Before & After: We Built an IKEA Kitchen During the Pandemic
As if a pandemic, virtual schooling, and working from home wasn’t enough, it makes sense to also completely demolish your kitchen and rebuild it, right? That’s what we did this past summer when my wife and I remodeled our kitchen using an IKEA kit. We had been planning the redo since late 2019, but even with the pandemic looming we decided to stick to the plan. I mean, we were going to be home anyway.
A bit of context: When we bought our 1968 four-level split, on the north end of Columbus, Ohio, in early 2018, we knew the kitchen would need an update, with the buckling linoleum floor and shredding cabinet drawers.
We brought in the experts to do some of the demo, electrical, plumbing and drywall, but otherwise it was all us: designing and ordering the IKEA kitchen, assembling cabinets in the garage, building bases and installing them, constructing a half wall, tiling, painting.
Credit goes to my wife Beth for having the vision for the project. She designed the space with the IKEA planning tool, which lets you enter precise measurements and drag and drop cabinets, countertops and appliances into place, finally spitting out a list of materials. We’re fortunate to live within 10 minutes of an IKEA, too. The project eventually necessitated multiple visits, to pick up cabinetry as it trickled in, to return unused pieces, to snag that extra bit of hardware we forgot, so we were fortunate those trips didn’t require a longer drive.
IKEA’s kitchen reps will sit down with you to hone your plans; the actual order must be placed in person, and just as we finalized the designs in March of 2020, everything shut down. Our hopes of a spring renovation were pushed to summer. But the day IKEA reopened, June 3, my wife was first in line to order the kitchen, with 90% of the materials set to be delivered, amazingly, five days later.
We cleared out the garage to serve as our cabinet-building station. When the materials arrive, you have 24 hours to verify you have everything, so immediately, you’re sorting boxes into piles and comparing labels to your list, although they offer an amazing 365-day return program, so it lessens the pressure a bit.
Once we took count of everything, we shifted kitchen operations to the dining and living rooms and began to remove the old cabinets. We relied heavily on the microwave and the George Foreman grill for cooking, although the summer weather afforded me an excuse to fire up the Weber grill, too. We’re fortunate to have a rear deck, so we ate many meals out there. Dishes were lugged upstairs and washed in the tub; this was easily my least favorite part of the whole process.
In addition to the actual kitchen installation, we made four big changes (which were completed by our contractor).
- We removed the wall between the kitchen and the dining room
- We converted the dining room window into the rear door of the house
- We cut a pass-through window between the kitchen and living room
- We combined the existing kitchen window and doorway into a custom nine-foot window that we affectionately referred to as (cover your ears, children) the “big-ass window.” We’re fortunate to have an almost half-acre backyard, and it felt criminal that you could see so little of it from the kitchen.
These steps served our goal of opening up the main the floor and flooding the space with natural light. You can now walk in the front door and catch a glimpse of the backyard. Truthfully, it makes the house feel more like itself.
As that all fell into place, the garage slowly morphed from stacks of boxes to piles of broken down cardboard bound for recycling. My wife and I worked in the evenings to assemble the cabinets, quickly finding our groove in piecing together IKEA’s SEKTION cabinets with VOXTORP walnut effect fronts.
These IKEA cabinets are hung from stainless steel rails, which are attached to the wall at the studs. The lower cabinets also sit on plastic legs that are covered by a kick plate. My wife’s YouTube research showed a number of contractors who suggested building your own plywood bases in lieu of the plastic legs. It added a big step, but we’re glad we did it. We bought sheets of plywood, ripped them down on a table saw, then brad-nailed them together. The bases are attached to the wall, and then the cabinets to the bases. This is much sturdier than the provided legs, and gave us the underlying structure to extend a needed vent into the kitchen.
The really hair-graying part of it was leveling the rails and cabinets in a 50-year-old house where the walls and floors aren’t perfectly flat. The cabinets need to be level within 1/8 of an inch in order for IKEA’s countertop subcontractor to install them. (I found myself saying that the myth of Sisyphus should be updated to a person eternally condemned to leveling cabinets on an uneven floor.) But we’re proud to say we got them almost perfect, at which point we could head to IKEA (again) to schedule a visit from the countertop folks. Their representative took the measurements, gave a thumbs-up to IKEA saying it matched the original designs, then placed the order.
The countertops ended up being delayed slightly because of supply issues due to the pandemic. It felt like everything became about waiting on the countertops. We were in a holding pattern. Fortunately, my wife’s sister and her husband — both within our quarantine bubble — visited for the weekend to finish assembly, attach all the cabinet doors and hardware, and help with some finicky cuts.
The day finally came when the countertop folks arrived to install the white quartz countertops and waterfall edges. It took three visits from them to get everything just right, unfortunately, from re-cutting outlets in the backsplash to re-doing a corner to accommodate a light switch. But to their credit, they showed up and got it all done.
By late September, the plumber connected the new gas range and plumbed the undermount apron front sink from Wayfair. (I’ve never been so happy to wash a dish in all my life.) Our contractor installed the IKEA range hood, and then we did the finishing touches. My wife tiled a herringbone wall underneath the live edge walnut counter from A Carpenter’s Son. We tiled the backsplash (and learned that grout dries MUCH faster than we anticipated), and installed the final light fixtures and painted.
Would we recommend an IKEA kitchen? During a pandemic? Absolutely. Just with a few asterisks.
IKEA is better designed for in-person shopping, and as other outlets have reported, their e-commerce system was stretched to the limit during the pandemic. The kitchen staff at our local IKEA got to know us on a first-name basis; being home all the time allowed my wife to dash to the store whenever we got the email saying undelivered parts had arrived. The one advantage of the delay in materials was that we could let the experts work in a blank slate. Of course, letting workers into our home during the pandemic was its own thing, but everyone was professional and wore masks and took precautions.
Also, organization is the absolute key. And be prepared to patiently check in with the IKEA reps to keep things moving. Yes, it was a lot of work. But as we held our first batch cooking day using all that counter space, as we watched the leaves change through the new windows, as life settled in to a new, more efficient routine in the new space — we now look forward to those post-pandemic days when the new kitchen becomes the warmest of gathering spaces once again.