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…
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If you have an old outdated kitchen, chances are that your cabinets are framed.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
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.
It also matters 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.
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″.
Wall Cabinets are 15″ Deep
Standard American wall cabinets are 12″ deep, sometimes 13″ is 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.
The Cabinet Boxes Aren’t Finished
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.
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.
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 also 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 Toe Kicks
IKEA doesn’t sell filler pieces for those necessary gaps between cabinets and the wall or to make up some extra inches because your wall isn’t perfectly divisible by 3″. Instead of fillers, you can use toe kicks (PLINTH) that are cut down to size. You will always want to order a couple extra toe kicks just to make sure you have enough for your toe kick and for your fillers.
(Edited: IKEA now uses plastic toe kicks, so you will need to order extra panels to make your fillers.)
Order Extra 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.
If You Want Under-Cabinet Lights, You Need a Deco Strip
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.
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.
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 the Order Checking Process
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.
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.