Over the last four years I’ve found myself installing a lot (as in hundreds) of IKEA kitchens. Before working with them so much, I must say, I didn’t have a very high opinion of them. IKEA seems to have gotten a bad reputation, especially among contractors, for making cheap, flimsy cabinets, but I’ve come to find out this is really undeserved. Here’s my take on IKEA cabinets, both the good and the bad.
I’ll start with the good. First and foremost, IKEA uses hardware made by German manufacturer, Blum for the hinges, drawer assemblies, and feet. This was a real revelation for me, because Blum is known in woodworking circles for making very high-end, precision hardware. If you buy top of the line, custom cabinets, chances are pretty good that you will find Blum hardware inside. What this means is that the drawers are self-closing and slide smoothly, and the doors have a soft-close feature which prevent slamming.
Second, I was really impressed by the system IKEA developed for installing their cabinets. The upper cabinets hang from a steel rail which gets screwed into the studs of the wall. The cabinets hang from bolts which slide into a channel on the rail, and once the cabinet is up it is adjustable from side to side, and up and down, allowing you to fine tune the leveling and placement of the cabinet until you lock down the bolts. From an installer’s point of view, this is a very nice time-saving feature. The base cabinets have adjustable feet which make for quick and accurate leveling(most other cabinets in this price range have a fixed base, and require shims for leveling).
Finally there’s the design. Of course it comes down to personal taste, but to me IKEA’s modern, euro-style designs are very classy. After working with them for a while, other cabinets just look old-fashioned to me. I had one client who installed the Abstrakt Red cabinets in her home. During the installation she relayed to me that she had considered installing some kitchen cabinets which she had seen in Kitchen Trends magazine. She showed me the picture from the magazine, and it looked exactly the same only blue, not red. She priced out the cabinets from the magazine, and it would have cost over $50,000, more than 5 times what she spent on the IKEA cabinets! With all that money she saved she was able to buy top of the line appliances and a high-end Eco-friendly counter-top.
So, that’s the good, what about the bad? Well, IKEA saves a lot by using generic frames made from particle board. The frames/interiors themselves come in only two colors: birch or white. Which isn’t a big deal, except if you have a different color for the cabinet faces, you can see a bit of the frame peeking out from the spaces between the doors. It’s minor, but it can be a distraction for some people, and there’s not a lot you can do about it except maybe paint the frame, or attach a matching veneer to the frame (which I have done with some success). Also if you’re sitting down or you are a bit short, you may be able to see the bottoms of the upper cabinets. This, however, can easily be hidden with extra cover panels.
Should the fact that the boxes/frames are made from particle board concern you? Not in my opinion. Unless it gets wet from a leaky sink, the particle board frames will last for decades. In reality, by the time the cabinets give out, you will most likely want a new kitchen anyway. On top of that, IKEA guarantees their cabinets for 25 years. So you’re pretty well covered there.
Another thing to watch out for: some of IKEA’s cabinets use solid wood for the faces, which is great, but you’ll want to check the bigger doors for warping. Especially the pantry doors; they are notorious for warping and no matter how you try to adjust them, they won’t sit flush against the cabinet.
Some assembly required: The price of IKEA cabinets is very competitive, but it comes at a price. Putting together the cabinets for your kitchen takes time and patience! The directions are meant to be simple, consisting mostly of pictures, but you may find yourself wishing for more detailed information and help. It can be a daunting experience for many people to put an entire kitchen together, and many people opt to hire a contractor to do it for them, and in fact I’ve stepped in more than once to finish assembling a kitchen after the customer had gotten frustrated and given up.
Probably the biggest annoyance with IKEA kitchens is getting the cabinets to your house. An entire kitchen can consist of hundreds of parts.
Going to IKEA to pick up your kitchen order for yourself is certainly an option, but it’s time-consuming and exhausting, so most people choose to have their order delivered. That’s great, but here’s what I’ve found: very rarely have I seen an order come in that was 100% complete. Be prepared to go through the order carefully when it arrives, and understand that you will probably need to make at least one extra trip to IKEA to pick up some items that were left off your order, or were out of stock when they delivered it. Of all the complaints this was definitely the one I heard the most. If IKEA could somehow get this part of their system to run more smoothly, I would recommend them wholeheartedly.
So, are IKEA cabinets good enough for your kitchen? Well, I can’t speak for you, but if you’re looking for a designer kitchen on a budget, IKEA cabinets are a good place to start.