Don't mess with IKEA: Semihandmade gets booted out of the Interior Design Show in Toronto

IKEA sign coming down
© Semihandmade

On opening night of the Interior Design Show in Toronto, I admired the booth of Semihandmade, a southern California company that has been making doors that fit on IKEA furniture, under the tag line "their system, our doors, your home." It's a terrific idea; IKEA sells their boxes and hardware without doors if you want to supply your own, and Semihandmade gives people a lot more choice. Founder John McDonald has been doing it since 2011 and now has 30 employees working in a 14,000 square foot factory. Apparently he gets along fine with IKEA in California. But not in Canada. According to Semihandmade:

IKEA Canada claimed that Semihandmade infringed upon their name and trademark. Despite success in the U.S. and showings at ICFF and Dwell on Design, IKEA Canada was unfamiliar with the brand. McDonald offered to remove signage and materials from the booth, but was asked to vacate the floor. None of the lawyers present (IKEA Canada's and show owner, Informa's) were certain any laws were broken.

IKEA is a major sponsor at the Interior Design Show. The semihandmade people tried to compromise, covering up the IKEA name, but it evidently wasn't good enough, and by the next morning the booth was gone.

semihandmade furniture installed photo© Semihandmade

It's not the first time IKEA has bitten off its nose to spite its face; last year there was a whole lot of bad press when it tried to shut down IKEAhackers after 8 years of blogging. As Gizmodo noted:

This is a huge mistake for Ikea, a company that prospers from the devotion of its fans. It's hard to find a person who doesn't foster a little kernel of Ikea love in their heart, like a Swedish meatball warming on a metal rack. IkeaHackers is a place to talk about that love and share creative ideas about it. It's harmless fun, a burgeoning community of fans who are excited about Ikea and the hidden genius of its products. And what's more, it gets more people excited about the company (and into its stores).

In the end, IKEA backed down and the site survives, but IKEA took a lot of abuse and lost a few customers. There should be some serious outrage now over this eviction from the Interior Design Show. It costs a lot of money to ship a booth and set it up and staff a trade show. For every door a Canadian buys from Semihandmade, they have to buy an IKEA cabinet to back it up, so it's just good business for them to create a larger IKEA aftermarket ecosystem.

Not everyone has IKEA love in their heart; they make it almost impossible for young designers to survive, driving people's expectations of price so low that they own the market. I have called it The Curse of IKEA:

Good design used to be aspirational, sold in small quantities from high street stores at high prices; Until we could afford better we made do with Mom's old sofa. IKEA has brought good design to the mass market at great prices- it costs less to buy a sofa there than to hire a mover to get mom's. (a good thing) but it has hammered the market for the limited run, higher end stuff that we used to aspire to. We no longer value how it is made, who built it and where our money went, we just care that it cost next to nothing.

Now we know that they are bullies too. Shame on IKEA Canada.

Don't mess with IKEA: Semihandmade gets booted out of the Interior Design Show in Toronto
The company makes beautiful aftermarket doors for IKEA cabinets; the Swedish giant should be happy about this.

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