The best part of your Ikea kitchen is that it looks just like everyone else’s. But the worst part of your Ikea kitchen is that it looks just like everyone else’s, too.
Which is why Tim Diacon and Adam Vergette founded the U.K.-based Plykea this year. The company offers a line of products to upgrade your standard Ikea kitchen to something more “pretty, durable, and personal,” according to Diacon. “Ikea makes amazing mass manufactured furniture but that naturally leads to a restricted palette of materials.”
Plykea’s line includes doors, drawer fronts, and countertops, all built to be compatible with Ikea’s Metod line. Unlike Ikea’s cabinetry, which is generally made from a base of particleboard, Plykea offers a half-step up with all birch plywood construction–similar to what you see inside any Chipotle–which is sanded and waxed for a smooth and comfortable finish. You can then add either an oak or walnut veneer, or any color of Formica that you wish.
The company was born from Diacon’s personal experiences hacking Ikea, after he reached out to his former classmate Vergette to help him remake his own Ikea kitchen with a plywood finish.
Vegette not only had a passion for plywood; he had formerly worked for Vitsoe, the furniture company founded in 1959 to sell Dieter Rams’s furniture designs, many of which are now legendary collectables, including Rams’s modular, customizable storage. In some ways, Plykea highlights the ways that both companies–one ultra high-end and the other ultra low-end–share a similar design ethos, focused on honesty and simplicity of materials.
“For me personally, I’ve always thought [plywood] has a really beautiful aesthetic, there’s something about the exposed edge where you can clearly see how the material is constructed that gives it a kind of honesty,” Diacon writes over email. “It’s not pretending to be a solid piece of wood like a piece of MDF veneered on all sides, it’s just being what is it and it’s all the more beautiful because of that.” Even if, to be fair, few would consider plywood a premium material of any sort.
As a business, Plykea is unique. Sure, it’s perfectly common to swap out kitchen fittings and drawer fronts to update the look on a budget. It’s also perfectly common to hack Ikea furniture, customizing the mass produced items into personalized furniture. But what’s rare is a mix of the two–a business built entirely around the hacking of Ikea products (excluding thongs). It may be downright common in the world of industrial design, where countless manufacturers make cases and stickers for iPhones and Macbooks simply because there are so many iPhones and Macbooks. But no furniture company in the world has the same scale of Ikea, with mainstream furnishings like Poäng chairs and Kallax shelving units, ripe for standardized modifications.
For now, Plykea is focusing 100% of its efforts on serving Metod customers, with pricing somewhere between Ikea’s own stuff and bespoke cabinetry (the average customer order is about $2,600 including worktops), while the company considers expanding into the future.
But will it have a future? Traditionally, Ikea hasn’t taken kindly to the rabid fan base of Ikea hackers, which leads many (including me) to ask Plykea if it is concerned about a trademark lawsuit. “We hope we don’t need to be worried about it,” Diacon writes. “At the end of the day we’re only encouraging more people to buy Ikea kitchens. We think Ikea is an amazing company, and we hope they see what we’re doing as complimenting them. I guess we’ll find out :-)”