What is a “Flat Pack”?
“Flat pack” is a commonly used name for furniture that you assemble yourself. Since you have to put in the work to assemble it, it’s inexpensive, and therefore both convenient and popular. Other terms for flat pack include ready-to-assemble furniture (RTA), self-assembled furniture, kit furniture, and knock-down furniture.
Why “flat”? That’s because the pieces of the furniture are manufactured literally flat, the goal being to make it as easy as possible for you, the consumer, to easily assemble the item with minimal tools.
The flat furniture pieces are packed in flat boxes and all the necessary hardware is included (screws, bolts, etc.), along with instructions for assembly. How much hardware and how many pieces of furniture you receive depends on the item. It can be minimal, with just a few boards and screws, for instance, or something more complicated, with dozens of screws and panels.
Ikea’s flat-pack furniture is some of the popular on the market. The fact that Ikea has stores in upwards of 25 countries makes it all the more convenient.
What is a Flat Pack Made Of?
When you buy a flat pack, odds are that the pieces will be made from particle board, actual wood, or something known as “MDF”—medium-density fiberboard. MDF is made from odds and ends of both soft and hardwood. That mixture is blended with wax and shaped into a board which is stronger than particle board and easier to work with than wood. Depending on what goes into making it, MDF furniture prices vary. You’ll often find desks and cupboards made from MDF.
As for particle board—its name tells you exactly what’s in it: particles, namely wood shavings or chippings, and possibly some sawdust, that are then mixed together and turned into a board. It’s not quite as high quality as MDF or wood, so it’s more inexpensive. That said, it’s sturdy. It even outdoes solid wood, which is liable to crack, given enough time and temperature extremes. The only thing you have to watch for with particle board is water damage, to which it’s very susceptible.
Who Came Up with Flat-Pack Furniture?
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that flat-pack furniture’s originator was an IKEA worker, Gillis Lundgren. A furniture designer in the 1950s, Lundgren worked at the then-very-young store.
Back then, there was no self-assembled furniture. You bought it prefabricated and then had to somehow get it home. Mind you, furniture back in the day was solid, and therefore heavy, not to mention expensive, if you had it custom-made.
One day, Lundgren found himself wrestling with getting a big table into a tiny car. That was when he started thinking about how it would make things so much easier if you could take the legs off and put them back on later. And that was how the idea first got started.
Bonuses of Mass Production
- Machines are the ones doing the mass production, rather than people, so manufacturers are saving costs on employee salaries. They pass those savings on to consumers by way of cheaper furniture.
- The stuff flat-pack furniture is made of, namely, filler material, like wood chips, is available for bulk purchasing, which saves companies still more money.
- Flat-pack furniture is simple and the styles are limited. Companies don’t need to invest vast resources on designing it.
- Companies also save money on shipping flat packs to stores, for the same reason flat-pack shipping is cheap for customers—the packages don’t weigh a lot. Furthermore, since they’re flat, you can pack a whole lot of pieces into one shipment.
- Finally, flat-pack furniture is also inexpensive because companies save on delivering it to you, since often people just pack the flat packs into their cars and head home. That saves companies from paying a delivery person and transportation costs, such as gas.
Pros of Flat-Pack Furniture
- Since they’re mass-produced, flat packs are inexpensive.
- You don’t have to worry about lugging home a giant piece of furniture—flat packs are easy to have shipped to you.
- If you’d prefer not to pay shipping, you can also easily transport a flat pack home.
- They’re (usually) easy to assemble.
- They’re (usually) also easy to disassemble, if you need to move. Hang onto the original flat-pack boxes and just slide the pieces back in.
- They’re versatile. Initially, you probably want to follow instructions to the letter, but once you get the hand of flat-pack assembly, you can improvise as needed to upgrade your furniture so it looks amazing, even at a low price.
Cons of Flat-Pack Furniture
- You have to put it together on your own, which takes time. You can pay someone to do it for you, but that adds to the original purchase price.
- Flat-pack furniture tends to be fairly simplistic; there aren’t a wide range of designs to choose from.
- The more often you take it apart and put it back together again, the more of a toll that will take on the furniture’s stability. It’s durable, yes, but it has its limits.
- Putting flat-pack furniture together can be a royal pain!
Assembling Your Flat-Pack Furniture
People buy flat packs in the knowledge that they’re going to be doing the heavy labor of assembly. Sometimes that’s easy, and sometimes it’s not, but before we get into the possible difficulties, here are some tips to make things run more smoothly:
- Put the flat pack together in the same room you want the furniture in, such as building a bed in a bedroom, rather than having to haul it into the neighboring room when you’ve finished assembly.
- Though the flat pack is usually supposed to come with everything you need, have on hand, at the very minimum:
- A hammer
- A knife
- A screwdriver
- A pair of scissors
- Put your tools where you’ll be able to easily reach them.
- Read the instructions first, and ask someone for help if they’re not clear.
- Double-check to make sure the number of parts you have matches the instructions exactly. (i.e. if it says you should three of a specific type of a screw, count them.) That way you don’t get stuck in the middle of assembling the furniture and realize you’re missing something.
- If you’re missing anything, contact the store for replacements.
- Note that some hardware, such as nuts and bolts, looks very similar. Make sure you know what the instructions are referring to, otherwise you can damage the furniture by trying to use, say, the wrong screw on the wrong panel. To that end …
- Separate the hardware into neat piles of panels, screws, etc. It’s a good idea to use something like Tupperware to organize the smaller hardware, for ease of access and to prevent confusion. Label the Tupperware according to the instructions (i.e., nuts and bolts A; nuts and bolts B)
- Protect both your furniture and your floor by laying out some kind of cover, like a sheet, on the surface you’ll be assembling the flat pack.
- Finish screwing/tightening nuts, bolts, and screws by hand, for two reasons: that way you don’t damage the furniture, and you also don’t set the hardware in place so tightly that you can’t disassemble it at a later date.
Why Have Someone Assemble the Flat Pack for You
- The instructions can get confusing.
- The hardware can be just as confusing, leaving you with random pieces leftover so that you then spend hours trying to figure out where they go. Or, you can be missing pieces and not realize it, which causes just as many hassles.
- After you’ve fought your way to a fully built piece of furniture, it may not look quite the way you expected—for instance, maybe it’s off-center, doors don’t line up, or it’s obviously not standing as sturdily as it’s supposed to be. So then you have to take it apart and go through the whole mess again, trying to get it right the second time around.
If you can’t get it right, or the task seems daunting from the outset, pay for someone to put the flat pack together for you. Yes, that adds to the price, but hopefully it will still be less than purchasing a piece of already assembled furniture.
Hiring a Furniture Assembly Company
So you went ahead and bought a flat pack. You’ve got it at home, situated in the right room. You’ve read the instructions and have decided maybe it’s better to call in the pros. Here’s why that’s a great idea:
- Furniture Assembly Professionals save you time. They’ll do the work once, and they’ll do it right.
- They’ll also ensure your furniture isn’t damaged during assembly, which will save you both stress and money in replacing a piece you just bought.
- They’ll be the ones who check and make sure your flat pack has everything necessary for assembly, rather than you having to sort through panels, screws, etc.
- They’ll provide any additional necessary hardware.
- They’ll deal with any complicated instructions.
- They can assemble more than one flat pack at a time, once again saving you time, stress, and money.
As convenient as flat-pack furniture is, it definitely has its downside, but that’s easily countered by hiring professional furniture assemblers, so don’t hesitate to do so.