What To Buy And What Not To Buy At IKEA

ikea what to buyThere aren’t a ton of IKEA retail stores in the United States, but if you live in or near a large metropolitan area, you might have one of the Swedish retail behemoths near you. Even if you don’t, you can order some of their products online or from their catalog and have it shipped to your door.  IKEA has built a frenzy around the concept because it offers some insanely cheap prices on many of their items, and they get away with it by keeping overhead as low as possible and using extremely efficient operation processes. However, not everything at IKEA is a great buy or worth it.

Before I get to the list of what not to buy, here’s my list of items that are a great deal and good quality from IKEA:

  • Home Decor Accessories: This includes items like candles, vases, mirrors, lighting, rugs, accent pillows, and other decorative accent pieces.  We bought a huge, good-looking mirror for $99 that makes a bold statement on our wall and it fills out the entire space.
  • Kitchenware and Accessoriess:  Not all of their kitchen accessories are good quality, but some of the smaller kitchen items like utensils and cooking dishes are a great deal and good quality. We love buying specialty glasses there like wine glasses, beer pilsners, and martini glasses.
  • Bedding and Curtains: They have some great pillows, duvet covers, duvet bedspreads, and window coverings at great prices, and we’ve found a lot of patterns that we really like.
  • Closet Organizers: We created an entire walk-in closet with IKEA’s closet organizers. They look great, they have tons of inserts, and you can do an entire closet for a few hundred dollars. One tip: avoid buying doors for the wardrobe systems. They cost as much as the entire wardrobe itself.
  • Organizing and Shelving: IKEA’s specialty is helping you create more space out of a little space. I love their shelving systems and organizational pieces that are more about utility and function rather than what it looks like.
  • Kids Stuff: They’ve got some staple kids items for VERY cheap and kid’s room accessories are great to pick up here, too. Plus, their stuff isn’t made in China, it’s made in Eastern Europe.

Here are some items toy stay away from:

  • Most Furniture: Don’t write off all furniture at IKEA.  A lot of it is junk and it looks like something you’d put in a college dorm room, but we’ve picked up some decent pieces here and there such as a daybed that is great quality with a nice antique white finish.  However, I wouldn’t invest much in their furniture, because most of it is pressed wood (basically wood particles glued together) and it won’t last very long. Look for the solid pieces of wood for quality items that will last a long time.
  • Laminate flooring: It’s cheap for a reason. I’ve never used it, but I’ve heard bad stories about it. Have any of you had good or bad experiences with it?
  • Cabinetry and Appliances:  I think they have some good looking stuff and they really know how to put together good displays to give you a visual, but I question how cost effective their cabinetry and appliances are when buying directly from them.
  • Mattresses: Again, I’ve tested some, and they definitely have some comfy mattresses, but I just think you can get better deals for higher quality mattresses.

Give me your feedback on these lists. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s based more on what we’ve had success with buying for our home and lifestyle. I am sure there are some differing opinions on IKEA buying, and I’d like to hear them!

(photo credit: Dalboz17)

  • http://beyonditall.net Carla

    I agree with everything on the list. I pride myself with having very nice, sturdy wood furniture in my home (most of it was purchased used; some are vintage or antique). There are pieces that I’ve had for many years and will last a few lifetimes assuming my place never burns down. ;-). I’ve seen people try to sell IKEA furniture on Craigslist and I just have to laugh. It usually looks like its on its last leg or wont last for a few years.

  • Heather Levin

    I recently bought two mattresses from IKEA and have to say, I’m really impressed with how comfortable they are. I was sleeping on a super expensive Stearns & Foster, and I’m actually more comfortable on these (far cheaper) IKEA mattresses. Of course, I have a feeling they might not last as long, so it’s definitely a trade off.

    I agree on the cabinetry; this is a “heavy use” item that I don’t think would stand up over the long-haul.

    • http://www.erikfolgate.com Erik Folgate

      We bought two lower-end mattresses at IKEA for a daybed that we bought from IKEA and we’re really impressed by them as well!

    • Mamacita

      We bought IKEA mattresses for our kids, because 1) our kids don’t even weigh much; how much could it matter to them whether the mattress is Hugh quality? and 2) kids are tough on mattresses (jumping on the bed, nighttime accidents, etc.) so it didn’t make much sense to invest in something that would be in harm’s way like that.

      We bought a couch there that broke its frame in the first week of use. When I finally called the store a few months later, they said that lots of other people had the same problem, and the store had repaired their couches, but we were too late to get the repair done. Nice customer service, eh?

      By the way, I went to IKEA today and it looked like they had replaced much of their Eastern European manufacturing with China manufacturing.

  • Casey Slide

    I have countertops from IKEA. I have had them for over a year, and so far they are holding up pretty well. However, my sister has the same countertops in a different color, and she had a cleaning chemical spill on them, and it stained! She had to get that piece replaced. Knowing that fact, I probably would not get them again. They were real easy to install, and they do look nice though!

    • http://www.erikfolgate.com Erik Folgate

      Yeah, I didn’t get into the kitchen stuff that much, but that’s a good point! Some of their kitchen stuff looks great, but I am not sure how durable it is. Good to hear from someone who has them!

  • ron

    i put a full kitchen in last year – no contractors. i would install IKEA cabinets myself again. very good quality. the only downside – know what you need, make your list with item/parts numbers, and recheck your order at the store and again when you load it in your car. we got the wrong style on a door and were missing a few parts. it takes a lot of work to make sure you get it right with them the first time. but still – higher quality compared to lowes or home depot in-store cabinets.
    our friends put in an IKEA kitchen 20 years ago when they bought a house… no flaws beyond the lazy-susan broke (cheap plastic does not hold up to 5lb bags of flour and sugar and canned goods, go figure), and a few screws needing adjusted on the doors to straighten. everything else solid.
    some furniture is ok, most is not. if it has mostly solid wood, it should be fine, unless you climb on it.

    • Suew

      We have had an IKEA kitchen for ten years now. It still looks like new. My husband is an engineer and loves the way the cabinets go together. Very easy to install too. Just bought a used park model mobile home to use as a cottage, the first thing we did was rip out the kitchen and replace with IKEA.

      Our Poang chairs with black leather seats have also had a decade of use. We bought more for our US based RV and are about to buy two more for our Canadian retreat.

      Have always chickened out of buying upholstered furniture as the price is so low. Would love to hear how their sofas with the removable slipcovers stand up to everyday use.

      • Andieherb

        I purchased a Klippan sofa on sale for $150 in 2009. It did not stand up to having a few people sit on it everyday. I sold it for $40 when I moved in March. I would not buy one again even for $150. They now sell for $300.

  • stormcorvid

    Do not…do NOT…buy the IKEA Algot frame designed for four drawers (or two shallow drawers and one deep drawer). The mesh baskets fall off the runners constantly. The baskets can’t be pushed in all the way, and they get stuck and can’t be pulled out. We had a set of plastic drawers bought at a dollar store that were better quality than this, and half the price.

  • ZekeMastadon

    I think their stuff is fine.. As long as you have no kids (wear and tear), the furniture holds up great. I have several rugs/textiles/bedding from them and they are in great condition after years of use. I have one of their mattresses…(a more expensive one), I’d buy it again, good quality, decent price. I wouldn’t recommend their couches (very bad quality), their poang chairs are good (I own one). I think it depends what you are buying, and what you are doing with it. Overall I think Ikea offers a modern look at a fraction of the cost of other places, and works well if you are single, don’t have an aggressive dog that jumps up and slobbers or defecates on things..etc, and if you take care of your furniture and other things.

  • bec215

    I’m surprised at your blanket dismissal of basically all their furniture. Whether you buy from Pottery Barn or Ashley Furniture or IKEA, MOST furniture sold in the US is MDF or compressed wood with veneers – they simply are transparent about it at IKEA. Don’t assume because you’re getting it at a furniture store that it’s not exactly the same composition as IKEA, even if it’s 2x – 3x the price. And those pressed wood layers can actually be stronger than natural wood – my husband told me this, and I didn’t believe him… I did some research online, and turns out he’s totally right.

    I work for a European company, and have many friends there who bought IKEA in college, and have continued to buy the higher end pieces as they moved into work and into their own apartments and began raising families. They’ve disassembled and re-assembled their bookcases and beds and such each time they moved. One friend actually moved his small apartment on the back of his bicycle, small bundles at a time. In the US, we’d throw it away and buy it again…

    Billy bookcases remain a stellar value – they can be easily assembled and disassembled and moved and re-oriented into new configurations if you decide to remodel. They’re the closest thing to built-ins I could afford, they were critical to my ability to live comfortably in 500 square feet in my first apartment 15 years ago when I had only 1 closet, and yes those doors are expensive but they’re priceless when you don’t want the non-book items you’re storing on the shelves on display!

    BTW, 15 years later, my Billys have survived 2 moves, and are still going strong. They look perfect, and the shelves, despite being loaded with books for 15 years, have barely bowed. Equivalent pieces from Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, etc. run $200+ for what IKEA charges $89 (even less if you go with white or black foil vs. veneer). Oh yeah – and most of the ones you find online or at popular furniture stores are also MDF or pressed wood – solid wood book cases will run $400 ea.

    I’ve also had a basic IKEA Ektorp armchair, which I had for 10 years, then gave it to my now-husband and his roommates for their bachelor pad, and it’s still in service 18 years later, albeit with slightly faded fabric and a compressed but totally serviceable cushion.

    We’ve currently got the most expensive bed IKEA makes, a $550 Hemnes king size with 4 built-in drawers. We’ve had it for 3 years now, and the only noticable wear is a slight separation of the footboard that I’ve not gotten around to knocking back into place with a rubber mallet. The drawers are large and slide easily and the finish is perfect. I used to have a solid hardwood sleigh bed from Ethan Allen and sure it was more substantial and looked beautiful with the poilshed cherry hue, but I wasn’t in the mood to spend $3000 on a larger one. I’ve been 100% happy with the IKEA bed. And speaking of beds…

    We bought a firm IKEA foam and latex mattress and it was fantastic. $179 (it was designed for a platform bed, so no boxspring). It was in use regularly for 3 years and after we got a bigger bed it went to the guest room where it has comfortably served many guests with no sagging.