What's Built to Last at Ikea and What to Skip

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BUILDING A CASE

There's no doubt that Ikea creates some beautiful home goods for wallet-friendly prices. But the Swedish company also has a reputation for furnishings that are less than sturdy, or downright flimsy. Ikea is neither all junk nor all value-priced treasures. On the massive showroom floors, there are some solid pieces of furniture that should last more than a few years and other products that it's probably better to skip.

SOLID: NORSBORG COUCH

For a one- or two-person apartment or a small family, the Norsborg sofa combines a loveseat and chaise lounge for $799. It comes in many colors, from mint to gray to a bold red, and the covers are removable and machine washable. The Norsborg is soft but sturdy, with solid wood legs and steel in the mix with the usual particleboard and fiberboard. Most important, it comes with a 10-year warranty.

SKIP: BALKARP SOFA BED

A sofa bed comes in handy for a tiny apartment or spare bedroom, and for only $129, Ikea's Balkarp sofa bed is tempting. But the non-removable cover isn't supposed to be washed, and the polyester fabric can't withstand a lot of wear and tear, which is far from ideal for furniture meant for sitting and sleeping. Other couches and pull-out beds might cost a bit more, but consumers are likely better off without this one.

SOLID: NORNÄS BOOKCASE

A sturdy bookshelf is a must for hardcore book lovers and casual magazine scanners. Many Ikea customers head straight for a Billy bookcase. Underneath the wood veneer, though, it's made primarily of particleboard and paper. The Nornäs bookcase is twice the price ($159) but made from solid pine. Once assembled, it should last many years, even if moved to new homes. The untreated surface can be painted, oiled, or stained to match décor, or left as is. (An important safety note: The bookcase must be secured to the wall using fasteners supplied by Ikea.)

SKIP: HASVÅG MATTRESS

Good mattresses are expensive, so an ultra-cheap mattress has considerable allure. Spending $119 to $199 for a Hasvåg mattress, however, is not the best way to save money at Ikea. This model is relatively thin for a spring mattress, providing little comfort, and the review site Sleep Like the Dead reports poor user satisfaction and durability/longevity. Buyers will likely have to replace the mattress sooner than they want.

SOLID: POÄNG CHAIR

Comfortable without being bulky, the Poäng chair is a popular choice for a living room, den, or nursery. And there's no need to worry about this $109 chair breaking down anytime soon. It's made of durable polypropylene, and a removable cloth cover (in multiple colors) is easy to launder. Many customers posting on retail and review sites are bullish on the quality and recommend the chair for daily use.

SKIP: MALM BED FRAME

The Malm bed frame (starting at $179) has a nice, minimalist look and is relatively simple to assemble (unlike some Ikea products). But the design relies on small wooden pegs to hold together the frame and a slatted bed base that's sold separately. The frame is an amalgam of materials such as particleboard. Look for a bed made of sturdier parts.

SOLID: HEMNES NIGHTSTAND

Nightstands make bedrooms (and dorm rooms) complete, providing a place for lamps and books, glasses, and other items that collect near the bed. The Hemnes nightstand ($70) has one drawer and a shelf for storage on the bottom. This attractive piece is made of solid pine in four finishes, save for the drawer bottom, making it sturdy to boot.

SKIP: TINGSRYD CABINET DOORS

Ikea is filled with handsome kitchen furnishings and appliances, but some are better quality than others. For only $7 each, Tingsryd cabinet doors may seem like a steal, but there's a reason this item is so spectacularly inexpensive: The cabinet doors are made of particleboard, which won't be able to withstand everyday use without showing wear -- and forget about refinishing down the road.

SOLID: TARVA CHEST OF DRAWERS

Made of solid pine, the Tarva set of three drawers is built to last, despite costing only $80 -- and no, there's not a 1 missing in front of that price. Multiple online reviews describe the dresser as "sturdy." The solid construction, simple design, and untreated wood make it a favorite for Ikea hacks.

SKIP: ALGOT BASKETS

Home storage can be a challenge, especially in smaller homes or apartments. Framed drawers like the Algot mesh baskets from Ikea can be a good solution -- just not these particular drawers, especially at $45. Past buyers complain that the tracks are too flexible, making it difficult for the baskets to stay put or slide in and out easily, and there's no catch to keep the drawers from falling when pulled all the way out.

SOLID: LISABO COFFEE TABLE

Ikea's $129 Lisabo coffee table has a natural, homey look and is tall enough to slide plants, storage cubes, or even a smaller Lisabo table underneath. This sturdy contribution to a living room has solid pine legs and ash veneer with a coat of lacquer to protect the surface.

SKIP: SNITTA KNIFE

There may be no cheaper place for steak knives than Ikea, where Snitta knives are just $4 for a pack of four. But many unsatisfied customers have complained that the knives cut poorly and dull so quickly that they're not worth even the meager price.