As we’ve just passed the 25th anniversary of Ikea opening in the UK,1 it seemed like a good time to post my first ever Ikea hack. Having moved to Cardiff, where the closest store is only five minutes from our front door, Eoin and I spend rather too much time in the big blue box of happiness, admiring the fancy light fittings and stuffing ourselves with meatballs and cinnamon buns. We have also bought or inherited a certain amount of furniture from there, largely on the grounds that it has been cheap and practical, and that the couple of hours of struggling and swearing en famille as you erect the darned things gives you a sense of achievement you just don’t get from shopping at John Lewis. I accept that, as with any large store, there are some issues with buying from Ikea, not least that, if you live as close to one as we do, everyone’s homes start to look worryingly similar, and, if you spend too much time and money there, you wake up one morning to find that you are sleeping in what appears to be page 72 of the catalogue.2
This, of course, is where the hacking comes in. An awful lot of the budget furniture in Ikea is made of unfinished wood, and is ripe for decoration and customisation. I tend to browse regularly through sites like Ikea Hackers in search of ideas and inspiration, and have found some great work: the cutting table made from Lack side tables would certainly be in my fantasy sewing room, and, for children, the play kitchens made from the dirt-cheap Rast bedside cabinets are excellent. Some, notably this precarious bed, are a little worrying, but in general the projects are rather a useful spur to your own creativity. Recently, needing a table and chairs for Eoin, who is starting to get interested in crayons and play-dough, but who is too small to sit at the kitchen table on his own, I had picked up a Lätt set for the bargain price of £17 for a table and two chairs. However, I had to admit that it looked pretty depressing in its natural state. Though I had some ideas about changes I might like to make, I spent a couple of evenings trawling the children’s furniture hacks in search of helpful hints. Combining these with the thoughts I had already had, I think I managed to come up with something rather more attractive and practical:
I knew I wanted to paint the table and chairs (untreated wood was just too dull), and I’m a big fan of red, so I started by sanding and priming the wood, and then giving it two coats of paint (Plastikote spray, because I was afraid of brushes, in Bright Red Gloss) before I assembled the pieces. Taking a hint from the Ikea Hackers, I decided to paint the table top panel with a couple of coats of blackboard paint, so that Eoin could chalk directly onto it (instead of the floor, the oven and the sofa…). There was also a plan to attach a Bygel rail and hanging containers onto the side of the table, as per several of the hacks, until I realised that keeping any art and craft materials within the Little Dude’s unsupervised reach was, at the moment, a really, really unwise idea. The containers, with their chalk-and-crayon burdens, currently reside on top of the bookcase, and the rail will be attached as soon as Eoin can be trusted not to draw on the (non-blackboard-painted) furniture.
I also knew that I wanted to upholster the seats of the chairs in some way, as they look rather uncomfortable au naturel, and had even found some rather fabulous vehicle-printed oilcloth on special offer in John Lewis: with all these wheels, I was fairly confident it would go down well.
Looking at the way the chairs are constructed (you slide the seat top board into some fairly narrow grooves in the frame to get it to fit), I knew I was going to have to assemble them the usual way and then construct a seat pad to fit on top, as adding fabric to the seat before fitting it would make everything terribly tight and difficult to put together. I toyed with a few ideas, including applying the upholstery directly to the chair, but that would entailed wrapping the oilcoth around the sides of the seat, and hiding the paintwork, which I didn’t want to do. In the end, I followed the advice in this hack to make loose seatpads, using some upholstery foam from The Fabric Warehouse and an off-cut of plywood from B&Q. Stephen insisted on cutting the plywood, not so much because he doesn’t trust me with power tools as because he doesn’t want to share his toys. Admittedly, he did do a lovely job, shaping the wood so that it fitted neatly between the uprights on the back of the chair, while leaving room for the oilcloth itself. I completed the job using my pet toy, a Stanley Sharpshooter staple gun, which makes me feel satisfactorily tough and handy. We then attached them to the chairs by screwing through the support bar, as detailed in the hack. Overall, I’m awfully pleased with the result, and I think Eoin is fairly satisfied too.
Unfortunately for my sanity, though, it turns out that one of the most satisfying things a toddler can do with his lovingly customised furniture is to push the chairs vigorously around the kitchen floor, so that they make a high-pitched, nerve-shredding squeaking noise as their legs grind on the tiles. A physicist father adds a whole new dimension of fun: when Eoin and I use the table we draw cars, trains, cats, houses… I left Eoin with his dad for a few hours last week, and came back to find the tabletop chalked all over with cubes, prisms and what looked awfully like an abortive attempt at a tesseract. Heigh ho: at least I had fun making it.
I’m still searching the shelves in Ikea for more furniture to customise, but for the moment I think that all three of us are very happy with our work on the Lätt.
1In Warrington: perhaps they were tempted there, to the UK’s most central location, by the mysterious Eileen Bilton?
2Actually, I don’t think I’d mind that. Page 72 looks pretty comfortable.