How we DIYed our IKEA kitchen remodel

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My husband and I recently purchased a 40-year-old fixer-upper vacation home and have spent the last few months slowly getting it into shape. While we hired contractors for the Serious Business projects like structural and electrical work, we decided to tackle updating the kitchen cabinets ourselves. We chose IKEA cabinets because they were generally agreed to be the best quality for the price, and we wanted to keep this a budget kitchen wherever possible.

The old kitchen cabinets were pretty badly warped
The old kitchen cabinets were pretty badly warped, and the whole space just felt dark.

IKEA kitchen design: DIY vs. pro

IKEA provides a 3D planning tool if you want to design your kitchen all by yourself. Personally, I found the tool completely infuriating. I can’t imagine actually designing a kitchen with it. I thought I could use my SketchUp skills to do the design myself, but I got bogged down in all the variables/details of what a kitchen needs.

I read articles about the work triangle and tons of forum threads with benefits and drawbacks of various options, but ultimately I felt completely overwhelmed. This plus the fact that the SEKTION system is totally new, and therefore there aren’t pre-made SketchUp 3D models available, led me to the decision to hire a professional IKEA designer.

You can hire one through IKEA or use a third-party service. We opted for the latter because reviews of IKEA’s service were mixed. The design process took about a month from start to finish. I provided all the measurements as well as a list of wants/desires, and my designer sent me a 3D design mockup. They also loaded the entire design into the IKEA software for easy ordering.

The final drawing from the professional design company
The final drawing from the professional design company

Taping everything out

At this point, I got out some painter’s tape and marked out where everything was going to go. This let us get a feel for how much space we’d have to move around. It also let us verify that we had enough room between the island and the laundry room door to move the appliances back in. Up until this point I’d been a little wary about the island, but once we taped it out I decided to go for it.

Our demolished kitchen, all taped out
Our demolished kitchen, all laid out

Custom doors for IKEA cabinets

While choosing countertop colors, wall colors, and various trim options for the IKEA cabinets, I slowly realized I just wasn’t that into the BOBDYN doors I’d originally chosen, or really any of the doors IKEA offers.

This is where IKEA’s somewhat-infuriating, hyper-modular system comes in handy: I could order the cabinets and drawer hardware from IKEA but get the doors elsewhere. I chose to order paint-ready poplar doors from Scherrs, a custom cabinetry shop based in North Dakota. Working with Scherrs was great, and I highly recommend them. The doors were about 50 percent more expensive than the ones from IKEA, but they’re solid wood rather than particleboard. We opted to paint them ourselves in order to save money and also to make sure the shade of white matched our trim.

Fit, finish, and tweaks

At this point, I did decide on a couple of tweaks to the original layout. I decided to get a narrower fridge so the sink could be closer to center under the window, a slightly narrower cabinet to the left of the window, and added a narrow cabinet next to the stove for baking sheet storage. Then, in an excess of faith in my own carpentry skills, I decided I could make an open cabinet for the end of the top row of cabinets.

Since the pro design company had already loaded the design into the IKEA planning tool, modifying it wasn’t too hard at all. Even though I ended up tweaking their design a bit, I was really glad someone else did the lion’s share of the layout work.

The final mockup of my IKEA kitchen
The final mockup of my IKEA kitchen

Ordering IKEA cabinets

The last and most terrifying step in the process was ordering the cabinets. I was warned that it could be a slow process but was still surprised when it took three hours. There were a few reasons my experience was so slow. First, the guy who was helping me was new and didn’t know how to do some of the more unusual parts of my order (like removing all the doors from the cabinet order). Second, I came in towards the end of the 20-percent-off kitchen sale so the place was mobbed. And finally, it’s just a slow process. The order has to be imported from the 3D design tool and then hand-checked for accuracy and compatibility.

Overall, I’m happy with the design of the kitchen. There are a few areas I feel are a little unresolved (particularly around the window), but I think I can work with them using window treatments, small shelves, or maybe a small painting. The total for the cabinets, doors, and quartz countertop came to just over $5,000.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be tackling DIY IKEA cabinet installation as well as painting our custom doors. Wish me luck!

Comments on How we DIYed our IKEA kitchen remodel

  1. Looks incredible! I actually just finished an IKEA kitchen in my 100yo home (cabinets hadn’t been upgraded since the 60s). I tried to design myself and yes it was completely infuriating, ultimately I asked a contractor friend to assist with measurements etc. and that helped quite a bit. I got in on the tail end of the previous kitchen model so have no experience with the SEKTION system. I didn’t dare try the actual installation (computer geek) but pitched in where I could here and there. It is by far the best bang-for-the- buck kitchen out there though, my cabinets, vent hood, countertops, sink, hardware, all came to under $4000 (smaller kitchen). Home Depot’s cheapest line (particleboard) was going to be around $7500 and that was only for the cabinets and countertop. The only problem? Our IKEA doesn’t open here until fall so the kids and I had to U-Haul it up to Chicago and load up everything ourselves. Normally there would be help but I didn’t realize that August (when they have the 20% sale) is also their busiest month due to back-to-school sales (kids headed to college dorms and the like), ugh. Anyway excited to see how it looks once you’re done, thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks! We’re mid-installation of the cabinets now and I’m writing a follow up for when that’s done.

      As a fellow computer geek (I write the code that keeps the Empire running) the physical parts of the DIY installation have been DAUNTING. We’re making good progress but there may or may not have been a point where I was just sitting on the bare subfloor, surrounded by sawdust and cardboard, crying because I could not for the life of me get the kitchen pipes to stop leaking.

      Overall it’s been super fun to learn to do this stuff and totally worth the headaches, but I’ve definitely had some intense moments of “I’ve made a huge mistake.”

    • Hey, I think we may be in the same city! I CANNOT WAIT for IKEA to open in the fall! My fiance and I just moved into our new house, and there are a few things we could really use from there. We won’t be redoing the kitchen (the previous owners did that, and their contractors did an awesome job– part of why we bought the house), but all the same I’m super excited. I’ve never made the schlep up to Chicago, but have shopped in IKEA when I lived in cities that had one.

  2. Yay! I love posts like this – informative and interesting! I especially like the pictures to go with it. 🙂 Please keep posting updates on how it turns out!

  3. This is really exciting! I would love to undertake a similar project once I get a place of my own. As a person with no know-how, this post is inspiring and informative. I can’t wait to see the results!

  4. This is so timely for me! My city is finally getting an IKEA soon (YAY!) and I’m really interested in installing new cabinets in my kitchen this winter. I’ll be checking them out when they open or if I can get up to one in Chicago. Thanks!

  5. Congrats and WOW! We did our kitchen as well, but we weren’t as brave as you. I gladly threw money at the situation because A) we needed to reduce the size of windows and B) we had a newborn and 4 year old to take care of. We needed the remodel to happen fast and furiously. I absolutely agree with you that trying to figure out the IKEA shit on your own, for a custom kitchen is pretty much impossible. Even talking to them when ordering, there are so many filler pieces and unkown specific details that you need to be aware of, that without that industry knowledge you can easily lose hundreds if not thousands re-working things. Not Worth It. Spend one or two hundred to have a professional plan it.

    If I can add some suggestions for other readers. Pro tip I learned about the sale… It happens every quarter, I believe. I think it’s like January, April, June, Sept. When we did our kitchen, we made use of the June Sale If you ask them tho, they will usually let you know when it’s coming. If you plan in advance — meaning hire your planner at least a month before the sale you want to take advantage of — then you have your buy list ready when it hits. As it gets closer to the sale month, you can ask IKEA what actual day the sale starts, they’ll tell you. Plan to be there first thing in the morning. It will take hours to purchase everything because of the clunky way the system works. Doing this guarantees that you don’t get screwed by the late sale rush. Meaning no out of stock items and back orders.

    Another important thing I learned. They absolutely cannot measure for your counters until everything is installed right. And the later you are (during the sale) to schedule it, the further out your project is pushed. Do whatever you can to get the countertop cabinetry installed as quickly as possible. You want to beat the scheduling rush if at all possible on that.

    Oh, one last thing, If you do buy your kitchen on the sale, and you have to go back to pick stuff up, you can, and still get the sale cost, as long as you have your original receipt and as long as that sale is still happening. So, if you’ve got enough to get the 20% off in cabinetry and stuff, you can hold off buying finishing touches such as drawers and organizers and such until later when you have room to store them or are ready to install and can think through all of those things.

    Can’t wait to hear about your successfully completed kitchen!

  6. i couldn’t be happier that you posting are this! We have a decrepit 40 year old condo kitchen and as of *today* we have come into the money that will enable us to redo our kitchen. IKEA is totally our plan. I wish you good Reno-vibes!

  7. The final design looks great! I hope we can see a finished pic once it’s all done.

    Sometimes in my line of work, we end up needing to renovate properties & we’ve done an IKEA kitchen for all of ’em – keeps our costs down and looks damn good.

  8. I am so happy that you are getting a brand new kitchen! This is a hazard of my job (kitchen and bath designer) so please don’t be offended. I am concerned about that refrigerator right up against the wall. Do you have 36 inches or 39? When using a French door refrigerator, you need more width in order for the doors to open properly. This may have already been considered and you may already have a solution. If not, please take a look and make sure you don’t end up with a refrigerator that will not swing open enough to allow the deli and veggie drawers to slide out properly.

    As for the offset near the window, they make some really nice open shelves that would help even out that space if it bothers you. They usually come 6 and 9 inches wide and in multiple heights.

    Good luck with the installation and CONGRATS on your new kitchen. It is beautiful 🙂

  9. Congratulations on your new kitchen!
    Kitchen is looking good and the only problem that might pop up are the cabinets!
    Recently my friend had ordered the cabinetry (won’t mention from where), their quality was not what we expected and were so poorly installed that he had to throw extra money on them. He got the cabinets customized and reinstalled by and finally got what he wanted and is happy with the kitchen.

  10. Hi,
    Was wondering what company you used to design your kitchen. I’d like to avoid the glitchy IKEA planner and could use some help with a few difficult angles in my kitchen. I’ve seen a few online but not sure if some are better than others.

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