IKEA might rule the roost when it comes to home shopping - but it's not the only brand acing stylish, easy-assemble kit. By Luke Rix-Standing.
Now, we’re not knocking IKEA. Let’s face it, there’s good reason the brand is such a phenomenal success – it’s extremely difficult to compete with IKEA.
The Google of the DIY dish rack, the Microsoft of the flat-packed wardrobe, the Swedish company has now been the world’s largest furniture retailer for over a decade, and has a hold of its market like a pro wrestler waiting for the count.
But it’s not the only flat-pack retailer in life’s megastore – particularly if you’re seeking something a little more distinct, without the inflated prices of upmarket outlets.
Curious? These six brands all have something notable to offer in the flat-pack stakes, most of it delivered direct to your door. Expect Scandinavia to still feature heavily, however – you can get away from IKEA, but there’s almost no escaping the mass-produced quality of Scandi style…
1. Hem (hem.com)
It shouldn’t be surprising that Sweden claims the world’s most popular furniture brand, because the country is full of companies supplying the demand for modern, self-assembled furniture.
Stockholm-based Hem perfectly straddles the divide between IKEA’s giant assembly line and high-end high street. Its range is not as large as IKEA’s (of course), and it’s a bit costlier (full-size dining tables start at around £980), but the quality and styling is top-notch.
Products mostly come from the classic Scandi school of of minimalist, Bauhaus-inspired design, while many items claim to have assembly times of under a minute (not including the time needed to take things out of the box, of course!). Their catalogue contains a nice array of lamps, stools and ottomans, but the headline acts are in their sofa collection.
Look out for their range of mix n’ match sofa units – the Palo and Kumo series (starting at around £1070) boast modular seating units which can be attached and reattached at will to fit whatever space or style is so desired. A four-man sofa can turn into a one-man lounge chair at the swish of a detachable strut.
Hem list their prices in Euros, but ship from inventories across Europe and the US.
2. String (string.se)
Even among Swedish flat-pack furniture companies, String stands out. Its products have been legally classified as ‘applied art’. None of them come with particularly prescriptive instruction manuals, and its flagship item turns 70 years old this year. On top of that, String only stocks shelves.
String shelves are sold in modular units, attached to the wall by simple, screw-in brackets, which can be assembled in any pattern, depth or colour to suit buyers’ space, need or taste. Different units can be added and taken away as you please, or customised with hooks, racks, drawers, cabinet units, and even a foldout table.
String shelving is also stocked by a number of different brands in stores across the UK. Prices vary but the standard String unit tends to start at around £42.
3. Normann Copenhagen (normann-copenhagen.com/en)
Yep, we are still in Scandinavia (last one, we promise), but this little Danish gem ships all round the world and lists products on its website in pounds sterling. Design guru Hans Hornemann set out his stall to combine the flat-packed with the high end, aiming squarely at style-conscious city-dwellers with limited space.
In his own words: “I wanted to change the flat-pack concept and give it another meaning. A reasonably priced piece of furniture that you can fall in love with and bring home straight away.”
Check out the Ace Collection of chairs, stools and sofas, sensuously curved pieces contoured with high-comfort foam that looks anything but self-assembled. It’s aimed at the luxury market, but fine design and gorgeous upholstery means a piece can easily be a long-term investment.
4. Habitat (habitat.co.uk)
This UK interiors giant has an historic right to be on this list. IKEA may have sent flat-packed furniture into the stratosphere, but it was Habitat that gave the emerging market life.
Known as “knock-down” furniture, Habitat were flogging self-assembly, read-the-manual products back in the mid-1960s, and kick-started the flat-pack revolution that dominated the industry in the early-Seventies.
They’re still at it today, with a range of flat-packed items that stretches across their extensive catalogue. At £150, the very reasonably priced Cato desk is easy to assemble and wrought in a familiar minimalist style.
The shelving collection is well worth a gander too – the Hopkins Bookcase (£495-£695) forms a hypnotic sea of squares and rectangles, and at 198cm high is almost certainly taller than you are.
A shout out, too, to their Spencer sofa range, available in delightfully attractive array of colours. Simply affix the legs, and recline to your hearts content.
5. Ilke Homes (ilkehomes.co.uk)
OK – so it’s not furniture, but Ilke Homes deserves a place on our list. Perhaps the final stage of the flat-pack evolution, this Yorkshire-based maker of ‘modular’ homes is about as off the wall as can be.
Instead of offering websites and warehouses for easy-assembly storage and seating, the company digitally designs entire homes room by room – including walls, floors and windows – before surgically constructing them on a factory floor. The rooms are then driven to their allotted location by a fleet of lorries, and constructed on site in as little as a day.
Though you don’t have to do the assembly yourself (thank heavens), this is macro flat-packing at its logical conclusion. A two to three bedroom unit costs from around £69,000-79,000 (although, of course, there will be other costs to consider, and you need the land to put your flat-pack house on).
6. ScS (scs.co.uk)
Don’t be fooled by the name – the Sofa Carpet Specialists have more strings to their bow than just soft furnishings. They also stock a range of flat-pack furniture, often competitively priced too.
For flat-pack enthusiasts, tables are the order of the day here. With an extending table and four cream-coloured chairs, the Cruz 1.25m Extending Dining Table & Four Button Back Chairs (currently reduced to £739 from £849) is their flagship item.
But our favourite is the Julius Nest of Tables (currently reduced to £59 from £109) – a three-piece set with two smaller tables that can be stored snugly beneath the largest. The Russian doll of side tables, it’s perfect for those low on space.