An IKEA-Obsessed Designer’s Secrets for Picking Pieces That’ll Last Decades

yellow wall

While most of us consider IKEA to be a go-to resource for starter apartments and first homes, Jackie Terrell doesn’t see it that way. The veteran designer jokes that she’s become a collector of “vintage” IKEA items at this point. “There are things I wouldn’t dream of discarding or replacing,” says Terrell. In fact, she’s had several pieces of old IKEA furniture (things that she’s owned for more than 20 years) reupholstered, refinished, and refurbished—often at great expense and far exceeding their original cost. Why? “Because the design is so seductive,” she says. “And the fact that it’s accessible.” 

Ever since discovering the Swedish retailer decades ago through a fellow mom at her kids’ school who had previously lived in Denmark, Terrell has operated on intuition. Her earliest purchases spanned small “doodads”—think: cool watering cans and sculptural vessels. Now she’s accrued time-tested staples (you can spot many of them in these images of her former Los Angeles home). She’s not one to scour eBay in search of other people’s discontinued IKEA items, but she does have plenty of secrets for picking out pieces now that will last decades.

Avoid That Stale Showroom Feel

white sofas in living room

The trick: You should have as many “high” pieces as you do “low.” Terrell mixes her big-box stuff alongside vintage mid-century items (think: Eames chairs status) to keep her space feeling interesting. “That’s when I feel the IKEA things aren’t recognizable,” she says. In the same vein, when she re-covers an IKEA piece, she splurges on nice fabric. The pair of 25-year-old benches in her living room were originally red—now they boast citrusy yellow Kvadrat wool felt, making them soft and inviting. “I probably spent $500 on reupholstering them, but it was so worth it,” says Terrell. “They are great seating options that don’t take up the space of a chair.” 

Another one of her personal favorites: an upholstered bed (purchased 20 years ago). “I use this bed for myself and my clients over and over again,” she says. “It’s so simple; the height of the headboard is perfect.” She has re-slipcovered the headboard and base at least three times, using a pure white Pollack fabric every go-round.

Buy Things in Pairs

red benches behind couch

Because IKEA is technically designed with smaller European apartments in mind, some of the pieces can look mini in a large house. So to make your finds appear more substantial (and, ultimately, more expensive), double up. “Visually it gives it more heft,” says Terrell, who put two putty-colored consoles that otherwise might look “dinky” on their own next to each other to create a built-in look. The same works for lighting: In her old dining room, she hung a pair of discontinued white powder-coated pendant lamps above a Blu Dot table and a set of Swedish school chairs.

Shop the Stockholm and PS Series

gray credenza

Terrell considers these lines to be the best of the best. The two consoles in her dining room that house dishes and flatware are Stockholm, as is the green cabinet in the living room. The pros: They’ve got solid walnut shelves and soft, push-to-open drawers. “It’s just higher-end construction,” she says. 

She is also a fan of the PS series. Her set of wicker chairs from the line, designed by James Irvine, have been rewoven three times over two decades. “They are wider than a normal chair, and the wicker is such a welcome break from upholstered items in a room,” she says. It lightens things right up.

Don’t Knock an IKEA Kitchen…

“I would do an IKEA kitchen any day of the week,” says Terrell. The only caveat: She steers clear of DIY assembly and instead relies on her longtime handyman who never gets the construction wrong. In fact, she thinks IKEA cupboards are so well designed, she’s looked at them for inspiration for projects where she is designing custom cabinets.

…Or Hack Brands

white bed

The white canvas armchairs Terrell has owned for 20 years have since been re-covered with Bemz slipcovers (a Swedish company that makes fabrics for most IKEA models). “It’s a great way to give them new life,” she suggests. 

What to Buy Now

While browsing IKEA’s website today, the four picks, above, stand out to the pro. The takeaway: Stick to modular pieces with slender profiles that can be dolled up with slipcovers or Prettypegs legs. Terrell also keeps an eye out for simple and practical storage pieces that can live in an office, art studio, or kids’ rooms. Her number-one lesson: “You have to grab it when you can.”