IKEA SEKTION Cabinet System

12 Things to Know Before Planning Your IKEA Kitchen

A few months ago, a college friend reached out to me with some questions about renovating his kitchen using IKEA cabinets. I’ve designed two of my own kitchens with IKEA kitchen cabinets and several for clients, so I was able to give him some advice on how to plan for and work with them.

IKEA cabinets are a really affordable option, and I think that you can use them to create a custom look on a budget. I recommend them to any client who has a budget under $35,000 and is willing to do a little legwork. Sarah Richardson (host of Sarah’s House and other shows on HGTV) often uses IKEA cabinets in the kitchens she designs.

But, before you decide that IKEA cabinets are the way to go, there are some things you need to know.

12 Things to Know Before Planning Your IKEA Kitchen


IKEA SEKTION Cabinets Are Frameless

If you have an old outdated kitchen, chances are that your cabinets are framed. This means that there is a lip around the front face of the cabinet, maybe up to 1.5″, like a picture frame. IKEA cabinets are frameless, which means that there is no lip.

Frameless vs. Framed Cabinet Boxes
Full Overlay Doors vs. Traditional Overlay vs. Inset

Why does this matter? Frameless cabinets have up to 10% more storage per linear foot than framed cabinets. The drawers and pullouts can maximize the width of the box and not be limited to the opening size. Aesthetically, it means that you won’t see any of the cabinet box behind the doors and drawers. You will only see the doors and drawers and no hinges.

Functionally, it is important to understand the difference in framed vs. frameless because there are different rules for frameless cabinets when it comes to clearances at walls and when you change cabinet depths. If you don’t leave space between the cabinet and the wall, for example, your door or drawer won’t be able to open.


They Only Come in Standard Widths

There are three types of cabinets – stock, semi-custom, and fully custom. In the past year, I’ve designed kitchens with all three types of cabinets. Fully custom cabinets are built to order in whatever size you want. Semi-custom cabinets come in standard sizes but can be modified at the factory, sometimes for an up-charge. Stock cabinets come in specific sizes, and what you see is what you get – no modifications.

IKEA cabinets are stock cabinets. I like to think of working with stock cabinets like solving one of those puzzles with the little plastic tiles that you need to rearrange until they make a picture. It often involves strategy, experimentation and a little guesswork.

The cabinets come in standard widths of 3″ increments, starting at 12″. For some reason, IKEA does not make 27″ wide or 33″ wide cabinets, which can make things extra interesting. For example, many people choose 33″ refrigerators, but the IKEA refrigerator cabinet only comes in 30″ and 36″ widths. You can work with the gaps in a couple of ways, but it can be frustrating if you aren’t sure exactly how you want it to look.

The IKEA base corner cabinets are 38″ on each side instead of the standard 36″. In an older, smaller kitchen, this could be a deal breaker for using IKEA cabinets.


Wall Cabinets Are Available in three Heights

SEKTION wall cabinets come in heights of 20″, 30″ and 40″. This is a little different from standard American cabinets, which come in heights of 30″, 36″, 39″ and sometimes 42″ or 48″.

Kitchen planning is all about math, and the SEKTION wall cabinet heights can make designing your IKEA kitchen a little trickier than if you were using standard cabinets.

For example, if your kitchen ceiling is 96″ tall (typical in many homes), you will have 36″ (typical) for base cabinets and countertop, 18″ (typical) for backsplash, and 42″ left over for wall cabinets. If you choose to use the 40″ cabinets, you can add a very short decorative trim at the top.

To further complicate matters, the tall cabinets only come in two heights – 80″ and 90″, not including their toe kick. If you were using 40″ high uppers, then you would opt for 90″ high tall cabinets and adjust the legs so that you have a 4″ toe kick.



Standard American wall cabinets are 12″ deep, sometimes 13″ if the door is inset (set inside the face frame). When IKEA introduced their SEKTION line, they increased the depth of their wall cabinets to 15″, so you get 3″ of additional depth on each cabinet.

If you are retrofitting an older kitchen, you should check your dimensions carefully. There could be a spot where the 15″ depth does not work.

Also, the angled wall corner cabinets are 26″ on each side vs. the standard 24″.



IKEA cabinet boxes come in two colors – white and dark brown. The white boxes are meant to be paired with all of the light colored doors and the brown boxes all of the dark doors.
IKEA SEKTION Cabinet Box Finishes

No matter what door you choose, the box of the cabinet will not match the door. If you have an exposed end anywhere in your kitchen, you need a panel to finish it. This includes, for instance, the side of a pantry cabinet that is adjacent to a wall cabinet and base cabinet.


SEKTION Cabinets Are Designed To Be Modular

IKEA SEKTION Kitchen Cabinets

The kooky sizes of the IKEA cabinet boxes do have a purpose. They were designed to be modular so that you can combine them in interesting ways and create your own custom combinations.

For example, you could stack two 20″ cabinets on top of each other and put them next to a 40″ wall cabinet.

You can also customize combinations of doors and drawers. A base cabinet is 30″ high. When you add feet to it, you can raise them to the standard 34.5″. Drawers come in increments of 5″ – 5″, 10″ and 15″. So you can have three 5″ drawers and a 15″ drawer or two 15″ drawers or three 10″ drawers.

IKEA now offers an interior drawer feature. You can add a drawer behind a drawer or a door, which is nice if you want more shallow drawers for things like utensils but don’t want your fronts to get too busy.


Order Extra Cover Panels

Panels are easy to cut wrong and to damage. I always order one extra refrigerator panel, which is 36″x96″. You can cut smaller panels from it as well as filler pieces.

Whenever I design a frameless cabinet, I always include overlay fillers. I like to use the panels to create overlay fillers so that the fillers are flush with the cabinet doors.


You Need a Deco Strip if You Want Under-Cabinet Lights

Under-cabinet lights require a little lip under the wall cabinet so that you don’t see them. Since IKEA cabinets are frameless, they don’t have a lip. They do sell deco strips that you can add to the bottom of the cabinet to conceal the under-counter lights. The wall cabinet panels actually come sized to accommodate a 2″ high deco strip.

Sarah Richardson IKEA Kitchen
Sarah Richardson

In the above kitchen by Sarah Richardson Design, you can clearly see the deco strip under the wall cabinets. You can also see how Sarah used panels to cover the sides of the cabinets and in between the stacked cabinets. Inexpensive cabinets now look like more expensive custom cabinets.

I have been increasing the backsplash height to account for the 2″. There is nothing worse than discovering (too late) that your coffee maker won’t fit under your wall cabinets. However, this might not be possible if you have an 8′ ceiling and want to use the 40″ high uppers.


You Must Enter Your Plan Into the IKEA Kitchen Planner Before You Go To The StoRe to Order

You can design your kitchen with pencil and paper, or using a modeling program like SketchUp, or just inside the IKEA kitchen planner. Regardless of which method you use, you will need to enter your plan into the IKEA kitchen planner before you go to the store. You do not want to do this at the store. Plus, once you have your plan entered, you’ll know exactly how much it costs so there won’t be any unpleasant surprises.


IKEA Has Designers On-Site To Verify Your Order

When you get to the store, you will need to wait for one of their designers to become available to help you. They will pull up your online plan and go through it to make sure you haven’t missed anything like toe kicks or feet. In my experience, the designers are less about design and more about verification. They are not a substitute for a kitchen designer if this is something you think you need. IKEA now offers design services in some stores, but this is something you should do in advance.


Plan For the Ordering Process to Take a Few Hours

I have never spent less than a couple hours to complete the ordering process, including our last purchase which consisted of four boxes and some panels. If you can plan to go during the middle of the week, you definitely should. I can’t think of anything worse than trying to order an IKEA kitchen on a Saturday afternoon.

Bring a bottle of water, maybe a granola bar or some jerky. Just plan for it to take a while.


Don't Blow Off Checking Your Order

If you are planning to take your kitchen home the day you order, you will go down to the area near the exit where they pull the larger orders from the warehouse. Everything is going to come out in pieces. Each cabinet will have a cardboard box for the cabinet frame and another box for the drawers and doors. There could be multiple boxes for the doors and drawers for one cabinet if you created a custom combination. Drawers come out separately as well. So an individual cabinet could have five or more items associated with it and they are all separate.

You must check every piece against your order. It’s tedious and frustrating, but it’s totally necessary. What’s worse than trying to order an IKEA kitchen on a Saturday? Driving home two, three or four hours and finding out you forgot a drawer or a door.

Bonus tip: IKEA cabinets go on sale twice per year. If you can be patient, you can save up to 20% on your new kitchen cabinetry.

I hope this post helped you decide whether IKEA cabinets are right for your kitchen and answered some of your questions. If you have other questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

You might also enjoy my post on how to make IKEA cabinets look more like high-end custom cabinets.

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IKEA kitchen remodel tips
IKEA SEKTION Kitchens Cabinet System

IKEA SEKTION Kitchens Debut in the US

IKEA cabinets – people love them or hate them. Sarah Richardson uses them in many of her homes, including her million dollar plus rehabs featured on Sarah’s House. Personally, I love them and have installed them in every house I’ve owned – that’s two full kitchens and an island in 10 years. Today, IKEA launched the US version of its brand new cabinetry system SEKTION, which replaces the AKURUM system and brand name.

IKEA SEKTION Kitchens Cabinet System

I’ve been eagerly awaiting SEKTION’s debut since late summer, when I first hear the rumors that AKURUM was being phased out. At the time, I was busy planning a client’s IKEA kitchen. We made the conscious decision to delay the remodel until the new line arrived because it promised so many new features that are perfect for creating a more custom look and maximizing a small space, which happened to be two of our top priorities. The line was available in the UK mid 2014.

IKEA SEKTION Kitchens Cabinet System

There are some new door styles, but most of the doors look pretty similar to the tried and true AKURUM favorites just updated with brand new names.

The excitement lies primarily in the new cabinet configurations. Higher end cabinet lines, particularly the European brands, have offered these cabinets for years. But, if you could only afford stock cabinets, you were stuck with less options that were less efficient. The new system is all about drawers…all kinds of drawers including drawers inside of drawers.

Some of my favorite additions include: sink cabinets with drawers for trash and recycling; cooktop cabinets with drawers for pots and pans; wall cabinets with drawers that sit on the countertop; base cabinets with glass fronts; half-height drawers for silverware and other utensils; tall cabinets with deep drawers; and many other ways of combining drawers, doors and open shelving that weren’t previously available.

IKEA SEKTION Kitchens Cabinet System

In the past, the cabinet boxes were only offered in birch or white melamine. Now, they’re also offered in a dark wood tone option so you could create a two-tone effect by using contrasting doors or just coordinate more closely with the darker door styles.

One of the other big changes from the AKURUM system is that the base cabinets are now installed using a rail mounted on the wall. This may be new to some contractors, but ultimately, it means that leveling the base cabinets is now even easier.

IKEA SEKTION Kitchens Cabinet System

The interior fittings on SEKTION are also significantly nicer than those that were offered for AKURUM, which is critical considering the shifting focus to storage in drawers instead of on shelves behind doors. Drawers are much more efficient than pull-outs or plain cabinets, and the right fittings make them easier to organize properly so you can maximize every inch. The new cabinets also offer integrated lighting options, which was a huge trend, particularly in the European cabinetry, exhibited at KBIS last month.

It looks like they’re still working out some kinks on the website, since many of the photos are missing. I’m looking forward to taking a trip to Kansas City, possibly at the end of this month, to see the new cabinets in action.

All images via the IKEA Website.


The House Diaries Kitchen Remodel

Five Kitchens with Fabulous Details You Can Copy

I have been suffering from a bad cold for the past few days and am curled up on the sofa entertaining myself by pouring over some of my favorite kitchens on my Pinterest Kitchens board. I’m absorbing some initial inspiration for not one but two new kitchen remodels that I’ll begin working on in the next week. But, more on those later…on to some great kitchen ideas that you don’t see every day.

Incorporate Open Shelving in Moderation

Kitchen Design Ideas from The House Diaries Kitchen Remodel

The House Diaries Kitchen Remodel

Nicole, of The House Diaries, did a fabulous job remodeling her galley kitchen. There are so many details to enjoy here, but I particularly like the reclaimed wood shelves with the wrought iron brackets mounted on the backsplash. I could never do all open shelving in my own kitchen – too much dust and dog hair, and I would never clean the top shelves. But, I really like the idea of a single open shelf within easy reach for items that are used every single day (they should be pretty too). This wouldn’t be too difficult to add to an existing kitchen with the right drill bit for your backsplash material.

Add a Task Lamp in an Unexpected Place

Kitchen Design Ideas from Hecker Guthrie Kitchen with Light

Hecker Guthrie Kitchen

Melbourne based designer, Hecker Guthrie, designed this stunning black and white kitchen. Click through to view the rest of the kitchen and home. I like the idea of adding a task lamp with articulating arm at the end of the peninsula instead of the standard pendant light. You can never have too much task lighting in a kitchen, and a lamp that adjusts and swings out of the way is even better than one that just hangs from the ceiling. It doesn’t hurt that this retro modern lamp connects beautifully with the black faucet and iron legs of those gorgeous stools. This would be super easy to do if you have the right spot to mount the lamp with a plug nearby.

Add Drama with Contrasting Elements

Kitchen Design Ideas from Brian Gluckstein

Brian Gluckstein

White painted kitchens will always be classic and always be my go-to choice, but sometimes they all start to look alike. The contrasting ribbons of dark walnut in this otherwise all white design are particularly striking and make this space unique and unforgettable. Obviously this look isn’t easily replicated in an existing space, but it wouldn’t be difficult if you are remodeling. Even if you’re simply repainting your kitchen, consider how you can employ contrast somewhere in your space to add drama and create emphasis.

Add a Waterfall Edge to your Countertop

Kitchen Design Ideas from Sarah Richardson Mid-Century Modern Kitchen

Sarah Richardson

If you’re thinking about replacing old or outdated countertops, consider incorporating a waterfall edge on your island or peninsula. The countertop continues down the side of the cabinets creating a sleek modern look that adds visual weight and interest to the design. This look can be achieved with quartz, granite, marble or even butcher block. Depending on the material you’re using for your countertop, this detail can be pricey, but, in my opinion, it’s well worth it for the custom look and impact it adds.

Inject Color and Pattern with a Vintage Rug

Kitchen Design Ideas from Jean Hannotte

Jean Hannotte

I love how Jean Hannotte used this vintage Kilim rug to tie together all of the colors in this kitchen. It marries the gray cabinets with the mid-century wood chairs with the gold toned granite perfectly. And, the red is the perfect accent. Vintage Kilims come in many different shapes and sizes, and the smaller ones are particularly affordable. Consider adding one or two of these colorful rugs as a budget friendly way to inject some texture and pattern into your kitchen.

After looking at all of these beautiful spaces and talented designers’ websites, I’m feeling much better and thinking about how I can go beyond the obvious to add some fun and interesting design details in both my own kitchen and my clients as well. Do you think you could incorporate any of these ideas into your space?

A Fresh Update for a Downtown Des Moines Loft

I just wrapped up the first phase of a fun project located in one of the downtown Des Moines loft buildings. The couple contacted me for help updating some of the finishes in the kitchen of their loft apartment. The lofts were about seven years old and featured some really great details like exposed concrete columns, wood floors and large french doors leading out to balconies with views of the river.

The cabinets in the kitchen are currently maple, which had yellowed considerably since it was installed. The clients had reconfigured a portion of the kitchen and added a new tall pantry and a drawer base cabinet that were custom made from new maple. The finishes of the old cabinets and the new cabinets didn’t match. Furthermore, the old cabinets had painted black recessed panels, which really made them look dated.

The clients wanted to create a plan to update the kitchen finishes, including new countertops and a new backsplash, that they could implement over time. They wanted to bring some color into the primarily neutral space. They also wanted to replace the white bi-fold doors in their entry with new wood doors on a sliding barn-door track to further enhance the industrial feel.

After meeting with them twice to understand their style and their wish-list for the space, I determined that they leaned towards a transitional version of industrial with some craftsman flair. I gave them some homework to create an Ideabook on Houzz with images of kitchens that they loved along with notes about which aspects of the rooms they liked best. They did a fabulous job and compiled over 75 photos. I went through each photo and came up with some common themes, which I used to guide me when creating their custom concept board.

For my first revision, I focused on one of the key themes I pulled from their inspiration photos – light maple cabinets with a contrasting dark island. Technically, their kitchen doesn’t have an island, but it did have a peninsula, where we planned to create some interest with a contrasting finish color.

I selected a turquoise glass mosaic backsplash to pull in one of the colors from their Persian rug in the adjacent living room. I specified that the new barn doors should match the dark peninsula cabinets, which would allow the polished nickel handles and stainless steel track hardware to really pop.

A white quartz countertop would provide a seamless and durable prep surface and contrast beautifully with the cabinets.

In their loft space, the ceilings are actually exposed wood planks – no drywall for recessed cans. Their kitchen was in desperate need of more task lighting, so I suggested that they switch out their current fixture, which was really more appropriate for an entryway or dining table, to this track light with positionable bulbs. I’m not normally a fan of track lighting, but I like the pretty detailing on this more sophisticated option.

This was the original concept board that I presented to them…

Transitional Loft Kitchen Concept

After we met to discuss the original concept, I incorporated some of their feedback into the final version. The clients received quotes for staining the cabinetry and ultimately felt that paint was a better option, and I totally agreed.

They already have a lot of wood elements going on in their space, so a sleek paint finish in modern green-grays will provide a nice break to all of the wood (aka brown).

After viewing the original backsplash tile in person, they decided they would like something with more variation, so we chose a mosaic glass blend of blues and greens, which also comes in a subway pattern that we discussed mounting vertically to elongate the space.


They also didn’t care for the original schoolhouse style pendant I selected, so we swapped it out for a sleek glass and chrome pendant with seeded glass and an exposed bulb. They selected a more contemporary faucet when they visited the plumbing showroom, which I thought was a great choice.

Here’s the final concept board with the new selections. I really love the way we translated “industrial” into a more transitional look that is actually very elegant.

Transitional Loft Kitchen Update

My clients relocate to the Gulf Coast for the winters (lucky them), so we plan to pick up again with this project in the Spring. I’m really excited about the direction we’re taking and think the end result is going to be really fabulous. I love when I can help clients create a whole new look for their space without subjecting them to a major remodel. If you need help redesigning a space in your home, email me at jillian@www.jillianlare.com or give me a call at 515-344-3140.