A furniture theme park

I live in Florida.. home of white sandy beaches, unique opportunities to enjoy exotic wild lands and no shortage of theme parks.  You’d think there would be enough destinations to keep my family entertained and occupied on a long holiday weekend…

But, there was one place we hadn’t been yet… And I was excited to go.  This past May, the international furniture giant Ikea opened a massive showroom in Tampa. We also needed a new dresser for my youngest son to stash his clothes in.  Sure, I offered to build it, but my wife convinced me that we should at least go over to take a look at what they had to offer. We headed over this past Saturday to take in the experience.

The first thing that struck me most was the size of the building. Gargantuan.  It looked like you could easily get lost in there.. and I braced myself to take the plunge.  As I walked through the bank of automatic entrance doors, I have to admit that my emotions were mixed. Part of me was excited to see what ideas were there for me to copy in my projects…

The other part felt as if this Swedish chain store was flinging a gauntlet down at me, the home woodworker.  After all, how could I compete with the clean Scandinavian lines and cheap prices by building  at my shop?  I felt compelled to find every fault I could and point it out to my wife to show my superiority in all things wood.

As we got to the top of the escalator, I was pleasantly surprised. The first sets of furniture arrangements in the showroom were impressive. Tasteful. They looked good.

As we took the leisurely stroll through the showroom, the range of furniture offered was very impressive.  Living rooms with clever storage pieces and comfortable chairs and sofas.

Bathrooms that were stylish, yet full of intelligent design features.

Bedrooms that maximized every inch of storage space.

And kitchens like you wouldn’t believe.  No, they didn’t offer dovetailed drawer boxes, but they did have soft close drawers and doors, huge sliding pantries that pulled out revealing dozens of linear feet of storage and all of the amenities you would expect to find in a high-end kitchen.

There was a choice of styles of finishes offered on most furniture.  From traditional frame and panel doors to sleek, sexy modern European finishes, you certainly could modify your kitchen designs to fit your tastes… within reason.

That’s sort of where the Ikea aesthetic started to break down for me.  After a while, I noticed that the choices in finishes started to repeat themselves. You had white, light wood, medium wood and dark wood tones.

There were also some minor imperfections that began to stand out.  For instance, on one of their kitchen designs, the doors had a dark finish on them, but the cabinet insides had a light finish on them.  When the doors were closed, thin lines of light finished wood grain were peeking out from behind the dark doors, ruining the effect.

And, the molding options were limited to one style – a very narrow bull nosed piece across the top. Yes, that is part of the Scandinavian aesthetic, but it’s something that ultimately  limits the look of the pieces. Not every kitchen is going to look complete with such an austere molding detail.

Then, there is the material.  The company keeps costs down by relying solely upon particleboard in their casework pieces.  Granted, it’s not like the ultra cheap particleboard found on the ready to assemble furniture at the local mega mart, but it’s particleboard nonetheless. While the furniture may stand up to use in wet places such as bathrooms and kitchens, there’s a good chance that it may not.  After a few years, the possibility does exists that those sweet looking cabinets might swell if they face an errant water leak – something that good quality cabinet grade ply isn’t going to do.

As I sat in the Ikea cafe eating a plate of Swedish meatballs (It was a heck of a deal for lunch), I began to think about my shopping trip.  Even though there were some shortcomings in the design, the stuff did look to be very high quality.  I found myself less on the defensive and feeling more like there is a place in the universe for custom made furniture and the offerings found in Ikea.  I  can pick and choose what projects I want to build and custom make them out in the shop.

As my wife and I pushed the shopping cart with the flat-packed-dresser-in-a-box we bought for my son out to the van, I was at peace with my decision.  The four drawer dresser cost me only $99, went together in about an hour and a half and does its job admirably.  I doubt that I could build something similar in the same amount of time for about the same price.

Besides, that gave me more time to get into the shop and get working on the projects I have to get done on my honey-do list.

Like any good amusement park, Ikea did have its ups and downs and was quite a bit of fun. But, hey, who wants to live in an amusement park?

4 thoughts on “A furniture theme park”

  1. Eventhough it was only $99 and an hour-ish work, I think I’d rather have an Iovino original than “dorm furniture”.

  2. Hi Tom

    Although a furniture maker when I was in the UK, I’ve been an Ikea junkie for years and often used their cabinets as the basis for kitchen builds – I couldn’t make them for that price – and just made bespoke doors (everyone has European style these days).

    Odd sizes were not a problem as I’d made jigs to mimic the Ikea drillings, so it was either cut-down and re-drill or, if the width cut through an existing hole, rip new and drill…

    They were so rigit when built-up that, for everything but high-rolling customers who demanded complete builds or different internal finishes, there was no better method. Even with the complete builds I used the Ikea method as I had the jigs.

    I wouldn’t necessarily furnish my entire house with Ikea due to the limited range of materials and finishes but for kitchens, it would be their cabinets and my doors every time.

    And the range of cabinet accessories is far greater than anywhere else in the UK without paying at least three or for times the price or having the item fall apart – UK readers will know the stores that sell those…


  3. Tom:

    Consumer Reports spoke very highly of IKEA cabinets in their kitchen issue, even though they are particle board. We have friends in Germany who have two kitchens done with IKEA cabinets. Ten years later, with kids now in their late teens, the cabinets still look good.

    It’s not custom made but the price/value is pretty good.


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