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Five Simple Ways to Make IKEA Cabinets Look Expensive

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of IKEA kitchen cabinets. I’ve used them in three of my own houses and specified them for several clients over the years.

They are incredibly affordable for what you get, which includes some of the bells and whistles you’ll find in the highest end European cabinets. But, this post isn’t a love letter to IKEA…I’ll save that for another time.

This post is about how you can make IKEA cabinets look expensive with a few simple design tricks.

Add legs to your island

IKEA SEKTION kitchen remodel Fells Point Baltimore Maryland
In my Fells Point IKEA Kitchen Remodel, we used custom island legs and base molding to create a custom look on the large island.

Many of my clients request a “furniture” look for their island. I interpret that to mean they want legs, base molding, or panels – or a combination of all three.

Legs can anchor the countertop overhang, avoiding the floating look and providing balance. They also allow you to create a deeper overhang. The max countertop overhang without legs is 12″, but with legs you can easily extend that to 15″ or deeper. It’s best to check with your stone fabricator on what they recommend.

IKEA doesn’t sell furniture style legs for their islands, but it’s pretty easy to order them online in a variety of styles. You can buy them in person at Lowes or Home Depot or even make your own out of stock plywood and molding pieces. They are available in a variety of woods, and a good painter should be able to finish them to match your doors.

Incorporate custom moldings

IKEA SEKTION kitchen remodel Fells Point Baltimore Maryland
We used a two-part crown in the Fells Point IKEA kitchen remodel.

If you are considering a traditional or transitional style IKEA kitchen, you can make it look more polished and finished by adding stock molding like crown molding, light rail, and baseboard from your local big box store.

Crown or cove molding can help build your cabinetry up to the ceiling for a fully built-in look. It’s important to understand a frameless cabinet box like IKEA SEKTION doesn’t have a place to attach the crown molding, so you actually need a two-part crown. This sounds more complicated than it is.

The first part is a straight or L-shaped piece that is attached to the top of the cabinet, which gives you a vertical surface to attached your angled crown. It also helps when trying to close the gap to the ceiling because ceilings are rarely level. The straight piece allows you to manipulate the crown if needed and avoid unsightly gaps.

Light rail molding is attached to the bottom of the wall cabinet to conceal any under-cabinet lighting. The height will be determined by the style of lighting you choose. I prefer to specify the LED tape lights because they have a very small profile. IKEA sells matching deco strips for their cabinet doors that are meant to be used as light rail molding.

Base molding builds up the base of the island to create that furniture look. You can also wrap it around the bottom of the cabinet at the end of a run and return it into the toe kick. You generally want your base molding to be shorter than the height of the toe kick (the recess at the bottom of a base cabinet) so that you can make that return if necessary. IKEA toe kicks are designed to be 4.5″ tall (the 30″ high box plus 4.5″ to bring you to the 34.5″ standard height), which gives you some nice options for molding styles.

If you are doing a “painted” IKEA door like BODBYN, you can bring a drawer front to the paint counter and have it color matched to a semi-gloss paint. Stains are a little trickier, especially if this is a DIY project.

A good painter should be able to stain moldings to match. Be aware that stain grade moldings will be more expensive than paint grade.

Get Creative With Cover Panels

IKEA Cabinets Laundry Room
Laundry Room Makeover with IKEA Cabinets

Cover panels are a must when designing with IKEA cabinets. The boxes are unfinished – white or dark brown – and don’t match the door finish. Cover panels match the door finish and are attached to the side of the cabinet box so everything appears seamless. There are a few ways I use cover panels to make my IKEA kitchens look more expensive.

First, I always cut or purchase my panels at a size so that they will extend past the edge of the box to cover the thickness of the door. The doors are 3/4″ thick (7/8″ when you add the little bumper dot). So, if a wall cabinet is 15″ deep, I specify the panel at 15.75″ wide so that it will hide the door from the side. This little trick instantly gives a more finished, custom look.

Unfortunately, IKEA cover panels only extend 5/8″ so they won’t fully cover the door thickness. I usually instruct my clients to purchase several of the large refrigerator panels and have them cut to size on site instead of purchasing the stock panels.

You can also use cover panels to simulate a cabinet “leg” by adding them to your base and tall cabinets in certain locations. I sometimes add a full-height panel (meaning it touches the ground vs. stopping at the toe kick) to the sides of base cabinets at the end of a run or an island. I almost always add them to full-height pantries on both sides. Sometimes I will use them to define a specific cabinet, like on either side of a sink base. 

Upgrade to Custom Doors

Modern kitchen, marble backsplash, brass hardware, IKEA kitchen
Semihandmade doors by Sarah Sherman Samuel for Design Milk

I so wish this option existed when I installed my own IKEA kitchens in 2006 and 2008. Today there are several companies providing gorgeous custom doors that you can install on your IKEA cabinets. 

IKEA cabinets are completely modular, meaning every piece is purchased separately. You do not have to purchase the IKEA doors, drawer fronts, panels, and toe-kicks.

Instead, you can order your doors, drawer fronts, panels, and toe kicks from another company like Semihandmade for a truly custom look. If you choose this route, no one will ever know that your kitchen is from IKEA. Of course, there will be an up-charge over the standard IKEA doors, but I think it’s worth the cost if it fits in your budget.

Modern IKEA kitchen, custom drawers by Reform, modern kitchen island, colorful kitchen
This modern style by Reform has gold edges, revealed only when the cabinet is open.

Another benefit of using a custom door company is that you can request your cover panels at the right sizes vs. having to cut them down yourself. 

Don't Forget Overlay Fillers

You might be wondering what a filler is let alone an overlay filler. Stock cabinets come in specific widths that are usually in 3″ increments. For example, 12″, 15″, 18″, etc. 

Fillers are needed in certain instances:

  • When a run of cabinetry is not exactly divisible by 3".
  • When a frameless style cabinet (like IKEA) is being placed next to a wall.
  • When a frameless style cabinet (like IKEA) is being placed next to another cabinet or panel that is significantly deeper. For example, a wall cabinet next to a refrigerator panel or a pantry.

IKEA boxes are a little weird in that they don’t sell a 27″ or a 33″ cabinet box, jumping from 24″ to 30″ and 30″ to 36″. Don’t ask me why, but it complicates things even further and requires a little extra creativity when planning your layout.

Fillers help us solve certain problems, but why do we need the overlay filler and what the heck is it anyway? A filler is just a flat strip of material painted or stained to match the cabinetry doors. When it is installed, it is placed in between the box and the wall or the box and the adjacent cabinet creating a seamless transition.

BUT…frameless cabinet doors sit proud (ie. on top of) the cabinet box and are usually 3/4″ thick (7/8″ when you add those little bumper dots). When they are all installed properly, you should not see the front of the cabinet boxes at all.

The overlay filler is installed on top of the filler piece and sits almost flush with the face of the cabinet doors and drawers. Then the fillers aren’t as noticeable because you have a smooth transition from door to wall (or cabinet) and no change in depth, which can create a shadow effect and distracts the eye.

Whew! I feel like I should write a whole post just on fillers and how to deal with them now.

I really hope you enjoyed this post on how you can make IKEA cabinets look expensive with a few simple hacks to create a custom looking kitchen.

If you need help planning your IKEA kitchen, I would be happy to help, and it doesn’t matter where you live. Just send me a quick note, and we’ll schedule a time to talk.

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