparison and comment. I find it odd when people preface “lets respect each other”, when there was no disrespect there in the first placer as far as I could see. They then somehow see it necessary to force some issue thereafter. I have felt that everyone here, myself included, has greatly respected one another’s freedom and point of view and that is a common thread throughout our comments section generally.

          1. I have not mentioned core issue, because I agree with you in most you say. I disagree in comparison with computers, because this is what I know. Apple is a kind of IKEA in computer world. Millions in profit are made by the company, not by engineers. Management, sales, marketing, capital, they take the big part of the profit. Most of the buyers don’t care how much time and effort we invested in our product. Trying to compete with Apple or google, is the same as for you to compete with IKEA. In the way the current economy, market is organized, working hard does not mean you ‘ll be payed accordingly.

            Good news we have more tools to communicate, share know how, buy/sell something between individuals, you have the opportunity to compete with professional journals, you can set trends, it was not possible 10 years ago, now it’s possible, because of computers. Like we see mass media having troubles and understanding individuals count, you are more popular than many woodworking journals. We have more and more tools for small businesses or individuals to compete with big companies.

            Bad news, we have high taxes, high prices in Europe, bureaucracy, and a bunch of other problems, that make you and me very expensive and less competitive, comparing to Apple, IKEA that can escape taxes and other stuff.

  23. THANK YOU!!! Someone needed to say all of that and I’m glad it was you Paul! I work in the city on computers, that alone is fake enough. But when I hear people discussing their how great it was to buy fake garbage furniture (let alone spend so long in the store they ate lunch there) as I work on a garbage IKEA desk made out of laminated 1 by 1s with cheap pipe style metal legs screwed on and they didn’t even bother to plane the uneven boards my eye starts twitching out of irritation. I literally threatened to bring my hand plane into the office several times because my mouse kept getting snagged on some of those uneven boards. Thanks you again, we need true craftsmen like yourself calling out this new order of cheap garbage products of every sort, most of which people could do without until they can afford something of quality that will last them a lifetime.

  24. Several things in the cited articles bug me.
    -Is Ikea really “Scandanavian design” stylistically, or is it a cartoon of that style that has eliminated important, interesting details?
    -Some say that a viewer should not be able to take in a design at a glance. There should be enough complexity in the design to engage the viewer even with repeated viewing. Others say that there should be the possibility of discovery, either by visual exploration or by interacting with the piece. Ikea designs lack these traits to me, so while they may fill a physical space, the result is boring. If you intermixed some plain Ikea style pieces with more complex pieces or otherwise designed the broader space to be engaging, the Ikea blankness could play a role by contrast. So, even if Ikea items were solid wood, I’m not sure I’d be attracted anyway.

    -Other styles, especially classical, are pretentious? Really? Nonsense. Pretentiousness need not have anything to do with the design itself. It has to do with intention. Pretentiousness relates to using, displaying, associating, or owning for the purpose of impressing. If you own Ikea to demonstrate you are superior or “get it” by “avoiding pretension,” you are being pretentious. If you own Queen Ann style pieces because you like curves, it’s not pretentious. The pretentiousness and democtrization stuff is just marketing twaddle.
    -I wonder if one reason why Ikea is so popular is because it helps buyers manage uncertainty and doubt. Ikea makes furniture tinker toys: The various furniture pieces all go together. So, if you don’t feel you can design the overall room (think interior design) and then buy specific pieces with definite styles, you can buy a pile of Ikea tinker toys and rearrange them in the space until it all fits and feels right. That’s not an entirely bad idea.

    Disclaimer: We own a couple Ikea things. I won’t say my wife bought them. But she did.

    1. 1: Scandinavian design. I am not sure what that really means anyway anymore. It seems to me on the one hand to mean free from classical Roman moulds, simplicity and clean lines which I totally agree with for the main part as I use them only in certain circumstances. The Shakers were similarly disposed and would have used plywood had it been around. They would have drawn the line at MDF and chipboard though. On the other hand it means to be free from classical adornment as is the case with other adornment types, inlaying and carving. I can do both with equal alacrity to furniture making now but I don’t because I personally don’t like the look of carving and I don’t like most, not all, inlaying. Colonial styling in design and inlay leaves me quite cold. It is just an extension and continuation of the pretentious English styling really. You know, workmanship harnessed by the wealthy to show off to their class in how refined they were. Read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Tressell to understand some of the rootedness of snobbism by the ruling classes and then worse or as bad, inverted snobbery where workers are protective of their then masters. You’ll see some of that creep in in the arguments here where people occasionally become highly protective of their masters too.
      2: I agree that a design needs many glances to catch the whole and then even a distance between glances of days. With IKEA you can catch everything in a single intake if you are indeed skilled in searching for design concepts. The embolden their confidence by articles that affirm and validate them as designers like the ones mentioned unfortunately. All that said, I like little things like making a book case and making a doored box that fits inside the case and operates to privatise the contents. I actually like spending time in IKEA occasionally though unlike some it is most unlikely that I would buy anything. I will be buying a couple of pieces to dismantle and bandsaw apart to show people exactly what is inside their product and what I mean though.
      3: Totally agree again!
      4:Personally I think they have dumbed down their products and the integrity of their audience which is why we have masterclasses and have proven the efficacy of our work. Look at what you made in 25 days when you came to the month long class and then what you have accomplished since then. Your houser improvements and so on. All I taught you was the basics and in the first week you made the tool chest with drawers, raised panels and framed lids etc. Then you made the Craftsman-style rocking chair followed by the coffee table in oak or visa versa. Now that’s democratising at its best.
      5: I too bought a desk for my son when he left home and needed a computer desk to last three years. It lasted five and then the fastenings weakened the MDF and it just went to the landfill as he moved to live and work in Berlin.

      1. I agree- providing skills, knowledge, and confidence is a truer means of providing accessibility. All three are needed.

        Your tool chest with two drawers is the Rosetta stone of woodworking training. It has all the essential joints found in furniture. You learn carcass work, frame and panel, grooving, mortise and tenon, dovetails, through tenon even if a small one (for the drawer back), half-lap dovetails for drawers, half lap or housed single dovetail for carcass work, drawer construction, drawer fitting, leveling drawers and carcass tops, and hinge setting including cutting hinge mortises. You can add cock beading, too. What a project! The coffee table brought in full sized through-tenons, basic shaping, and dealing with the large wood movement in table tops. Chairmaking is its own world because of strength and lightness requirements, and angled tenons. Learning to scribe the posts to the rockers has been an important skill for other work. Given 25 days, I can’t think of a better or more enabling curriculum. Probably the only thing missing is big housings and cabinet backs, e.g., for making a bookshelf, but after the course, that’s easy to learn on your own. Heck, build a shooting board and you’ve got housings.

        By the way, there is an important contrast between Shaker and Ikea designs. The Shakers avoided ornamentation, but they did not avoid form, punctuation, and movement. Look at their turned pedestals, turned seat posts and various legs as well as curved trestle table legs. Shakers punctuated the design with knobs, added interest, balance, and movement by grading drawer heights. So, the contrast between Shaker and Ikea points out that there is a difference between having uncluttered but enriching designs (Shaker, Craftsman et al.) vs. stripping out all the details and interest (Ikea, to my tastes and perceptions). Many may like minimalist aesthetics like Ikea. It’s not for me, but it’s not right vs. wrong.

      2. In regards to bandsawing down some IKEA pieces to inspect construction detailing. Watch out for hidden staples Paul. As I understand it much of their hollow core construction is the same as your typical hollow core door. Little thought appears to be given to the poor sod trying to install said doors in an older door frame that may no longer comply with current ‘standard sizes’ Even tungsten with all its merits doesn’t really like steel fastenings all that much, I am not sure how a band saw would fair unless equipped with a suitable blade.

      3. Culture is a living thing. What is scandinavian today and what is not tomorrow? In this country around 15 per cent of foreigners. They affect life in all directions. As food to music to design. After so many years IKEA has infiltrated the Swedish home that it became a “Scandinavian design”, a mixture of everything. Clearly there is something called “scandinavian design” anyway. But … Even we like it or not, it’s something else takes the old place. Being a Scandinavian is something else in time.
        Like I’m kidding sometimes. Sweden is one of the countries you eat the most potatoes. Food culture is based mostly on potatoes. Last five years, bulgur came in Swedish cuisine. Wow that was brand new for Swedes. I wonder and start asking questions about potatoes. Patotoes came to Sweden after the 15th century. What did they eat before that? It turned out that there was something called “broken wheat” what is actually “bulgur”.
        Culture what we find on, design what we like, food we eat the most. I don’t really know but, perhaps the question is how possitive does massproduction contribute this ????

  25. I think that their flat/cubic design preferences are substantially driven by the economic and operational advantage that is realized if the parts are made utterly stackable, so as to fit into a box with no wasted space and no extended shaped elements that could be damaged in shipping (no finials or the like on the top of a bedboard or post for example)— to reduce shipping and storage costs. Simple rectangles everywhere are the logical outcome. You don’t even want cleats or brackets or the like to brace joints, as they confound the stacking possibilities… so you need clever special-purpose, particle-board-friendly fasteners to form butt joints.

  26. I saw a statistic once that Ikea use 1% of the worlds’ wood each year?

    Now personally I have had a use for their furniture over the years, now wish for some of those pieces I had bought second hand instead for similar money but longer lasting.

    Having said that when I was a student we had an absolutely brilliant Ikea folding dining table, rock solid and folded away easily.

  27. I totally agree on the point of IKEA lacking any design on most of their pieces, and when you look upon the ones that have some “design” embedded into it, you often wish they didn’t try.

    But now, in order to clarify my point, I want to make a small historical digression. In the Soviet era the synonym of quality was import. The shortsightedness and wastefulness of a planned economy, combined with a total ignorance of the people in charge, has led to a mass production of items with a quality so poor, that straight out of the factory they often couldn’t serve as anything but paperweight. While the locally produced furniture of that period didn’t exactly fall apart too soon, it didn’t come together properly either. (Oh, and it didn’t have too many drawers either, not because they were expensive to make, but because they were too dependent on the whole carcass retaining its form. Which, in most cases, it didn’t.)

    Of course, there were some examples of high quality, and even hand crafted, furniture, but they were very scarce. I still have a early 20th century cabinet with hand cut dovetails, and it serves me well, despite being vandalized with a floor paint some decades earlier. But except for it and a few tables, that’s all I have of that era that still stands tall and proud on its own, without screwing in some angle brackets or dismantling the whole thing to serve as a storage shelf.

    Then, at the turn of the century, IKEA came to Russia, and with it came a breeze of properly fitted low-cost furniture that retains its 90-degree angles and doesn’t look like total crap. It wasn’t ideal, but it surely was enough. For nearly a decade IKEA was the symbol of style for the working class. And finally, after countless decades of joining construction-grade particle boards with dowels, local manufacturers saw the competition and started catching up.

    Is such competition fair? No. But would local factories ever bother to raise the average quality if IKEA never showed up? Somehow I doubt it. In our country IKEA didn’t drive the competitors out, it forced them to improve.

  28. Paul,

    I wonder if you’ve seen Roger Scruton’s short film, “Why Beauty Matters.” While much of what he discusses revolves around the visual art world and architecture, as a realist oil painter and hobbyist wood worker, I find many of the ideas transferable to some of the arguments you’ve made over the years. Scruton’s basic argument goes something like this: beauty consoles and affirms the human experience. When we surround ourselves by the disposable and the ugly, we choose to ignore humanity’s deep need for something more, bigger, or Other. This is much of what I feel when I get to spend time at my easel or my workbench. If you have an hour, Scruton’s film is, in my opinion, well worth the watch.

  29. Paul, in fairness to IKEA: –
    I’ve gone through the journey as owner of a newly acquired flat many years ago, and needing to furnish it with furniture. Looking at higher end furniture retailers, they weren’t actually any better than IKEA in terms of use of veneered chip boards, but were charging 2-3 times the price! And looking at similar priced items, IKEA was by far the better quality – yes, at that price. So I think I can guess where “democratising good design” comes from – they were comparing similar designs on the high street charging higher prices at the time, which were also very square and veneered. Of course to a master furniture maker, design carries a different meaning.

    At the time, we also knew people made furniture, but it would have been impossible to know what we wanted. It was hard enough with a piece already made that we could see and touch, to imagine it in our flat. But all we were concerned about was getting furniture to fit neatly into a space, that did the job, and was flexible enough that if we wanted to rearrange (essential in a small flat), we could move it, or give it or throw it away without too wallet ache. And we needed it quickly. So a trip to IKEA, brave the shop system, and in an afternoon, you had something to put your books/clothes up. It was neat and inoffensive, but they weren’t the stars of the show – the books, the clothes, the hifi and pictures were the stars.

    Then after many years of owning such furniture, our tastes and disposable income increased until we found that IKEA was rather low quality. It probably also had something to do with the fact that IKEA’s new ranges are in general lower in quality, because we still had old chest of IKEA drawers, made of solid pine, that were going strong! We grew out of it I suppose.

    Here’s the thing: how many people view furniture as utility and how many view it as objects of craftsmanship, design and beauty? I think a majority view it as utility with no expectations of it doing any more than holding up what they appreciate more, like their clothes, their computers, their crockery or whatever. Given that expectation, it is unsurprising that they will pay the lowest possible price for it that they find bearable.

    1. I understand all the arguments, TK. I accept all of the good reasons people have contributed and you did the right thing in providing for your family. I’m not condemning anyone for that. If I were 22 and starting a family over as I did in 1972 I would go into IKEA without much question because we would need something to sit on and eat from. I wouldn’t have gone for good design concepts but for a temporary solution. That was never the question. The issue for me is giving IKEA the accolade of the democratisers of design. It’s a title I cannot for the life of me accept and just where did it come from anyway? I too can reason it through and make acceptable what most people do indeed still see through, but I would be compromised you see. It is true that they have forced prices down and forced out competition and this has happened throughout the world in different realms until one company goes bust and then another and then another in the bogus name of fair competition until guess who’s left??? That’s really all this is about. I see young entrepreneurial makers struggle year in year out to make a living and they can’t because IKEA sells their cheap stuff for the same price or less than the other guys can buy the real wood for because IKEA owns the forests and pulverises it into its MDF and chipboard stuff.

      I may not think that IKEA has democratised design, I actually think it has done far less than many makers from the 1960s and 70s did in making pieces we still see around today that were well balanced, long lasting and basically unpretentious, not cheap and not disposable.

      Only time will tell who is right in these considerations, but if I did nothing more than make people at least stop and think before they buy then I have succeeded and not just acquiesced to the fallible argument that IKEA democratised design in my lifetime.

  30. In other places that I’ve read or heard the concept of IKEA “democratising” things, it is about design, not production methods, construction quality, etc. And while I don’t like most of the designs IKEA has produced over the years, I think it is fair to say that they have “democratised” interior design in this sense — looks that have long been popular in more affluent circles, and promoted by the more affluent or aspirational media outlets, are made affordable by IKEA. That’s not worth nothing.

    As I’m sure everyone here knows, IKEA does always seem to have two general categories in their furniture. There are the “starter” pieces, as shown in Paul’s original post. But they also always have a few product lines that are a slightly higher price point, have more timeless design (or, when compared to an array of cubes, and ACTUAL design), and are made from solid wood instead of “wood products.”

    Even then, of course, these pieces are joined with screws, anchors, lags, etc. They aren’t built to last, that much is clear.

    Far be it from me to want to defend IKEA. Like many others in the comments, I have a young family and we did in fact furnish a lot of our first (and current) house from IKEA because it was affordable, and at the time, I hadn’t discovered woodworking. Since I have discovered the craft, we’ve started slowly working towards replacing these things with my handmade pieces. And my hope is that rather than throw the IKEA stuff in the dumpster as years go by, that we can repurpose it to be resourceful, whether that means giving it away to younger family members like siblings and cousins, or donating it elsewhere.

    1. Thank you for this, and I did clearly acknowledge that IKEA fits a need mostly with the millennialists hopping on busses and trains with flat-packs and moving house, room every few months and once a year. Of course it fits a need but that’s on one hand. On the other this transience of modern life for the young is the cause of rapid decline by way of deteriorating standards and quality of materials primarily because chipboard and MDF does not transport well or move well at all once taken from their original boxes. Democratising as a provider of better design alternatives??? It seems to me to be a matter of opinion to date and we all have/are entitled to those.
      I had already accepted before I wrote the article that young families will find their needs provided for on a temporary level. It’s just not good stuff when all is said and done. My guess is that the majority of people, without any help from me, feel that ikea products do indeed end up in the landfill after a very short lifespan.

  31. Ikea has its place. I took four Billys, faced them with architectural moudling and crown moulding and turned one wall of my office into a library. It looks beautiful. Would all solid wood have been better? Sure, and more expensive and I’d probably never get to it.

  32. This was a very interesting post to read. I fully agree with the post. This type of big box store definitely has a place in life now as long as people know it won’t last. An Ikea just opened near me and I have to admit… I have no interest in going in any time soon. Apparently it’s big enough there may be a hotel and rest areas. 🙂
    It was also very interesting to read others views on the subject. You really know how to get people stirred up. 🙂 all joking aside…. I really do like reading other people’s opinions, comments, and stories….. and the responses. Every day I look forward to lunch and get caught up on the Paul sellers chat. 🙂
    Have a great day everyone.

    1. Thanks, Brian. It has been interesting. I think the article for The Guardian was interestingly accurate about the mix of feelings here:
      Enjoy the funny side!

  33. We have stores like IKEA in Michigan, they are are called Art Van Furniture. I bought a glider and Sofa bed from them after I was divorced and they both lasted about 6 months.

    I’ve since remarried and my wife and I bought two handmade Amish gliders that are just as sturdy as when I bought them 13 years ago plus they still look like new.

    IKEA’s stuff is also dangerous. See the link

    1. Wow, quite the list of unsafe products and what a mixed bag too. Here’s the link if you don’t want to scroll.

      Thanks Kim and all others contributing that made this so interestingly good.

  34. When my wife and I got married (26 years ago) I had a dream of making my own furniture. I had Blizzards book of woodwork and some hand tools. There was no internet then explaining this and that but your granddad knew how to make stuff. I remember the cost of wood being so expensive that I quickly gave up on the idea.
    We went to IKEA and furnished our entire flat. I probably have the odd thing still around all these years later (Kitchen ware rather than furniture) but I do still have a room divider made of the box structures and it is a solid enough piece of furniture. Their Billy bookcases are also very good as a fairly substantial, adjustable shelving system.
    I’ve recently read a forum debate on another woodworking site about the use of a certain magnetic dovetail guide. Blimey, people ranted for ages and it got quite involved and personal.
    I’m dead keen on woodworking with hand tools now that I’m nearly retired, have money to spend on wood (although I’m doing a great job of the tool chest using an old pine double bed a neighbour was throwing out.) and the budget of an older middle class man.
    Paul, I like the new way you are going with your “reduced” film set and the re-establishment of the message that you don’t need a lot of tools. I find myself “lusting” over a paring chisel or set of cabinet makers screwdrivers (I’m not saying I won’t be buying them – eventually) or indeed an interest in a dovetail guide but I remind myself that if I wanted machine precise dovetails I could probably get a machine to do it or get something from IKEA.
    These days society is already at a stage where the craftsman is disappearing. We have shared an occupation (and it’s not woodworking) and even that is changing where the conditions are such that very few people will remain and develop their skills. Economies are different and if IKEA can furnish a home at little cost then good for them. Their design cues do come from “Real” furniture sometimes and eventually you hanker after a “Real” piece.
    Whew, that’s my little addition to this magnificent debate.
    Hello to Jason ISAACs

  35. Well, my father-in-law practically went bankrupt selling good quality antique furniture for a decent price. No one wanted “brown” furniture (solid oak) anymore. Blonde stuff (remember the space-age laminated trash of the 60’s?) is now the rage. I cried when I saw the prices that were gavelled at auction for pieces that I would have kept had I only space to do so. Ikea, sadly, sells what people actually want. In this case, “democratized” (or should we say, “demonized:?) may very well be the case.

  36. I would certainly agree with you Paul on the assessment of Ikea “democratising” furniture design, and also see the cheapness of their products as a false economy. As I see it, it’s just another symptom of an ever expanding population (the elephant in the room we’re not allowed to discuss) on an ever diminishing resource base. We can’t really mine trees, but we can make a one-time use of spindly arctic forests if we turn them into sawdust and then furniture. Their growth rates (perhaps 200 years to grow a tree worth harvesting) ensure that this will not be repeated.

    Just as with Norman Borlaug’s “green revolution” of our fossil and chemical fueled agriculture, we like to pat ourselves on the back for engineering our way past these constraints on humanity, but are soon to realize that we’ve done nothing but place ourselves even further out on a limb, one that is growing ever weaker as our energy supplies dwindle.

  37. IKEA is what it is: maker and seller of low to moderately priced, functional, spare, sometimes durable stuff that will often suffice and often not. They have their place, no shame in that. But there is, or should be a special place in hell for the marketing d-bags who put spin like “democratization of design” on their business model. It doesn’t shock me, because it seems like half the advertising I see today is something that’s shady in one way or another. Thankfully, it still does offend me, and so I know I’ve not become blind or desensitized to it.

    Good article.

  38. Wow. There’s a lot to think about in the original posting and the subsequent comments. Whether IKEA has “democratised design” or not is a good question. In some ways, IKEA goods are some sort of derivative of early 20th-century Modernism. But I wold argue that if one takes a good look at the work of Breuer, Le Corbusier, and Industrial Designers such as Bel Geddes, Loewy, etc. one will see a marked difference between their work–and the theory and practice behind it–and the simple forms that characterize IKEA goods. This is more easily seen in the furniture and furnishings goods IKEA sells and less so in some of the carpets and househood goods (flatware and dishes, for example) that are closer to the work of Industrial Designers. What is undeniably different are the materials used. The Modernists tended to use solid wood, stainless steel and chromed steel in carcasses and supports of their work, and animal skins and woven cotton and wool in upholstery. Plastics played a part in this early work as well, but in a limited way. Technology has played a major role in the industries associated with IKEA goods, often to disguise the nature of the materials used. Most of the newer materials, as far I can tell, are cheaper to make and have a much shorter life span. We can debate whether particle board, etc. holds screws and other fasteners as well as wood or steel, but I think I know the answer, and I think just about everyone else does too. Wood cracks, splinters, and breaks, and is subject to insect infestation and rot in humid or wet conditions. Particle board, etc. is probaby more stable dimensionally, but how much does that metter if the piece falls apart or breaaks easily? And how does one repair it? I am not certain insects will attack particle board, etc., and if not, then what does that tell us?

    I confess I have not read all the postings in their entirety, so what I am about to write may have been taken up in detail already. I apologize for the repetition if that is the case. I have been struck by the relative–but not total–silence about one of the issues bedeviling the lives of most of the people in the industrialized world. That is, the rise of IKEA corresponds to the generalized driving down of the skilled laborers in the international economy. Here in the USA, there are almost no unionized workers in any of the trades. Gone are apprenticeships and required training to become a skilled worker in most of the trades. Wages have been driven down into the dust by all sorts of forces so that not only are there almost no opportunities to become skilled in, for example, furniture making, there are fewer and fewer consumers who can afford such pieces. So cheap goods from all over the world flood the markets and become virtually the only option for many people. It is a vicioous cycle and I admit I have no answers at the moment.

    My wife and I do own three o IKEA pieces of furniture–a sofa that has stood up pretty well for a while, but that I suspect may ultimately fall to our new Brittany Spaniel puppy, who seems to know its weak points. We also have a bent plywood and leather upholstered chair and ottoman. Both are of Japanese design and have not only held up well, they are still uniquely comfortable. The other piece is a small white plastic veneered table that I am sure is made of particle board. We have two small lamps as well. The sofa and chair/ottoman we bought 25 years ago and I have a suspicion the more recent versions are less substantial, though I admit I have not checked this because we now live about 500 miles away from a store and our house is full.

    What the house is full of is perhaps of some interest. Most of it is furniture obtained at estate auctions over many years. Some of it needed restoration and refinishing work, which is a lot easier to learn than furniture making–at least it has been to me, since I am not a professional woodworker by any stretch of the imagination. Throughout our many years of auction hunting–in part encouraged by our work in a history museum for about 15 years–we were amazed at how inexpensively most of the furniture sold for. Why so few people engage in this sort of furniture hunting is a mystery to me. Surely some people are working so hard and there are so many important demands of family and other things that they cannot afford to do so. And I suppose that “old lumber” is of no interest to them aesthetically. But I also wonder how much of this is a product of our abandonment of the trades in secondary schools and a lack of education in the history of art, design and what my colleagues in the museum world and academia call “material culture.” It is easy to disregard and disrespect that of which one knows little or nothing. And that is an unfortunate situation wrought in part by the abandonment of the liberal arts and the denigration of hand and machine-assisted work of craftsmen and women.

    I love my workshop and have been lucky enough to get to know several great American craftsmen, as well as a few from other parts of the world. I count them among my friends, and they are unceasing in their help and encouragement. A few of them read the manuscript chapters of my last book (Wood: Craft, Culture, History, 2006). I wish I knew what I could do to about the problems I think are causing much of the cultural and economic dislocation I seem to see everywhere.

    All that said, I will now go back and pore over this most illuminating discussion, since I have gotten my “two cents” in. I continue to be an eager reader of your blog posts, Paul, and and glad to have recently received my copy of your latest masterwoork. And the small ancient English backsaw I got at auction for a song now cuts like a dream after your video on recutting and sharpening a saw in need of care. I did have to file the teeth completely down a couple of times to get it right–or nearly so.

    1. Not as good a proofreader as I should be. My apologies for the additional letters, etc.

  39. Sorry, but I don’t get this excuse for buying Ikea because it’s cheap – and here’s why. Go back thirty years to when my wife and I started our family; we were poor by anyone’s standard and couldn’t even afford the Ikea’s of the day. We bought old furniture from garage sales that most would consider fit for the dump; I knew nothing of woodworking but I restored dressers and chests of drawers as best I could because we needed them for our family. We still have them and would never sell them as they are special. We are now considered wealthy, I suppose, and have a house full of beautiful antiques but we still buy ‘junk’ and restore it and they are all special. The latest restoration was an old side board that a local chap was sending to the dump, so I picked it up thinking I could use the timber but as I started to dismantle it I noticed a packing note stuck to the bottom dated early 1930. Intrigued, I started to strip the paint to see what was under – just beautiful timber but it had been made from Osram light bulb packing cases (from the USA). The drawers were dovetailed and the joints mortise and tenon but they are terrible – this was not made by a craftsman but by someone, like myself, who needed something for his (or her) family. This would have been during the Depression in Australia; no money and no Ikea but it was built for a family and the person who built it did the best they could. I have fully restored it but left the terrible joints as they were and it sits in my den, housing my collection of old wooden cameras – and I will never sell it. I don’t know who made it but I feel good knowing that it will be used and loved by my grandkids long after I’m gone and I’ll try and make sure they understand how valuable it is – it is worth nothing but it is priceless.

  40. While I don’t believe it was IKEA, but a similar MDF product, I was once involved as a toxicologist in case involving an office with all new “cubicles”. Many workers were complaining about wheezing, headaches and burning eyes. I took air samples, and the formaldehyde levels were 10 times the OSHA limits.

  41. I don’t think IKEA has ‘democritised’ design so much as it has ‘Legoised’ design. Their furniture concepts can be mixed and matched to form some interesting design concepts, but they still have a certain rigidity that you cannot overcome. And they will hurt your foot when you encounter them at 2 am when you fetching a drink of water for your crying progeny.

    Personally I think our best course of action is to convince everyone out there that it is OK to furnish their dwellings with IKEA furniture, but they should save up for one special keepsake — a small cabinet, hope chest or desk — that can be used as a family heirloom to be passed on through the ages for future Paul Sellers to disassemble and marvel at our joinery.

    1. If IKEA democratised design then Aldi democratised woodworking chisels by bringing us some of the best chisels you can buy for under £8 per set of four.

  42. So many comments… so many like novels!
    Mine will be shortish?
    What mass production has really changed here in Australia is that it is very difficult and expensive to get any decent Timber. We are restricted to a limited range by the ever expanding retail giants, not just IKEA. In attempting to restore and renovate our 104 year old home I am frustrated with my inability to find much of what I need. That has led to innovation and learning new skills (for me) to recreate something which resembles the original.
    My thanks to skilled people who post on YouTube etc… who are helping so much.
    My point is this.
    The world is economy driven. Greed and selfishness continues to flourish but not all humanity suffers from self-centeredness at others expense.
    It is still a good world. My choice has been to turn off the TV and news. It’s mostly negative rubbish.
    Do what brings joy. For me, that’s family and building in people and wood and “stuff”.
    (And thanks to you Paul, sharpening planes and chisels?)

  43. I agree with the comments about IKEA .Their latest advertising magazine was bereft of any designs at all . But here`s a good point in favour of Sweden Two days ago I was in B&Q for some draught excluders and happened to look at their wood supplies . 3×2 inch lengths and looking at the end grain it was as fine as I have seen . It`s like old growth from a hundred years ago .Well worth a look .

  44. Sorry I’m so late to the party here but I just saw Paul’s IKE
    As article that’s generated so much response. All I can say is well done Paul!
    As we say here in mid America he’s just calling it like he sees it. Keep up the good work (in the shop and posts) Paul.

  45. I came close to buying kitchen cabinets from ikea. Had the whole kitchen designed using their semi-functional online tools. I drove a couple hours to the store in Orlando FL. My experience in the store with the people was aweful. The poor woman that I talked to was harried and didn’t want to answer questions or help me in anyway. She said she wasn’t allowed to help customers with design questions. I spoke a bit with her boss and he was rude, unhelpful and not at all knowledgeable. It was such a horrible experience that I stepped back and decided to look into other options. Best choice I ever made. I looked more deeply into Ikea’s cabinets. The materials were poor. There were tons of bad reviews and horror stories online. Sure, there were some super positive write-ups, but these were mostly on curated sites where one could smell the influence of marketing dollars at work. This was all 5 years ago or so before I started trying to learn woodworking myself. I can, ironically, thank IKEA for helping me get into wood working. It was looking at the quality there (and other places as well) that I came round to an understanding that they only way I’d get nice stuff was to either make it myself or pay someone talented to do bespoke work. At the time I wasn’t in a financial position to pay for a bespoke set of kitchen cabinets. I know they would have paid for themselves overtime, but that is mute when you don’t have the cash. In the end, I went to Home Depot for the cabinets. I could write pages on the things I dislike about Home Depot, but I can say that they were way, way better than IKEA with respect to the cabinets. I at least had an option to buy stuff made out of plywood boxes instead of particle board. . . The people I worked with in the store were also at least reasonably knowledgeable about their product. The HD cabinets have held up pretty well for over 4 years now and I can at least have an option to eventually build my own doors and shelves when they do start to wear.

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