Today, Ikea’s name is synonymous with streamlined, easy living. The Swedish furniture company has cornered the global market on housewares and modular furnishings, as evidenced by its 423 stores in 52 different countries. Many consumers have sought out ways to distinguish their Ikea products, leading to the thriving fandom of ad hoc Ikea hacking. Over the past few years, a slew of small design companies have sprung up to offer Ikea customers an easier way to hack their furniture: with customized, aftermarket Ikea parts.
Thanks to this cottage industry, you can now buy a unique countertop for your Ikea kitchen or custom fronts for your Ikea cabinets, adding visual interest to the smooth, monochromatic aesthetic championed by the furniture giant. Thanks to the clean and simple way Ikea constructs its furniture, it’s not difficult for companies to develop embellishments that elevate the products—nor is it difficult for customers to swap out the store-bought versions for custom parts. And the aftermarket opportunity for these smaller businesses is huge: The Ikea company sold an impressive $44.6 billion worth of goods last year.
But Lotta Lundaas says there’s a sustainability imperative too. Lundaas is CEO and founder of Norse Interiors, an Ikea customization business which she founded in 2018 five years after she moved to the U.S. from her native Sweden.
“[IKEA] makes good, affordable bases, which is what we take advantage of when creating designer parts to give them a more custom, less cookie-cutter look,” she says. “In an ideal world, our customers already own an IKEA piece, which they give a makeover with Norse, extending its life instead of having it end up in a landfill.”
Norse sells aftermarket additions that allow customers to add everything from $100 Ambrosia Maple covers to $30 brass legs for Ikea’s Besta line of storage.
Reform, an Ikea hacking company founded in 2014 in Copenhagen, focuses on custom pieces that fit Ikea’s kitchen design in particular. Jeppe Christensen, CEO and cofounder, says he and his team decided to focus on reimagining the company’s products as opposed to selling their own furniture designs because it made the manufacturing process faster and easier to break into as a young startup.
“Piggybacking on Ikea was a fast and easy way to go to market,” he says. “We didn’t have to invent a new functional kitchen system, we could just skin the Ikea cabinets with our well-designed countertops and fronts.”
Though Reform launched solely as an Ikea hacking company, it will soon offer its own cabinets and bespoke kitchens now that the company is producing furniture. “[In] the beginning of next year we will launch with our own boxes/cabinets and offer our clients an entire Reform kitchen without any Ikea,” Christensen said in an email.
But Reform will still offer custom Ikea services at a lower price point. On the company’s website, it instructs clients to first purchase their Ikea items and then order new pieces from Reform. Adding fronts and cover panels to Ikea cabinets in a small kitchen costs roughly $1,700. If it’s a bathroom upgrade you’re looking for? The Reform remodel only runs you $700.
These companies run the risk of infringing upon Ikea’s business, which is partially dependent on brand recognition and the visibility of its products as designed. However, Lundaas says that they have not run into issues with the manufacturing giant.
“We make it very clear in our communication that Norse is not affiliated with Ikea. They are aware of Norse, and so far they’ve been supportive,” she says. “Our products depend on theirs, and I’d like to believe that they find it positive that we ‘Ikea hacking companies’ create free publicity and buzz around them and their products.”
Christensen agrees: “[We’ve] never had any issues with Ikea; we’ve only had good talks with them.” Since Ikea is a registered trademark, he makes sure not to violate the terms of using their name legally. The companies do name Ikea throughout their websites, but also include a clearly written disclaimer detailing their nonaffiliation.
In recent years, this sort of curated customization has taken off as a cottage industry unto itself, a trend that illuminates the need for low-cost—and distinctive—home essentials.
“There is an increased interest in interior design and expressing personal style through home décor. People, millennials, in particular, are looking for unique pieces,” says Lundaas. “At the same time custom, one-of-a-kind furniture is expensive. . . . By personalizing Ikea, custom furniture is fast and accessible for regular people.”
Simple, readily available items like Ikea’s are an ideal starting point for customization. Plus, the furniture’s reasonable price point and good quality allows it to last a while, even through multiple design iterations. The lifespan of an Ikea piece, especially after a sharp redesign, is an important aspect of this furniture “hacking” industry; the environmental footprint of these pieces is minimized when they can be reused and reinvented as something totally new.
“I believe that the growing climate anxiety is making people prioritize sustainability when shopping,” says Lundaas. “By reusing or upcycling an existing piece, the environmental impact is less.”