‘Hack­ing’ can make cheap be­come in­no­va­tive

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Felic­ity Stone

CAROLANN Rule, for­mer edi­tor of homes and life­style mag­a­zine Western Liv­ing, is a self-de­scribed de­sign junkie.

I like hav­ing in­ter­est­ing de­sign in my life, whether it’s what I’m wear­ing, what I live with or where I go, she says.

In her years at Western Liv­ing, first as homes edi­tor and then as ed­i­torin-chief, Rule was al­ways shop­ping for ideas for her own Van­cou­ver-area home, as well as for the mag­a­zine. She dis­cov­ered some of the most cre­ative ones were in the res­i­dences of ar­chi­tects and in­te­rior de­sign­ers, who don’t al­ways have the same fi­nan­cial re­sources as their clients.

Now she has launched a web­site — Fru­gal­bits.com — that of­fers a daily tip on how to get top value for the least money, such as the cheap­est, chicest Palm Springs ho­tels, Lu­l­ule­mon out­lets or how to make Ikea fur­ni­ture look like itGs cus­tom-de­signed.

Al­though there are long-op­er­at­ing web­sites de­voted to what’s known as Ikea hack­ing, Rule first got into cus­tomiz­ing Ikea’s wares sev­eral years ago when she and her hus­band, gar­den de­signer Ron Rule, had an ad­di­tion built to their house.

In one small bath­room, they had planned to use a sink with a shal­low van­ity. They had thought it would re­quire a cus­tom cabi­net, but de­signer John Ma­son ad­vised get­ting a ba­sic Ikea cabi­net that he could mod­ify to ac­com­mo­date the sink.

John is very clever and a hacker from way back, says Carolann. I’ve seen him do amaz­ing things with stan­dard prod­ucts.

She cau­tions that hack­ers should be care­ful not to com­pro­mise the struc­tural in­tegrity of the piece, es­pe­cially if it is not solid wood. Ma­son has taken items into wood­work­ing shops that have the tools and ex­per­tise to deal with a va­ri­ety of ma­te­ri­als.

In her new bed­room, Rule was con­tem­plat­ing 18 lin­ear feet of cus­tombuilt clos­ets when Ma­son sug­gested she take a closer look at Ikea’s Pax wardrobe sys­tem.

The Pax had some ap­peal­ing fea­tures — it was well thought-out with great in­te­rior fit­tings and con­cealed hinges — but the prob­lem was how to make it look built-in. The roomGs ceil­ing rises from seven feet at the wall to 12 feet in the mid­dle.

The Pax wardrobe came in two heights, but the shorter one would have left wasted space at the top and the taller one would have had to be placed away from the wall, los­ing floor space.

Rule’s con­trac­tor, Colin Smith of First Choice Re­pairs & Ser­vices, sug­gested buy­ing the taller one, which he cut to fit un­der the slanted ceil­ing and snugly against the wall. Since the space was wider than the cab­i­nets, ex­tra doors were cut to fill in the sides. Like pair­ing an in­ex­pen­sive dress with costly shoes, Rule pur­chased iconic Pro­tean stain­less steel knobs for $14.40 each from Cantu Bath­rooms and Hard­ware.

Be­cause you touch them, I think the way (the knobs) feel in your hand is as im­por­tant as their ap­pear­ance, she says. Sim­i­larly, she used $11 Ikea Lenda cur­tains in the bed­room, but they had more sub­stan­tial stain­less steel rods, which were cus­tom-cut.

The point is not to find the cheap­est thing, but the right thing, says Rule. Some­times the Ikea so­lu­tion is the best so­lu­tion.

In her kitchen, for ex­am­ple, she wanted a shelf with stain­less steel rungs over her stove. Ikea’s Grundtal shelf was the right idea, but the wrong size to fit the al­cove where her stove is lo­cated.

She bought one and took it to Quest Metal Works for al­ter­ations. Gen­eral man­ager Shawn Boivin rec­om­mended mea­sur­ing both at the front and back of the al­cove, and then cut the shelf to per­fectly fit the space above her stove. He also re­moved the brack­ets and drilled coun­ter­sunk holes in the end pieces so the shelf fits neatly against the wall.

It was not su­per cheap, says Rule, but it was less ex­pen­sive than cus­tom-made from scratch.

When Rule then asked Boivin to make a three-shelf Grundtal spice rack nar­rower, he said it would be much less ex­pen­sive to con­vert the piece into a sin­gle long hor­i­zon­tal shelf in­stead of three ver­ti­cal ones — an el­e­gant so­lu­tion.

Not all of Rule’s hacks have had such el­e­gant re­sults — like a Morkedal bed that re­minded her vaguely of a Niels Bendt­sen model she loved that was five times the price. She had the up­hol­stery changed and the legs re­placed, but said she will even­tu­ally in­vest in the Bendt­sen bed. The Morkedal bed was not good value for money, she says, but it works in the mean­time. And it didn’t break the bank. Ikea pieces are well enough made and de­signed, says Rule, but one of their best fea­tures is that I can take lib­er­ties with them that I would never take with pricier stuff.

— Postmedia News

Ikea fur­ni­ture made to look cus­tom-de­signed, among other things. Carolann Rule has launched a web­site called Fru­gal­bits.com, which gives peo­ple tips on how to do it.

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