5 Things Our Editor-in-Chief Learned While Buying an IKEA Kitchen

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

I’ve explained our big kitchen project, shown you the demolition, and shared our financing, and now it’s time to get down to business. The bones of a kitchen are the cabinets and their layout, and we knew from the beginning that we wanted to use IKEA’s cabinet system.

Here are some things we learned along the way.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)


After almost 20 years of production, IKEA replaced the AKURUM line of cabinets seen here with a new and improved system of cabinets — SEKTION.

Why an IKEA Kitchen?

The decision to get an IKEA kitchen came down to two factors: price and modern design.

  1. Price: IKEA is like no other company when it comes to scale of economy in their home furnishings. I don’t love every single thing that IKEA does, but when it comes to kitchen cabinets, I really didn’t see any other way to get the size and style of kitchen we wanted.
  2. Modular and modern: IKEA cabinets are completely modular — you can buy them in many configurations and adapt them to your style to a rather astonishing degree, especially if you, like us, wanted a more modern and sleek look. Their cabinets are frameless and easily adaptable to modern, flat-fronted doors.

How Is the Quality of IKEA Kitchen Cabinets?

I understand that some people are suspicious of IKEA cabinets, since they are made of particle board (similar to MDF — medium density fiberboard). The low cost of the cabinets and their material make some folks uneasy about purchasing.

But let’s take a closer look.

The Scoop on Particle Board & MDF

Most off-the-rack cabinet systems are also made of some grade of particle board. Any other cabinets we could afford (like the Kraftmaid cabinets or other lines sold at stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot) were also particle board. You can go a step up and get cabinet-grade plywood, but there is some debate over whether that is actually superior to particle board or MDF.

But What About Custom-Made Cabinets?

To go all the way to the top and buy custom-made, solid wood cabinet boxes — that just wasn’t feasible for us. Yes, custom-made cabinets can sometimes be cheaper than you expect if you find local resources, but even so, for us it would have cost tens of thousands of dollars — money we couldn’t justify even if we had wanted to. Our entire cabinet system cost much less than $10,000. (See my full price breakdown at the end.)

High-Quality Hardware

For me, the most key part of a cabinet is the drawer. If anything is going to swell and warp, it’s a drawer. But IKEA’s drawers are solid metal, with really superb hardware, Blum hinges, and drawer dampers for soft-closing. (We love the dampers!)

I read copiously on other homeowners’ experiences with IKEA cabinets and talked to contractor friends. For the most part, they were uniformly enthusiastic. Yes, IKEA cabinets are cheap, but that doesn’t mean they’re shoddy or flimsy.

How Complicated Is Your Kitchen?

Before I tell you what we learned, I wanted to point out one more thing about our kitchen renovation that gave us confidence using IKEA cabinets. We were basically starting with a blank slate. We were building a kitchen addition onto our house, so we didn’t have to deal with odd corners or preexisting constraints. We had the luxury of a simple layout — basically an open galley with a long island and straight run of cabinets. There were no corner cabinets, and, for that matter, no upper cabinets either.

If, on the other hand, we had been renovating an existing kitchen without the ability to move walls and plumbing and with more challenges in fitting everything in, I would have been more likely to look into custom cabinets or at least get more help from a kitchen designer. But my “two straight lines” kitchen was kind of the ideal situation for IKEA’s process.

Just like anything else, IKEA cabinets have their limitations, but we felt that in the end the IKEA cabinets were by far the best deal for our project.

Here, then, are a few things we learned in the process.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

5 Things We Learned While Buying an IKEA Kitchen

1. You don’t have to buy IKEA’s door and drawer fronts.

You can buy IKEA’s inexpensive, well-made cabinets and drawers, and put custom fronts on them to create a truly custom, luxurious look for less.

Besides price, this was the single biggest factor for us. IKEA’s system is so flexible and modular, you can buy the cabinets without any doors or drawer fronts. I liked IKEA’s flexibility and price, but I wasn’t crazy about their various finishes. I wanted real wood veneer, and also a custom color for some of the cabinets. (IKEA cabinets are hard to paint well.)

So, I turned to someone I have been so looking forward to telling you about: Semihandmade.

Based in Los Angeles, Semihandmade is a sister company to Handmade, which makes fine furniture and cabinetry. Semihandmade offers this craftsmanship at a lower price and makes doors and drawer fronts crafted to fit IKEA cabinets exactly. I worked with the Semihandmade owner John McDonald to plan out and order drawer fronts, doors, side panels, and filler pieces for my IKEA kitchen plan. I sent him the IKEA kitchen plan I made and he gave me a list and a quote of everything the kitchen needed.

Get more info: Semihandmade Doors

It was super simple, and the results are absolutely stunning. I even got cut-outs instead of hardware handles on most of the drawers, just like I wanted.

Using Semihandmade was probably the single best decision we made through our entire kitchen renovation process. The cost was radically lower than custom cabinetry but it still gave me the modern luxe look I wanted.

While I simply cannot praise Semihandmade enough, there are other companies too that do custom doors and drawers for IKEA cabinets (Scherr’s, most notably).

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

2. You will get Stockholm syndrome from the software.

IKEA has a wonderful, horrible, addictive, amazing little piece of software that helps you plan out your kitchen. It is an app you use right in your web browser, which can make it buggy. (Oh the tortures of Java; I would have actually paid real money for a desktop version of this app running on a more stable base.)

The IKEA planning software starts out with you drawing your room with the correct proportions, then populating it with cabinets to your specifications. You can add in different wall colors, flooring, and outside views to add a little more (virtual) verisimilitude. You can adjust countertop, door fronts, and appliances too. All of this is quite fun, and there is a magic moment when you switch into the 3-D rendered view and see your kitchen just as it will appear in real life! Bliss.

But it’s also a little crazy-making. Moving objects sometimes just breaks for no apparent reason. It’s tricky to change the size of a room — and sometimes the walls will suddenly move of their own accord. You have to save frequently; it doesn’t save your work automatically. There were times I literally wanted to pull my hair out, after I had done a lot of work and then my browser crashed, taking all that work with it.

So you will love their software and hate it at the same time. It lets you visualize your kitchen, painstaking bit by bit. It’s quite powerful, though, and it helps you budget by creating a shopping list with everything in the kitchen. Plan on playing with their software for a long time, building your kitchen virtually and checking out proportions there before actually buying your cabinets. I built scads of slightly different layouts, bringing them to our architect and contractor for their thoughts and, as I showed you before, then actually drawing them in real life at the playground and on the subfloor of our new kitchen.

Play around: IKEA Kitchen Planner

3. You should wait for a kitchen sale.

This is pretty simple: We ordered our whole kitchen over the summer, during one of IKEA’s big kitchen sales. Usually the way these work is that, if you spend a certain amount, you will get 10 percent off, and if you spend a little more, 20 percent. We also purchased our bathroom cabinetry during this sale (we used kitchen cabinets in our master bath) and a big pantry unit, as well as a kitchen island as a workbench for my husband in the basement. We loaded up! And it was all 20 percent off. Obviously this really makes a difference in the budget.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

4. You must prepare yourself for a very long ordering experience at the store.

We thought we were super prepared and we breezed into the IKEA store, hoping to be out in a couple hours. Ha ha. No way. The ordering process for the cabinets is quite involved. You bring in your IKEA kitchen plan, and then log in to their computers and show it to a (probably harried) employee. The employee has to go through and order each piece on your list, bit by bit. This is the downside of such a modular system — you are essentially ordering hundreds of little boxes at once.

5. You have to check everything once it’s delivered.

Check everything as soon as it is delivered, even if it takes a few hours. IKEA will happily correct anything that is missing or wrong!

We live 90 miles away from IKEA, and we didn’t want the cabinets delivered right away. So we paid for a delivery service. They brought everything right into our house, a process that took over an hour. All of the kitchen pieces were in boxes with strange pseudo-Swedish names.

At the time, I was so overwhelmed with our renovation that I couldn’t deal with the stacks and stacks (our invoice was pages long). So I didn’t really go through the boxes until we began assembly. Then we discovered that we were missing various small parts, like some shelves, and that a couple of cabinets were the wrong size. IKEA was a dream to work with on this, though — I was actually a little shocked, given how DIY the shopping process is there. I called their post-purchase help desk, and they FedExed the missing pieces straight to our door. They did this even when I belatedly discovered a missing piece over four weeks later, during our final installation.

What Our IKEA Kitchen Cost

So, what did it all cost? As I was adding up these numbers, I almost couldn’t believe how inexpensive our kitchen cabinets were. Even with cabinets made up mostly of drawers (which are much more expensive than simple cabinets with doors and shelves) I feel we got ourselves a deal on our quite large, rather luxurious kitchen.

The IKEA Cabinets & Drawers

  • What: About 16 linear feet of AKURUM cabinets, lower only, all drawers. Plus, 10-foot-long, 36-inch-wide island with a mix of drawers and shallow cabinets. Also, drawer dividers and extra shelves. Plus tax. 20% discount applied. Delivery fee included.
  • Total: $2,500

Semihandmade Drawer Fronts & Doors

  • What: About 16 linear feet of walnut veneer drawer and door fronts, with cut-outs for handles. Also, door and drawer fronts for the island, in Semihandmade’s DIY product, which comes unpainted and unfinished. This price included shipping from Los Angeles to Ohio, which came out to about $500 of the price.
  • Total: $3,500

Door Painting

  • What: We had the doors and drawer fronts on the island professionally painted in a spray booth for a really smooth, drip-free and chip-free finish. This is more expensive (because it uses a lot of paint) but produced an awesome result.
  • Total: $800

Grand Total

  • $6,800 (not including some incidentals like lumber for the cabinet bases, and a few pieces of hardware for the pull-outs)
(Image credit: Faith Durand)

More on Faith’s Kitchen Renovation

I’d love to hear all about your own experience with IKEA kitchens. Did you buy and install an IKEA kitchen? What was the shopping experience like for you? Do you have any additional tips and good advice for people wrangling their own IKEA kitchen saga?