Hacking IKEA

IKEA hacking is the practice of buying things from IKEA and reengineering — or “hacking” — them to become customized, more functional, and often just better designed stuff. The locus of the IKEA hacking movement is a website called IKEAhackers.net. It’s a showcase for people who have tricked out their KALLAXES, their ARKELSTORPS and their FLÄRDFULLS .

Would-be hackers can gather tips from other hackers, and once they’re ready, post pictures and how-to guides of their own hacks.

Expedit
A favorite on IKEAhackers.net: the now-discontinued Expedit bookcase-cum midcentury-modern sideboard. Credit: Sindy Stevens; Courtesy of Jules Yap

Some Billy bookcases and a Flellse bed were hacked to make Murphy bed. In the photo below, were hacked to make a Murphy bed.

billy bookcase
Courtesy of Jules Yap
bed
Courtesy of Jules Yap

Because IKEA products are available in so many countries and use metric measurements, a worldwide “hackerati” has been able to thrive. You see hacks posted from Australia, Russia, Israel and Dubai. Someone even posted a hack of a French country house library in an actual French country house. He used 60 Billy and Benno bookcases.

french country house hack
French Country House IKEA hack. Courtesy of Jules Yap

And of course, beyond the bounds of IKEAhackers.net, there are tons of people just putting up youtube videos or sharing flickr photos of their hacked IKEA items.

IKEAhackers.net was started in 2006 by Jules Yap (Jules is not her real first name — it’s a pseudonym derived from an IKEA product). But in March of 2014, Yap got a cease and desist letter from IKEA. IKEA claimed that using their trademarked name  was a violation — even just using the blue and yellow color scheme was not allowed.

Since Yap makes money off of the site through advertising, IKEA argued that she was profiting off of the IKEA name.

jules-sad
From IKEAhackers.net. Courtesy of Jules Yap

IKEA asked Yap to stop using the IKEA trademark or anything trademarked by IKEA including her domain name. It also seemed like she would have to close down the Twitter and Facebook accounts associated with her website. She was resigned to comply, but then came a huge outcry on the internet. Cory Doctorow, who blogs on Boing Boing, called the cease and desist from letter from IKEA “steaming bullshit.” Supporters of Yap felt like IKEAhacking.net was actually good for the IKEA brand, and that IKEA was foolish to make an enemy out of her.

Apparently, IKEA took the criticism to heart. A representative of the company contacted Yap in June and told her that they wanted to come to a solution that both parties could be happy with. As we release this podcast, Yap is traveling to the IKEA headquarters in Sweden to work out the details of the solution.  On her website, Yap said she was so happy she could “pee in her FRAKTA pants.”

IMG_4537
The base of Sean’s new bed. Credit: Sean Cole

Credits

Production

Producer Sean Cole spoke with Jules Yap of IKEAhackers.net, and academics Daniela Rosner and Jonathan Bean (the latter of whom helped him hack an IKEA storage-bed out of KALLAX bookcases and some doors that can be found at any  big-box home improvement store).

Music

“Climbing The Mountain” — Podington Bear
“Breezin” — Podington Bear
“Orem Owls” — OK Ikumi
“Room 34” — Keegan DeWitt
“Not Yet” — Melodium
“Collioure” — Melodium

Comments (20)

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  1. I was totally expecting this episode to include the song “Ikea” by Jonathan Coulton, which is available for free on his website.

    Neat episode, though! I was one of the listeners who had no idea Ikea hacking was a thing.

  2. looselips

    I saw an excellent exhibit last summer at the London Design Museum with several examples of how traditional manufacturing models are being disrupted by clever DIY’ers armed with new tools like 3D printers. The Ikea hackers was one of the examples. Not only are customers finding unique ways to repurpose manufactured goods, but they are sharing these designs in open source communities.

    http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/en_au/blog/how-to-join-the-manufacturer-hacking-revolution

  3. Dave

    My understanding of trade mark law (as a non-lawyer) is that there is an obligation on the holders to defend their trade mark or a third party could make an application for it to be deemed a generic term and have its registration canceled. In this sense trade marks differ from other forms of IP – you don’t lose copyright on a book, say, just because lots of people have copied it.

    Obviously loss of trade marks would be a bad thing for IKEA and it is not surprising for some hard heads in IKEA central have (over)reacted. However, it is encouraging that there are some more saner people in the company and I will be watching the outcome with interest to see if the forces of creativity and whimsy win out over the bean counters.

    1. Chris

      Correct, Roman should have pointed this out in the piece. You can’t selectively enforce a trademark. Enforce it everywhere or risk losing it.

    1. misspooslie

      did you listen to the episode? the whole point is that the ikea stuff is the same no matter where you get it. so if someone likes what you did, they can go to their ikea in germany or pittsburgh or LA and viola, its the same stuff–the same size, the same parts, all of it (whereas a 2×4 at lowes or home depot in the US is not goign to be the same as a (whatever the standard cm size board is) in germany.

    2. Matthew

      @Misspooslie

      The size differences Roman refers to concerns construction lumber studs. This is roughly milled, bottom-of-the barrel stuff, used exclusively for structural integrity and framing, not something you would actually use for finish carpentry. A 2×4 stud is actually roughly 1.5″x3.5″ in diameter, despite what the name suggests.

      That being said, any piece of lumber needs to be properly planed and jointed before use, regardless of where you obtain it, because of rough cuts and natural defects such as warping in the lumber. Engineered particle board always has exact sizing and measurements, regardless of location. However, MDF is basically sawdust + glue, and unless it’s a design that has been vetted and tested by experts, is not appropriate for anything which might see rigorous use (such as a bed).

  4. I did listen to the episode. Imagine that you design and build something new though. Much more impressive and anything not IKEA would be better quality. It doesn’t matter if the parts are the same everywhere. I did an easel plan that was in metric and simply adapted it to imperial. Made my own changes along the way too.

    I think, as somewhat explored in the episode, that IKEA hacking is significantly if not mostly a way to circumvent the establishment and not be sheeple, or to stick it to the sheeple. This is a silly sentiment.

    It was also said that it’s also like playing with LEGOs. Its easy, fun, but juvenile. Maybe a nice entry point into building furniture, but someday you have to graduate to original designs.

  5. Susan Ewald

    I was telling my husband about this episode and he said that modelers do the same type of “hacking”, but it is known as “kit-bashing”.

  6. DanC

    Hmm, the reasoning given for the hacks, that hackers are going against the grain, that they’re going against the ‘Ikea aesthetic’, that it’s somehow transgressive, seem more than a little ridiculous.

    Ikea uses standardized components that slot together easily and use common fixings. They fit together like Lego with a minimum of tweaking. It’s easier than building from scratch, even though the materials may of relatively low quality. That’s it, there’s no need for what are extremely pretentious justifications.

  7. Matthew

    I can certainly see the appeal for urban dwellers, without access to a proper shop, to want to create, to build, to design things. Woodworking is an incredibly satisfying hobby. Unfortunately, the barrier for entry is rather high, especially when considering the cost of tools and space limitations for most people. Using pre-finished pieces to bypass much of the process can be a great introduction to the hobby.

    On the other hand, I can see Ikea’s trepidation that a bunch of inexperienced customers screwing together fragile pieces of MDF (sawdust + glue–what Ikea is made of) is a HUGE potential liability when their newfound abominations inevitably collapse underneath them.

  8. The new IKEA catalogue (the bookbook as the video puts it) is full of IKEA-hacking by IKEA; tea-towel cupboard doors, bookcase-desks plus some eco hacks like water bottle plant pots. The common hack of using a particular plantpot as alight? IKEA now sells a lightshade that looks like the plantpot! IKEA isn’t worried about liability for customer accidents (they don’t have any once you start modifying it) or about passing off (you defend your trademark not against references to it but against attempts to use it for too-similar products, which are the only thing that actually threaten your use of it legally). And dismissing using IKEA like Lego building blocks is pretty elitist; unless you have a bandsaw and a workshop and years of woodworking experience, you’re likely to have a better experience customizing and adapting standardized pieces you can recombine into your own design than starting from scratch. Plus you can share a design others can use or adapt or be inspired by. It’s possible to be both populist and mass market and slightly revolutionary at the same time, if you skip the snobbery…

  9. Mentes

    I love that people call it “Hacking” because it just sounds cool and a little naughty , it is jut customizing!! Making it yours!, transforming! Well hacking sounds more hipster

  10. Bret C

    Copy problem: “Some Billy bookcases and a Flellse bed were hacked to make Murphy bed. In the photo below, were hacked to make a Murphy bed.”

    1. Bret C

      BTW, I didn’t know this was a thing either and I agree that it’s pretty cool. I think it’s funny that the ones working with their hands and making “real” furniture are the snobs and elites in this situation.

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