IKEA kitchen - the inside story

>> Monday, January 28, 2008

This is yet another one of those rambling posts about our kitchen chaos. I was thinking about it and if this was a magazine the story wouldn't be ready until I had a perfect final kitchen with beautifully styled pictures. But that's why blogs have something to offer that glossy magazines don't. When we were wondering if we could actually assemble our IKEA kitchen cabinets ourselves I was looking all over the internet for other people's work-in-progress pictures and suggestions.

So that's what this post is about because we've learned things along the way. But first of all I should mention that we had a very simple situation, relatively, because our kitchen layout was already working well, the appliances, plumbing and electrical are all in the same positions. Also, we have a galley kitchen with no corners, islands or oddly shaped walls (aside from the fact that they're not straight in some places but I'll get to that). So I can only say that if you are in a similar situation you can certainly do it yourself, but it's not easy. Unless you're really skilled with renovation-type work of course. I'd say we're handy, but not particularly skilled.

And after a few weeks of this we are tired out, with sore hands and muscles. I woke up this morning with a weird pain in the middle of my back and I had trouble getting up out of bed. I couldn't even turn over! I've been walking around today saying "ouch, ouch, ouch!" and trying to figure out what I can and can't do just now. I can sit and walk, but oddly I can't really lie down. I've tried a few things and I think it was from lots of sawing. I tried imaginary sawing and that hurt the most. But enough about my back.

On Friday I assembled the upper cabinets. We decided there may be a good reason to put those up first so we should try to do it. Our current deadline is Wednesday because that's when someone is coming to measure for our countertop so everything needs to be in place by then.
Assembling the cabinets is the easiest part. Especially if you've assembled lots of IKEA things in the past and you're careful about reading the instructions. I think I spend more time undoing things (which is difficult) because of putting things in on the wrong side or whatever. I was also frustrated to find that one of the back panels sustained a crack somewhere along the way, and I drove in a couple of nails askew which caused some small chips inside.

I recommend putting the door hardware on before you hang the cabinets. The screws are actually a bit tough and take some work to get in and it's easier if you can brace against the floor.

As mentioned last week, I had this last wall to repair and paint. IKEA recommends that you paint one coat, then put up the cabinets, then do the second coat. This saves a bit of paint, and I guess you can do touch-ups if you scratch the paint. One of my tricks was not doing too much work on smoothing out the walls because in most places the rough spots where the old cabinets used to be attached were covered by the new cabinets.
At this point you need to put up a metal rail that the cabinets hang from (get a nice big level it will be very handy). The rail wasn't long enough, so it was a tricky matter of working out where the studs were, where the cabinets were and cutting two pieces of rail that would maximise the amount of support for each cabinet. I recommend marking your studs on the wall with a pencil and measuring everything carefully and marking it on the wall.

Our oven fan vent can't really be moved and was the biggest problem. It determined where the vent would go, which determined where the cabinet above it would be which determined where all the other cabinets would be. We discovered there wouldn't be enough space between the countertop and cabinets - even our kettle wouldn't fit.
Our brilliant solution was that we would (later on) create a small box that could be used as a small shelf. This box would attach to the cabinet over the stove, and the fan would attach to it. This meant the cabinets could be placed higher up. The other tricky part at this stage is working out the position of the little panel strips that fill gaps. In this case a 2" strip goes beside the over-stove cabinet so that its door can open fully, and this allows for a 1" space on either side of our free-standing stove.

At this point we measured and cut the rails with a small hacksaw. The saw is only $4 and works well but it takes a while to cut through the rails. If you had a power saw that cuts metal it would be much easier. The picture below shows Bradley attaching the first rail. You need to buy your own screws for this, we got some really big ones because there's going to be a lot of weight on this rail. And of course the rail needs to be attached to a few studs. The hardest part for us is that the battery for our new drill isn't working properly and it had barely any power.
Then finally we could put up all the cabinets. This part isn't too bad, the cabinets are heavy but they attach at two places with a simple bolt. Then they can be adjusted afterwards by sliding them along the rail so that they are all snug against each other. Also you can make sure at this point you have a 2" gap on the side for the filler panel.

Luckily the walls on this side of our kitchen are straight. We have a single cabinet for the other side of the kitchen and the wall it's next to is on an angle. If we added a filler panel there it would be really obvious so we're just going to leave a large gap. It's possible because it's a single cabinet, and we can centre it on the small patch of wall next to the window that it's going on, but if it wasn't we'd have had a problem. Or it just wouldn't look right which is frustrating after spending so much time and money.
This is as far as we've gotten. Next, you drill holes and attach the cabinets to each other, then add shelves and doors. Finally you add the hardware for the doors.

The only other difficult thing so far is drilling holes for our plumbing that comes from a side wall instead of directly under the sink. We did three neat holes for the pipes on one side of the end cabinet. We did this with a little hole saw kit - you can get a basic one for under $20. The pieces attach to your regular drill.
But the drill isn't working well now and we have six more holes to go! We're going to need to buy a new battery. If your plumbing comes in directly below the sink it's a lot easier because you're cutting through the thin back panel, not through the thick walls of your cabinets.
In short, you can do it yourself. But you may find yourself getting really annoyed at the IKEA DVD and posters (included with any kitchen purchase) that make it look really easy. I found watching the DVD quite soothing until I realized they were basically installing cabinets in what seemed like a completely perfect room, without any crooked walls, unevenly spaced studs, oven vents, or evidence of plumbing or electrical outlets to worry about.

My biggest tip is to make a list and make sure you do things in the right order. I hope we are, because we're not done yet!


I love a lattice

>> Thursday, January 24, 2008

I was inspired recently by some lovely (men's) wool scarves I saw at Banana Republic made from thick yarn and so big you feel like you're wearing a blanket. I wanted a very very cosy warm scarf for the coldest days this winter. Bradley put a skein of this gorgeous yarn (Sultra, 60% Merino wool, 20% Alpaca, 20% Silk) in my Christmas stocking, so I went to Romni and bought a few more skeins to make the scarf.

I started with a cable knit (pictured on the right), but I don't really like how it turned out. So I rummaged through my knitting books and found another stitch. I love a lattice (as in mullioned windows, patterns for paper and fabric etc), and I think this stitch is perfect. The scarf curls a bit at the sides but I'm hoping I can block it flat.

I recommend occasionally learning a new knitting stitch as it can keep you from being bored with knitting and you never know when you might use it. So here's the stitch:

Cross-Stitch Diamond/Lattice pattern
Multiple of 6 sts plus 2
All even-numbered Rows: purl all sts

Row 1: K3, *Cross R, K4* (repeat between the stars until the last 3 stitches), K3
Row 3: *K2, Cross R, Cross L* (repeat between the stars until the last 2 stitches), K2
Row 5: K1, *Cross R, K2, Cross L* (repeat between the stars until the last stitch), K1
Row 7: *Cross R, K4* (repeat between the stars until the last 2 stitches), Cross R
Row 9: K1, *Cross L, K2, Cross R* (repeat between the stars until the last stitch), K1
Row 11: *K2, Cross L, Cross R* (repeat between the stars until the last 2 stitches), K2

Cross R: Put the right needle through the 2nd stitch on the left, K the stitch but don't slip it off, K the 1st stitch on the left needle and slip both stitches off
Cross L: Put the right needle through the 2nd stitch on the left from around the back, K the stitch but don't slip it off, K the 1st stitch on the left needle

And while you're at it, I recommend trying cables too if you haven't yet. It really is much easier than it looks. Really.


Reading kitchen

>> Monday, January 21, 2008

I can't believe what we got done this weekend. Friday I painted the eat-in area and moved in a small white shelf that fit perfectly in the spot the hutch used to have. Having books beside the kitchen table has made it feel so homey, it invites tea drinking and reading. It's so sunny in that spot, we just needed our small table back in place to make it a popular corner of the house again.

If you look just beyond that you can see that all the lower cabinets are now assembled, thanks to Bradley who has recovered from his cold and was behaving like a superhero all weekend. The cabinets even have their feet on now.

And he shortened the closet doors so they're now all back in place. Phew! We kept knocking them over while moving things around. I also finally added the second coat of paint in the hallway. The walls had been a bit scuffed up from the flooring work as well.

Friday I added curtains to cover the sliding doors. As much as I like to make my own, ready made curtains can be a real bargain considering how much fabric they have. I found these at Urban Outfitters, they're nice and sheer and soft. They came with an extra strip of fabric each, I sewed buttonholes and buttons on those to make ties. The rod is from the new Umbra store on John St.
Although not kitchen related, I'd like to mention that we also finally assembled the shower for our clawfoot tub and I can't tell you how thrilled we were to be able to have a shower again.
I also managed to get one of the shelves up. I'd like to get more of the white wicker baskets from IKEA to go on the shelves. As you can see I've painted the Ocean Air on the walls.Realizing it was time to order our countertop we went to Home Depot on Sunday. I had been hemming and hawing for ages about that choice. It was hard to decide what would work with our flooring, cabinets, sink and walls, and what we should spend and which material would be most practical. As I've mentioned before we hadn't planned on gutting the kitchen in the first place so we've been making decisions as we go along. I wouldn't recommend this method but so far we're very happy with the results. So anyway we ordered a countertop but I'll save which one for the reveal!

But before they can measure for the countertop we need to wrap things up, which means installing baseboards (while we can move the cabinets and get back there), setting up the wiring for the new dishwasher, having the plumber over to set up the plumbing and finally attaching the lower cabinets in place. Usually you're supposed to install the uppers first but this won't be the first time we've done something backwards. I guess the main reason was to try to keep the kitchen liveable as we did the work.

These are the old uppers:
Until yesterday we were using these old upper cabinets for storage. But last night we finally emptied and took down the last of the old cabinets (well I moved some things but Bradley did the real work) and the wall now looks like this:
So cleaning, patching, sanding, priming and painting these last two walls is my job for today. Along with some illustration work in case you were wondering if I still have a job...


Shutters down!

>> Wednesday, January 16, 2008

As I expected after my last post I felt the push to get some work done on the kitchen. I've now repaired the walls in the eat-in area, and sanded and primed them. After clearing out the area I was given the chance to rethink the furniture in there.

As I mentioned in the last post the air conditioner is a real eyesore and we're not ready to replace it and fill the hole in our house (!). So I realized I could cover it with our hutch. Better yet, the hutch was on the other side but the heater on the wall was slightly in the way and it was sticking out a bit and not in an ideal spot. So now the hutch is in a better spot and the air conditioner is covered.

This is the "before" shot again so you can compare:Notice that there is also an ugly orange power cord on that wall. Well that cord was connected to the wooden outdoor roll shutters we had that cover the sliding doors. These shutters were built by a previous owner many decades ago and when we tried to have them repaired it proved impossible. This gave us the perfect excuse to just have them removed altogether. Luckily the house was largely intact underneath the huge box that housed the shutters:
So now these shutters are gone, the orange power cord is gone, the ugly plastic button that operated the shutters is gone and the holes are all patched up.The repair men were fascinated by these ancient roll shutters and took the whole contraption with them - possibly to go into some kind of shutters museum. They were certainly welcome to them.

The best part is that the shutters covered part of the doors even when fully wound up, and once they were gone it was such a change. With that dark shadow gone, the room seems so much lighter and brighter. I have to admit that they were practical but I'm glad they're gone. Here's an old renovation photo that shows the old shutters in place. Also the old tile on the walls and some general chaos. I like to look back at these photos to remind myself how much we've done already:And this is the "after" with the walls primed, the hutch moved and the blinds gone:Suddenly the area seems so large. Our table is quite small too, so it will still be spacious once that goes back in. There's nothing like emptying a room to help you figure out how to arrange it.



>> Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A few friends have asked us if our kitchen cabinets are installed and the short answer to that is "no!". I think we're a little tired out from all the renovating and we've definitely slowed down. So today I decided to post the state of things to answer that question, but I also thought that possibly the embarrassment of showing the sad state of our house will push me to get cracking.

The picture of our hallway really tells the whole story. Most of the IKEA cabinets are in boxes - and when I say most I mean all but the one that we've assembled so far. Just past that we have the shower fixture that we can finally install onto our clawfoot tub now that the plumbing has been fixed. The new flooring has raised the floor height of the entire area by around 1/2". So we had to wait a few weeks for new supply lines for the tub to arrive.

Across from that you can see our old countertop propped against the wall which we are getting rid of. Also the doors to various closets that are all around 1/2 an inch too tall now to fit back in place. Then on to the kitchen with more IKEA boxes.

This wooden strip is called a "reducer" and bridges the big gap and 3/4" step that was between the tile and wood floor areas. There were rough edges on either side and old floorboards and ditra showing in the middle. I sanded a little chip from the bottom corner of the baseboard to fit over the reducer.

It's partly that everything seems to take more time and trouble than expected. Just finding this wooden reducer to bridge the tile to the hardwood took weeks. But we were thrilled when we found one at Home Depot that was the right wood, the right stain, the right length, with a shallow overlapping bit for the tile side and a 3/4" step down to the hardwood floor side. Then it was just a small matter of borrowing a power saw to cut it, after cutting the adjacent new baseboards to make sure it would be the right length. Then finding the right glue to attach it and then going back for the caulking gun that was needed to apply the glue. Phew! So more trouble than we expected but it's finally done and it looks finished now. Now we just need to do the gap between the hall and bathroom...
Oh... and hidden behind some of those IKEA boxes were these shelves that are going into the bathroom over the washing machine for storage. We also need to replace baseboards throughout (the old ones were removed when renovating the floors and most were damaged and too short and yucky to begin with).
This is the one cabinet we've put together so far - now it just needs soft shutting mechanisms on the drawers, handles, legs and a countertop!

Which brings me to today's goal. I've painted the left side of the kitchen in the alcove area with our new colour. Choosing the perfect grey took a looong time but I'm happy with it now that it's on the walls. It's Benjamin Moore's Titanium, and it's a very soft pale grey that actually seems to look grey rather than a bit green, or blue, or beige as grey's often do. It also works nicely with the cabinets and the new floor which has tiny pale grey stripes in it.

But the walls on the other side still look like this:
And the original bright yellow colour is still there in the eat-in area past the cabinets. The wall was damaged in a few patches so we definitely couldn't have kept that colour. And I find it a bit too heavy. This is the left side:
And the right side:What a mess. I really dislike the air conditioner too - and not sure how to remove it now it's been installed into the wall. But that will have to be resolved later. Maybe we can just put a cabinet in front of it!

And last but not least, the mechanized shutters that go over the back doors are broken and stuck halfway up. Or halfway down depending on how you want to look at it. So someone is supposed to be coming by today to repair those. So that's the state of things, now I'll surely be motivated to post some "after pictures" as soon as possible!


How to buy a vintage suitcase

>> Sunday, January 13, 2008

The best way is to find one abandoned on the street, thrown out by someone who just doesn't appreciate it. I'm still haunted by the one I found several years ago, kept for a bit, then decided I didn't need anymore. I know now that it was a suitcase from the 30s, and it would be kind of nice to have it now.
But I lucked out (after some fruitless searching yesterday on Queen W), when I went to the St. Lawrence Sunday Market flea market. I have to admit that I'm definitely a night owl, so I usually get down to the market by around noon. But I'm haunted by an old work friend who asked me when I usually go to the market, and was shocked by my answer. He assured me that by noon only detritus was left, and there was no point in going. That's the word I always think of, ringing in my ears: "detritus... detritus... detritusss..."

So the last couple of times I've managed to get there by around 9 or 10. (Still not the recommended 5am but I'm more likely to stay up until 5am then get down to the market by then.) And I have realized that there is actually better stuff the earlier you go. It starts to get crowded by noon and some of the tables do seem to be picked over.

When I went today to look for a vintage suitcase I was lucky because usually you never find what you're looking for. (You do end up with things you didn't even think of, such as the tiny box of gramaphone needles pictures at the top of this post.) But I actually found one seller who had several vintage suitcases and was very friendly and patient as I opened them up and tried to decide which size, which colours, which condition, which lining. I love the one I finally picked, so while I'm no expert here are the features I can suggest that you might want to look for.

1. materials: some are made from cardboard, some leather and some are made from coated wood. Mine is made from coated wood and I like it because it's sturdier than cardboard and it has that charming textured finish typical of the 30s/40s suitcase.

2. condition: I was tempted by one with a crack but decided it would be better to have a sturdy one that definitely won't fall apart. Mine has corners reinforced with little metal plates which will help protect it against damage from knocks.

3. smell: definitely check that it doesn't smell musty, especially as that will probably transfer to anything you put into it.
4. latches/hinges: should work easily and seem secure. Ask if there's a key because that's always nice to have.

needs a little bit of a vacuuming

5. lining: I like pockets and compartments of any kind, and of course colour and type of fabric depends on your taste. I love the grosgrain ribbons in mine that are meant for securing the contents, presumably with a jaunty bow. The satin is a sort of pale tan/grey/champagne kind of colour.
6. outer appearance: Some have stripes, some a mock wool plaid kind of pattern, or you can move ahead to the 60s/70s and get a psychedelic floral number. Mine is mustard yellow with a cream border, and it has a nice nubbly texture that looks like fabric. I suspect that suitcases with a label with the name of the manufacturer are more collectable. It's just nice to know where things come from.

7. size/comfort: mine was large enough to be useful but isn't too heavy and has a comfortable handle.

8. price: you decide, I paid $30 which was well worth it to me.While I was at it I found these darning eggs. The little pink one is apparently a "baby" darning egg. Not sure but I guess it's for darning little booties and such, although I don't like to think of some poor baby wearing worn out socks. This is possibly why I've never seen a "baby" darning egg before but since I bought it at the same place with the suitcase and other darner, the seller gave me a big discount and I couldn't resist the charming little thing.


Valentine's Trunk show

>> Thursday, January 10, 2008

This is my new logo, created for the web page for the The Valentine's Trunk Show in February. This is such a nice idea for a fair, all the vendors are displaying their handmade things in a suitcase each and then we can mingle and have snacks. I love it. Obviously I will have to find and buy a charming vintage suitcase. I was thinking this could become the perfect place to store my shop between shows.

As you know I also love the Workroom so I think it's the perfect venue. If you haven't been yet, you have to come just to gaze adoringly at Karyn's covet-worthy shelves of fabric.


A Friend for Mr. Granville

>> Wednesday, January 02, 2008

This is the latest book I've illustrated, called A Friend for Mr. Granville by Gillian Richardson, published by Scholastic Canada. My copy from the publisher arrived amidst all the busyness of December and I've been showing it to friends but am just getting around to posting it here. I'm quite proud of this book, I really loved the story and I enjoyed working on the illustrations. There were 24 greyscale illustrations to do for the inside as well as the colour cover.

This book was first published in 1997. My edition is a levelled reader (called Moving up with Literacy Place) to be sold to schools. This means you can't buy this edition in a bookstore, which is something I still aspire to.

Here are some more of the illustrations: The story is about a boy who visits a senior's home with his class. He notices one man who is always sitting looking out the window on his own and only lights up one day when he sees a family playing with a dog outside. The boy decides to try to arrange for this man to have a dog of his own. Of course it doesn't happen easily, the boy and his friends do extra chores to try to earn the money for the dog, only to find out that the senior's home won't take him!I tried to make the dog the kids chose look as lovable as possible. Who wouldn't want this dog??And here's a detail of the cover. For me, finally seeing printed copies of books I've illustrated is one of the best parts of being an illustrator. My other thrill is getting new projects to work on and knowing I'll be busy. I just found out this week that I have another project coming my way from one of my favourite clients which made me feel cheerful about the new year (although very busy because I'm still working on another book while we're trying to assemble our IKEA kitchen!). Starting out as a freelance illustrator a couple of years ago turned out to be my most difficult "new job" experience ever, but definitely the most rewarding.

Thanks for reading!


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