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

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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.

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Leave a Reply

  1. Great article. I do love IKEA so much (just grateful for affordable modern design, tbh) but it is slightly depressing when we visit friends and can ID their Karlstad couch, Billy bookcase, Pax wardrobe…
    …because we have them too!
    Away to investigate that Project Nursery pinboard (above with the Poang).
    Karen (Scotland)

    • Thanks Karen! I know exactly what you’re saying about recognizing all your friends’ furniture…I’ve yet to visit someone from our generation in Spain who doesn’t have at least something from IKEA :) I liked that pinboard/pegboard too.

    • Ooh, that’s hard to say without knowing more about your space. Though the Kivik is more versatile in style…so it would probably give you more freedom/flexibility with the rest of your room.

  2. Malm is copy of Finnish Muurame, Poäng is copy of Arne Jacobsens armchair, Frosta Stool is copied from Alvar Aalto stool. Lots of things are copied from Finland and Denmark

    • Absolutely, and good Scandinavian design history knowledge! :) I remember studying those back in college…but the memories are a little dusty nowadays.

  3. I like a round coffee table in white (see photo, 1. Embrace modern design styles)

    I have Söderhamn at home, would like to buy a table. I would like to know where can I get this table?