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Today we’re going to tackle one of the most controversial topics in interior design . . . Ikea. On the one hand, it’s incredibly popular and on the other, so many people turn up their noses in disgust at the thought of filling anything but a college dorm with its furniture. So who’s got it right?

Both! Here’s my mantra: Ikea is 80% crap, 20% gold. That’s worth repeating: Ikea is 80% crap, 20% gold. If you shop right, you can find incredible value.

But before we get into which Ikea items to bring home, we need to talk about how you should get them there. Here’s my second Ikea mantra: Ikea is only as good as the person who builds it. You know I am all for a good DIY. I love to sew and glue and hammer. But when it comes to Ikea, you need a lot of strength and precision, and the tools they provide really aren’t up to the task. So follow my example and always hire a professional to build your pieces for you. That will, of course, add to the cost, so if you see a great sale on a Macy’s dresser, it might be a better bet to splurge on it than to have someone build you an Ikea one.

But even with the added costs of putting them together, there are some pieces at Ikea I just can’t resist because they have so much value. And the great news is that these are standard items that are always in the store.  

The Gold

1. The Hemnes dresser. This piece is the Goldilocks of storage – it comes in different sizes and the drawers are not too deep and not too shallow. Unless you have a capsule wardrobe, having a drawer that only fits one t-shirt and one pair of jeans just won’t cut it. But, if the drawer is too deep, you’ll forget all about the t-shirts at the bottom. These drawers are just the right size and there are even smaller ones at the top meant for socks or jewelry. I love the Hemnes so much, I actually have three of them. The only thing I’m not crazy about are the knobs, but that’s an easy fix. I always change them out for the simple, beautiful ones you can find at Pottery Barn Teen or Bed Bath & Beyond.

If you find the Hemnes (or any other unit) a little on the boring side, check out It’s a site chock full of overlays specially designed for Ikea pieces. They come in all sorts of interesting patterns and are just great for dressing up bookcases, dressers, entertainment units, and the like.

2. The Bjursta dining table. The Bjursta is an extendable dining table that I adore because it comes in so many options, so you can get just what you need. Choose from round, square, or rectangular, different sizes, and lots of wood tones. They range in price from $99-300, but let me tell you, that is money well spent. They are indestructible! I’ve had mine for going on 5 years, and it definitely takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

3. The Liatorp book cases and entertainment unit. If you love Pottery Barn – especially their Logan series – you’re going to adore the look and quality of the Liatorp. People never believe me when I tell them it’s Ikea. Whatever you do though, stay far far away from the Billy bookcases (which are the less expensive version), because they don’t look nearly as good and they certainly won’t last.  

4. The Kallax (formerly known as the Expedit). This modular unit is perfect for displaying anything cute that can fit nicely within its 15 x 15” cubbies. And for those harder-to-contain items, you can pick up some colorful bins. Lots of stores sell bins that fit the Kallax, so don’t limit yourself to Ikea for this one. For my kid’s room, I love the bins by 3 Sprouts, which you can buy at Kohl’s. They come in different colors and feature adorable little animals.

5. The Stuva System. This is a modular unit that is made especially for kids. You can keep adding on to it to get the height and width you want, and it’s 19” deep, so it can really hold bigger items. It has drawers and doors in different colors, and the inside is adjustable and can be used for clothes. You can even add a rod to make an armoire. And it has little cutouts for handles, so it’s really easy for kids to open. Don’t forget that, whenever using any Ikea storage piece with children in the home, you must mount it to the wall for safety because they can tip over.

6. The Bestå units. I have so many of these in my home and my office. I use the Bestå as a work cabinet, a shoe cabinet, an entertainment unit, and as toy storage. It’s 15” deep, has the bright doors I love, and the shelving is adjustable, so it can store both big and little things. Unlike other Ikea pieces, which don’t always survive a move, I can vouch for the Bestå. I’ve taken it from point A to B to C to D, and it’s still rocking my world. Totally worth it!

The Crap

Okay, now on to the crap. These are the things that I hope you never ever buy at Ikea.

1. The lamps. I hate every. Single. One. They just look so very Ikea. And they usually only take Ikea light bulbs which are obscure and require you to go back to the store to replace them. It’s just so bad.

2. The rugs. Ikea rugs are fine in theory, but they’re not actually a good bargain. Plus they’re boring and come in funky sizes. Have I made my cases against the rugs? 

3. Anything with a pattern. For some reason, all of the prints Ikea uses are just so readily identifiable as Ikea. They’re not that interesting, they’re not unique, and they’re just sort of blech. So stay away from shower curtains, separately-sold fabrics, and patterned bedding. It’s one thing to put Ikea in your home, but it’s another for your home to scream Ikea!

4. The art. You know what I’m talking about. Those panoramas of NYC and Paris, the Audrey Hepburn paintings. It’s all so trite. I much prefer finding original pieces with personality and Etsy is my go-to source for that. But there’s a golden lining here – I do love Ikea’s frames, which look great and come with an even better price.   

So that’s your treasure map. Go forth and find your Ikea gold!

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