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How I Saved My Impulsive, Semi-Useless IKEA Purchase

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The bottom floor of IKEA is a magical alternate universe where price precipitates need. In this way, it is much like an above-average garage sale. As in: This sort of broken ceramic windmill figurine is only 25 cents? It’s definitely the missing piece on my mantle. Or: I could find a use for this half-rusted metal box, right? (Answer: If you have your tetanus shot, and he shaves off 5 bucks, yes.)

Photo by Linda Xiao

It is the land of the plenty and the land of the cheap. There’s practically nothing it doesn’t stock, and if you bypass the odd rug priced like an outlier or the flatware with the disproportionate tine lengths (honestly though, who designed those?), you’re bound to find, on an average trip, between 7 and 23 things you didn’t know you needed before you walked in the door.

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Like objectively ugly box shelves.

Picture this, but worse; I couldn't find the original, probably because they've discontinued it for being so ugly.
Picture this, but worse; I couldn't find the original, probably because they've discontinued it for being so ugly.

This thing has moved with me twice—still packaged and unopened—which should sum up how I feel about it. I can’t remember what I thought I’d use it for at the time I piled it in my cart, but I do remember it being under 20 dollars. A steal! (I live in Brooklyn, which makes buying a 15-dollar shelf feel like you just found 50 bucks on the sidewalk—you’re basically making a profit off of it.)

Two years of packing and guilt-ridden unpacking later, I turned it into a much less ugly thing. Or rather: Our Design & Home editor, Amanda, empowered me and then held my hand through the whole process. Our mission? Make it prettier.

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Here’s what we did:

Photo by Linda Xiao
  • Picked up some wallpaper. (Mine was a roll of vintage paper from this lovely place, but you can alternatively find a piece of printed paper at a craft store.) Or skip wallpaper and pick up paint to coat your box in. Go wild! Draw a mural! Find something pretty to trace!
Photo by Linda Xiao
  • Found some glue. Since vintage wallpaper is adhered using wheat paste, we made a batch. To do so: Mix about three tablespoons of flour with cold water until you have a slightly runny mixture. While stirring, pour this into a cup of hot water until dissolved. Then let cool slightly before using.
  • Cut and pasted. We trimmed the paper to fit the area on the back of the box, then saturated it with wheat paste—on both sides—using more than we thought we'd need. In the words of Amanda: "Lots of wheat paste everywhere." If you're gluing normal paper, consider Mod Podge or craft wood glue.
  • Smooth. Squeegee out the excess wheat paste using a tool with a flat edge; we used a ruler, but here's another opportunity for your magical bench scraper to shine.
  • Dried. Wait 24 hours for your glue to dry completely, then find a happy place for the shelf in your room—or even hung up as a shelf on the wall. (Since we'd disassembled this box to cover the back of it with paper, some mild re-assembly was also required.)

So where does the box live now? Sitting on the floor next to my desk, clearly. But one day in the near future, I will hang it. Maybe I can get Amanda to help me with that, too.

What have you guiltily bought from IKEA that you didn’t need? Tell me in the comments! Make me feel better!

Tags: IKEA, shelving, shelf, how-to