An Expert Shares What to Snag and Skip When Shopping At IKEA

Not everything is worth the affordable price tag

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Browsing the many, many sections of IKEA can be a staggering experience, especially if you’re shopping in person. From plants to furniture to lighting to dishes, IKEA offers everything you need to furnish a home, all with budget-pleasing affordable price tags. 

If you can make it through the maze of showrooms without getting overwhelmed, the megastore can be a treasure trove—if you know what you’re looking for. Go on a shopping trip with a plan, even if you’re browsing online. Otherwise, IKEA’s low prices may tempt you into adding one of everything you didn’t know you needed or wanted to your cart, and that’s a recipe for a “why did I buy this?” disaster. 

Instead, heed the advice of Minneapolis-based interior designer Victoria Sass. According to Sass, some sections of IKEA are full of swoon-worthy steals, with long-lasting materials you should stock up on. Other sections, she says, aren’t worth your time or hard-earned dollars.

Read on for Sass’s advice on which IKEA categories you won’t want to skip and which sections you should breeze on by. Then, after you’ve made it through the showroom, marketplace, and checkouts, treat yourself to a cafeteria-style meal with IKEA’s famous Swedish meatballs—you deserve it.

Meet the Expert

Victoria Sass is a Minneapolis-based interior designer and founder of Prospect Refuge Studios. She frequents IKEA for all of her design projects.

Snag: Wicker and Rattan Pieces

There are two materials Sass always keeps an eye out for at IKEA: wicker and rattan. The versatile and durable materials both age beautifully and bring a natural feel to your home, all without you needing to spend an entire paycheck. 

“These are classic pieces that stand the test of time,” Sass says, and she would know—she has been living with (and loving) a pair of lightweight, hand-woven rattan AGEN armchairs for years. Whenever they need refreshing, she simply switches out the throw pillows that top them. 

Another favorite of Sass is the HOLMSTA / FRÖKNABO chairs, which currently live on the aft deck of her houseboat, topped with aftermarket cushions.

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Skip: Upholstery

When it comes to textiles, Sass says it’s a “you get what you pay for” situation with IKEA, so avoid the upholstery section. The economical price tags may be tempting, but chances are it won’t take long before the upholstery starts to look frayed, dingy, and simply cheap.

Cheap materials mean you’ll either be back at IKEA to replace the piece sooner than you’d like, or regret that you didn’t throw down more money on a piece you really love (and will love for a lifetime) in the first place.

“It's hard to do long-lasting upholstery on an extreme budget,” Sass says. “It all starts to show its age very quickly, and the design details just don't do it for me. I come away wishing I would have saved up and splurged on an investment piece every time.”

Snag: Any Piece of Unfinished Wood Furniture

According to Sass, minimalists and maximalists alike should consider stocking up on raw wood pieces on their next IKEA trip. If you’re not scared off by a DIY project, you can add your own flair to the streamlined pieces with paint or stain. Or, for a Scandinavian-style pared-back look, let the unfinished wood speak for itself. 

“We have used birch drafting desks from IKEA at our studio for years, and I personally love the IVAR cabinetry series,” Sass says. “You have to have a little bit of a vision, but these solid wood pieces are great as they are or could be stained or painted for a more personal approach."

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Skip: Art and Accessories

When it comes to filling your home with meaningful, memory-evoking pieces of art and shelf-worthy accessories, IKEA is just about the last place to look. Walk right past the art section, Sass says, and skip the accessories too. 

“These pieces are too ubiquitous,” Sass says. “You don't want to see your art in everybody else's home. It’s better to spend your dollars with local artists and makers for a unique space that tells a story."

Instead, slowly collect items that are important to you. What about those doilies your grandmother crocheted? Or that ceramic dish from your trip to Porto? Frame kids’ artwork, or the bar napkin your now-partner scribbled their number on, or anything else that will regularly have you remembering good times.

Read Next: Your Complete Guide to Shopping at IKEA