I've got mixed feelings about Ikea. The stores freak me out--the showrooms are eerily cheerful labyrinths of fake home setups that I can never seem to find my way out from. Their kitchen section is pretty awful--most of the pans look like they'd melt atop your average gas range. But the nice thing about cheap, practically disposable furniture is that you don't feel bad when you rough it up. You can scratch up the particleboard all you like, spill whatever you want on that rug, and it's not going to cause anybody much grief. It's not like a craftsman spent hours artfully constructing that $20 end table you just dented. Ikea furniture (especially the secondhand stuff that I like to buy) is yours to do with as you please.
One blogger has embraced the easy modifiability of Ikea products. Ikea Hackers profiles creative uses of the cheap Swedish furniture. The hacks range from mildly clever to ingenious, and they all seem to be executed with a clear eye for design.
Ikea furniture is like LEGO for adults. Whenever I'm cobbling something together from awkwardly diagrammed instructions, I'm reminded of my old spaceship kits, the challenge and satisfaction of snapping a complex construction together from scattered bricks. But the fun part of LEGOs was what you could do with them after your original, authorized toy gave in to entropy. Working from a huge bin of spare parts, you could build anything you could think up. You didn't need instructions. You had the parts and you could put them together however you liked.
Ikea Hackers is like a kid with that huge LEGO bin. He started with a bunch of separate kits but now he's going at it all on his own to build even cooler stuff than the toy designers could ever dream up. You can see a standard Ikea build in any given young adult's home, but these hackers have taken the same source material and made it all their own. They've painted, tweaked, and redesigned the originals. They've even made those horrible kitchen supplies into something more useful by turning salad bowls into speakers and box graters into lamps.
Some of the coolest hacks turn out collapsable or hidden furniture. Countertops can be rigged to slide in and out of sight. One clever hacker designed a retractable kitchen island that sinks into his sub-basement at the touch of an iPhone app. Nifty indeed.
Like LEGO models, Ikea furniture comes apart so easily I don't know why more people aren't repurposing it. The next time you're wandering through the creepily cheerful showroom maze, keep potential hacks in mind. They might just serve your dwelling needs better than the pre-designed models. Until then, you can browse through Ikea Hackers for inspiration to get those DIY juices flowing.