- Why go with IKEA?
- Why to not go with IKEA
- How to get started
- Planning for assembly and installation
Why go with IKEA?
It’s custom, but not custom
IKEA kitchens are popular, and for good reason: They’re attractive and versatile, the quality is good, and the value is great. And IKEA has made the process very user-friendly, so you can either take ownership over the whole job or hire it out to pros who know the system and can help you every step of the way.
For many kitchen renovations, cabinetry is the central element that IKEA provides. Although IKEA cabinets are not custom, they’re very modular and can be configured to your needs. “It’s like a Lego,” said Stoyanov. Wilbur told us that with the “various cabinet sizes and combinations of doors and drawers, there are thousands of different combinations that you can come up with.” There are also a lot of useful extras, like in-drawer lighting, under-cabinet lighting, lazy Susans, a huge selection of drawer dividers, and add-ons that make drawers and doors open with a slight press (great for the trash and recycling cabinet). Even IKEA’s transparent storage containers, for stuff like rice and granola, are compatible with the cabinet sizings. It’s really a complete system.
One thing you should know is that the guts of IKEA’s cabinets are essentially the same, no matter what kind of fronts you get. There are a number of front styles to choose from, and that decision impacts the total price quite a bit. The most basic is the plain white front, but there are also dark color options, unusual finishes, hard glossy surfaces, or subdued matte styles. Paneled fronts and fronts with beadboard are also options. It’s difficult to get the full sense of how these will look without seeing them in person, so we suggest that you go to a store to figure out what you like.
Even with so many options, the aesthetics of IKEA do have a limit, and there’s a certain “look” you might recognize from the IKEA catalog. So if you want something unique, you’ll have to get creative. To offer even more design and color options, many companies (not affiliated with IKEA) fabricate unique door and drawer fronts that are compatible with the IKEA system. This can completely transform the look of the cabinets and make them a better match for a wider variety of homes. Semihandmade is the most notable of these door and drawer fronts companies, but there are many others, including cabinet shops like Beaulieu’s. When you work with these companies, you start by sending them your kitchen design and letting them know which style of front you want. They’ll figure out the rest and get you an estimate. Because of IKEA’s popularity and the consistency of its cabinet designs, this kind of customizable aftermarket is an option you don’t really see with other cabinet brands.
On quality and price, IKEA compares well to other options
Compared with the stock cabinets at Home Depot or Lowe’s, IKEA generally offers more configurations, more accessories, and a wider variety of aesthetic options, especially with custom fronts available. “Even yesterday, I was talking to a Boston-based architect, and they were blown away by the possibilities,” Beaulieu said. Beyond its better options, IKEA also tends to have a better build quality, which Stoyanov called “excellent.” House & Hammer, a home improvement blog, directly compared IKEA with Home Depot’s Hampton Bay line. IKEA came first in every category but price, which is roughly the same between the two.
Subjectively speaking, IKEA’s aesthetic reaches for high design and modern style more often than a lot of other mainstream options. The IKEA aesthetic is one you tend to see in new construction, in renovated kitchens, and in slick real estate listings, and all of those things can make it appealing. In concrete terms, IKEA designs offer more flat fronts, fewer textured profiles or designs on panels (making them easy to clean), and a generally crisp look that a lot of people like.
IKEA can be a great value if you’re handy and willing to do some work
Getting the most bang for your buck depends on how much you’re willing to take on yourself. Beaulieu told us, “The most value you’re going to get out of the program is sweat equity. Getting there, doing the plan yourself, ordering yourself, and doing the assembly and installation yourself—that’s the best way.” But depending on your skill level and experience with kitchen design, an IKEA kitchen may not be a great option for you. A firm like Beaulieu’s or Stoyanov’s can do the whole job, soup to nuts, and if you go that route, the costs can be comparable to what is available at a box store.
Why to not go with IKEA
There are many reasons why IKEA is a good choice, but there are also instances when another option may be a better fit.
If you have very specific design needs or a kitchen with an unusual layout, or you’re looking for an aesthetic that IKEA can’t match, you may need to invest more for custom cabinetry. Beaulieu also does custom cabinetry (“We do six-figure kitchens here, so we’re steeped in that world”), and he says it offers a much wider variety of finishes and is tailored to the space and the people using it. He also told us that IKEA cabinets, which come in set widths, can be difficult to use with certain space constraints. “In some spaces, it’s challenging to do a design, to do an installation without a lot of modifications on the [IKEA] cabinetry, and that’s where it can get tricky. The more you modify it, the less value it has.”
Beaulieu also told us that with custom cabinetry, “you’re talking another layer of finish options, interior finish options, hardware options, so really, it’s another world of product offerings—but it’s another price point as well.” He added, “We can do walnut interiors, we can do maple interiors, we can do painted interiors, versus with IKEA, they’ve got a white melamine and a dark brown interior.” (He told us, though, that an IKEA kitchen—even with custom fronts—can cost $5,000 to $10,000 less than custom cabinetry, depending on the size of the job.)
You might also want to look elsewhere if there’s no IKEA store in your area. Yes, the entire process can be done online, but you should really treat IKEA just like any other subcontractor you’re hiring: Go and meet them, ask tons of questions, get a sense of how the relationship would work, and, most importantly, get your hands on their cabinets and see how they look, feel, and function. Being in a store will give you a much better sense of the finishes and the hardware, and how all of the smaller design elements (like in-drawer lighting) will look.
Finally, you may find what you’re looking for at a better value. We recommend getting at least three estimates for your cabinetry. That means taking a pretty deep dive into two other options, such as what’s offered by Home Depot, a local lumber yard, or even a custom fabricator.
How to get started
Measurements and design
When you’re building an IKEA kitchen, the first step is to measure the space. The initial measurements are crucial to the project’s success, and they can get complicated. You’re measuring not only the height and width of the space, but also the location of windows, outlets, light switches, doors, plumbing, and any other permanent feature in the space (like radiators). There’s a lot to this process, and it’s got to be exactly right. No pressure! If you’re not comfortable with this step, you’re probably ready to hire a contractor for the rest of the job as well.
Now comes the fun part: designing your kitchen. This is all done with IKEA’s Web-based kitchen planner. It’s an intuitive program, and we like that you are able to go at your own speed and not feel like you need to make all of the decisions while sitting at a desk in a store. “You can create an account and save as many designs as you have in your heart to do,” Wilbur told us.
The program lets you view the results in 3D or 2D, and you can add colors, appliances, and countertops. The planner will even warn you of potential issues with a planned design, like if a cabinet door won’t be able to open all the way or if a walkway will be too small to accommodate your plan. As you build your kitchen, the planner provides a rolling summary of the total cost, so you can add and subtract items based on your budget.
But the design process “can be overwhelming,” Beaulieu told us. “There’s a lot they offer, from cabinet configurations to storage accessories to lighting to hardware. There’s a lot to know.” So unless you’re a pro kitchen designer, you’ll likely want to get a second opinion. Or you may just want someone else to do most of the work. IKEA has in-store kitchen designers who can help (you need to book an appointment). Alternatively, you can get help from contractors and kitchen designers that specialize in IKEA, such as Beaulieu Cabinetry,Virginia Kitchens, or Traemand, IKEA’s preferred kitchen installer. In some markets, you may find contractors that will walk you through the shopping and planning process, like this one(which a Wirecutter editor used on an LA remodel).
Order and delivery
If you’re designing your own kitchen, it’s a good idea to have IKEA take a last look at the order before you purchase everything. Wilbur explained, saying, “Some things aren’t necessarily obvious to somebody planning a kitchen for the first time, so we’ll review it all for you.” When the order is placed, you can specify a future delivery date or have parts delivered within a couple of days. At some IKEA stores, you may be able to take your kitchen home with you right then, but not all locations have the necessary components on hand.
IKEA cabinets, like all of the company’s products, are flat-packed in boxes, unassembled. That makes delivery easier, but it also means that someone needs to put everything together. This takes time, of course, and it also requires a lot of space. Wilbur told us, “I would highly recommend that you clear out the room closest to the kitchen. There are going to be a lot of boxes.”
What about appliances and countertops?
Along with cabinets, IKEA also sells appliances and countertops. The appliances are manufactured by Whirlpool Corp. (the parent company of the Whirlpool, Maytag, and Amana brands, as well as of the semi-upscale KitchenAid and luxury JennAir brands). Liam McCabe, Wirecutter senior writer for appliances, told us, “It’s wrong to say that these are the low-end models. If you’re thinking about a Miele or Wolf/Sub-Zero suite for your kitchen, then, no, the IKEA appliances are not on that level. But plenty of the stuff is mid-range or semi-upscale—they have slide-in ranges and counter-depth fridges, which (according to conventional wisdom) look better and definitely cost more than the basic stuff.” One thing to note: The selection of finishes is limited—most appliances come in stainless steel only.
The appliances that IKEA sells are integrated into the company’s design software, and, as Liam told us, “there’s something to be said for keeping things simple and buying everything from the same vendor.” But really, any appliances can be used in conjunction with IKEA cabinets. Just be aware of the appliances’ dimensions—especially refrigerators—during the design phase.
For countertops, IKEA offers a variety of wood and laminate options. It also sells quartz countertops by Caesarstone that are custom made for each project and can include a sink cut-out. Once the cabinets are installed, an IKEA-approved contractor templates the countertops, and then a week or two later, they’re ready to be installed. IKEA has some information and a price estimator, which you can viewhere.
Planning for assembly and installation
What to expect on a DIY job
Like its desks and coffee tables, IKEA’s kitchen cabinets are assembled with a cam and dowel system that requires minimal tools and the bare minimum of DIY know-how. But the scope of a kitchen project is on an entirely different level than for a single item. A kitchen project involves a much larger quantity of boxes, and it’s up to you to get each piece into the correct spot. This includes hinges, drawer slides, doors, drawer fronts, adjustable legs—all of it. Beaulieu told us that the sheer logistics of the assembly process can make some people hire out the work. “When you order a kitchen, you’re receiving hundreds of boxes. To just take that, inventory it, work in a controlled environment, assemble it properly ... it’s difficult to do that on someone’s floor, you know what I mean?”
For the actual installation, you hang the cabinets on a metal track and then adjust the legs downward to carry some of the weight, or you can put them on a base. This track system makes installation easier than it is with standard cabinets (which are typically screwed one at a time into the wall studs). It also ensures that the tops of the boxes are all aligned, which helps with the countertop placement. “There’s a lot of alignment to it,” Beaulieu told us. “If your cabinetry is installed properly, it’s going to ensure longevity. It’s going to ensure that it’s going to hang on the wall properly, the drawers are going to operate, all of the alignments are going to come together the way it should.” It’s intimidating, but not impossible. “If you’re an experienced homeowner, and you’ve got the skills, and you’re a solid mechanic, then go ahead and give it a shot,” Beaulieu said.
Why you’d hire a pro
Unless you’re a dedicated DIYer, we think you should probably hire a professional contractor for the installation. Houses are not perfect, and kitchens are complicated. You may need to account for an uneven floor, for example. Where the cabinets terminate at the wall, you often need small filler strips or end panels to hide the gaps and make the transition look right. If your home is old and saggy and uneven—and if you’re renovating your kitchen, it probably is—those pieces will need to be scribed so that they contour to the wall.
Putting a kitchen together is also a multidisciplinary process that takes a diverse set of skills and expertise reaching far beyond an IKEA cabinet installation. Plumbing, electrical, and flooring are also all likely to be involved, not to mention a little ductwork, if you’re switching out the range hood. Even aesthetic questions can get complicated. For example: Should the height of the upper cabinets be determined by the backsplash tile layout? Are the outlets lining up properly? And, wait a minute, does that sink look off-center to the window? The right pro can help you work through the inevitable obstacles so that your kitchen comes out looking (and functioning) as you’d planned.
If you decide to go with a contractor, you could choose one yourself or try Traemand, IKEA’s preferred contractor. Traemand is a national company, and going by the Yelp reviews, its reputation varies by location. Our advice is that you view Traemand as you would any other local contractor you’re considering (and you should always consider at least three). Ask around about a contractor, get some references, read as many reviews as you can, meet in person, and make sure they’re licensed and insured. Also look for any specific experience they may have with IKEA kitchens. Contractors that have experience with IKEA, like Beaulieu and Stoyanov, are familiar with the IKEA process and what the company offers, and they also understand the ins and outs of IKEA design, assembly, and installation. Good contractors can be found online, but we’ve always had the best experiences with the ones we’ve found through word of mouth. There should be plenty of options to choose from. For further guidance, here’s our broad advice on hiring a contractor (from our guide to installing a ductless mini-split HVAC system).
What if things go wrong?
IKEA’s kitchen cabinets have a 25-year warranty, which covers defects in materials and workmanship. It does not cover wear and tear or any issues associated with incorrect installation.
Any pieces that are ordered incorrectly can be returned within 365 days of purchase, as long as they’re unused. (It’s okay if they’re already assembled.)
You probably know this, but it’s essential that you keep your receipt. If you end up buying a kitchen at IKEA, you will need the original receipt, for both the warranty and returns. If your returns land you a massive amount of store credit, here’s our guide to the best stuff from IKEA. And good luck!