The flat pack furniture assembly and manufacturing industry sectors are thriving. There are no two ways about it and for a good reason. The affordable stylish and sometimes futuristic designs of MDF furniture, along with the inviting promise for easy installation, make up the core of its accessibility and eco-friendly philosophy.
We cannot deny our readiness to throw away grandma’s old oak cabinet and buy a new off the shelf one from IKEA. So much that we no longer need even convincing. You go to B&Q to replace your broken kettle only to end up coming out with a new flat pack kitchen, purchased on a whim. Well, spontaneity is a good thing, yes?
But let’s delve objectively into the design advantages and disadvantages of pre-packed furniture that requires a just few tools to piece together. Let’s also discuss how sustainable it is.
What are the advantages and the disadvantages?
As with anything natural or man-made, flat pack furniture also comes with both pros and cons. These concern the actual design, the flat pack assembly process, the transportation expenses for newly acquired goods, as well as the cost to produce them.
- Flat pack furniture is affordable – Unlike bespoke quality wood furniture, which requires costly labour and carpentry skills, off the shelf furniture is mass produced by machines from inexpensive materials. It is also cheaper to transport.
- It comes in various designs, colours and sizes – The choice of MDF furnishings is relatively vast. You are bound to find what fits your interior and matches your style and taste.
- Pieces are matched in whole ranges – Flat pack furniture ranges help you create a consistent look, especially when it comes to refurbishing an entire room.
- It is an easy-to-put together furniture – Whether you assemble the piece yourself or with the help of a professional handyman, the furniture design and the instructions that come with it are not hard to follow.
- You can tailor the pieces to fit your needs – You can easily customise an MDF unit to match your needs by repainting it or even repurposing it.
- Flat packs are easy to deliver – The furniture is packed in boxes, which are straightforward to transport and carry into the premises.
- Off the shelf furniture can be dismantled – One can assemble the furniture as easy as they can take it apart.
- Flat pack furniture is far from unique – You may find that your friend has exactly the same bedroom set like you.
- Your choice comes with limitations – You purchase what’s available in the store without having a say, regarding the design or the size. So, it is harder to find a piece that fits an unusually-shaped space or that matches your specific preferences.
- The durability of flat pack furnishings is compromised – Made from cheap and lower quality wood, off the shelf furniture doesn’t last as long as that, made from solid wood.
- You need to assemble the piece – Your furniture is not ready to use. You need to find the time, have the tools and decipher the instructions to put the piece together or pay someone to do it for you.
- Problems with the furniture assembly process – From missing fasteners, damaged parts or lacking the right tools to problems with following the instructions – assembling the furniture can prove hard. You may also have issues with erecting a large wardrobe or fitting it through the door into a designated room.
- MDF furniture comes with sustainability issues – All goods, even the environmentally friendly ones, can raise sustainability questions. Flat pack furniture is no exception.
How sustainable is flat pack furniture?
In broad terms, sustainable furniture is friendly to the environment. Below, we will look at how long MDF furniture lasts before it needs replacing, how eco-friendly are the manufacturing process, the transportation, as well as the materials that the furniture is made from. However, bare in mind, that flat pack furniture constantly thrives and evolves.
MDF furniture is not built to last. This only means that you buy an expendable product, which is likely to be replaced every few years, involving the use of new materials and the same manufacturing and transportation practices.
“When it comes to quality of assemblage, flat pack furniture sturdiness is a virtue (but not always a must).” – Dmtry / Fantastic Flat pack Assembly (London)
Moreover, it is harder to prevent wear and tear on flat pack furniture. Also, it is almost impossible to restore an MDF unit. And once a part gets broken, it is not so easy to give the whole piece a new purpose.
Green points: Well, you can still get some “second-hand” life out of your tired-looking flat-pack furniture. Furnish out your hobby den in the garage with it or use the material to build a treehouse.
Off the shelf furniture is made from medium density fibreboard, which is manufactured from inferior wood and off cuts from the sawmills.
“The final product is not that eco-friendly because a formaldehyde-based glue is often used to bond the wood fibres together. On the good side, efforts are made to produce SDF, which is made by using a less toxic type of glue, called MDI.” – Thomas / Flat Pack Mates
Green points: The source of MDF material often comes from the process of thinning – small trees, which are not viable are removed to give space and more thriving environment for stronger trees.
Manufactured in factories, the materials for making flat pack furniture can be hardly classed as eco-friendly. The industrial production of most goods accounts for certain levels of carbon emissions and MDF manufacturing practices are no exception.
In comparison, a small carpentry studio does not pollute the environment to such extent.
Green points: Technologies, which would allow for MDF to be reused or to be produced from reclaimed or recycled solid wood, are currently under investigation.
Flat pack furniture is often transported in bulk to the end user, who might be located at a significant distance from where the products are originally made. This makes the furniture piece less sustainable than locally produced hand-made furniture.
“The cost on delivery of solid units takes a considerable part of the final price. The good part about ready-to-assemble units is the small space they take, which allows a more efficient delivery.” – Dean J Signori / Homesdirect365.co.uk
Green points: MDF furnishings are transported in packs, which means that large quantities are delivered in one go, reducing the fuel consumption in the transportation process. This translates into a reduced carbon footprint and less energy expenditure.
Flat-pack furniture is desirable for its cost and accessibility, despite that it comes with some design disadvantages. Its mass production process has an adverse effect on the environment but steps have been made towards creating more eco-friendly MDF materials from recycled wood and by using non-toxic adhesives. The sustainable policy of the company is implemented throughout all levels, from basic manufacturing, to launching sustainable IKEA shops.
And if we can make furniture from coffee grounds, surely the flat pack furniture industry can follow suit and step up efforts towards creating sustainable goods, which do not compromise the environment.