If you’ve ever gone to IKEA with one purchase (and one budget) in mind and left with four Frakta bags full of hidden gems, you’re not alone. Between the frequently replenished plant department and the well-stocked back-to-college aisle (our secret source for postgrad, small-space finds), IKEA will bring the most anti-impulse shoppers to their knees. Even interior designers aren’t immune. Which had us wondering: What do the pros buy at IKEA when a superfluous throw pillow isn’t in the cards?
We tasked 11 designers with this very challenge, arming them with just $100 each and asking them to show us how they would shop the Swedish retailer. While some decided to splurge on one item, others rounded out their shopping cart with a handful of smaller essentials and decorative accents. You’re going to want to add all of their clever picks to your big blue tote bag.
Catchalls for Tight Quarters
Joanna Hawley of Jojotastic is always on the lookout for fresh ways to keep her tiny bungalow tidy. In her IKEA basket? “Storage bins and boxes for my small space, plus a few houseplants with what’s left over!” says Hawley. This large rattan basket can house spare throw blankets or toys in the living room. Organize (and elevate!) the everyday beauty products in your bathroom by decanting them into the amber glass jars.
With $100 to spare, designer Andria Fromm says she would give her oversize art collection a sleek refresh with coordinating Ribba frames, available in black or white.
Outdoor Gear for an Easy Backyard Makeover
Gone are the days of sad plastic outdoor furniture. IKEA is chock-full of stylish weatherproof staples, from rope-and-wood lounge chairs to string lights. So it’s no wonder that “rattan planters, glassware, and small indoor-outdoor metal side tables” are on Justina Blakeney’s summer shopping list.
A Minimalist’s Dream Coffee Table
This slim, Scandi-style table is Utah-based design blogger Sarah Gibson’s first choice. Whether topped with books in the living room or used as a makeshift entryway bench, the simple design will go with anything.
Hackable Window Treatments
“From classic linen-like neutrals to deep rich velvets, IKEA’s window treatments make a dramatic statement,” says Atlanta-based designer Tavia Forbes of Forbes + Masters. She wouldn’t just stop there—she’d hack the curtains, too. “Having a seamstress remove the grommets and add pleating tape can transform your drapes. This will look even more polished on a rod or the Vidga Track System.”
Pared-Back Cabinet Hardware
IKEA’s knobs, pulls, and other easy-to-swap finishes can totally transform dated cabinetry without taking a toll on your wallet, making them designer Becki Owens’s pick. Pro tip: If you’re updating your kitchen, use one type of hardware (i.e., a pull) for the drawers and the opposite kind (a knob) for the doors. The contrast will lend welcome visual intrigue to the space (just make sure to stick with the same metal).
The It Pendant Light
“I love using IKEA’s Sinnerlig pendant for bedrooms, kitchens, and dining areas,” shares SoCal-based designer and blogger Anita Yokota. “The Scandinavian neutral vibe easily translates into any home.” Make the popular light fixture your own by spray-painting it a fun hue or hanging colorful tassels from the bottom rim.
Designer Dee Murphy is currently thinking about all the ways she can show off her seasonal flower arrangements. The wacky, misshapen terracotta vase is one of her favorite finds. If you’re feeling generous, split the stems into a second color-blocked pitcher in a complementary muted palette.
Kitchen Necessities (Beyond Dishware)
For Shea McGee, one half of design firm Studio McGee, IKEA is the one place she goes when she needs something practical. A wood step stool and an assortment of dish towels are two things she’d snap up.
A Customizable Ottoman
“The Bosnäs ottoman is very easy to personalize by making your own square slipcover to suit the room,” says Kahi Lee, a designer on TLC’s Trading Spaces. “It’s an easy accent piece that works well in any space.” Never underestimate IKEA’s fabric section. We’re digging the floral prints and primary hues in its new summer 2019 collection. “With any leftover money,” she adds, “I’d buy a bunch of pillow inserts to have on hand for when I need them.”
A Retro-Cool Cabinet
Natalie Myers of Veneer Designs knows good storage when she sees it. The California decorator would happily swap a bagful of smaller decorative pieces if she could “blow it all” on IKEA’s PS Locker Cabinet.
This story was originally published on June 26, 2018. It has been updated with new information.