Friday, February 10, 2012

Ikea Bench Hack

We're really into our Ikea hacks around here lately. It's seasonal. Now is a good time to be working on indoor projects. And now that we've made it past the major winter holidays, we actually have some time. Time: kind of.

So, last up was this window-esque bench, made from some Ikea expedits. We placed a pair of long skinny Expedits (I call them 1x5s, for the arrangement of the cubbies) horizontally below the windows and placed a butcher block bench on top of them. Sadly, we had to seam it in the middle, but, well, whatever.

As opposed to buying some pre-made benches, making our own butcher block top allowed us to snug right up against three walls and avoid toys-being-dropped-behind. (Another version, in our mudroom, away from the wall with built in substructure, here.) It's a semi-built in. We didn't stain or paint the butcher block, because, well, we've figured it out: stained or painted wood surfaces are a disaster with kids.

We also raised the Expedits off the floor with a redwood platform. And we used redwood because it was darker wood that required no staining. See how kid friendly we are around here?

(Who am I kidding? This thing is a toy bench.)
The big idea was to put both storage for toys and play surface in this room. As you can see, the bench is MOSTLY used as play surface. Perhaps in the future it will be used as a window seat? I have grand pillow and cushion plans.

The redwood platform is pretty important to the 'finished' look (if you ask me). The platform is smaller than the Expedits to de-emphasize the joint between floor and shelf by throwing it into shadow. As carpentry strategies go, this is the OPPOSITE of baseboard trim. The recessed base has the sneaky effect of making the room appear a little bit bigger because your eye sees the floor running underneath the Expedits and calculates more space into the room. We all want the room covered in toys to look as big as possible, right?
Before - see how small the room looks when the Expedits are sitting directly on the floor? Actually, I'm kidding, it doesn't really look THAT much smaller in this photo. But one does notice the effect in small spaces/in person.
One more thing: I love Expedits, let me tell you why. First, they've held up really well over the long term (for the price). I bought my first one – back when they used real birch veneer and cost about $300 for a 4x4 – over TEN years ago.  (Today you can get a 4x4 for about $130.) My first one still looks great, even though it lives in the boys' bedroom. The reason they hold up well, I believe, has almost as much to do with their design as construction: essentially, they have a short shelf span. This means you have to work harder to overload each shelf. The laminated particle board is less likely to wrap/bow/sag if it's not overloaded. The shelves are a big difference from something like, say, Ikea Billy shelves which look miserable about 18 months after you buy them, especially if you actually plan to store heavy things like books or paper on them.

This counts as organized at my house.
The second great thing about Expedits are the multitude of options you have for filling those shelves/cubbies. Ikea offers drawers, smaller shelves, paper bins, plastic bins, fabric bins, wicker baskets. The possibilities feel endless. But my favorite option isn't at Ikea. It is Target's ITSO fabric bin, because they fit PERFECTLY. I thought I was a genius when I discovered this, but this tip is all over the internet. I have been slowly buying these bins when they are on sale for the last three years. We keep toys, files, shoes, papers, you-name-it in them. The bins are constantly moving around the house and shoved into the nearest Expedit to conceal the mess in an pinch. (Meredith mentioned this idea last year when I was complaining about a lack of storage in our house. Little did she know I was just WAITING for Ikea...) And since Ikea opened this summer in Denver, we have multitudes of Expedits to hold the bins. 

(And, yes, that's right, multitudes. You didn't think I was done with all my hacking, did you?)

Adjacent magnetic primer experiment here.


Katie (Mama May I) said...

Awesome! Well done. Can you come to my house now?!

Pregnantly Plump said...

It looks great! Wow, do I miss Ikea. The birch top looks wonderful. I would have loaded it with pillows immediately, but the playspace makes a whole lot more sense.

Craftwhack said...

I'm sending this post immediately over to my hubzband, so we can start collecting Expedits for every room in our home. This is an AWESOME idea. P.S. Do you watch 30 Rock? There was a funny bit about Ikea on last week- how you walk in fine and by the end of your trip you inevitably are frazzled and fighting.

twisterfish said...

FYI: I completely thought that was a different room in the "after-ish" picture... it looks so much bigger.

I'm going to measure my son's room to see if this idea would work up there. Great idea to store all his stuff and offer a place to sit or play.

Ophelia said...

this is an awesome hack. great job! i'm looking to do this for my livingroom. i wanted to ask where you got the top wood piece (untreated butcher block?) i was thinking home depot but i thought they only had very rough wood finishes. please let me know. thank you!

Ann Wyse said...

The butcher block is also from Ikea - in the kitchen counter section. You might need to cut it narrower depending on how deep you want your bench to be. (Probably not counter depth.) We used a circular saw with a guide clamped in place. If you find a lumber or kitchen counter top store that carries butcher block, they may cut it for you. Good luck, Ophelia!

... said...

Got a dumb question for you. How did you adhere the butcher block and the redwood platform to the Expedit 1x5? Did you just nail them? And is it free standing, or is the redwood platform nailed to the floor?

Ann Wyse said...

Not a dumb question!
Two answers:
1) There is an L-bracket holding one of the butcher block pieces to the wall. It anchors to the underside of the butcher block with screws and then through the wall and into a stud (also screws). In this design, the L bracket is between the two expedits, in the space between them.
2) When we placed the second piece of butcher block on, the fit was tight. Between gravity (butcher block can be quite heavy) and the tight fit we felt pretty confident it wouldn't fall off.

As every installation is likely to have different variables, be sure to accommodate to your situation.

tmt said...


Im looking to build one of these right now. couple questions. Is the redwood you put underneath just big flat boards, or did you build a "toe kick" of sorts? I see your post is a few years old. How are your benches holding up today?



Ann Wyse said...

Hi Tim - we used 1x1 pieces of redwood which were cut to match the length and depth of the shelving unit. We built a frame with the redwood that would sit under all the edges of the expedit (and kallax), with a few additional cross pieces. The important thing to remember about the design of the expedit (and kallax) is that they are mostly hollow in the middle. When you build something to support it, you want to be sure those support pieces align with the portions of the bench that are structurally solid. You can get a pretty good idea of where the expedit/kallax is solid by tapping on it and listening for the hollow versus solid sounds.

The primary reasons for using 1x1 redwood were: 1) we had it left over from our deck (i.e., free!) and 2) we liked the dimension. We thought the 1" was the perfect amount of lift or reveal, visually speaking. 3) it was darker in color and therefore, didn't require that we stain it or paint it for it to recede visually.

But you could use any type of wood (like 2x4s) and vary the dimensions a bit and accomplish the same type of base. Just make sure that your frame supports the bench in the places where the bench is structurally sound.

Our bench is still in great condition 4 years later. The fabric ITSO bins from Target? Not so much.

Ann Wyse said...

Photo has now been added which shows the redwood (1x1) frame clamped onto the bottom of the expedit shelving unit. The pieces are attached with construction adhesive. In this photo, they are drying. More frame pieces were added after this photo was taken.