It's just a fact of life that anyone who sets foot inside the meandering maze of a furniture store known as Ikea must emerge having bought something, from a candleholder to a couch (along with a side of Swedish meatballs, of course). This is understandable, because Ikea has some undeniably great bargains. But whether you should surrender to all of what Ikea offers is quite another story.
Many home decor experts argue that there are two main categories of products at Ikea: ones you should buy, and ones you should avoid at all costs.
"The key to a great shopping experience with Ikea is to focus on basic items or staples in the room," says Christophe Pourny, author of " The Furniture Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Identify, Restore & Care for Furniture." "I've relied on sturdy office furniture, and chairs in particular."
Not sure how to tell the good from the bad? Just check out this list of the no-nos (some of which could already be in your home -- but hey, at least you'll know for future reference).
The problem with Ikea dressers isn't primarily that they're nearly impossible to cobble together (although that is certainly maddening). It's that there have been safety issues involving children. Just this year, after a third child died when an Ikea dresser toppled over onto him, the store issued a recall of millions of dressers and stopped selling its MALM line, which failed industry stability tests. There have been previous recalls of other dresser lines due to similar safety concerns
"In some sense it's up to concerned parents to make sure that their purchases and previous purchases are safe, which at this point may involve attaching chests to the wall," says Russell Bienenstock, editorial director of Furniture World magazine. "Tip-over is certainly a concern, and is a problem not easily solved by manufacturers."
How wrong can you go with an affordable, customizable closet system? Plenty wrong, it turns out. When the troubleshooters at Consumer Reports reviewed Ikea's ALGOT closet system, they discovered that it left a lot to be desired, from faulty parts to missing pieces.
"The directions are wrong, and it's hard to achieve the correct spacing," the review noted. "Screws aren't included. Neither are wall anchors; we had to stop work and buy them. Drawers didn't fit properly. … The upright width was listed wrong, and we had to re-drill." Yikes! Setting up the problem-plagued system took 160 minutes, it noted, not including multiple trips to the hardware store for reinforcements.
Get a good night's sleep by buying your mattress somewhere, anywhere, other than Ikea, experts advise. Yes, the prices ($80 to $1,000, not including the company's mattress foundations which you'll need as well) are good, but the quality, say customers, isn't quite on par. Many models have below-average thickness, according to one industry site that reviewed all of the offerings in Ikea's mattress line, from the eight foam-and-latex versions to the seven spring mattresses.
"The below-$400 models are best suited for limited adult use or child use," it reported, citing "questionable" durability. "A main complaint for IKEA spring mattresses (and spring mattresses in general) is sagging and development of body impressions which can cause discomfort and back pain." And the foam mattresses? "They can become excessively soft and/or sag as they age and wear."
Also, many of the mattresses are sized a bit differently than their American counterparts -- enough to make buying fitted sheets a waking nightmare.
We'd be remiss if we didn't shine a light on another category of Ikea products that pose a home safety risk: lights. Ceiling lights, floor lamps, and even night lights are among recent recalls Ikea issued due to injury reports.
More than 840,000 overhead lights from the HYBY and LOCK lines were cited in February after the company received 224 reports of them breaking, falling, shattering, and injuring 11 people.
A month later, Ikea issued a statement about its GOTHEM floor and table lamps, urging consumers to "immediately stop using the lamp and return it to any Ikea store for a full refund." It turns out that for some units, the cables were damaged during manufacturing and if they came into contact with the metal body of the lamp, they could give someone touching it an electric shock.
Ikea's PATRULL night light actually did shock, and wound, one young child, prompting the store to -- you guessed it -- issue yet another product recall.
Ikea's accessories pose another emergency -- a fashion emergency, according Pourny. Because its accent items (including this VACKERT candleholder, $3) are mass-produced -- and mass-purchased by everyone and their mother -- Pourny suggests that homeowners would do better to find truly one-of-a-kind decorations to feature in their home.
"You can add more of your individual personality with a few flea market finds," he says. "That way you're creating a space unique to you." Not just a shrine to Ikea.