To Ikea or Not to Ikea? That Really Is A Question

So we’re building a kitchen. A very big kitchen. A very big kitchen with lots of cabinets.

Having already built a house once, Dianne and I both know full well that one of the largest expenses in a kitchen is cabinetry. Our previous kitchen was built from custom cabinetry, and the price tag was impressive. So we already had some idea of what we were getting into as we considered taking on a brand new kitchen project, especially one that will now require as much cabinetry as is now being planned.

Many people swear by custom cabinetry, of course. Partly that’s practical: when you are dealing with a design that needs to fit within pre-existing walls, especially walls that are not necessarily completely square, fitting perfectly uniform boxes can be extremely awkward. Custom means that the cabinet will be tailored to fit regardless of the realities of the room. At the same time, some people insist on custom cabinets for the simple reason that they can.

Others will tell you that going the custom cabinetry route is a waste, and that you can get perfectly viable options much more cost effectively. What is considered one of the highest quality options, at a much more affordable price, is Ikea. Yes, that Ikea. The home of flat pack, Swedish meatballs and do-it-yourself hernias.

Ikea – Home of flat-pack, meatballs and do-it-yourself hernias (Photo Credit: North America Retail Architects Inc.)

While frequently snubbed as down-market, many renovators and designers have positive things to say about the quality of Ikea kitchen materials. Extremely positive things. One designer and renovator provides a detailed deconstruction of their kitchen materials, and why he has used them in more than 20 renovations to date. Another designer extols her love of Ikea kitchens, and explains why they are her preferred go to option.

The points they make are significant. The quality of their boxes are good, and often as good as you will get from a semi-custom kitchen manufacturer. Go to an Ikea showroom and open one of their cabinets, and you are faced with extremely solid 5/8″ thick MDF. Their hardware is also (mostly) excellent, and on par with custom installs, right down to soft-close drawers and doors. Their options in terms of drawer and door designs aren’t stellar, but are certainly competent. And if you do it right, and particularly if you install it yourself, you can get the same quality kitchen for as much as half the price. All of which are compelling arguments in favour of Ikea.

Ikea kitchens can indeed be funky, well designed and appealing spaces (Photo Credit: Carol Reed Designs)

So, to Ikea or not to Ikea? That is the question. For us, there are some drawbacks, and they are worth taking into consideration. For starters, the door styles tend towards the more modern. Based upon their catalogue, we thought they had a more traditional bead-board styling, which is what we are looking for, but it turns out to be a high gloss door with two inch strips of laminate positioned closely together to suggest bead-board. In the catalogue, it looked promising; in real life, sadly, it looks cheap. Their drawers have also changed since the two articles above; they are now exclusively plastic frames inside. I have no idea what their wear will be, but I’m enough of a snob to want real wood in my drawers, thank you very much.

We thought Ikea did bead-board. Less bead, more board, and not liking the final result (Photo Credit: Ikea)

The largest argument against, however, has to do with the size of the boxes. They are only sold in standard widths, meaning that if you are running the full length between two walls, there is a very good likelihood of leaving gaps at the end. More importantly, however, the height of all their cabinet boxes are standard, and designed to result in a uniform 36″ cabinet height once a counter is added. For my height, a counter of at least 39″ is a minimum; any shorter, and I can’t work for more than a half-an-hour in the kitchen without massive lower back pain. Meaning that our out-of-the-box Ikea kitchen would need about 35 linear feet of custom footings to raise the standard boxes to an appropriate height. The possible savings quickly start to disappear.

If you are trying to save money on your renovation, and in particular if you are going for a more modern look and feel to your kitchen, Ikea is certainly going to save you some money without sacrificing too much on quality. When it comes time to renovate the kitchen in the condo (and that day is certainly out there somewhere in the future) we full expect that Ikea will be our source of supply. For Boo Manor, however, we’re going the custom route. It will cost us more, certainly, but we get exactly the cabinets we need, at exactly the height we need them at. That is an investment that will quickly pay off.

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