From Basic to Bespoke: This Is the Definitive Designer-Approved Short List of Easy IKEA Hacks

updated Mar 1, 2021
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Ah, let me count the ways I love IKEA. Affordable furniture that can fit nicely into every room of the house? What’s not to love? The only problem is that some IKEA pieces are a little too popular. If you look hard enough, you’ll start to see the same BILLY bookcase or KALLAX shelves everywhere — and I mean everywhere: your best friend’s apartment, your roommate’s WFH setup, your coworker’s Zoom background. Just because some IKEA pieces are borderline ubiquitous doesn’t mean you have to quit the beloved Swedish brand for good though!

You’ve probably have seen your fair share of IKEA hacks on the internet and Instagram, but I was a little surprised to see that we’ve never created a definitive list of designer-approved IKEA hacks here. Want to spruce up your favorite Swedish big box pieces but have no idea where to start? I asked a few designers to share the innovative ways they took their IKEA furniture from basic to bespoke, and these are maybe the only IKEA hacks you’ll ever need from here on out, all in one place.

Wow with wallpaper

Peel-and-stick wallpaper might be your go-to solution for sprucing up your rental apartment, but you don’t have to limit your favorite pattern to your four walls. IKEA furniture can certainly benefit from a bit of temporary wallpaper, too, and it’s not always about covering the surfaces that are in plain view. “My clients love adding floral wallpapers as drawer liners and backing for cabinets or even layering marbled paper on floating or cabinet shelves,” says Melissa Wagner, a designer with Havenly. “You can even cover your drawer and cupboard fronts.”

From coating your drawers in your favorite repeat to applying some peel-and-stick to the back of your bookshelf, as seen in the Chicago condo above, wallpaper can be the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to IKEA hacking. All you need to do is find the best pattern to match your room’s vibe. While geometric prints are ideal for modern spaces, botanical prints can offer a fun, bohemian touch in a given area.

Credit: Jess Goodwin

Get creative with your cabinetry

All of your favorite IKEA pieces come with a recommended set of cabinet doors and legs, but that’s exactly what they are: just recommendations. If you want to give mass-produced furniture a customizable edge, replace basic IKEA cabinet doors, drawer fronts, and legs with well-appointed alternatives. I know this might sound like a lot of work, but it’s a lot easier than you’d think.

“There are a number of companies [that] make faces and upgrades for IKEA kitchen cabinets that really up-level them,” explains Alessandra Wood, design expert and vice president of style at Modsy. “One of my favorites is Semihandmade, which will turn your IKEA kitchen into one that looks totally custom.”

Additionally, companies like Norse Interiors and Reform offer gorgeous replacement parts so you can give your IKEA pieces a custom look. If you want to flex your DIY muscles, take a look at this unconventional, brutalist project, which involved gluing woodblocks to the front of an IKEA piece and staining everything a special shade. Just remember: You never have to settle for the IKEA factory finish.

Credit: Courtesy of Gina Rachelle Design

Up a piece’s style with new hardware

If there’s one part of your IKEA furniture you should customize, it’s your hardware. “Pay attention to the details,” Wood explains. “Hardware [is a] great place to start to make your IKEA pieces feel more high-end.”

Since most IKEA pieces have similar hardware, swapping out your knobs and pulls for something different will have your friends saying, “There’s no way that’s a SEKTION cabinet.” (Who knows? You might even trick yourself.) While there are plenty of resources for cool hardware, Pretty Pegs sells options that are always compatible with many go-to IKEA pieces. This kind of project might seem like a small switch, but it’ll make a big statement.

Credit: Havenly

Safely play around with a piece’s purpose

One of the best things about IKEA’s inventory is how versatile each item is. So when it comes to sprucing up your furniture, why not think outside of the box before you ever pick up a hammer or paint brush? “When roaming the aisles of IKEA’s styled spaces, I try to look at things differently from their intended use,” Wagner says. “My favorite trick is using a wooden storage box as a wall-mounted nightstand.”

For example, suspend your KALLAX shelves to create a floating nightstand. Speaking of your KALLAX unit, lay it on its side for a practical mudroom bench. Once you figure out where your piece is going to go and how you want it to function, then you can go ahead and give it a personal decorative finish. Whether you paint something, stain it, or paper it, it’s a simple DIY you can complete in one weekend.

Credit: Alexis Buryk

Double down on dowels and other trimmings

More times than not, IKEA furniture has a smooth finish. While painting and staining are always great ideas, you can make your pieces look unrecognizable by covering them with a different material altogether. One of Wagner’s favorite ideas is experimenting with wooden dowels.

“A quick trip to the hardware store for one-inch half-round moulding and hot glue can completely transform your IKEA furniture to meet 2021,” she says. “After you cut and fix the dowels to a drawer or cupboard front, you can paint the surface one solid color, stain the wood, or leave it au naturel.”

For a rustic approach, consider adding shims to your pieces. The cabinets in this zero-waste house tour offer plenty of inspiration.