What Is Flat Pack Furniture – The Pros & Cons of RTA Furnishing.

by | Oct 31, 2018 | blog, Design, DIY Tips

Learn about the advantages and drawbacks of ready-to-assemble furniture

If you’re here, then, most probably you’re wondering whether to replace your beloved oak bookcase (inherited from your great-uncle) with a sleek flat pack piece unit? Well, you’re not alone as the net is inundated with daily searches in their numbers about the pros and cons of ready-to-assemble furniture. And behind those are usually folks who have never gone down this road.

So, if you’re one of these people who are curious to find out what’s so great about a flat pack furniture design but on the other hand, worry if a mass-manufactured and ‘pre-flat-packed’ wardrobe is the right choice, at Flat Pack Houses we advise you to read on.

What flat pack furniture is made of?

Flat pack furniture is produced by machines in factories and comes in a flat cardboard pack, often, to your doorstep. You’re expected to piece it together yourself with a few basic manual and power tools. The pack contains all the necessary hardware fasteners and a leaflet with instructions. These can be simplified to 3 steps in a before-and-after fashion to the extent that nothing makes sense, say the flat pack assemblers at Fantastic Services (UK). Or the assembly manual could be so convoluted that, again, just leads you to insanity while trying to work out what goes where.

Also called knock-down furniture, the items are made from sawmill offcuts, spent trees, removed during thinning of forests, as well as from generally inferior or recycled wood. Using various types of adhesives also plays a significant part in the production process.

Pros of self-assembly furniture:

So, why is flat pack furniture good? Below, we list various pros that may prompt you to convert to MDF furnishing.

  • Flat pack furniture is cheaper. In comparison to bespoke furniture that is. Labour cost in a flat pack manufacturing process is much lower than, say, in the production of handmade or solid furniture items, crafted in an independent carpentry studio. That’s why RTA units are among the best advice for first time home buyers.
  • It has a self-assembly design. Is this a pro? Well, yes, considering that you can assemble the piece in your own time and directly in the room, you’ve picked to place the item.
  • It’s easy to transport. Flatpacks can be transported (even internationally) in quantities, as they take less space in the truck. Imagine the shipping costs if you had to get a solid piece from overseas.
  • You can customise it. Have you heard of ‘flat pack hacks’? What they stand for is the art/hobby of transforming the look and purpose of a flat pack piece of furniture. So, an unimaginative and rather boring step stool can be customised and turned into a funky bedside table. There’s an entire community of Ikea Hackers out there.
  • It often comes in ranges. The advantage of selecting a whole set of matching pieces of furniture is instantly appreciated when one has to furnish an entire room, office and so on.
  • It can be innovative. There’s a large scope for innovative ways of thinking behind the design of something that is not ready-made but needs assembling. Be it the use of interlocking flat pack systems or puzzle concepts – the potential for creativity and innovation is vast.
  • It can be moved easily. There’s no risk of scratching your wood floor when trying to move the fresh-delivered king sized bed into your bedroom. It comes in a pack, which two people can handle, lift and carry without much trouble.
  • It can have a multi-purpose design. This could be a cleverly designed and multifunctional individual piece, such as a standing swivel mirror, which turns into an ironing board. Or we could be talking about an entire kids bedroom multi-purpose combo set. And who wouldn’t like to pay for anything that is ‘3 in 1’ and get the most out of their hard-earned cash?
  • It can be dismantled. If flat pack furniture needs to be assembled, then, naturally, it can be disassembled, as well. This is an invaluable advantage if you’re moving houses and have to pack your possessions in the most efficient way.
  • It can be repurposed. Well, anything can be repurposed, really. But when it comes to flat pack furnishings, their multi-part design concept offers greater possibilities for making alterations, recycling and repurposing.
  • It can be eco-friendly. Steps towards the use of non-toxic adhesives in flat pack furniture production have been long explored. In addition, many brands incorporate the practice of using recycled wood in their manufacturing process. Last but not least, the shipping and delivery of ready-to-assemble furniture are done at reduced carbon footprint, due to the number of items that can be loaded on a truck.

Cons of knock-down furniture:

As with anything man-made, there are also some drawbacks that come to mind, with regards to flat pack furniture design and use. Here’s what they are:

  • Poor durability. Of course, flat pack furniture can be equally of high-end quality or rather cheaply made. But the truth is that it is less durable than custom-made furnishings. Dismantle your flat pack bookcase a couple of times and you’ll know what we mean.
  • Lack of uniqueness. Custom-made furniture is called that for a reason. It can be crafted to the specific requirements of the client, be it because they want a piece that is one of a kind or so it fits in a room of an irregular shape. All this can’t be said about flat pack furniture. You get what’s in the shop.
  • Assembly problems. From undecipherable instructions and missing hardware parts to lack of tools and practical skills, trying to piece together your flat pack kitchen may drive you mad after several failed attempts. And let’s not forget all the DIY safety issues, which can arise and send you to the A&E.
  • Simplified and uniform design. This could be a pro for the minimalist style lover but if you’re after some ornate and intricate furniture design, look elsewhere. We’re not saying that knock-down furniture can’t boast an original concept but the latter has been multiplied and mass-reproduced over and over again. So, don’t freak if you spot the exact same dining table as yours when you pop round to see your neighbour.
  • Sustainability issues. Although some environmentally friendly practices have been implemented by certain flat pack furniture manufacturers, ready-to-assemble items are far from sustainable. The factories, they are made in, contribute to the overall air pollution, for a start. Also, flat pack furniture is no exception, when it comes to the products’ planned obsolescence or in other words, their contrived durability and intentionally limited lifespan. It’s not very eco-friendly if you need to replace an item every few years, right?

So, flat pack or ready-to-use?

The verdict? Well, we’ll shy away from making any verdicts, as everyone has individual needs and furniture preferences. We’ll all agree that it’s much more convenient and cheaper to furnish an office, a student dormitory or a large call centre with flat pack units and pieces than using solid furniture. On the other hand, the antique grand piano in your living room will simply clash with anything cheap-looking that is made from MDF.

Read through our useful guide for more information

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