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Hacking Ikea Makes It Better


MARCH 30, 2015

Ikea, the world's largest furniture retailer, recently opened one stores in Jakarta. Founded in 1943 in Sweden, Ikea sells "Scandinavian modern style furniture and accessories." Under one gigantic roof, you can find everything and anything you need for the home. Ikea furniture is famous for a sleek, simple, stream lined, eco-friendly products and low price tags; what Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, calls "democratic design." Ikea now has over 350 stores in 46 countries.

Most of Ikea's furniture is sold disassembled and consumers are expected to put the pieces together at home themselves. The company maintains that shipping and selling items in a "flat pack" keeps cost low. In Europe, where Ikea products are very popular, people can even carry many of the items home on public transport. (Ikea now offers a service where technicians will come to a customer's home and assemble the items for an additional charge.)

Ikea uses inexpensive manufacturing materials, such as particleboard and plastic, to create mass-produced items cheaply.

"We estimate that there are 9.5 million people in greater Jakarta who can afford to shop here and that's the same as the population of Sweden, where we have 19 stores," said Mark Magee, general manager for Ikea Indonesia, as quoted by the Financial Times. Ikea plans to open more stores across the archipelago.

Another trend has been sweeping around the globe in the wake of Ikea opening new stories: "Ikea hacking." The idea is simple: a person buys a piece of furniture or storage unit from Ikea and then customizes it using Do-It-Yourself skills.

Ikea Hackers have turned bookcases into lounges and built them into the bottom of beds; they've turned cabinets and trays into cat beds and play towers.

People create unique pieces using fabric, paint, adding posts, finials, knobs and other hardware or merging two pieces of furniture together, such as putting a desk together with bookshelves to create a custom home office unit. A parent created a truly original hack by making a wooden bike for his toddler using two stools. Another turned the iconic blue Ikea shopping bag into a child's raincoat. Ceramic vases used as bricks to build a wall separating a bathroom. Glass shelves used as kitchen splash-backs. The list of ideas seem to be as endless as the creative individuals re-purposing Ikea products.

Recently, Apartment Therapy, a home design magazine, published an article of the most popular Ikea hacks circulating in social media circa 2014. "Nothing stirs the DIY spirit like a good Ikea hack," said the editors, "Ikea is so accessible -- anybody could stroll in there and buy a [piece] -- but its Scandinavian design is deceptively simple. With a little ingenuity a box, or a table, or a stool from Ikea could become pretty much anything."

Huffington Post's Home section even has a regular blog about Ikea hacks.

Malaysian blogger Jules Yap, who started the site, IkeaHackers.net, said on her blog that hacks "may be as simple as adding an embellishment, [while] some others may require power tools and lots of ingenuity." Yap is an ardent DIY-er and bargain hunter and she said that the Ikea hack ethos resonated with her own values.

In 2006, Yap was searching the Internet for Ikea hacks and found "amazing ideas floating on the Internet." She thought, "How great it would be if I could find them all in one place." So she set up a blog and a website "to capture all the wonderful, inspiring, clever modifications done on Ikea items." She has done a few hacks of her own and collects and posts images of other people's. Yap's site has grown to be the most popular site for Ikea hacking on the Internet. She receives no money from Ikea, instead, relying on income from advertising and affiliate retail links to maintain the site.

Psychologists have even written about the hacking trend. Researchers Mike Norton, Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely published an article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology entitled "The Ikea Effect: When Labor Leads to Love."

The authors characterized Ikea hacking using keywords such as "Effort; Labor; Co-creation; Customization; Dissonance." Dissonance? The researchers found that the labor involved in making alterations or additions to standard Ikea products made the hacker feel they had created items of greater value and meaning. The researchers defined this as an act of creative dissonance: adding value by creating something unique from something mass-produced, and called it the "Ikea effect."

Originally, Kamprad, Ikea's founder, was against people hacking products. He cited safety reasons; once a product had been altered or its intended use changed, Ikea would not be able to protect consumers from unintended effects or hazards, and any product warranty would be considered void.

In 2014, Ikea (or more specifically, Inter Ikea Systems, which franchises the Ikea concept worldwide as part of a multinational tax evasion strategy) contacted Yap, telling her that her site and blog were in copyright violation of their name and logo. After numerous exchanges, Ikea invited Yap to visit their offices in Sweden and Netherlands for a face-to-face meeting with several members of their top management team. Yap said on her blog that she was impressed with their "willingness to make a U-turn and find a solution that was good for both parties." The outcome was that Ikea decided to allow Yap to continue to use its trademark on her site, providing her site didn't "bring harm or damage" to their brand.

Yap also met with several Ikea designers and wrote that they were "pretty tickled to see their designs turned into Frankenthings."

Moreover, Ikea has now changed its position on people hacking their products. Kym Beggs, PR manager for Ikea UK and Ireland, said in an email, "We regret the previous situation with Ikea Hackers. It was never our ambition to stop their webpage. On the contrary, we very much appreciate the interest in our products and the fact that there are people around the world that love our products as much as we do."