Does anyone love Ikea more than Toronto’s Karol Kosnik?

Meet the guy who is (probably) the world's first professional Ikea hacker


Somewhere, in a Billy-bookcase-clad head office, an Ikea marketing director is thanking their lucky stars for Karol Kosnik.

The veneration is mutual: Kosnik, who is a professional Ikea hacker, has built a life around the Swedish furniture giant, living, breathing and by extension promoting Ikea since 2008. He’s probably the world’s first professional Ikea hacker. It’s tricky to verify. [See a small gallery of his work at the bottom of this post.]

At this month’s Toronto Offsite Design Festival, Kosnik held his first-ever Ikea Hacking Symposium to present his vision to design colleagues and laymen alike. For the uninitiated, Ikea hacking is the process of customizing store-bought furniture with various interventions, from a simple paint job to a major rebuild. For Kosnik, it’s a way to participate in the Utopian project that is Ikea.

“I call Ikea a billion-dollar monolith whose offering is a study of people’s wants, needs and desires, carefully balanced against each other,” he says, speaking from his studio where he was plugging away on his presentation, Ikea cabinetry visible behind him. “When Ikea creates a new kitchen system, it’s not just a kitchen. It’s an entire ecosystem that contains your experience of creating meals. And everyone is included in that design because of the price point.”

Kosnik readily admits he’s obsessed. He visits Ikea at least thrice weekly, feeds his family with Ikea food and wears Ikea clothing (which apparently didn’t quite take in Canada—“a little edgy for our mild Canadian taste,” he notes).

This is the zeal of the self-created. Kosnik grew up behind the Iron Curtain in Poland before his family moved to Mississauga in 1991, when he was 12. “I had all the immigrant experiences: the learning of the language, the hardships, trying to make it through,” he recalls. “In a moment of youthful anger I decided to move out and started living in Toronto and didn’t tell my parents where I went.”

He began studying engineering at U of T, but was dissatisfied with his results and eventually dropped out. “I was in the bottom half of the class, and if you’re mediocre at something you’ll never be successful,” says Kosnik. “I wanted to find passion in my life.”

He cycled through jobs in construction, trim carpentry and hardwood floor installation before entering Sheridan College’s Crafts & Design program at his wife’s behest. He calls his experience there groundbreaking. “Suddenly I’m going to this school and I start learning very traditional woodworking – things that St. Joseph and Jesus would be doing together – and also learning design theory and how it applies to furniture.”

Kosnik embraced designer furniture, scoring a scholarship to work at high-end manufacturer Nienkämper. It must be said, though, that he had already dabbled in Ikea hacking. “When we needed something to fill our functional needs in our basement apartment, I would get something from Ikea and then modify it for myself,” he says. “It felt creative, it felt accessible, it felt easy and it felt natural.”

When it came time for Kosnik to strike out on his own, he followed his instincts and offered his services as an Ikea hacker on Kijiji. He’s never looked back, and every day is at work on projects ranging from making over an unfinished dresser to resizing storage units.

“Coming from Craft and Design school I can build really expensive, prestigious, value-added design pieces but I haven’t really pursued that option and don’t know if I will,” says Kosnik. “I am no elitist and I like working with people. I’m not out there to make a fashion statement about myself so I like my Dodge Caravan because it fits my family and it’s the vehicle that works for me. You know… I’m like Ikea!”

Gallery of recent work

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