Before & After: A ’90s Kitchen Gets a Lot More Storage, Thanks to IKEA Cabinets That Look Custom

published Mar 19, 2022
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Before: Kitchen with brown walls, clunky bulkhead, and island with too-low barstools
Credit: Erin Zubot

There’s perhaps nothing more dated and space-wasting in a kitchen than clunky bulkhead soffits that prevent cabinets from stretching all the way up to the ceiling — as once found in Alberta, Canada-based homeowner Erin Zubot’s ’90s home.

“This house was built in 1997 and had a lot of details typical of that era,” Erin (@erinzubotdesign) explains, also bemoaning its raised angle kitchen island and the dark brown paint in the room.

Credit: Erin Zubot

Erin says that when she and her family first moved into their house, they thought they might be able to spruce up the kitchen with cosmetic changes and resurfacing alone, but ultimately there were too many pain points in the kitchen to not address the layout.

One major request: They wanted a larger food-prep surface on the island and to relocate the stove so it wasn’t on the island anymore.

Credit: Erin Zubot

“In order to increase counter space, it would be best to combine the stove and the oven into an all-in-one unit,”  Erin wrote on her blog. “Once I decided to do that, basically none of the existing cabinetry would work, and we started looking at a complete overhaul. This decision didn’t come lightly, especially considering that it is much more than we had originally planned to do when we bought this house.”

To keep costs down, Erin and her husband bought IKEA cabinets and managed to make them look custom by adding trim and non-IKEA cabinet fronts and pulls. They painted their custom-looking-for-less cabinets in Benjamin Moore’s Indian River and Jet Black.

Credit: Erin Zubot

They relocated the microwave and added a range where the oven, microwave, and corner pantry once were to allow for a giant butcher block island with plenty of prep space.

Also on their wishlist in the kitchen was a bespoke tile backsplash and a space where the coffee maker, stand mixer, and other appliances could be tucked away but still on the counter for daily use, and they added both to the revamped range wall. (Erin cut the tiles for the backsplash herself using white Carrara and black marble.)

Credit: Erin Zubot

“I think I am most proud of the slide-out corner cubby we built for the coffee maker,” Erin says. “It was such a challenging little corner to figure out, and the sliding tray gave me a lot of grief.”

She originally built it out of wood but found out that it was too close to her new range to meet code, so she had to pivot to a non-combustible material: stone.

Credit: Erin Zubot

“I was worried the little coffee corner would be awkward or not function well, but it does exactly what I hoped it would, and every day when I pull that little tray out I’m just as proud as can be,” she says.

All of her careful planning and time spent thinking about how the kitchen is used every day paid off big time. Erin says they lived with the kitchen as-is for a while before making any design decisions, and her advice to future kitchen renovators is to “plan plan plan.” That, and don’t be afraid to dive in to DIY. Apart from hiring professionals for plumbing and electric, Erin and her husband did all of the installs themselves over the course of three and a half months. (Erin’s mom pitched in, too, making the curtains that hang over the kitchen sink.)

Credit: Erin Zubot

“There were so many things we had never done before and we had a lot of setbacks, and re-did things two and sometimes three times in order to get it right,” she says. “Don’t give up! … If you don’t know how to do something, research it! There are so many resources out there now. I watched hours of YouTube!”

Erin’s last two bits of advice are to make sure you have all the materials you need before you begin your DIY (her materials include the IKEA cabinet frames, new cabinet door fronts, black soapstone for the perimeter counters, the walnut island countertop, brass details, a new sink and faucet, and vintage sconces) and to plan for things to go wrong.

“Be prepared to pivot and figure out a new way forward because not everything works out the first time, but there is always an answer to every problem,” Erin says.