Faith's Kitchen Renovation: How We Assembled & Installed Our IKEA Kitchen

Renovation Diary: Faith's Budget Luxe Kitchen

Installing our cabinets!
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Ready for the next step in my kitchen renovation? Here's where things get a little wild and fast, and where my photo library gets a little thinner than I would like. I understand now why people have a hard time documenting renovations, especially near the end — you're so exhausted and ready to be done the camera is the last thing on your mind.

Having said that, I do want to walk through how we installed our IKEA cabinets. Here's a peek at the process of assembling and installing the kitchen, which we actually did ourselves with some coaching from our contractor. (Tip: If you want to read from the beginning, click here, or scroll to the bottom of this post and click back through the series widget at the bottom.)

The kitchen space with exciting things like drywall and brand new hardwood floors. Yes, the poly was still wet and (shockingly) shiny. It dried nice and matte.
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And here is the pile of IKEA boxes that filled the entire room adjacent to the kitchen. Somehow these were going to turn into my kitchen?
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September 2014 Update: SEKTION

IKEA has officially announced that they are replacing the AKURUM line of cabinets seen here with a new and improved system of cabinets — SEKTION. Read more about this change here:

→ More on the difference between AKURUM & SEKTION: IKEA Is Totally Changing Their Kitchen Cabinet System. Here's What We Know About SEKTION.

Crunch Time!

It's hard for me to delve into this period of our renovation, because this was crunch time for us. Remember we weren't just renovating our kitchen but doing a gut renovation on an entire home. Our goal was to be finished enough that my husband's brother and sister-in-law and their two small children could come and stay with us the week after Thanksgiving for a family get-together. A goal which, in hindsight, seems insane, but did push us over the finish line.

At this point in our life, just two weeks before Thanksgiving of last year, my husband and I were sleeping perhaps 3 hours a night, juggling work, contractor meetings, the labor of priming the whole house, assembling and installing the kitchen, and packing up our old house. (Apologies if you emailed me during this time and never heard back — my inbox still really hasn't recovered yet from my renovation!)

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The instructions booklet!

Assembling IKEA Cabinets

The process of putting together IKEA cabinets is very straightforward, but also time-consuming. We had about 16 large cabinets to assemble, and we worked until the wee hours of the morning several evenings in a row.

The way we did it is put down plastic to protect our new floors, then lay out several cabinets in a row, putting them together assembly-line style. We'd lay out the pieces, knock in the dowels and screw in the cam screws, then fit it all together. Doing it like this was satisfying and efficient.

To Glue or Not To Glue?

My husband and I had a mild disagreement over gluing the cabinets. Our carpenter contractor reflexively recommended gluing the cabinet joints as we assembled. So did my cautious father-in-law. But as I read through the IKEA Fans web community, many people said that gluing really didn't increase the sturdiness of the cabinets at all. After all the cabinets would be bolted to the floor and, in places, the wall. Would wood glue really make a difference?

We ended up gluing most of the cabinets that went into our island to be on the safe side, but time and exhaustion got the better of us and we gave it up once we started in on the wall cabinets. (Curious about your experience — if you assembled IKEA cabinets, did you glue them too?)

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Surveying the cabinets, partially finished. Getting so close!

Installing the Cabinets

Our budget with our contractor didn't really extend to him and his team actually installing our kitchen cabinets, a fact that rather overwhelmed me at this late juncture. He was racing to finish up our master bathroom in time, but he did coach us through the installation which was totally awesome of him. There's no way we could have done it all on our own! (He and his crew did do our trim and small finishing carpentry on the cabinets — a great combination of DIY and professional help that really worked well for us.)

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The platform we built for the cabinets to rest on.

The first decision to make when installing the cabinets was how to mount them on the floor. We had bought a lot of legs for the cabinets but after some discussion with our contractor we decided to return the legs and not use them. Instead we built a platform out of 2x4 lumber.

We had several reasons: First of all, it was easier than attaching the legs and making sure they were on correctly. Secondly, it was WAY easier to level the cabinets on one even platform. And third (and so exciting for me!) this way we could lower the countertop heights by a whole inch to accommodate this short cook. (I seriously did a happy dance over this — I love having cabinets that are better suited to my height!) It was also quite easy to attach our toe-kick to this platform.

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Tom, our contractor, taking a break from tiling our bathroom to coach my husband through attaching cabinets.

Once we made that decision we placed the cabinets on the base and worked to attach the built cabinets to one another with these little bolts called sex bolts (yes, I know), because one part fits inside the other and as you ratchet the bolt it pulls the cabinets really flush. (Sex bolts became the subject of many, many late-night weary jokes, believe you me.)

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Making sure the cabinets were level.

Then the cabinets were painstakingly leveled and bolted into the platform (which was itself attached to the floor). Describing all this makes it sound fairly straightforward and simple and in some ways it was. We didn't have the extra hassle and care of hanging upper cabinets, which made everything easier.

But if you're not a carpenter or building professional, this kind of thing takes a long time. My husband is a total champ — he learned a ton through this process (and acquired a better drill and a circular saw!). But it took him hours of painstaking, cautious checking, planning, and double-checking as he built the platform, attached the cabinets, made sure they were level and plumb, and bolted everything into the wall and floor.

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This was after we started building the drawers and stacking them up in the cabinets. Love that IKEA/Blum hardware. Those drawers and slides are really solid.

One of Those Little Renovation Shockers...

To give you a sense of how much faster professionals can do this stuff, let me tell you the one little shocking story from our kitchen installation. The afternoon after my husband had heroically installed all the cabinets, I came to the house and found our contractor, his second-in-command, and the plumber standing around with stricken looks. We hadn't double-checked the dishwasher before building our cabinet platform and so the dishwasher was half an inch too tall to fit where it should go.

My contractor made a fast executive decision. They would lift the entire island (which is 10 feet by 3 feet, let me point out). I didn't stick around to watch, but they unscrewed all the bolts, shimmed it up with thin pieces of plywood, and bolted it back down. This took them all of 15 minutes.

I waited until my husband had a glass of wine in his hand that evening before passing on that story! We were glad to have professionals who knew what they were doing — it's just humbling to know how much faster they can get stuff done, and to remember there are times it's best to just let the pros get it done.

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Happy level bubble!

And yet it really shows how accessible this installation was. If you have someone who knows what they are doing to coach you (like our contractor did for us), adequate tools, and some time and patience, it's very doable to build and install cabinets yourself. My husband is a researcher and professor and I'm hardly handy at all; we're really not the DIY types. And yet we're really proud of the time and handiwork that went into building the kitchen ourselves.

At the outset it sounded like the scariest thing ever, but it's actually less pressure, in the end, than building your own IKEA furniture — which we've all done, right? Think about it — your IKEA chairs and bookshelves get a lot more wear and tear and shoving around than your kitchen cabinets, which have the advantage of being bolted to the wall and covered with a solid countertop. Yes, you need to make sure everything is as level and plumb as possible, but with the right tools and enough time this something that nearly anyone can do.

Just don't underestimate the time. We spent at least two weeks of evenings and early mornings before work assembling cabinets and installing them and then adding drawer slides, dampers, and drawers. I spent at least 8 hours one night doing nothing but taking drawer pieces out of boxes, and putting them together.

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Our unfinished pantry and laundry room with some assembled drawers waiting for installation, plus our drawer and door fronts from Semihandmade. They came protectively swaddled in paper, plastic, and Styrofoam wrappings.

What's Next?

So, those are the bones of the kitchen, but what about the pretty parts? The fronts and doors? Those come next, along with the appliances and countertops. Oh, the countertops — what a saga that was. Stay tuned!

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Getting close! Remember what it used to look like? Here let me show you...

Key Resources



(Images: Faith Durand)

(Image credits: Faith Durand)