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!


gayle January 29, 2008  

You sound a bit weary but you're nearly there! It looks like it will be lovely.

Emily January 29, 2008  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily January 29, 2008  

All of this is good to know for those of us considering an ikea kitchen remodel in the near future. They make everything look so easy but I've always had a sneaking suspicion that it may take a little more work than they let on... thanks for the inside scoop!

SweDaisy January 29, 2008  

Keep on trucking, you'll get there. Just think when you have company over or when you and your bo lean back and look at your beautiful kitchen, you can say "we did that" It's looking great so far.

Take Care,

Junie Moon January 30, 2008  

It's going to be so fabulous and is already looking so fresh and special. Sounds like your back is protesting all of your adventures, I hope you feel better soon.

gonzomama February 03, 2008  

Hang in there! The end results will make you so happy you went through it and you will appreciate it that much more b/c you did the work yourselves. We just went through this (washing dishes in the bathtub, cooking out of a microwave for a couple months, etc.) at the end of 2007. I still cannot believe the amount of trips we took to the hardware store in a day, let alone a week. The kicker: our first "meal" in our new kitchen - - - frozen pizza! but, oh I do love our new kitchen! and you will love yours!

Anonymous,  February 07, 2008  

Dang! I'm worn out just by seeing what you guys went/are going through! : D Very informative and an excellent post, Claire! Looking forward to seeing the finished kitchen (as are you guys)!

Anonymous,  January 19, 2009  

So... Now that it's been a year, how are things holding up? Susan and I STILL don't have our own kitchen done, but someday...

Anyway, we'd love to hear more about your experience and the final results!

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