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Furniture hacks are the new DIY craze

Home decorators who once would have dropped thousands of dollars on designer furniture are now looking at inexpensive, self-assembly pieces from big-box stores as a jumping-off point for more custom designs.

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It's part of a do-it-yourself craze that has many people in this age of computers feeling like they are "losing touch with how to build things," said Eric Wilhelm, founder and CEO of the Web site Instructables.com.

The site, a forum with 26,000 member-submitted instructions for craft projects, includes many projects for furniture repurposed or refurbished from inexpensive Ikea items.

"Some people use the word hack" for personalizing mass-produced pieces, said Randall Kramer, a Chicago furniture designer whose work turning an Ikea bookshelf into an 8-foot-high bookcase for his girlfriend has made the rounds on the Internet. He said a custom-made bookcase of similar size would have cost at least a few thousand dollars and months of wait at his store.

Besides, he said, it's a thrill to take "something at Ikea that could be modified or altered or made to look hipper than just an Ikea."

Sherry and John Petersik, both 27, wanted built-in closets in the bedroom of their fixer-upper in Richmond, Va. Capable DIYers, they decided that given the cost of raw materials and labor, they would go with Ikea shelves.

"We realized it would be more cost-effective and efficient for us to go with Ikea because if we bought lumber, we would have a much harder time affixing the hanging bars, and we wouldn't be able to build our own drawers that were very stable," said Sherry, a former advertising copywriter and now full-time home decor blogger.

The project was featured on Ikea Hacker, a Web site run by a freelance copywriter in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that tracks creative Ikea refurbishments. The site's editor, Mei Mei Yap, said the blog's devotion to Ikea was mostly because "other imported furniture are too expensive to put a saw through."

"In Malaysia, we really don't have that many good choices when it comes to furniture stores — so I thought it was simply brilliant to modify Ikea items to fit our needs," Yap said by e-mail.

Though prices remain the primary reason most hackers flock to the Swedish furniture brand, they say the packages of materials and pre-assembled hardware also save time, labor and brain power.

"I look at Ikea more as a hardware store or as a component store than as a place that sells items," Kramer said. "So for me as a designer, I see many of the things they sell as a building block, the basic element, that sort of thing, that for some reason they have. It's not that they've dropped the ball — it's like they left it for you to individualize it or customize it."

Ikea welcomes the creativity, said Mona Astra Liss, a publicist for the company's U.S. division. So do some other furniture sellers.

Britt McMaster, a 22-year-old blogger from Vancouver, copied a dainty $700 bedside table from Anthropologie in a $96 Ikea hack.

Sara Goodstein, a publicist for the clothes and home decor store, said that although Anthropologie has "strict policies against copying designs," it's thrilled "when a customer is inspired by a visual display or a piece they see in our stores, catalog or Web site."

McMaster needed a pair of tables and didn't like the color of the Anthropologie design, but she recognized the shape and size in an Ikea set of mini drawers. She and her husband purchased two, plus table legs and decorative trim from a hardware store and got to experimenting.

"A lot of it, we didn't know what we were doing," she said. "But when we went to Home Depot, we asked the guys who were working there and they helped us kind of figure out how to do it."

Not every company is so happy about customers taking saws and screwdrivers to their products. Wilhelm, the Instructables founder, said some brands have sent "nasty letters saying basically that we're infringing their trademark and they don't want their products being used in a lamp or something like that."

James Harrigan, a recent California transplant working in Houston, said hacks require an inquisitive nature more than a power tool. His sister in Costa Mesa, Calif., wanted a dining table bench that cost more than $200, so he built one using the hardware and form of a $10 Ikea chair, plus some untreated wood.

"I think the big thing that Americans are lacking now is that nobody wants to get their hands dirty, nobody wants to try because everybody's afraid of failing," he said. "And I think that 90 percent of success is just continue (after) those failures and learn from them."

If furnituremakers are concerned about these amateur designers, they should "be more creative with things they make and sell," said Grace Bonney, who runs the home decor Web site DesignSponge. In March, the site highlighted a reader-submitted project that covered the front of a $90 Ikea cabinet with fabric, re-creating a look that Bonney said she sees in stores "all the time for hundreds of dollars."

Though she champions DIYers, Bonney said she hopes furniture designers, upholsterers and other professionals aren't abandoned by legions of crafty amateurs.

"There's something to be said for investing in a piece of quality, well-made furniture."

Help for a hack

Short on budget but desperate for a home makeover? Amateur home decorators share their tips on how a little effort can make a big change:

• Think outside the product package. Sherry Petersik, 27, installed two standard-sized bamboo blinds side by side in her Richmond, Va., living room, attaching them flush against the ceiling to create the illusion of larger windows. The bamboo material hides the seam of the blinds, making them appear as extra-wide, purely decorative window treatments.

• Go to secondhand stores or architectural salvage places, says Britt McMaster, a part-time blogger. The latter was where she and her husband picked up a 100-year-old barn door for $10; they're going to turn it into a coffee table. "I think those kinds of places are a good place to look around for inspiration," she says.

• Pick one multitasking power tool and learn to use it for all your projects. James Harrigan, a 29-year-old crafter in Houston, suggests learning to use a router because it's "one of those introductory woodworking tools that you can basically make it do whatever you need."

• Check the floor samples or returns section of stores because pre-assembled pieces or extra parts are often for sale there. Randall Kramer, a Chicago furniture designer, says he makes sure to stop by the as-is department at Ikea, where he can "look at things as more elements or components that can be added, modified" into something else.

Associated Press

On the Web

Get inspiration from these Ikea hacks and home decor blogs:

• younghouselove.com

• ikeahacker.blogspot.com

• instructables.com

• designspongeonline.com

Inspired by Anthropologie, built from Ikea up

Canadian do-it-yourselfer Britt McMaster saw a dainty nightstand that she liked at the home decor and clothing store Anthropologie. But she didn't love its tan color — or its $700 price tag. Here's how she turned a set of mini drawers from Ikea into the $96 bedside table of her dreams:

SUPPLIES

• "Fira" mini chest with 3 drawers from Ikea

• 4 (12-inch) wooden legs from a hardware store

• 4 metal top plates from

hardware store, to attach legs to chest

• 1 piece of wood cut to the dimensions of the bottom of the chest, about 14 by 10 ¼ inches

• Pieces of decorative trim, assorted styles

• Paint and primer

• 3 knobs

• Wood glue

• Paint brushes

• Small nails and a hammer

• Sandpaper

• Hacksaw

• Clamps or large binder clips

ASSEMBLY (PHOTO on 1H)

Attach the wood piece to the bottom of the chest using wood glue and small nails along the edge. Screw the metal plates into the wood at each corner of the chest.

Attach wooden legs to bottom of the chest.

Using the hacksaw, cut the decorative trim pieces into strips that are the width of the chest. These pieces will cover the front of the chest, so align them on top of each other in a preferred order.

Glue the trim pieces to the drawers, making sure to leave a small space so you can attach the knobs later. Layer the trim so that a wider piece is at the top of each drawer.

Hold down trims with either the clamps or binder clips.

Sand all raw edges.

Cover the exterior of the piece with primer and paint. Do not paint the inside of the drawers.

Attach the knobs, screwing them into the small spaces left between trims on each drawer.

Associated Press

Furniture hacks are the new DIY craze 08/07/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 7, 2009 5:30am]
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