Reform Bjarke Ingels Group created new fronts and hardware for an Ikea kitchen system.

Ikea’s minimalist construction and component assembly has rendered its products a blank slate for designers and independent companies looking to spruce up the ubiquitous flat-packed furniture. Among them is Danish home-products manufacturer Reform, which makes its own fronts and hardware for Ikea’s Metod and Faktum kitchens, as well as for a handful of its sideboards, wardrobes, and bathroom cabinetry. Recently, Reform tasked a trio of Danish architecture firms—Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), Henning Larsen Architects (HLA), and Norm Architects—to rethink the basic but durable kitchen lines. The results raise the bar for Ikea hacks.

BIG crafted looped pulls from the material used to make automobile seat belts, bringing texture to the units’ streamlined construction. The system comes in white and oak with either composite or rust-resistant steel surfacing.

Reform/BIG
Reform/BIG
Reform/BIG

Rectified edges and metallic details lend an air of structure to HLA’s kitchen system while neutral colorways allow it to integrate sans distraction in open-plan construction.

Reform/HLA
Reform/HLA
Reform/HLA

Norm Architects’ monolithic design lacks pulls or handles and features a single, cast-concrete surface complemented by a warm palette of bronzed tombac (a brass alloy) and sawn and smoked oak.

Reform/Norm Architects
Reform/Norm Architects
Reform/Norm Architects

The kitchens will be available Sept. 1.

While fancier fronts aren’t necessarily competition for Ikea—since customers still need to purchase the primary furniture system—other new competitors could pose a threat. Most recently, Providence, R.I.–based Greycork debuted a line of flat-packed interior furnishings that feature tool-free, screw-in assembly rather than Ikea's (and others') haphazard system of pegs, clips, screws, and hex wrenches. 

But aesthetics are just as important as seamless assembly, the startup's CEO John Humphrey told ARCHITECT last week. “It first has to be something that looks extremely good in your home and is going to be a fit with your own style, and you are going to have the comfort of knowing that it's built with great materials," he said. "And only when we have satisfied those needs, then can we say, ‘Hey, it also costs less and the experience around it—in terms of buying it and assembling it—is magnitudes better than what you can get anywhere else.’”

Ikea isn't resting on its laurels, either. Earlier this year, it teamed up with international design firm IDEO and industrial design students at Lund University, in Sweden, and the Eindhoven University of Technology, in the Netherlands, to create the Concept Kitchen, a vision of what inexpensive D.I.Y. furniture might look like in the not-so-distant-future. The resulting prototypes, on display in Milan since April as part of a six-month exhibition, include a networked table with an integrated projector, camera, and sensors to identify objects and to offer guidance, such as cooking tips. The exhibition also features induction-cooled shelving and food-storage containers, as well as compost and graywater systems—adding an element of environmental mindfulness to a product category known for its expendability.