Avoid the Most Common Ikea Assembly Mistakes

I truly have a passion for the assembly of furniture–especially Ikea assembly.  I appreciate the design and engineering of the items, and I think their instructions are very expressive: all with no words so they are multilingual.  I do realize, however, that I am not necessarily in the majority, so I am going to attempt to share some of the more meaningful tips for successful Ikea assembly.

A couple of days ago I was contacted to assemble a Brimnes bed.  After providing my quote the customer felt it necessary to tell me the following:  “full disclosure– I’m sorting out a terrible experience with a contractor from XXXX.com who misrepresented his ability to assemble Ikea. Bed is about 20% assembled with some minor mistakes (spacers left out of the drawer rails). No apparent damage done.”

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Ikea Brimnes bed after nine hours of effort from a competitor

The customer offered to pay me extra, but I assured them that I would sort it out and take care of it for the quoted, firm price.  When I showed up to do the assembly, the owner’s mother informed me that the original contractor had quoted three hours to put the bed together, and had given up after nine hours with it not even being close (or right). This is one reason I quote a firm price—not an hourly rate.  Any problems are on my time and my price structure is in line with Ikea’s, at a lower price point.

I took time to assess where the job was, but I should have skipped this step and just taken it all apart—which is what I did in the end.  My assessment determined that NOTHING was put together correctly, except one drawer.  In the end the bed was put together correctly and safely (total of 2.5 hours to disassemble and reassemble.)

I doubt this particular contractor will attempt Ikea assembly in the future, but I recommend everyone that is going to hire someone to do this for them find out what their experience is and ask for pictures of completed furniture.  My website has a gallery with a wide range of projects.

But if you are going to attempt assembly yourself, here are some tips to make things easier:

Assembly Tip One

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Mamakea Tool of the Trade: Sorting Box for Assembly Hardware

First step for any furniture assembly—sort and inventory the hardware.  Through all of my assemblies I have only come up short once from Ikea—and they were very gracious in replacing it—but it helps to know before you start instead of in the middle of the job.  Several times I have counted okay in the beginning and been missing something later, but I know it is there somewhere and I just need to look.  Furniture brands other than Ikea usually have a set of spare hardware, but it is still easier to build when the hardware is sorted.  Especially when it is sorted on a tray of some sort—a muffin tin can work well if you don’t have this great tray.

Assembly Tip Two

Second solid tip:  If it isn’t fitting together, then you aren’t trying to put the right pieces together the right way.  All designers include dowels and the cam screws in a pattern that allows the items to go together in only one way.  If these aren’t lining up, then the two pieces don’t go together the way you are trying to make them.  It is not a good idea to remove enough dowels/screws to make them go together.  Things won’t fit later and even if they do, nothing will be secure with missing pieces.

Assembly Tip Three

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Ikea Assembly Instructions–be sure to pick the designated hardware

The third tip to keep from making rookie mistakes is be sure you are using the correct hardware at the right time.  Ikea will provide a “blow up” of the part to be used and compared to similar hardware pieces but crossed out, so you know which one is correct. You need to be careful here, because the wrong one might work now, but later when you only have the wrong thing left it might not fit.  If the screws/bolts/nuts were interchangeable they wouldn’t have included both kinds.  Take the time to figure out the right hardware in advance.

Assembly Tip Four

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During drawer assembly look for the label on each piece of the drawer rollers and in the corresponding instructions.
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Note the location of the roller AND which hole is used to screw it to the furniture during assembly.

The last common mistake to watch out for is picking the right piece of drawer roller hardware for the right place.  The tracks come packaged in sets of four—two that go on the drawer and two for inside the furniture.  Hints to keep in mind:  the flat frame pieces will go in the furniture, the two pieces with the right angle go on the edge of the drawer.  In the case of Ikea sets, they mark each piece with letters indicating left/right and drawer/cabinet.  So DR is the right drawer piece, CL is the left cabinet piece.  If all else fails, look at the picture!  Pay attention to the location of the roller: is it in the front or back and on the top or bottom of the rail?  One last hint—there are multiple holes on these rails to accommodate all of the different furniture designs.  Different pieces use different holes to position them correctly for each piece of furniture.  Again, the picture will show this.

I hope this is helpful, but of course, my best advice is call Mamakea before you frustrate yourself!

Navigating Ikea—In Detail

The basic need for understanding the Ikea St. Louis store is that there are three levels.  The first level is just for parking/loading, but even for this there are “secrets.”  The first is, don’t forget about the covered parking.  I think it is missed by shoppers unfamiliar with the store and often there is much closer parking in the covered area than on the main parking lot.  I also find it easier to navigate out of, as the garage exit discharges you directly to the parking lot exit nearest the highway.  Because it is less crowded undercover it is typically easier to load your large purchases in the loading zone.  And of course, there is the protection from the elements for you, your car and your purchases.

After parking you have two choices to reach the first level—an elevator, and the escalator that deposits you at the starting point of the shopping experience.  This sounds simple, but there are several important things to take note of at this point.  First of all, if you have children with you it is wise to stop at Småland.  This area is set up as a Swedish forest playland for children ages 4-10.  You must sign them in and they must meet Ikea criteria (e.g. potty-trained, see website for complete details).  But this affords you one hour of temper-tantrum-free shopping!  This is very popular and the line can be long during peak times, so plan accordingly.

Ikea Showroom

Once you have dropped your children off, Ikea “directs” you up an escalator to the third floor, which is the Showroom.  If this is your first visit and/or you are truly just shopping, this is your best bet.  The Showroom is set up as vignettes of the different room furnishings (fully assembled) and does a fabulous job of exhibiting most all of Ikea’s stock.  Take note:  If you see a piece of furniture that you know you want, it is wise to check the tag and make a note of the self-serve location for it.  If you forgot pen/paper, Ikea has you covered there with stations set up randomly throughout the store that includes the map pamphlet, pencils, and even a paper yardstick!  On the pamphlet there is an area to write down the article and location it can be found in the self-serve area.  This will save you time later.

This showroom level does not have much that you will actually pick up and buy here, but there are a few exceptions.  For the most part you will not require a cart on this level and the only way to get one there is from the second floor, on the elevator.  The few exceptions to shopping on the third floor are kitchen cabinet accessories (hardware, for one), children’s items (stuffed animals, toys, step stools), and “Ikea family” which includes safety items, travel bags/backpacks, and books & games.  Because Ikea always thinks these things through, these are the last three departments you are directed through on this level.  If you are shopping for any of these items, or just in case, skip the cart and grab one of the yellow shopping bags that Ikea provides for toting items within the store.

At the “exit” of the showroom (there is a designated path that Ikea has designed to get you through the entire store so that you don’t miss anything—there are tricks to avoid this, which I will cover in the future) is the restaurant.  If you require sustenance for your shopping experience this is one of the places.  I will cover the restaurant more in the future.

Ikea Marketplace

To continue shopping, now you head back downstairs to the “marketplace.”  As a point of reference, this is the same level that you dropped children at Småland, and where you will eventually check out. Here it is advisable to grab a cart!  And, a tip on the carts:  There are two different kinds, a standard “grocery” cart, or a cart that has a bottom platform and allows for you to “hang” one of the yellow shopping bags.  I choose based on whether I am ultimately going to buy furniture.  If you are not planning on buying furniture—use a regular shopping cart; if you are planning on buying furniture, use a platform cart and a shopping bag for smaller items.

Again, Ikea has it laid out so there is a single path through the marketplace which assures you will see EVERYTHING.  (How else will they get you to buy it?)  Some items you will see more than once!  This is the stock for the accessory items that are displayed in the showroom, plus a lot more stuff.  In my experience I still see new things every time I walk through.

The end of the marketplace experience deposits you into the “self-serve” furniture area.  Remember the notes you made on your blue pamphlet on the location of the furniture you wanted?  It is arranged in this area based on the aisle/bin number that you recorded from the tag.  If you didn’t make these notes there is a computer kiosk pod that you can look the items up and it will give you this information, but it is located past where some of the most popular items are warehoused.  When I am at Ikea I try to avoid doubling back, since it is such a jaunt on its own!  Another note about carts:  at the entrance to the self-serve area is another type of cart, with a bigger platform.  This cart also allows for hanging of the yellow bag, but will allow for more/bigger furniture items.  I have been known to switch out my yellow bag to this cart and abandon the smaller platform cart here.

Ikea Self-serve Furniture Area

If you have identified a furniture item that is very large and the location says to “see a customer representative,” you must do that.  They will provide you with a printout that allows you to pay for the item, but it will be picked up at the “furniture pick-up” counter that is located after the check out.  This is for items that are larger than they safely want you grabbing from the self-serve area and/or more confusing/complicated set ups, like the kitchen cabinets.

At this point you should have all of your bounty and are ready to pay for it.  At the check outs you are expected to place the smaller (think marketplace) items on the belt, but they will scan the larger items from the cart.  It is expected you return the yellow bags here, but of course they have blue bags that are exactly the same that you can purchase!  They do not provide bags, so either bring your own, buy the blue bag ($0.99), or carry it all loose to your car.  The blue bags are enormous and very strong.  I purchased a couple and just take them back with me whenever I go.

After checking out, you can still shop!  The “Swedish Food Market and Bistro” are past the checkout lanes.  I will cover the Food Market in another post, but if you shop here you can pay at their check out (if it is open) or at the Bistro.  The Bistro has a limited menu of snack items, including the cinnamon rolls that you have been smelling throughout the entire store!

Unless you need to pick up large furniture, your shopping experience is finished.  Remember, you are still on the second level, so you need to go downstairs.  There is an escalator “ramp” that carries people with bags, or the oversized elevator for people with carts.  Once downstairs you need to remember where you parked.  If you have any type of furniture I recommend pulling up to the loading area (either inside or outside).  There are Ikea employees that will help load your car (usually).

The last step is to call Mamakea for help assembling your furniture!

Navigating Ikea St. Louis–Overview

I have spoken to many people who haven’t visited the relatively new Ikea in St. Louis because it is so large and different than other stores.  In fact, it can be intimidating to seasoned Ikea shoppers.  I have a friend who has shopped Ikea for years but she still has a process of going once to browse and then going back to actually purchase what she needs.  As I have become fairly acclimated to the store through my Mamakea furniture assembly business, I thought I would try to explain navigating Ikea St. Louis through a series of posts.

This is Part One of navigating Ikea St. Louis and is an overview.  In the beginning, this would have helped me figure out what level I was on and where I needed to be.  Don’t forget, the store doesn’t start until Level Two—ground level is only parking.  This can be a bit disorienting.

  • Ground (First) Level: Parking—outside or covered
  • Second Floor: Småland, carts, Marketplace, self-serve furniture area, check outs, Bistro, Food Market, Customer Service, large furniture pick-up
  • Third Floor: Restaurant, Showroom, Children’s Ikea, Ikea Family
Navigating Ikea--St. Louis Ikea Entrance
Escalator from Second Floor to Third Floor

Navigating Ikea

A Practical Guide (arrows indicating if you are going up or down–find nearest escalator or elevator):

  • Park (covered parking)
  • Outside escalator to second floor  ↑
  • Inside escalator to third floor   ↑
  • Eat at restaurant
  • Down stairs to second floor   ↓
  • Drop off children at Småland
  • Up stairs/escalator to Showroom  ↑
  • Follow Showroom route (make notes of furniture you want to buy)
  • Down stairs to Marketplace  ↓
  • Grab cart/yellow bag
  • Follow Marketplace route
  • Pick furniture in self-serve area
  • Check out
  • Shop the Food Market
  • Grab a snack from the Bistro
  • Pick up large furniture from pick up area
  • Pick up Children from Småland
  • Downstairs to parking  ↓
  • Pull to loading area/load car
  • Home
  • Call Mamakea to assemble furniture!

This is a link to the Ikea explanation of how to shop their store.  My next post will include more detail and some tricks for shortening your trip and finding exactly what you are looking for.

THE IKEA HYPE–Why Shop Ikea St. Louis?

For people in St. Louis who haven’t shopped Ikea in the eight months it has been open, you are probably wondering “What is the big deal?”  Well, I think you have to see it to believe it, but even so, I am going to try and explain it.

Size

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Ikea St. Louis covers four square city blocks.

First is the sheer size of the property.  It contains 1300 parking spaces and the store is 380,000 square feet.  The unique set up of the store means that you will typically walk 2-3 miles as you follow the pre-set route.  Data shows that people average three hours on site per store visit.  The layout can be daunting—which is why my next two blogs will be helpful hints on navigating the store.

Restaurant

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Yum! Swedish Meatballs with mashed potatoes and lingonberries.

Of course, the three hours may include a visit to the restaurant, which certainly contributes to the hype.  Between the free coffee and tea for Ikea Family members, the 99 cent breakfast and the scrumptious Swedish meatballs, the restaurant lives up to the hype, in my opinion.  Again, a future post will be dedicated to the restaurant and market food. 

 

 Value

The restaurant is indicative of the overall Ikea experience: Value.  The furnishings and décor are very good quality for the inexpensive price tag.  The adage “you get what you pay for” doesn’t exactly apply to their products because they have streamlined EVERYTHING to cut costs and offer affordable items that have a higher quality than their competitors.  As an experienced furniture assembler, I can tell you that not all particle board is created equal.  They use higher grade materials, design items so that the assembly is very sound (this is your labor, so it doesn’t cost them) and they even design the packaging to keep size and materials to a minimum—saving money on packaging and shipping.  The attention to detail of all of their costs is what makes these products affordable—not because the products are cheaply made.  Having said this, there are higher quality and more affordable lines and another future post will help you to discern the difference.

Design

The last major piece that contributes to the hype is the universal design of the items and how they then appeal to a wider audience.  I call it universal because the design is typically basic and minimal, thus blending into different styles.  As a whole the store seems modern, but taken out of context I have seen pieces work in all styles of homes, offices and businesses.  In addition, the simplicity of the design has spawned an entire Pinterest category—Ikea Hacks.  I will share some of my favorites in the future.

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The one part of the Ikea legend that I don’t buy into is how difficult and frustrating the assembly can be.  As an engineer I appreciate the brilliance of their assembly design and the graphic-only assembly instructions.  But I am grateful that many people struggle with the assembly, because it gives me an opportunity to make a business out of doing something that I love.  So if you finally shop Ikea and find the perfect pieces to supplement your home décor, don’t let the daunting assembly instructions deter you.  Call me instead!