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“I’m sure IKEA knows about me”: This professional IKEA hacker turns the Swedish design giant’s stuff into custom, unique pieces

"I'm sure IKEA knows about me": This professional IKEA hacker turns the Swedish design giant's stuff into custom, unique pieces
Photograph courtesy of Karol Kosnik

As anyone who’s ever wrestled with a BESTA or messed with a MALM will attest, putting together IKEA furniture can be as frustrating as it is ultimately satisfying. But Etobicoke designer Karol Kosnik takes IKEA assembly to the next level: he’s an IKEA hacker, meaning he uses the Swedish design company’s functional pieces and adds his own modifications and customizations to turn them into completely unique pieces of furniture, cabinetry systems and home décor items. We spoke with Kosnik—who’s hosting an IKEA hackers symposium at the Design Offsite Festival on January 22—about what exactly he does.

What, in your words, is IKEA hacking? IKEA hacking is a creative act of taking an IKEA product and modifying it to suit your personal needs, beyond or alternate to the IKEA-provided instructions. It can be decorative in nature—lots of unfinished wood products get ambitious makeovers—or structural, like cutting things to make it fit.

"I'm sure IKEA knows about me": This professional IKEA hacker turns the Swedish design giant's stuff into custom, unique pieces

How did you start doing it, and why? When I installed my own IKEA Akurum kitchen, I modified some parts of it to improve its functionality in my space. I was already doing woodworking by then, and it felt creative, easy and intuitive. I then went to design school and learned all the fancy ways that you can build things that improve people’s lives. Now, I am a furniture designer. My professional practice is the combination of functionality and creativity. And of course, I love the price point. IKEA can sell a fully functional kitchen cabinet box for $55, and affordability is the core pillar of IKEA hacking.

Describe your process a little. What does IKEA hacking look like? I ask clients for three things: tell me what your need is, send me a pic of your space, and what do you like about IKEA? A professional IKEA hack by me is a combination of IKEA’s built-in functionality and the modifications I add to make it look nice with your décor. An important element of working with the client is to make them aware of all the possibilities that exist—from there on, it’s just a matter of narrowing them down to an optimum solution.

What is it about IKEA that you find attractive or intriguing from a design point of view? IKEA is unique. It is a billion dollar monolith whose offering is a study of human wants, needs and desires, all carefully balanced against each other. I enjoy deconstructing all of that.

What are some of your favourite hacks? Tough question! One that I was really satisfied with the design of was a HEMNES bookcase. We upholstered the back of it, and ended up using the same fabric to wrap the crown moulding on the unit—it looked really good. That extra dimension of adding fabric to the piece was really satisfying:

"I'm sure IKEA knows about me": This professional IKEA hacker turns the Swedish design giant's stuff into custom, unique pieces

Does IKEA know you do this? If so how do they feel about it? I’m sure that IKEA knows about me—I keep good track of my stats on Google. Do they care? Probably not, as long as I don’t do anything stupid. Since “assembly by the end user” is an integral part of their business model, IKEA probably accepts that people will mess around with their products.

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