ikea kitchen cabinetry: everything you need to know and more
if you’re into decorating, remodeling, interior design, or even just have a wide-array of friends, you’re bound to know someone that’s part of today’s modern day ikea cult. for good reason, too - product offerings are well-designed and impossibly affordable. you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who has an in-between opinion on the brand. for the most part, consumers are adamantly for - or against - the brand.
talk to any brave diy-er or budget-conscious consumer that’s used ikea cabinets in a kitchen remodel and get a passionate diatribe either touting the incredible value of the product and how happy they are with the kitchen, or a speech about the nightmare that ensued during the process. we’re here to take a look and share with you everything about these ikea kitchens from soup to nuts; planning, purchasing, install, quality, “hacks,” pros, cons, and everything in-between to give you an idea of whether you should proceed with that preconceived ikea value, or look for something that’s more suited for what you need.
for those of you that don’t know/live under a rock (and are looking to remodel said rock), ikea is a rock-bottom (pun-intended) priced furniture company based out of sweden that offers simplistic scandinavian designs. their products come flat-packed and require notoriously laborious assembly. ikea became a big player in the cabinetry game in 2015, with the introduction of their sektion cabinetry line. they had introduced their cabinetry collection, akurum, in 2003, but sektion offered many intriguing improvements.
let’s start with the basics: a crash course in cabinetry design! there are four types of cabinet styles: inset, frameless (eurostyle), full overlay, and partial overlay. this all refers to the face frame of the cabinet, in conjunction with the hinge used.
with that being said, ikea’s cabinets are eurostyle - they have no frame whatsoever. while this maximizes the usable cabinet space (marginally) and cuts down on costs pretty significantly, there are also some major design drawbacks. depending on how nit picky you are, these may or may not be deal breakers for you.
without any frame, your door & drawer fronts are essentially acting as the partitions between each other. this means that you’ll always have a line showing straight into the cabinet at the top and between any stacked unit. this may be concealed by your countertop overhang, or not - it depends on the depth, height, and line of sight.
secondly, unless you are planning on painting the front of the base of each cabinet, there will always be a thin vertical line of white laminate shown, regardless of whether it’s a door or drawer. a full overlay cabinet door/drawer sits on top of the entire cabinet theoretically, but you absolutely will be able to see a hairline crack of white between your cabinets. with lower quality cabinetry especially, it’s more than likely that something will become misaligned straight out of the box, or gradually over time. this is my biggest pet peeve, personally! eurostyle doors are the hardest to maintain a straight line on, especially without completely level hinges and mounting - but we’ll get to that.
ikea cabinets bases are made up of 3/4” particleboard, a sawdust + resin composite, and is covered in a white or brown melamine laminate. the back of each base is made of a fiberboard, or mdf (medium density fiberboard), which is essentially a denser particleboard. mdf is made of wood fibers + a binder, and finished with a white or brown acrylic paint.
for the most part, these are the most standard, low-cost materials able to be sourced, and why ikea is able to offer their products at such a low price.
however, just because they’re low-cost doesn’t mean they’re going to deteriorate in an instant, or just at the sight of water. the parts of your cabinetry that will see the most wear are going to be the door & drawer faces. if you’re like most people, you’ll probably want to go with a different vendor for your fronts, like the extremely popular semihandmade or reform. as far as the bases themselves go, when built properly, they’re absolutely durable enough for any kitchen.
even more impressive is ikea’s 25 year warranty. ikea’s not exactly known for their customer service and returnability though, so don’t bank on a free cabinet replacement if something goes awry in 10 years.
ikea sources & sells blum hinges, a highly reputable brand used on high-end cabinetry. eurostyle cabinets have a clip-on style hinge with the holes bored into the door. ikea touts the doors as being removable for cleanability (not sure who removes their cabinet doors often for cleaning, tho), but you’ll be removing the door with the hinge still attached - you’re unattaching a hinge from a clip latch. as the hinge is where the grime and nastiness would actually build up, I’m not so sold on this as a sales tactic.
what I do love about the ikea hinge offerings is the damper add-on options for each hinge. for something like $8, you can purchase a damper to put directly onto your hinge, giving it a soft-close feature. if you haven’t experienced them, soft-close doors are incredible - you don’t know what you’re living without until you’re living with it. while these can run an upcharge of 20-30% on a semi-custom or custom cabinetry order (no joke!), you’re sitting pretty with such a low cost. there’s no damper on that!
let’s talk door slides, another hardware option I love from the ikea sektion collection. the standard option for drawer slides is a galvanized steel close with a 3/4 extension, but there’s the option for an upgrade to a full-extension, soft-close drawer glide. if you take nothing but one thing away from this post, I hope it’s this: absolutely upgrade every single drawer you purchase to a full extension soft-close. when you’re digging through the back of that drawer you never thought you’d use and can’t reach the back quarter, cursing the sky, you’ll steadfastly regret spending that $7 on meatballs instead of a drawer glide.
a full-extension glide generally is standard on higher-end cabinetry, but you’ll run into a pretty hefty markup on lower-end brands that don’t. take advantage of the option to gain 25% more of your drawer; there’s nothing worse than not being able to access that one smallllll item that happened to roll to the back of the drawer, and you’re now it’s gone forever - just because you didn’t splurge on the $7 full extension drawer glide.
standard base kitchen cabinets are 36” high overall, which generally consists of a 34.5” cabinet base and a 1.5” top. ikea does things a bit differently in that their bases are 30” high, and “must” be mounted to plastic legs in the front and sides of each cabinet module, raising them an additional 4.5”. bases also only come in 24” depth, which is the minimum for kitchen cabinetry.
whenever possible, I try to spec 27” or 30” depths for kitchen cabinetry. toasters, mixers, and the items that are usually kept on the counter aren’t as obtrusive, giving you much more surface to work with.
if you’re planning on using these cabinets for a bathroom vanity, it’s important to note the dimension differential; generally, vanities are 32”h x 21” (or less) deep. though this isn’t noticeable to most, it isn’t standard to use kitchen cabinets in a bathroom.
ikea base cabinets come in various widths and configurations of 15", 18”, 24”, 30” and 36”, while wall cabinets only come in a 15” depth. this is pretty nonstandard for kitchen cabinetry, where wall cabinets are typically 12”. the world still seems to be confounded by this.
wall cabinets are available in widths of 12”, 15”, 24”, and 30”, and heights of 15”, 20”, 30”, or 40”. for stock cabinetry, this is an extremely standard, but decent offering. since the cabinets can be stacked, it’s easy to customize the wall cabinets a bit more than the bases.
tall cabinets are also available in 80” and 90” heights in both 15” and 24” depths. widths are available in 15”, 18”, 24”, and 30”; these are great if you need pantry storage or the like, or intend on placing them in a utility or laundry space.
ikea also offers some great cabinet organization options, and when used in a tall unit, I can’t really recommend a unit with better storage at a better price, regardless of whether or not you’re doing an entire kitchen remodel or just need a one-off storage piece for your apartment.
boxed (custom or semi-custom) cabinetry comes assembled with a recessed toe kick base and will sit directly on the floor. when installed, it’s screwed into a floor block and wall once leveled with splints and shims. conversely, ikea’s base cabinets are mounted to their proprietary suspension rail, a system that’s relatively ingenious to cabinetry install, tbh.
this galvanized steel suspension rail system, sold in 84” increments, is cut to size and drilled into the wall studs. the cabinets subsequently latch onto the rail using part of the base cabinet assembly, and plastic legs are installed on the front and ends of cabinetry modules to level the cabinets. the legs are not load bearing - one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about the entire sektion collection.
this mounting system, though ingenious, is both impossibly simple and difficult at the same time. if the rail is not absolutely level, the entire cabinet module will be skewed - some cabinets will protrude, some will pop off, and eventually all will warp. the legs can adjust the height of the bases marginally, but not enough to account for a misaligned rail.
secondly, the system also offers the most potential for future error. made of galvanized steel, the rail itself isn’t going to present any warping initially, but several years down the line, what was initially plum (or appeared to be) with the wall may start to warp if not shimmed perfectly flush.
since the mounting legs are left exposed, an piece of plinth or toe kick is required to finish the cabinets (unless you’re going for the “stilted” cabinet look. I promise you’re not). this is an extruded plastic piece with a channel that slides into protruding faces of the legs.
the best part about the legs? they’re only $7 ($6.30 on sale) for 4, so load up, because they break super easily.
we won’t beat around the bush here: purchasing is where this all falls to shit, but is also where that whole “you get what you pay for” thing kicks in. kitchen designers spend their entire careers learning and relearning the nuances of cabinetry, primarily to ensure that when it comes time to order, everything is done correctly. ordering has been the death of many kitchen designer’s careers, and it isn’t something to be taken lightly. cabinetry is by and far one of the most difficult items to deal with in the home build/design world, and for a novice, it can be exceedingly overwhelming.
to actually order the cabinets, you’ll need to go to an ikea store and have one of ikea’s kitchen designers give you the a-okay for purchasing after reviewing the design you’ve put together in their design software (we’ll get to that). this review process takes forever, and if you’re trying to take advantage of one of their kitchen sales, don’t anticipate spending anything short of an entire day trying to place your order.
even though there are “kitchen designers” on staff, present to assist in your every need, anyone who has been into an ikea store - a 500,000 sqft warehouse where you pull a number and go scout for a flat-packed box, knows that you’re not working with the mick de giulios of the world. I can’t stress enough how difficult cabinetry is, and I wouldn’t put the entire fate of your design into the hand of an ikea kitchen designer. rather, ikea kitchen validation associate?
possibly the largest issue I have with ordering these cabinets is the fact that they come flat packed. this means that if I were to redo the cabinetry for my smallish/medium, 8 x 12 kitchen, (sticking with the current layout) I would need 16 cabinets. since most of ikea’s cabinets are boxed into several boxes (door front, drawer front, base(s), drawer bases, door bases), I could potentially end up with 80 boxes for the cabinets alone - not including any of the plinths, legs, suspension rails, hardware, deco strips, lights, replacement doors or drawers, or appliances, if I were to…buy an ikea appliance. now, I live on the fourth floor of a brownstone in the middle of boston with 650 sqft of space. say these boxes need to live there until I could build and install them. say these cabinets needed to be assembled there. say…this might not be a feasible option. take into consideration the storage and assembly space for all those boxes before you buy!
planning & designing
I’ve heard countless recollections from people who have “gone through hell and back” with ikea’s kitchen planning software, an in-browser cad plug-in, so I decided to give it a try to see how horrible it really was; see if it was really riddled with the glitches and is as unintuitive as everyone is claiming.
I won’t get into a thorough review of the software here, but I am going to give ikea a big shoutout for this software. the program is created by 2020, the extremely smart & powerful program used to design all custom & semi-custom cabinetry (if you have a cabinetry designer that isn’t using it, you should switch designers). a single license costs, at minimum, $1095 per license, per year, but for a good reason. it’s the creme-de-la-creme of kitchen software. the ikea plug-in is essentially a very pared-down version of 2020, tailored to ikea’s products.
once a cabinet is placed in the space, the program automatically snaps it to the closest wall, which I could see being mistaken as a glitch.
cad programs themselves have a large learning curve, but I commend ikea for making the software a) in-browser, b) as user friendly as possible, and c) free! I’ll go into more depth in another post, but for now, comment with any questions and we can troubleshoot your problems. I’d love to know what you’re experiencing, too!
unfortunately, the design software is about where the ease of the design & ordering process ends.
if you’re struggling too much with the design process, ikea does offer an in-home consultation for $99 with one of their consultants, assuming you’re within a certain (again, limited) vicinity of one of their stores. many interior or e-designers will do similar and more comprehensive work at a similar price, which I would recommend instead of ikea’s - you’ll probably get suggestions for products (faucets, hardware, door/drawer fronts, etc.) other than ikea, too - a big bonus.
many plumbing/design showrooms also offer services at the same price for plans that you can subsequently use to plan your ikea kitchen yourself.
overall, I don’t have an issue with ikea kitchens, and think they can look pretty nice. would I buy them for my home? no.
I trust my assembly ability, my design ability, and I know that the product’s going to hold up - I’ve owned ikea furniture pieces for years that have withstood several cross-country moves and still look and function like new (unfortunately for me, this means I can’t justify buying new furniture for a while). however, I absolutely do not trust my cabinetry installation ability, first of all, and I’m just not a huge fan of eurostyle cabinetry, second of all. sure, there are people I can hire out to install cabinets, but the cost of that will nullify the savings I would reap by going with ikea in the first place.
most importantly, with an undertaking as large as a cabinetry order/install, never underestimate the value of customer service - the key element ikea is lacking. if you’re looking for a product that’ll hold up, sure, ikea’s will. it’ll function for years, and it’ll look like standard cabinetry. it won’t look or function like cabinetry that cost times more, simply because it’s not, despite the hacks and upgrades you make to it.
regardless of if you go with ikea or other, a kitchen remodel is going to cost several thousands of dollars, and that’s not a small amount to 99% of the population. be sure to research some other brands as well before settling on ikea, just because you hear they’re the cheapest!
if you have the time, determination, creativity, and wherewithal to build an ikea kitchen, you may just reap unbelievable benefits and have the kitchen of your dreams - on a budget you can afford.
have you installed or are you considering an ikea kitchen? what are your experiences? how about the planning software? we’d love to hear your feedback!
x - mk