10 Tips for Decorating with IKEA: Making it Your Own, without Copying a Catalog Page

Even though IKEA is the world’s largest furniture retailer, with a huge range of products, decorating with their furniture and blending it into your home’s decor can be a challenge.

IKEA’s innovations and low price point sets them apart. But they’ve reached such a large population, there are people who know almost nothing about design (like my husband) but can spot IKEA products straight away.

Like these pieces:

I don’t say this for snob appeal or to imply that having popular furniture is a bad thing. Only that IKEA products bring some challenges that you don’t typically have with other decor.

I’ve hesitated buying things from IKEA that I think are too well-known. I imagine that the people who see it will know exactly how much it cost, what color options I had, and (as seems common with IKEA) they’ll have a strong opinion either for or against it. In the end, our home is filled with what we like, regardless of popularity – and there are a lot of IKEA products in the mix.

Through the process of decorating with IKEA, I’ve come across some tricks that I want to share. I see the main challenge as mixing IKEA pieces with what you already have in a unique way that doesn’t look like it’s come straight off the pages of their latest catalog – in other words, making it your own.

So here are my 10 tips for decorating with IKEA furniture in a way that lets your own style shine through.

10 Tips for Decorating with IKEA Furniture

  1. Embrace modern design styles

    IKEA’s most iconic pieces are Scandinavian modern designs. This style is known for crisp lines, minimalism and functionality. To give you an idea, the three products in the photo above are all Scandinavian modern style.

    If you add IKEA products to a room that has an overall modern style, the IKEA pieces should mix well and create a homogeneous space. Any historically modern style, from art deco on to current day modern would work (See my art deco decor tips, here.)

    For example, pieces could be sleek minimalist, retro modern (like mid-century modern), other Scandinavian modern options, or a mixture of styles. The most important point is to find decor with unadorned, simple forms and your IKEA furnishings should look right at home.

    The photo below shows a mix of modern styled elements. The sofa is from IKEA, do you see how it looks like it belongs with the other similar styles of decor?

  2. Choose from IKEA’s more traditional designs

    Though the majority of IKEA’s products fit into the Scandinavian modern category (which supports their cost saving flat-packing model), they also offer other design styles. Their products with more traditional lines coordinate with a wider range of styles; this is especially useful if your decor is not strictly a modern style.

    Also because these products don’t look like the iconic IKEA style, they may not be pegged as being IKEA straight away. Here are a few examples of designs that I’m talking about. Notice that these have more curved lines and ornate decoration than the previous examples.

  3. Soften the edges

    If you add a piece of furniture and it seems isolated (like it doesn’t belong with the rest of the room), try incorporating different textures. Layers of accessories can develop a color scheme, add interest and create a more cohesive room in general.

    This strategy works with modern or traditional design styles. But it is especially helpful for softening the feel of modern furniture; it can take the edge off a room that seems too minimal and make it more inviting.

    One of the simplest ways to add texture is with textiles. This can be done with throws, pillows, table runners, place mats, even slip covers. IKEA actually promotes this technique with their marketing campaigns. Just earlier this year with the release of their new textile line they encouraged, “A little bit of softness can change your world.”

    Have a look at the image below. Notice how the modern IKEA sofas mesh with the rustic feel of this room; even though modern sofas aren’t what you would expect in a rustic space. It’s the layering of textiles that make this room work. Without the pillows, throws and other accessories those sofas would be too bold for a country styled space.

  4. Mix styles for an eclectic look

    IKEA furniture can be combined with pieces from contrasting styles to create an eclectic mix that looks like it has been developed over time. For example, if the IKEA piece has simple straight lines, pair it with something more ornate traditional lines. The key is to mix elements so that they balance each other and neither become the focal point.

    This is the perfect trick if you have a random mix of furniture you want to bring together. Or the ultimate in budget decor: mixing second-hand and IKEA furniture. The differences in styles can be compensated through color, scale and accessory choices.

    In this image the IKEA sofa is combined with antiques from various styles. But notice that the colors are restricted to primary colors and all the textile patterns are similar, these details bring the room together and unite pieces that otherwise wouldn’t go together.

  5. Create another focal point

    This strategy is basically to distract from the IKEA piece and in effect it blends in. The goal is to create a focal point apart from IKEA furniture.

    The focal point of a room is what your eyes are drawn to first. It’s usually what contrasts the most; it could be the biggest, brightest or shiniest thing. Think about it, even if you have the most recognizable IKEA piece of all time, but it’s in a room with other things that stand out more, no one may notice your “overdone” piece of furniture.

    So how do you know what the focal point of your room is? Stand at the entrance. Close your eyes and try to clear your mind. Then open your eyes again and notice what catches your attention first. You need to keep an open mind with this. Obviously if you’re fixated on something you’ll notice it first. Just try to imagine that you’re seeing the room for the first time.

  6. Create furniture groupings

    With this one, I think about a typical first apartment or bachelor’s pad that is a struggling to be furnished. Maybe there’s an IKEA chair, but it sits alone in the corner with nothing else. It’s cold, recognizable and lonely.

    The first problem with this (ignoring the aesthetics, for now), is that most people don’t sit in a chair that is alone in a corner. Maybe unless they’re nostalgic for timeout? A chair that no one sits in is a total failure functionally. So try to focus on creating a grouping with the chair that will actually be used. Through creating something functional, your lonely IKEA chair can blend in with your style.

    Here’s what I’m talking about. Think about how that chair is best used. Say that it’s a good spot for reading. Then put a side table beside it to hold a book or drink (it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, a box or crate works too). Then add a lamp and maybe a pillow. Hang a poster or frame near the chair and you have an inviting little reading nook. Yes it may still be the most recognizable IKEA chair of all time, but it’s in a nice, warm space that encourages people to sit and use it.

  7. Try an aftermarket customization

    Nowadays there’s a range of aftermarket customization that can help give your IKEA furniture a unique twist.

    You can cover them:

    • Mykea, printed decals in a wide variety of designs
    • Panyl, architectural grade vinyl covers in solid colors and wood grains
    • O’verlays, decorative fretwork panels (see image below)

    You can replace the standard IKEA accessories. Parts of Sweden offers customized hardware, furniture legs, lighting and more.

    You can add custom doors to IKEA cabinets: Semihandmade.

    You can cover your IKEA furniture with custom slipcovers:


  8. Hack it

    IKEA’s self-assembly makes their products perfect for customizing.

    IkeaHackers.net is the ultimate source for IKEA hacks with thousands of projects cataloged to jump-start your creativity. Though depending on the riskiness of the hack you’re taking on, you may want to reserve this strategy for older pieces that don’t have many other possibilities.

  9. Shop with an open mind

    When you’re actually shopping for IKEA furniture, consider products that are sold for purposes other than what you have in mind. Think about the basic size and function of what you need, but look in all the departments. For example you may find that a kitchen cabinet works better for your nightstand than the options they sell specifically as a nightstand.

    By using furniture or accessories for purposes outside of what they were intended to be is a great way to give your own identity to IKEA’s standard fare. You can also customize IKEA products by combining multiple pieces of furniture for a “built-in” look, like a series of bookcases or shelves to look like a custom cabinetry.

    Check out this great example of a nightstand used as a kitchen bar.

  10. Be Patient

    One last piece of advice, and this applies alongside any of tips above, is to take your time and be patient. The easiest option is to copy the showroom or catalog page directly. But if you’re reading this, a catalog page copy probably isn’t your goal. If you want something personalized and unique, you can’t expect it to be done all at once. It will take some time to track down the best options. Be patient.

    Think about it, to develop a “lived in” look for your home, don’t you think you should live in it for a while and design it around your needs?

OK, so those are my tips for decorating with IKEA products. I hope they help you to make a little more sense out of what the big blue box has to offer!

No matter what your approach, whether you literally buy straight from the catalog page, or you take one of the strategies above – embrace what you have and enjoy it. There’s no point in furnishing your home if you don’t use it and enjoy it! Go with whatever is right for you…whether that means you the millionth person to have a Poäng chair in their living room, or not.

Did you find these tips helpful? You can get more personalized, one-on-one design advice with our e-decorating services.

How to Handle a Messy House without Losing your Mind

I’m one of those people who will always struggle to keep a messy house in order.

Notice my title says “How to Handle a Messy House”. How to handle it, not how to fix it. We all know what needs to be done to fix it: organize, clean, repeat for the rest of your life. What I’m talking about is dealing with the house and with yourself while you’re trying to crack that code.

My nature of having multiple projects going simultaneously – everything half-finished, with a mile long to-do list is partly to blame for my mess. Organizational projects stay towards the bottom of my to-do-lists, constantly beat out by something else. (Decisions I always regret with the number of unexpected visitors we get in Spain.)

Wanting to create a beautiful space and design my way around our home’s issues doesn’t help much either. Those things take patience and it can be frustrating comparing your own progress to magazines and blogs – which seem perfect in photos.

Plus there’s the pressure that many women feel to appear perfectly in control. You know what I’m talking about, those cultural and social constructs that come from who-knows-where. The ones telling us we all need to be beautiful, smart and thin with a sparkling house and home-cooked meals.

I am getting better keeping our house in a decent balance, and most importantly accepting that the state of nowhere-near-perfect is still OK. But it’s an ongoing process…

For my personal brand of messiness (and the stress/embarrassment that goes along with it), I’ve found two keys to be the most helpful:

  1. Stand behind your decisions. For example instead of thinking, “I should have packed up the winter clothes already”. Think, “I didn’t pack up the clothes because I CHOSE to do something better.” Support yourself in the choice you’ve made! Even if your “something better” is relaxing with a book. That’s important too.
  2. Accept that your house will never, ever reach the finish line. There is no finish. There will always be some new project, improvement or maintenance on the horizon. It helps to think of home improvement as a long-term process and focus on taking one step at a time. Besides, if you’re anything like me, as you get closer to  the “finish line”, you’re closer to moving and starting it all over again!

I started to write out a (longer) detailed post about all this, but I wasn’t happy with it. So I switched to sketching it out instead. Here’s what I came up with…

messy house

I hope you got something from my little comic/infographic. Hand-drawing this was a good reminder exercise for me. This little sketch alone was worth it…

messy house

This is totally how I feel about our house sometimes. By drawing it out I realized I was being ridiculous. I don’t even have a kid, or a dog!

Our house really isn’t that bad at all and I shouldn’t build it up too much in my mind…especially to the point of adding hypothetical messy members to the family.

Making Hand-Printed Fabric with Twine and Potato Stamps

For this season’s Pinterest Challenge, I decided to print my own fabric with twine and potato stamps – it was painless compared to my attempt for the Fall challenge!


Pinterest Challenge, hosted by:

As the rules of the challenge are to take on a project from Pinterest that inspired you, this is the image that got my attention:

This technique originally came from Christine Schmidt’s book, Print Workshop: Hand-Printing Techniques and Truly Original Projects.

I also loved this example of hand-painted and hand-stamped throw pillows.

Since I wanted to use some scrap fabric, and had just enough to make two throw pillows, it was an easy decision…

Twine Stamp Block

I jumped into the block stamp as my first option. My inspiration example uses a solid wooden block and yarn, but I went with a clear jewelry case and kitchen twine (thought it a better choice, since my yarn scraps were fuzzy/thick).

Twine Stamp Block

There isn’t much to this:

  • Wrap the box with twine in a design you like and tape it tightly to the back of the box.
  • For this pattern, the design needs to be square. I also liked it best with a slight separation between the strands.
  • Mix 1/2 acrylic craft paint and 1/2 fabric medium (helps the paint to dry less stiff and bond to the fabric).
  • Brush a light layer of paint on the stamp.
  • Stamp in rows, rotating the stamp 90º each stamp.
  • Once dry, cover with scrap fabric and iron to heat-set the paint (don’t slide the iron, work in patches, holding it place 10-20 seconds at a time).

The clear jewelry case I used was nice since I could see exactly where the twine would line up with its neighboring stamp, but being hollow it was harder to get even pressure in the middle of the stamp. I think a solid block would have been better.

This is what it looked like with the entire sheet of fabric covered (it’s about 15″(38cm) square).

Twine and Potato Stamp: Final Twine Stamped Fabric

Potato Stamp

And then, because I don’t seem capable of doing just one simple project and leave it at that…I tried potato stamping too. There are tons of potato stamp projects on Pinterest, but no one in particular that stood out as inspiring.

I had in mind to do some kind of a bird pattern, so I went through these sketches.

Bird SketchesOh yeah, and I’m using the scraps leftover from making the origami squares for my last project. (Points for reusing!)

This was my first time trying a potato stamp, and I didn’t realize until I had my sketch ready that I didn’t have a plan for transferring my drawing to the potato.

I just stuck it on there, and then realized wet paper was a bad idea…

Twine and Potato Stamp: Sketch Overlay on Potato

Cutting through or scoring the paper was impossible. So, I poked some pin holes at reference points (like the tips of the wings, tops of curves, etc.), and then free-handed the rest with a pen. It was tricky to draw the shape without etching the potato, but I tried to only leave ink and not pen impressions.

Twine and Potato Stamp: Drawn Bird on Potato

Then I cut out the shape in chunks with an X-acto.

You have to go slowly with this step and be especially careful to cut straight down, at a 90º angle, and not undercut the lines. Especially at the finer parts of the shape, you need the potato under the stamping surface to support the shape when stamping. For the finest parts (like the tips of the wings), I tried to angle the cuts outward to give them a little more stability (think about a pyramid shape underneath the stamping surface to support it).

Here’s the cut stamp.

Twine and Potato Stamp: Fully Cut Stamp

The stamping part is very easy.

Using a small paint brush, cover the stamp with a thin layer of paint (mixed with fabric medium like above), and start stamping. I didn’t have to worry much about wiggling or rocking the stamp for even coverage; I just stamped it straight down on the fabric.

One thing I found with the potato stamp is that it’s not the best for stamping a grid pattern. Since it’s lumpy – and well, a potato – you probably won’t find a good reference point for lining the stamps up with each other. I was lucky my spud had a flat spot and an eye at the top, so I used those to judge my placement, but as you can see my grid is listing…

Fully stamped potato fabric

I don’t know if it’s because of the color I chose or what? But I can’t get out of my head that they look more like goldfish or taxidermied moose heads than sparrows…either acceptable alternatives, really.

Hand-Printed Fabric Throw Pillows

I wanted to use these pieces of fabric as throw pillows, but I also wanted to see a mockup before sewing them. So I put them together with a basting stitch (loose, temporary) and pinned them shut. Here they are, mocked up, in situ:

Twine and Potato Stamp: Final Pillows

I think they look pretty good!

How about some close-ups?

Zoom of Twine Pillow IMG_9719WEB

I may add a few more birds on the potato stamp pillow before sewing (if my potato doesn’t rot!) I’d stopped short of the number I wanted when I started losing my grid pattern…but now seeing it all together, I think it needs a few more birds.

I haven’t decided if I’ll do the backs of the pillows in the same patterns or switch is up and make a different design for a reversible pillow. Either way would work, though it may be fun to try out another technique on the pillow backs…

Paper Lamp Shade: A DIY Process That You Probably Shouldn’t Follow

I made a paper lamp shade and it looks like this:

Paper Lamp Shade: Final light on

End of story, thanks for visiting.

Just kidding, of course there’s a more behind it. This is a long one, so settle in…

DIY Paper Lamp Shade

I’ve done lots of do-it-yourself projects. I started as a kid, so my lifetime count is probably in the hundreds (thousands, if you count cooking experiments and studio projects in college).

I have a decent track record, but you know what happens when start blogging about your projects? They all start to go wrong. Murphy’s law, I guess.

This one started when we were given an unwanted lamp by a sweet friend. It has a marble base and the structure is solid (important for a floor lamp). The only thing missing was a shade.

Paper Lamp Shade: Lamp base before

Right away I knew I wanted to make the missing shade. It’s fun working with lighting since you have so much freedom – practically anything can be made into a light.

For this one I wanted a white shade with modern lines, so my mind went to paper.

There are loads of paper lamp shades out there: folded paper origami-types, molded paper sculptures and Chinese style lanterns, to name a few. A quick look at Pinterest, Google, or IKEA and you’ll be overwhelmed with options.

Take 1: Origami Lamp Fail

I came across this site a few weeks ago. I loved origami as a kid, so feeling nostalgic, I decided on making an origami shade.

I wanted origami shapes that would extend higher than the wire base that I had (see the wire structure in the previous photo). After exploring a little, I landed on one intermediate shapes that make up an origami crane (see step 2, here).

This guy:

Paper Lamp Shade: Crane Shape

Isn’t it nice? I like the elongated shape. It’s almost flat, but the folds and pop-up layers add depth and make some interesting patterns. I also see a little bit of an art deco vibe in it.

Then I made a few more shapes to test how the pieces would fit together and how the light would shine through.

Paper Lamp Shade: Origami Configuration

Laid flat the pieces make some nice patterns. Like a kind of pop-up, tessellated wrapping paper.

Next I had to take a leap of faith. The way the lamp shade was flared and curved calculating the pattern precisely was just too complicated. So I decided to go ahead and make enough shapes to wrap the shade and then figure out the details at the end.

I wrapped the wire frame in a double layer of clear plastic wrap (polypropylene) just so I’d have a surface for the origami pieces to stick to. It’s a mess of hot glue and Scotch tape. But that doesn’t matter – it’s covered by paper. I wanted it clear to not block the light.

Paper Lamp Shade: Plastic cover

Then I got to making origami – with regular printer paper, nothing fancy.

I was rocking my way through these, they weren’t so time-consuming. I’m a dork, I timed it. It took 6 minutes a shape average – while semi-distracted watching a movie and listening to podcasts. So it was about 2 hour of origami making in total.

Next step was to jinx myself by posting this to Twitter:

Paper Lamp Shade: Twitter Screen Capture

And so it starts to go wrong.

I was hot gluing the origami pieces to the plastic base and just couldn’t get the pattern right. They were very close to fitting together, but needed to be tweaked a tiny bit align as they curved around the shade.

In the end, the places where the pattern was mismatched were noticeable and the paper was worn from my wrangling it into place.

Here it is:

Paper Lamp Shade: Origami Shade Light On

 And this is what it looked like without the light off:

Paper Lamp Shade: Origami Shade Light Off

I still like the general shape and the concept – wish it had worked.

I think there’s a fine line with projects like this. I like having handmade things mixed in with mass-produced decor. But I think it’s a tough balance between quirky and sloppy. The judgement call is different for everyone… but I feel like I know it when I see it, and this one just wasn’t working.

I don’t regret the attempt when projects go wrong – especially since it’s usually a learning process. At the same time I don’t want to see that attempt in my living room every day either.

So yeah, I tore it apart and started over.

If anyone would want to pick up where I left off, I think it would work if you built a base to fit the pattern instead of making the pattern fit a pre-existing base, like I did. Also a sturdier paper would hold up better, although if it is more opaque the light won’t shine through in the same way.

Take 2: Cut Paper Lamp Shade

I kept the plastic base and stayed with white printer paper but wasn’t in the mood for more origami. So I moved on to cutting strips of paper.

This is what they looked like. This is the long edge of an A4 page.

Paper Lamp Shade: Cut Paper Strip

It’s hard to see, but there are six 5mm strips cut. The cuts don’t go all the way through. They’re still attached at both ends of the strip.

I tried this first with a paper cutter, but it didn’t work. So I cut several sheets at a time with an X-Acto knife and a ruler. It wasn’t too bad, the cuts don’t have to be perfectly precise.

Then I started attaching the paper strips. Each one overlaping slightly. I taped them to the top lip of the frame and then gathered bottoms and attached them in groups of several strips

For whatever reason, it worked out best to attach the bottoms in clumps of strips instead of taping them individually.

It was like making a ponytail with unruly hair. It wasn’t going to be perfectly smooth, so it’s more of a “messy updo”.

Paper Lamp Shade: Assembly in Progress

I took it back to the lamp base to check how it looked.

Paper Lamp Shade: In progress test

I was much happier with the polish of this shade compared to the origami version. But I’d lost the extra height. As you can see here, this one also left the light socket exposed –  I wasn’t crazy about that.

I happened to have another bare lamp shade frame (a coincidence, I swear I’m not a hoarder). So I came up with this, and actually got lucky here because it perfectly fit below the first shade to cover the light socket.

Paper Lamp Shade: Second frame added

I like the way the second frame pushed the top shape too. So I went ahead and covered the rest of the top frame and the bottom. I used the same method on the bottom frame that I described above.

Here it is:

Paper Lamp Shade: Final Shade Light Off

 One more time with the light on:

Paper Lamp Shade: final with light on

I’m happy with it! It looks good in person and it adds to the room in the way that I’d wanted. There’s also a nice play of texture and layering that I don’t think is coming across in the photos.

And, here’s a peek at the room context (just a little glimpse, I’ll “introduce” the room another day).
Paper Lamp Shade: Lamp in Context

Yes, I have an orange leather couch and an old trunk in need of restoration. Doesn’t everyone?

So that’s it, the tale of two paper lamp shades. Would I recommend them? Not unless you’re extremely patient. I have a lot of patience for this stuff, and these were pushing my limits.

By the way, if anyone has an idea of how to use 20 slightly tattered almost-origami-cranes, I’m all ears. I haven’t brought myself to throw them out yet…