Ikea vs. Idea

A friend of mine is trying to buy his first flat, finally getting on to the property ladder in his mid-thirties. Not his fault, of course - he works like a B-word - but such is the cost of living in London. So anyway, last weekend, I accompanied this friend of mine on various property viewings in the afternoon, to provide a second opinion, and was rewarded with a curry in the evening. Yum.

Over our rogan josh, having not seen one flat either of us liked, we bemoaned the fact that all the properties we had viewed also looked bizarrely exactly the same. I blame Sarah Beeny. Or at least Ikea. In fact, yes, it was like Ikea had taken over northwest London. No matter which flat we were in, or which room, it smacked of MDF veneered furniture which had been put together with allen keys, cheap fittings, uncomfortably flimsy looking beds and armchairs and - oh hell of hells - beech-coloured laminate flooring throughout.

I wouldn't say I'm especially hard to impress either. Admittedly I do love watching Grand Designs and seeing how people have bought a decrepit old railway shed and turned it into a hi-tech, mod-conned futureville home. Clever lighting here, glass walls there, unusual bespoke features everywhere. And before you go and point out that you need to be not only time-rich but rich-rich to take on such a project, I don't mean everyone should make a Grand Designs-scale effort every time. Trying to use one's own imagination a bit more costs nothing. For comparatively very little money, I gutted my own newly-acquired flat a couple of years ago and it nearly killed me - physically and emotionally. The previous occupier had died in the flat on her 99th birthday and it was genuinely like stepping into a 1970s time warp as soon as one entered the front door. Here's two before and after shots of my living room...

Feel free to applaud; I'll feel your love virtually... By comparison, look at this stereotypical Ikea bedroom below, taken direct from their website. That bedroom couldn't really be from any other catalogue and it is pretty much identical to every bedroom I saw last weekend. It just looks so...Ikea-ish. I'm not necessarily knocking Ikea; the Billy bookcase range does occupy that corner of my living room in the photo above and it perfectly houses my books and CDs very nicely thank you very much. But it's offset not by an an Ikea table and and an Ikea light and an Ikea sofa but by a lovely individual armchair and battered-looking leather sofa which I found in a small independent shop in North London. And my Jacobean dining table (inherited from the dear 99-year-old former owner) is even more lovely and battered, mainly because it was used as a work bench by my builders when I had my flat overhauled. Somehow, that electric saw mark on the side makes it all the more beautiful.

And as for the floor - that is all me. I lifted up the carpet and the underlay, took one look at the slightly woodwormed floorboards and decided hell yeah - I'm gonna have a go at sanding and varnishing those. It was backbreaking work and I'll never ever tackle something like that again as long as I live, but I think the effect is pretty good, overall. And it looks infinitely better and worked out considerably cheaper than that awful ubiquitous laminate flooring too, by the way.

So to all those venturing out to buy a flat, I say do try to ignore the infestation of Ikea everywhere. Use that imagination which I'm sure you have and don't end up with a flat which looks like a substandard Barratt home in a commuter town!

by Ashley Morrison

Ashley is a freelance copywriter, editor and blogger.