• Tabitha Frazer Blanks

Ikea Lack - Upcycling Laminate

Don't rush to the skip just yet. There's plenty of life left in this old dog.

Ikea is great, right? It's such good value and the designs are clever in a universally appealing way. The business model is so well known, there is no need to go into it here – we all understand it's built on the fast-fashion concept. By 'em cheap, stack 'em high, sell 'em on.

That's not to say Ikea is not environmentally responsible – they appear to be promising greater sustainability for future production with both materials and packaging. They even have a policy drafted since 2012 committing to using only recyclable or renewable materials in all their products by 2030.

It's fantastic that international companies such as this are taking these responsibilities and leading from the front. But what happens to the ethically produced furniture once it goes into our homes? Many of these items are known for their lack of longevity. Anyone who has bought Ikea wardrobes, kitchens or flat-pack can tell you – they just don't last looking good for very long.

I had inherited an Ikea Lack coffee table from my last move. It was left behind by the previous tenant – probably because it was starting to look a little shabby. The tabletop is made from a chipboard frame, packed with a paper honeycomb core and a low-density fibreboard shelf all wrapped in plastic laminate. I would not have picked this table to begin with as the finish is too plasticky for my taste – BUT – after having used it for our lounge, we found that it was a great family sized coffee table and suited us very well.

• The good, the bad and the ugly •

Unfortunately, the table was placed a little too close to the open fire last Christmas. It didn't turn out well. The edge heated and the plastic laminate separated from the board leaving this horrible gap. Very bad, I'm sure you'll agree. Understandably, this would be fair enough reason to ditch this table. There's not much that can be done to repair overheated/stretched laminate banding – especially right in the middle of the edge without stripping it off and reapplying.

This wasn't the only sign of wear and tear. The laminate/acrylic paint on the surface is very thin and the scratches reveal the particle board beneath. Pretty ugly.

We use this table a lot as it is in the lounge where we all gather as a family. It's usually loaded with board games, books and plants. Admittedly we haven't taken the greatest of care of it, most likely due to it being considered as a bit of junk furniture we'd inherited and were only using for 'the time being'. Not very sustainable thinking. Tsk tsk.

As someone who:

  1. hates throwing stuff into landfill

  2. hates shelling out for new stuff

  3. likes to repurpose, reduce and reuse

  4. loves a bit of a project

I began to research how I could turn this now ugly, damaged plastic piece of disposable furniture into something a bit better. Hurrah - Ikea hack!

• Inspiration •

My first port of call was looking for inspiration. I found lots of images online of Lack tables covered in recycled wood (not for us – our dining table is very similar to this) or painted and then stencilled with a repeat design. None of them particularly appealed and I was beginning to wonder if I was barking up the wrong tree. Is this going to be worth the effort? How crap is this going to look when done?

I had a few main sources of inspiration. One was a cushion I'd picked up from a car-boot sale (originally Dunelm) and then this beautiful sideboard by Done up North. Another was a blog post by Yeah Ok Bye detailing fab work by Caroline Key.

All were rich teal blue-greens with foil finishes and I thought to myself 'I want those dark, pretty shiny things' in my house.

• The design stage •

I knew I wanted a geometric pattern and I'd noticed the funky lilypad designs that have cropped up all over tiles of late. So my ideas were thus:

  • dark teal/blue

  • gold lines

  • hexagons

I mocked up a concept using Amadine. It's free to download and use but if you want to export any kind of artwork, you will need to purchase the software package. For this exercise, I just wanted to show Ben what I had in mind – he's a seeing-it-to-get-it kinda guy, so I didn't need anything more than what I could see on screen.

We had a discussion and decided that we were going to lose the lines going off into the upper left of the table (middle pic). Ben felt that the negative space had better balance than filling it, and I have to agree. The width of the Ikea Lack table is 1180mm so I'd divided this by 3 so I could get three full hexagons the width at 393mm each across. the side. If you're looking at the above image questioning this maths, that's understandable. I took these screenshots from a design planned for a much smaller Lack at 900mm across. I didn't realise there were two sizes and went straight to the website for measurements rather than getting off my butt and actually measuring it!

• The equipment I used •

There is so much conflicting information out there on whether to sand, not to sand; use oil-based or used water-based paint. Which brands, what brushes; the sealant or topcoat. I will tell you what I used and how I got on with each product.

For the prep:

  • Philips screwdriver

  • marker pen/pencil

  • dust sheet

  • 80 grade sandpaper (£2.49)

  • 240 grade sandpaper

  • Zinsser Bulls Eye 123 Primer (£17.99 from my local hardware store)

  • mini-foam roller and mini roller tray

For the painting:

  • 800 grade sandpaper (£2.49)

  • large heavyweight paper to create a hexagon template (I used lining paper)

  • pencil & eraser

  • metal ruler

  • craft knife with new blades (£2.49)

  • Frogtape Painters Delicate Surface Masking tape 24mm (£4.58)

  • Valspar matt emulsion 2 x tester pots - total 472ml (£3 each)

  • Crown Metallic Gold paint

  • artist's flatwash 15mm paintbrush

  • woven mini roller and mini roller tray

  • protective dust sheet

For the finish:

  • 800 grade sandpaper

  • Ronseal Diamond Hard Interior Varnish – Clear, Matt (£13.88)

Many of these things I already had but I've priced the items I needed to purchase for the project. Grand total for the upcycling project: £49.92 The bonus is that I have plenty of everything, bar the emulsion left over for other projects.

• Oil or water-based paint? •

I'd read the choice of the laminate upcycler are the Zinsser Primers. These have a great track record of adhering very well to plastic and providing a sound foundation for further applications. However, the Zinsser B-I-N Shellac Primer contains...shellac. This is a resin secreted from the lac bug and scraped off the bark of the tree where they reside. Ultimately, these little bugs get caught up in the creating of shellac and the squashed critters get processed along with the resin. Not for me... so I looked for an alternative to this.

I don't like the mess of cleaning up oil-based paints – I never really know what I'm supposed to do with the white spirit after using it. Good for us and our world, it appears that oil-based paints are on the decline. Either way, for ease of use, I decided I would stick to emulsion paint throughout. For this reason, I settled on the Zinsser Bulls Eye 123 Primer which can be rinsed clean from tools using water. It also particularly specifies it is good for coating plastic and tiles, so I was sold on this.

• Coloured paint •

The colour I picked out was Farrow and Ball Hague Blue. It's so beautiful.

Farrow and Ball Hague Blue

It comes in a water-based eggshell at £27 a pot for 0.75l. This, I believed, was far too much paint for the project so I was hoping to pick up a tester pot of emulsion at 100ml for £5 (way underestimating my needs, this would have only been a quarter of what I ended up using). As it happened when I turned up at B&Q during Covid-19 lockdown, there was NOTHING left on the shelves and pickings were slim.

The Valspar mixing centre was open however. The desk was one in, one out and the chap called out to me practically every 30 seconds to check whether I'd chosen my colour yet and did I need any help.

Under pressure to make a quick decision, I picked 'Depths' from memory as the best concept of the colour I was looking for. This was not a great move but the circumstances were far from ideal and I felt grateful to be able to get a colour at all. So, hey hum; it is, what it is as they say. I know it's possible to get the Valspar desk to mix the colour from Farrow and Ball but there was nothing referring to Hague Blue in the store so this was not an option. Now the swatches are side by side I can see how Navel Brigade would have been a better match and provided the depth of colour I'm missing from Depths. For me, this is certainly evident in the finished article.

My accent colour is Striking Gold. I'd picked up the Crown Metallic paint donkey's years ago (at least 10) as a 125ml tester pot and have used it for many small projects along the way. I'm a fan; I love its shiny goldness but... the pot I have is old so I'm not sure how much the paint formula would have/has changed since buying it.

• Getting started •

I took the table to pieces. A very simple procedure, just a few screws and twists. I marked which table leg came from which position on the table with a Sharpie labelling them as I went and took the lot outside for a gentle sand down with the orbital sander on 80-grade sandpaper. Remember all the scratches and nicks? They were all smoothed out in the sanding process. I then washed/cleaned all the surfaces with uPVC cleaner (I already had this) but I'm sure hot soapy water will do perfectly well.

My next job was to tackle that lift in the edging strip. With a metal ruler and craft knife, I sliced the bubble down the centre, shaved off the overlapping edges where they now crossed over, and restuck the now flat laminate down with wood glue. Using weights, I put pressure on the edging to give it full contact overnight and then applied filler the next day to smooth out the roughness and any gaps.

In the meantime, I went out and bought the primer which specifically states that sanding is not required. Oh.

• Priming •

This was straight forward and I used a mini-foam roller rather than a paintbrush as I'd read reviews of people having trouble with brush streaks. The roller applied the primer without any dramas. My only issue was that I'd chosen to do this outside in the sun and it wasn't the best idea due to the heat. However, the primer does have a strong odour so I would recommend keeping the space around well ventilated if you are indoors.

After the primer had dried, I felt the table was looking miles better already! All those scratches and blemishes had been smoothed over and it was nice and white. I gave it a gentle sand over with the 240 grit paper and wiped it down ready for the blue.

• Painting •

When I opened the paint up, I was little anxious as to how light it was. I know I was in the bright, bright sunshine, but it still looked much lighter than the colour I was hoping for. The mixing dude had assured me, it would dry the colour I had selected in-store.

Rookie error #1 was choosing to paint outside in the sun. So don't do this. Paint in the cool shade. The paint goes sticky, and weirdly, doesn't dry properly in the sun. I used a woven mini roller to apply the paint as I felt the surface was too expansive for my skill set with a paintbrush. Also, the brushes I own are not any quality at all and I felt I would be fighting a hard battle trying to make a bad brush work well for me,

It was great fun applying the deep blue to the bright white and in no time at all, I had covered the lot.

I left this to dry overnight and hand-sanded it gently all over using circular motions and the 240 grit paper. Then wiped the residual dust away as before. As you can see from the pictures, it's very patchy at this stage. That's ok and normal and it does all even out in the end.

After the second coat, it was evident that a third coat would be required. This was down to the white undercoat and could possibly be helped with a tinted primer. I was not in any particular hurry so it wasn't an issue for me that it took three coats in the end.

After 3 coats of emulsion and another light sand, the blue was finally solid and even throughout. I was so excited to start mapping out the lines. I couldn't wait to see the gold against the base coat.

As my design is based on hexagons, I made a stencil using the exact dimensions when I'd planned it out using Amadine. I could then trace around the corners with pencil, mapping out where each one ended and the next began. This provided me with easy reference points when creating the connecting lines later on.

Frogtape is fantastic as it's easily removable but highly tacky. The painter's version is specifically designed for newly painted surfaces. But, the directions state the paint needs to be at least 24hours dry before application. This is why I left the table to cure overnight and didn't rush into mapping out the design.

The gold is so delicious! I was so keen to see it go on, that I started on the biggest, most obvious area first using an artist's flatwash brush. You know, just to make sure all my learning curves and mistakes were on show for all to see?!

As is evident from the video, the first coat does go on fairly streaky. Again, I ended up applying three coats of gold paint in total and the finish is consistent. I also changed my stroke direction from this first application to go on the straight, rather the diagonal.

I cut a 7mm strip of paper around 500mm long to act as the line stencil. Within this piece, I marked a central line down the length of the strip. This centre line acts an indicator with the pencil marked corners, to help keep everything in line with itself. I could then use the Frogtape to create the stencil outlines.

The mapping took a long time to do – I would guess around 4 hours. It is fairly concentrating work so this was split into two sessions.

Please make sure to press down every single edge of the tape with the edge of a credit card or similar to create maximum adhesion and push out air bubbles. You DO NOT want any opportunity for the paint to seep under. I thought I did this, but when I peeled the tape back at the end, I could see the areas I hadn't paid enough attention to and there was bleed. This was disappointing for me - especially after all the prep.

• Metallic gold painting tips •

The metallic paint is a little different to work with than standard emulsion. It doesn't 'settle' as regular paint does when it's applied.

  • Each stroke will produce on and off brush marks so long strokes work best.

  • Start from one edge and flow all the way edge to edge in one stroke.

  • Usually, wood has a grain to follow but in the case of laminate, there is no grain. Create your own sense of grain by running the single strokes in a uniform direction along the length of the painted area.

  • When it came to painting in the lines, I followed the strips here and didn't try to create a sense of grain. This only really applies to large solid areas of infill.

The Frogtape instructions state that the tape is best removed while the paint is still wet as this prevents the dry paint from being pulled away from the surface with the lift of the tape. However, I had to do three coats of gold and there was no way I would be reapplying all that tape every time. After the third application, I took the plunge and began the reveal.

• Criticisms •

On the reveal I came across some areas I would not wish to repeat:

  1. Not pressing the tape firmly enough to the table – this isn't major, but there are a few leaks here and there.

  2. A build-up of paint into corners – where the tape overlaps several times over to create the sharp corners, height is created by the layers of tape and consequently, this produces build-up of paint.

  3. There was a small amount of paint lift from one line – enough to make me suck my teeth as I removed the tape.

• Objections – OVERRULED! •


  1. the leaks are tiny and they do create a sense of the handmade. If I was so bothered, I'm sure I could have sanded back the offending areas and touched them over with the Valspar.

  2. The build-up was easily sanded down to flat using 1200 grade sandpaper.

  3. Finally, I could have filled in the areas where the gold paint lifted buy applying the Frogtape and carefully reconstructing the lines but again, I kind of settled on the 'handmade' concept rather than the 'super perfect' concept (and also I was keen to get the project wrapped up!).

• Finally – it's time to seal the deal •

The project took about a week to get to this stage. Finally, it was time to seal the paintwork!

I used the woven mini roller and mini paint tray. I looked into the idea of using a paint pad as I was terrified of leaving brush strokes all over the show, and was all up for getting one, but you know, Covid-19 meant that there were no supplies to be found anywhere and my capacity for queueing for hours at a time had reached the limit. So I used the woven mini roller with a pressing down push technique rather than a rolling one. This acted very much like a paint pad and I felt created a smooth even coating.

The Ronseal Diamond Hard Interior Varnish is a milky white colour very much like pva glue. It is easy to see where it goes on and dries to touch in 20 minutes. I found it a little difficult to work with as the strokes appeared to be very obvious when applying it – even though I was working in single strokes across the width of the boards. Where the varnish application would overlap between strokes, it would be evident with patchy stripes. However, once this dried out, the varnish is clear and no visible strokes could be seen.

My tip here would be: be mindful of drip build-up around corners and edges.

I kept the roller and tray wrapped in clingfilm in between coats so I didn't need to keep washing and drying my tools after every round.

I was super anxious that after all my effort and hard work, the varnish wouldn't perform as I was expecting so I gave each surface five coats of varnish, with at least 4 hours drying time and sanding down with 800 grit paper then wiping clean between each coat. I know the state the table was in, to begin with, and was mindful about how much use it gets.

The instructions state that before the last coat, sand and remove the dust with a damp cloth. I did this, but the surface started to produce foam – a little bit like there was washing up liquid on the cloth? It was very strange and freaked me out so from then on, I just dry wiped the sand-dust away. The varnish dries matt-ish and clear although there is a lustre to the finish. I would not call it flat matt.

• The result •

I gave the table a week to cure before putting it back together. This is very important – it just needs this time to really set and dry. The last thing you want after all the hard work, is to get a chip or a scratch while the surface is still soft. After this time, the varnish settled down a little too and seemed to lose some of the sheen.

The colour isn't quite right for me – it's too light in tone and not rich enough in depth. And now it's placed, It doesn't suit the other colours in the room. The sticking point was choosing the palate under duress due to Covid lockdown. I think I should have stuck to my dusky pink guns but Ben said no!

However, the overall finish is good and the table certainly looks a million times better than the shabby chipped white stock item that previously occupied the living room. I've placed the original swatch card onto the paint so it can be compared. It's a very close match although I feel the table appears to be lighter. This could be down to the matt-ness of the paper compared to the lustre of the table and/or the size of the swatch compared to the mass of the table surface.

The repair came out well – I've really gone in close here to point it out but in general, it's fairly low-key and not really perceptible. It was such a straightforward fix and I'm pleased how much better this looks – it's completely turned the table from trash into worth holding on to.

What do you think? Do you think the project is worth the end result? What are your thoughts on recycling such low-value furniture items?


• by Tabitha Frazer Blanks •

An expert on being right most of the time, arguinging the toss and partial to the odd daydream, Tabitha is also a hard working designer with a love of travel and food.

copywrite Adventures Big & Small 2020 •

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