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When Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein and her husband, Timothy, moved from Germany to London back in 2016, they arrived with the expensive mattress they had just purchased. The problem was, the size of the bed was so unusual that they couldn’t find a frame for it. So Judith, the founder of Atelier Akuko, did what most people do when they’re stuck in a design jam: She went to IKEA. For years, the couple combined a series of Ivar cabinets to create a platform for the mattress. (The bonus: It offered tons of extra storage.)

But when Timothy and Judith purchased a two-bedroom apartment in 2018, the ceilings turned out to be too low for the makeshift piece. So they decided to disperse the plain pine cupboards throughout their home. “There was at least one in every room including the hallway, and soon I got really tired of looking at them,” says Judith. After gifting two of them and selling two, five remained.

One Ivar became a stand-alone living room unit with tubular pipes as legs and a wood ball–clad facade that sort of resembles an actor’s motion-capture suit. “I like when furniture looks like it has a quirky personality, almost anthropomorphic,” shares Judith. The other four cabinets lived in the office (which later became a nursery), and she covered them in painted foam shapes for a bas-relief effect that is reminiscent of the work of French artists Constantin Brâncusi and Garance Vallée. Ahead, Judith reveals how you can re-create each sculptural statement piece. 

The Ball Cabinet Hack: $220

The Supplies

Step 1: Say So Long to Simple Pine

Photography courtesy of Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein

Paint the entire cabinet (inside and out). Judith used a black gloss wood paint. Once everything has dried, assemble the product per IKEA’s instruction manual. 

Step 2: Map Out Your Orbs

Measure the width and height of each cabinet panel and divide it by the amount of balls you want to use (Judith applied 60). “We used a laser level to establish the point at which the grid intersected, which gave us the point for where each ball would go,” notes the designer. 

Step 3: Connect the Dots

Photography courtesy of Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein

Screw the wood balls onto the cabinet from the inside. (It can be helpful to carve out a small hole in the sphere beforehand using a thin drill.) “This was really the only option to secure them in a lasting way,” says Judith. “Nonetheless, my son managed to pull some off by using it as a climbing wall when he was learning to walk.” Apply a touch of wood glue to the predrilled holes if you really want to secure them. 

From there, you can paint over the balls or leave them as is. Judith ended up liking the way the matte orbs seemed to reflect the light coming from the glossy doors.

Step 4: Give It a Boost 

Screw in eight bolts to the base of the cabinet (Judith bought these round ones so they could attach to the legs). Then slide your aluminum round tubes onto the bolts. The couple ordered one long pipe from eBay and asked the supplier to cut it into individual pieces for an extra fee. In order to protect your floors, consider adding tubing plugs to the bottom of the new legs. 

Photography courtesy of Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein

Finally, Judith and Timothy unscrewed the spindle-looking legs from Pretty Pegs that they had previously stuck on the piece and filled the unit with records, video games, extension cords, and occasional candles and glassware. 

The Relief Ivars: $96

Photography courtesy of Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein

The Supplies

  1. IKEA Ivar cabinet
  2. Foam
  3. Scissors
  4. Paper 
  5. Wood glue
  6. Pencil 
  7. Paint of your choice

Step 1: Say So Long to Simple Pine (Again)

Paint the cabinets in your desired color. Judith used Crown Paint’s Fine Silk in a gloss finish to contrast with the matte paint on the walls. 

Step 2: Get in Shape 

Photography courtesy of Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein
Photography courtesy of Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein

Sketch out some shapes that you think you might want. It can be helpful to do this using your phone or an iPad so you can overlay your drawings on a photo of the cabinet. Alternatively, you can simply draw them out on a piece of draft paper. Judith focused on translating some of the silhouettes she had seen at Brâncusi’s Paris studio into her design.

Step 3: Take a Look at Your Templates

Print out your shapes (or cut them out if you went analog) and tape them to the cabinets so you can make sure the sizes and placement are to your liking.

Step 4: Solidify Your New Sculptures

Photography courtesy of Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein
Photography by Yuki Sugiura; Styling by Jennifer Kay

Once you have fine-tuned the look, lay your paper shapes on top of the foam sheets and cut out the 3D silhouettes. Glue those foam pieces to the cabinet and paint everything the color of your choosing (a standard wall paint will do, but note that the foam may require a few coats).

Photography courtesy of Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein

While her relief Ivars lasted a few years, Judith’s son eventually became obsessed with peeling them off the doors. If she were to do it again, she’d ditch the foam for thin sheets of plywood or MDF. “You could cut out the pieces with a jigsaw or have them professionally done with a CNC machine,” she shares. “After gluing them onto your piece of furniture, I would then use some wood filler or caulk to fill the gap between the product and the shape.” No one will ever guess it all started with an IKEA run.