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  • Writer's pictureAlastair Morgan

What is RTA furniture?

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

RTA or ready to assemble furniture, self assembly furniture, flat pack furniture. These are all types of furniture which are designed to be more affordable than fully built furniture and easy enough to be assembled at home by the customer using basic tools. Flat pack furniture got its name because it is furniture which can be packed flat. This makes it more affordable, easier to store, transport and deliver.


Flat pack furniture is often much cheaper than pre-assembled equivalents. This is mainly due to lower production and delivery costs.

Self-assembly furniture consists of multiple items of flat pieces of wood or chipboard which is designed to be easily assembled by the customer in their home or office. This reduces the labour costs of assembly that are associated with ready built or bespoke furniture. It also drastically reduces the amount of time it takes to manufacture a single item of furniture and as such these items can be mass produced, which reduces the cost to the customer even further.

Flat pack furniture is packed flat into cardboard boxes meaning it takes up much less space and makes it easier to store thus allowing for more items to be stored in the same amount of space as pre built pieces. This means furniture can be kept in stock which drastically cuts down on waiting times for customers. In most cases, it is possible take away your new furniture immediately. The fact that pieces of furniture can take up less space is also great for transportation and shipping.

Transporting flat pack furniture

Items which are packed flat take up much less space than fully assembled items and as such many more items can be transported at one time making RTA furniture much more cost effective to ship. Not only is flat pack furniture more cost effective but because more items can be transported at once, less journeys need to be made which in turn reduces the carbon footprint for each item of furniture.

One item of furniture may be separated into multiple boxes making it easier to lift/carry than a fully assembled items. It also means it is possible to fit multiple items into most cars meaning the customer doesn't have to pay for delivery.


Flat pack furniture is often made from solid wood, chipboard, MDF or metal and comes with all the fixings required to put it all together.

- Solid wood usually offers a more natural finish to the cheaper alternatives, but if it is not looked after can crack over time.

- Chipboard is made from wood chippings which are glued and pressed together to form a sheet of wood. It is much cheaper than solid wood, but doesn't look as nice. Because of this, manufacturers will cover it in laminate to give it a smooth finish which can be produced in a choice of colours.

- MDF or Medium density fibreboard, is similar to chipboard, but instead of being made from wood chippings and glue, it is made of sawdust and glue. MDF isn't as strong as chipboard but can be sanded smooth to give softer edges.

- Some companies, like IKEA are beginning to use metal in their items. This is especially true in their range of self assembly filing cabinets.


There are items of flat pack furniture on the market today which are customisable. Colours, designs and layouts can all be chosen by the customer. This is made possible because one item will often come in multiple boxes. Take for example a simple Stuva two door wardrobe from IKEA. The wardrobe frame, hanging rail and fixings are packed in one box and the doors are packed in another. This mean IKEA are able to offer a range of different coloured doors which can be chosen at the time of purchase. It is also possible to choose shorter doors and add drawers to the bottom of the wardrobe if desired. All of these different pieces come in separate boxes, making it easy to pick the combination that is right for you.

Ready to assemble furniture is packed as small as possible making it easy to move around your house before it is assembled. Imagine having to move a fully assembled chest of drawers up the stairs to put in your bedroom, or worse still a wardrobe! Plus flat pack furniture can be dismantled. If this is done with care, your furniture can be taken with you and reassembled if you move house.

Disadvantages of flat pack furniture

RTA furniture does have a lot going for it. However, there are a few drawbacks. Firstly, it requires assembly by you, the customer, and if this isn't something which you have done before can be a very daunting prospect. Even seasoned DIYers can get confused by some of the items out there. It also means you will need some basic tools to complete the job including a hammer, a range of different size screwdrivers, a tape measure and sometimes a set of Allen keys and in some cases a drill.

Another drawback can be the instructions. Some are very informative whilst other can be very, sparse and not tell you what order to do things (as pictured).

There have been some rare occasions where I have found the instructions to be completely wrong. Also, instructions which one person finds easy to follow, another may not. Personally I find the IKEA instructions very thorough and easy to follow. They are visual instructions which allow the same instructions to be used by anyone, no matter what language they speak. However, many of my customers do not like the lack of text guidance.

Some items are customisable. This means that your chosen piece of furniture can have multiple instructions. This can be very confusing, especially as there is no order to which items should be fixed together.

If an item is not assembled correctly it can be wobbly or worse, damaged. It can be very easy for a novice to tighten something to a point where it breaks or not tighten a screw enough making the piece of furniture unsecure.

Don't let these negatives put you off buying self assemble furniture. Some items are extremely easy to put together and there are many advantages to self assembly furniture. If you need help to assemble your new item of furniture, you can always get a professional to help with the construction. Plus, flat pack furniture can be very stylish and there are many designs out there. So why not take advantage of this and design the rooms of your dream.

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