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Transforming IKEA furniture into high-end designs on a budget

Yahoo Finance
Yahoo Finance

Mei Mei 'Jules' Yap came across her first IKEA hack while scouring the Internet for design inspiration. She realized these hacks, which involve using an IKEA accessory or piece of furniture in a clever or unexpected way to create something new, were fairly popular and she began looking for more.

“I discovered that there was quite a lot just floating around the Internet, and I decided that it would be so useful if they were all in one place,” she recalls.

That’s how her popular site, IKEAHackers.net, was born eight years ago. The blog features tutorials and submissions from IKEA hackers around the globe who modify, customize and personalize their IKEA furniture.

And what did the famous Swedish furniture maker think of Yap’s innovations? IKEA was silent about Yap’s work until earlier this year when she received a letter from their legal team stating she could no longer use its name for her site.
“When I told my community that I may have to change the domain, they really stepped up to support me,” she says.
The media got wind of IKEA’s move as well, sending Yap’s readership soaring 1,000%, she says. Her site’s traffic has stabilized since the summer, but still hovers around 10% to 15% above pre-publicity levels.
The response from her readers and fans was so intense, that IKEA’s lawyers retracted and have allowed her to continue to use the name on her blog. In August, she was invited to the company’s headquarters in Sweden to discuss the matter and how she and the furniture giant might collaborate together.
The company admitted their cease-and-desist letter wasn’t the best tactic and realized that, given the fluid social media and Internet landscape, they couldn’t handle trademark matters as they’ve always done, Yap says. “They were very supportive and generally the vibe I get is that they love what I do on the site,” she says. “We are working it out as we go along.” And Yap doesn’t plan on making any changes to her business model or site.

Hacking 101
A cheeky disclaimer on the site states: “Furniture may be destroyed in the process and/or the structural integrity of the furniture and its safety standards may be compromised. Hacking [has] its risk. Don't say you're not warned. ;)”

One of the easiest and most popular hacks is to paint a chevron design on a simple rug. Others, like a coffee table made out of magazine holders, require more skill and tools.

The site features a range of hacks for every room of the house. There’s a chandelier made out of desk lamps; a headboard made out of picture frames; a bookshelf turned into kitchen storage with a pull-out table; and a dresser given a whole new look with just paint, molding and new handles.

“What has surprised [me] the most about the IKEA-hacking community is creativity and the the ideas that come out from this. I still get amazed every time,” Yap says of her readers. “It’s like, ‘Gosh, I would have never thought of this!’”

From hobby to career
When she first started the site, she was still working a demanding job in advertising, so she adopted a pen name, Jules Yap, inspired by an IKEA chair. However, she quit her job a few years ago, and the site is now her sole source of income. Running the site allows her more flexibility, and she is able to work from home or anywhere she has an Internet connection.

She advises aspiring bloggers who hope to earn a living from their sites to understand that it takes more than just loving your work and expecting the money to come. “I think that you should learn the business aspect of your craft and, yes, of course you must place the content, the craft, the talent at the forefront, but behind that you should have the strategies in place to run it as a business,” says Yap.

Jules' design tips
Yap says there are many solutions to decorating on a budget, but she suggests going for a “big win.”

“It doesn’t necessarily [have to] be expensive, but it could be something that is dramatic — that will really change the look and feel of your apartment,” she says.

For example, you can paint a wall with a contrasting color or paint the floor or ceiling for huge impact without spending much money. Another option is to simply rearrange the furniture. Angling the sofa or placing it in a new spot could make a big difference to the flow of the room.

“Even though you might be limited in terms of budget, it really all is imagination and just ideas. You know there’s many ideas on our website — I’m sure you’ll find lots and lots of ideas.”