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  • Tara

IKEA hack - alex upgrade

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I am a huge fan of IKEA. I wait in giddy expectation of the catalog coming every year. I love shopping the little mini-apartments. I love the meatballs. Really, the whole experience is great (until your child loses his ever loving mind the moment you enter the marketplace. I know that can't be just us).

But what I might love more than IKEA is the IKEA hack. I loooooove taking something inexpensive and making it look like a million bucks.

As you might have heard recently, the business has grown, and with that growth comes the need for better storage. My prior system of organizing client materials and library samples involved a lot of bags/bins/buckets on the floor and cramming things into every available closet or bookcase in our house. I spent more than a decade designing offices, so I applied that knowledge to my changing business needs.

The answer: I need DRAWERS.

Design guru Emily Henderson recently shared a peek into her studio, and I fell out of my chair when I saw her drawer setup. Only I can't quite afford to have drawers custom made. Maybe after I make my first million?! I also looked at architectural/engineering flat file storage. All metal, study, and with a cool industrial vibe. AND Also a million dollars.

Enter Alex.

Alex is a charmer. Simple, white, clean lines. But ugly caster feet. Since our office is currently set up in our front living room, I didn't want anything that felt too officey. The casters had to go, and Alex needed an upgrade.

We thought about building a base, or maybe encasing a few units like the Young House Love folks did in their nursery, but we wanted the ability to separate these units as our needs change. I have grand plans to convert our beautiful sunlit playroom into a studio one day. You know, once it is no longer full of zillions of toys.

MATERIALS (for each unit)

First, Steven fully assembled the units; we bought 3. Boy how I love having some extra muscle around here! We left off the casters and stashed them away for potential future projects.

After doing a bit of research on furniture feet, we landed on so pretty mid century looking taper legs from Amazon. They coordinate beautifully with the feet of our nearby West Elm sofa. Since the bottom of the Alex drawers is only 5/8" thick, we needed to beef up the base to accommodate the 15/16" screw on the feet. Adding a 3/4" sheet of plywood would make up the difference.

We loaded up the crew and headed to Home Depot to find our bases. Plywood or MDF would both work well for this project. We wanted to avoid buying a full sheet if we could, and I was totally pumped when I found a 24" x 48" quarter sheet of 3/4" plywood. It just so happens that cutting that sheet in thirds gave me exactly three 24" x 16" bases I was looking for. The drawers are a little larger than this, but this is the ideal size to be able to hide the base while still keeping the feet towards the corners.

I love it when things just work out.

We had Home Depot cut the board for us. I really really want a table saw one day, but in the mean time it's nice that our Home Depot does 2 cuts for free (and each one after that is only like 25 cents). They don't do precise cuts, so two of our boards were just right at 24" x 16", but the third was at 24" x 15.5". No skin off my back. I knew we could make that work.

This kind gentleman ripped our boards for us. Thank you!

Also, they let Henry pretend to drive a forklift. Which was cool until he found out he didn't actually get to drive it and then grumpiness ensued.

Back at home, we sanded and spray painted the edges of the three boards. In hindsight MDF would have taken the paint better, but since the bases are set back and hidden unless you are laying on the floor, it works.

I laid out each board so that the new substrate was evenly spaced left to right. I set it back 1.5" from the front on all three. Remember how one board was 1/2" smaller? Now you'll never know.

Steven attached the substrate to the drawers using 1-1/4" screws. An important note: the only way to remove a drawer is to disassemble it. My brilliant idea was to take out the bottom drawer so we didn't accidentally screw through it, but that seemed like a giant pain. So instead I used my all powerful washi tape to mark on the drill the "point of no return" at 1-1/4". If we drilled past that mark, we might hit a drawer. Steven was just extra careful, and we didn't have any mistakes.

Small blessings.

To attach the furniture brackets, he drilled 1/8" pilot holes for the 4 corner screws and a 1/4" pilot holes for the furniture foot itself. The 1/4" pilot is still small enough for the threads of the feet to grip into the base, but not so small that we broke a sweat putting them in.

Please friends, PLEASE double check these sizes if you are using different feet.

Oh, and that funny circle with no spray paint? I used those little round guys that you sit under your pots to catch the drainage water to separate the 3 sheets as I painted them. Since you'll never see it, I went ahead and left it. There's a real theme of laziness going on here.

Once the feet were attached, we just flipped them over and voila! Done.

The plywood looks a teensy bit rough. Mostly because I just. hate. sanding. Could I have sanded it more? Yes. Is this good enough for me? Absolutely. You have to lay on the ground to actually see the substrate, so other than crawlers and toddlers, nobody will be the wiser.

And now, behold the glory of the IKEA hack.

Look at all of those drawers!

Hey, nice legs.

They look so great in our living room. They don't scream "HEY! LOOK AT ME! I'M OFFICE FURNITURE!" It feels like a hybrid of drawers and a sideboard.

But inside....

Glory be. This is the stuff of dreams. All of my big projects have their very own drawer! Smaller projects share drawers. And extra fabric/tile/stone/whatever samples are all organized.

I proceeded to go to TOWN with my label maker and label the drawers on the top so that you can only see them if you pull the drawer out a bit. I didn't want the labels to be visible from the room.

Let's break down the numbers, shall we?

Alex unit - $119 (I managed to catch it on sale for $100, but sadly that sale has passed)

Feet - $30 per set of 4

Plywood - $5

Screws - $5 for a pack of 200, so about 15 cents??

Spray paint - $4


So there you have it. An IKEA hack totally achievable in an afternoon and style-wise is pretty comparable to something that looks like it came from West Elm or CB2 for $700.

If you have any questions, feel free to pop them into the comments!

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