Feature: Ikea’s Affordable Modern Look

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Ikea’s affordable modern look could help close gap in Memphis design sensibilities
Stacey Wiedower
6:07 p.m. December 21, 2014
home and garden

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On a recent project, interior designer Selena McAdams was working in a room that needed 12 feet of built-in storage. The contractor quoted $6,000 for custom cabinetry, but it just wasn’t in the budget.

To solve the problem for her client, McAdams bought three free-standing cabinets from Ikea that fit perfectly in the space.

“We spent a little money changing out the hardware, and it looks so good,” said McAdams, owner of Spruce in East Memphis. “That said, every other piece in the room is an expensive piece, and the melding of those two worlds worked. Sometimes you need a funky piece, and you can’t spend $10,000, but you need it to look like you did.”

That’s one of many uses designers and homeowners have for the big blue retail behemoth that is Ikea, and it’s one reason the prospect of a local store has design enthusiasts excited. That, and the lack of a six-hour road trip to the closest store.

“Sometimes we pick our vacation destinations based on if there’s an Ikea on the way,” said East Memphis resident Terry Lane. “And we’ve actually made a special trip to go to the Atlanta store.”

Stories like these are commonplace among fans of the store (this writer included). Lane likes Ikea for its clean-lined modern design aesthetic and its accessible, affordable prices — two features that are tough to find together, at least in the Mid-South.

“Ikea offers what we could call a Scandinavian look,” said interior designer Kim Loudenbeck, who owns Arlington-based Warehouse 67. “When I go to market, I’m seeing a lot of those cleaner lines in product lines that in the past have been traditional. The industry is leaning in that direction.”

And homeowners and renters — particularly those in the young creative class that make up the biggest part of Ikea’s fan base — want to replicate the stylish looks they see on design blogs, on Pinterest, on HGTV.

“When a new trend comes forth in New York or California, Memphis is usually about five years behind the curve,” said interior designer Linda Wingo, owner of Wingo Design & Interiors. “With Ikea coming, I think it’s going to close the gap for Memphis in comparison to national trends. It’s going to help us out immensely, and it’s going to be affordable at the same time. It’s the whole ‘design within reach’ concept — it’s really going to be within reach.”

Ikea proposed last week building a $64.3 million, 269,000-square-foot store near Wolfchase Galleria, pending approval from local officials. Slated to open in fall 2016, the store will be one of about 40 nationwide.

For those unfamiliar with the store or its concept, Ikea is more than furniture, and its shopping experience is as streamlined as its design aesthetic. The retailer offers home goods in virtually every category, from dishware to kitchen cabinetry, from throw pillows to the sofas and beds to throw them on.

In addition to the flat-packed, ready-to-assemble furniture it’s best known for, the store carries an extensive array of lighting, window treatments, decorative accessories, storage items and more. It displays these items in sample “rooms” that add to the fun of the Ikea experience.

Amy Hoyt peruses Ikea’s website regularly and likes its products because they fit well with her midcentury modern tastes. She just bought her first house in Midtown and said Ikea’s announcement couldn’t have come at a better time for her and her husband, Zach.

“I’m psyched about Ikea because I have a baby coming, and by the time that baby’s a toddler and I want to upgrade the nursery to a toddler’s room, Ikea will be great,” she said.

Loudenbeck is intrigued to watch the impact an Ikea store might have on the mindset of a city that historically has embraced traditional design. A new crop of young professional homeowners already are putting a new, more contemporary spin on the city’s design sensibilities. With a flagship store like Ikea offering stylish, modern products at affordable prices, Loudenbeck feels that trend will deepen.

“Ikea is going to service a market that’s been underserviced in this area,” she said. “And it will expose people to a new look. Slowly, over time, they’ll see things they like and bring them into their homes. I think even people who have been in a different design style, I think they’re going to see things they appreciate, and I think it’s going to surprise them.”

Loudenbeck’s favorite Ikea products are its bedding and textiles — she likes to mix and match the store’s affordable duvets with more expensive bedding to create a layered look. That high-low design philosophy is one reason she loves the store.

“Save where you can, and splurge where you have to,” Loudenbeck said. “If you can get the same look by using Ikea products for some basic things you can mix in, then you can go and buy that piece that’s unique or personalized to make the space your own. It elevates the room, brings it up, and no one knows that you mixed in those less expensive pieces.”

And that’s why, for McAdams, almost every home she designs has an Ikea piece somewhere in the mix.

“There’s a balance,” she said. “You need to have a little bit of Ikea, but you need to have the really nice stuff, too, and that’s what makes it all work together.”

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