Kitchen renovation, part 3

It’s been more than two months since the last time I blogged about the kitchen remodel. Well, guess what? The IKEA cabinets took us two months to install!! And we only got the frames attached to the walls. No doors, drawers, or shelves yet. But if we add up the total amount of hours we spent on hanging cabinets, it won’t add up to two months. We did the work in the weekends only. And recently, hubby has started training with the local Search and Rescue which has an overnight outing in the woods in the weekend once a month.

“I wish I know this earlier.”

We learned a lot along the way, especially a few things that IKEA does not mention in their cabinet installation instructions. If you want to save money by installing IKEA cabinets yourself, these are the important things to know:

  • The IKEA instructions are designed for an L-shape kitchen at a corner of a room. If your kitchen has a U-shape design like ours, I hope your house is not so out of plumb and nowhere leveled like ours. The IKEA instructions said look for the highest point of your floor first and start from there to hang the wall cabinets. It’s sort of okay but if you are installing cabinets in other corners of the room, you will need to use that high spot as the reference point and extend leveled lines from that point throughout the room. Since we followed what was given to us, we looked for the highest point at one corner of the room and do the same again at the other corner. With an uneven floor, those two points don’t level with each other, i.e., the wall cabinets at one corner were hung higher than the ones at the opposite corner of the U-shape. Fortunately, the difference was about 1/2 inch or less for us. We were able to push up the wall cabinets along the suspension rail to level things. I hope the cabinets will still hold up at the same height once they get filled with dishes and all.

    IKEA Home Planner drawing

    Kitchen layout: The base cabinets are arranged in U-shape at the left.

  • If you are reading this with no prior knowledge of anything about the IKEA kitchen, you may be scratching your head by now about the suspension rail I just mentioned above. Basically, the wall cabinets are hung on the suspension rail so they are not directly attached to the wall as most traditional cabinets do. The rail is attached at the studs and this system can hold a lot of weight (I don’t know exactly how much). One flaw about the instructions for hanging the suspension rail is that the recommended height resulted in wall cabinets hung lower than the drawings I got from the IKEA Home Planner program I used to design the kitchen. Having the wall cabinets hung at the correct height is crucial for us because we have a serious of wall cabinets stretching from corner to corner and the refrigerator is at one of the corners. We realized the mistake early on and started completely over to make sure the cabinet above the fridge is hung high enough.
  • Under the IKEA wall cabinets, the hardware and gaps are exposed. Those areas are usually way below the eye level. You have to bend down on purpose to look under the wall cabinets. However, we have a row of cabinets above the range and fridge. The under-cabinet areas are exposed at the above-the-head level. One solution I found online was installing long cover panels that are intended for high cabinets under the wall cabinets. We failed miserably at our first attempt as we tried to cut a piece of panel to follow the scribe of the uneven walls. Let just say it was the jig saw’s fault.
  • Leveling the base cabinets are even more important than wall cabinets because of the countertop. We tried using a line level to get some leveled lines drawn on the walls. It didn’t work well since we have never used a line level before. I ended up buying a 96″ level. It costs a lot but it’s the only tool that can tell us for sure whether the base cabinets are leveled from one corner to the next.
  • The base cabinets are supported by adjustable legs. The IKEA instructions suggested installing a wall strip (a strip of particle board provided with the toe kicks) on the wall and hanging the back edge of the cabinets on the wall strip so that only two legs (under the front edges) would be required for each cabinet. The instructions also mentioned installing four legs instead of using the wall strip. We asked an IKEA employee for her opinion. She said with old houses, installing four legs would be much easier to level. We went with what she said. Besides, I heard that for solid countertop, it would be best to install extra legs to ensure the cabinets can hold the weight of the countertop. Even though the IKEA instructions said legs can be shared by two cabinets, we installed four legs on each cabinet. Our floor is very uneven. It would have been a nightmare to share legs anyway.

Here’s a tip that is not related to IKEA:

  • Recycled jeans insulation makes selecting hollow wall anchors a challenge. I am guessing this kind of insulation is much denser than typical fiber glass. I bought a kind of anchor that is supposed to make a 90 degree turn behind the drywall and the screw would tighten the moving part towards the drywall. The anchor could not make the turn as the insulation around it wouldn’t budge. We used the same anchor on an uninsulated interior wall with no problem.

The 12″X24″ Wall Cabinet Hack

During this time, I discovered the site IKEA Fans. I posted a few questions on their forum and got a few helpful feedback. After looking around IKEA Fans and a few blogs, I was inspired to take on an “IKEA hack” which is a rather popular thing to do. Our hack is mainly a challenge of fitting a full gang of wall cabinets from corner to corner without any filler strip.

We didn’t change the layout of the kitchen. We kept the range and fridge at the same locations as before along a 12-foot wall. The range location has to be exact because we will be replacing the old Jenn-Air downdraft with a new model and the vent location remains roughly the same to avoid any additional work on the outside of the house (our contractor added a plenum around the old vent opening to allow for a little bit of variations in the final location). Therefore, I had to plan the cabinets around the range. On the left of the range, there is room for a 48″ corner cabinet and one 18″ cabinet. On the wall above those base cabinets, I mimicked the dimensions with two 24″ cabinets and one 18″ cabinet (these are all 39″ tall).

Starting from above the range towards the fridge (about 77-78″ of space), I had to plan a row of wall cabinets that are 24″ tall to meet the vertical clearance requirement above the cooking surface. IKEA does not offer a full range of 24″ (height) wall cabinets as the ones at the regular heights (30″ or 39″). My initial plan was two 36″ cabinets plus a big filler (4-5″ wide). That didn’t sound pretty at all. Ideally, we should have a 30″ cabinet above the range, follow by one 12″ and one 36″ cabinets (that adds up to 78″) but I could not plan for this at the beginning because it did not seem to me there would be 78″ of space starting from the range towards the fridge. But the space problem was eventually solved. Our old walls were a plaster and drywall combo, i.e. the walls are 3/4″ or more thick. We gained a little bit of space after installing 1/2″ drywall.

Having enough space is not yet the end of the story. IKEA does not sell a 12″ wide cabinet at the 24″ height. I went back and forth with a variety  of combination and nothing seemed to be make visual sense. And then out of nowhere, I came up with the idea of shortening a 30″ cabinet to 24″. Our first try of implement this idea was modifying a 9″ wide open shelf (no door) and it went pretty well. Prior to messing with the open shelf, I still thought we didn’t have 78″ of space. After we installed the “hacked” shelf on the wall, I then realized we have all the space we need.

One other realization of the 12″ cabinet solution is a 12″X24″ cabinet door. The IKEA catalog does not list the door sizes. Our itemized order list does. The list of items for the 30″ and 36″ cabinets contain doors with widths that are half of the cabinet widths (i.e. 15″ and 18″ doors). Another light bulb went on my head at that point. IKEA sells a 24″ wide cabinet at 24″ tall and this would have 12″X24″ doors! The ultimate solution for our problem is to modify a 12″X30″ wall cabinet to 12″X24″ and install a 12″X24″ door. Including all the other ideas I worked on paper, this is plan D, E or F. I lost count.

Window Trim

We haven’t install any trim on the window when we first started installing the cabinets. The window is above the sink. We delayed installing the sink cabinet to finish the trim. It was not easy (this is our first time installing trim of any kind). We messed up just one piece of trim during the process. Not bad but it cost us another trip to Home Depot.

Cut holes for plumbing & electrical

I think the only thing we were super successful (like we didn’t swear much) was cutting holes on the back of the sink cabinet for the water and sewer pipes and a power outlet. I planned a filler strip left of the cabinet. We drew a line on the wall to simulate the final location of the cabinet. We then placed the 96″ level spanning across the corner cabinets. Measuring from the bottom of the level and the line on the wall, we figured out the locations of the holes needed. I was kind of worried about cutting the holes because we had to be right the first time and we haven’t done so well in this department. As it turns out, this is THE thing we are good at. Go figure!

What’s next?

The IKEA cabinets are solid and all but moisture is their main enemy. I am going to caulk all the edges inside the cabinets. I also bought a small container of polycrylic to seal the exposed edges of the support beams at the top of the base cabinets. It is probably overkill but I would rather tough it out now than regret it in the future.


One thought on “Kitchen renovation, part 3

  1. I really shopped for cabinets. IKEA as the best bang for your buck, only if you like what they have. For example, most cabinet makers provide a “soft close” drawer for $135. You cannot retro fit because the drawer has to be made 1 inch more shallow to allow for the working parts underneath. IKEA does it with working parts that DO NOT need to change the drawer depth for a few bucks each. Count your drawers and cabinet doors and see how it adds up FAST.

    I cannot emphasis how important it is to inventory IKEA cabinet parts so that installation is not delayed due to missing parts. Missing parts seem to be standard. That includes getting 2 black drawer fronts when they are all supposed to be Ash colored. At the IKEA store I was shown a 2 inch thick folder of requests for missing parts.

    It cost me $2,300 for IKEA people to install 13 cabinets in 1 1/2 days. But it saved me weeks of just finding the right parts in maybe 50 boxes. It took 2 hours and 2 people just to inventory the parts and make a list of missing parts by just reading the ticket on each box (mistake, look in the box as well for the right color)

    I liked them so much, I used 3 kitchen cabinets to make a vanity in my bath. IKEA has nothing in vanities that comes close to the furniture look in a bath.

    I redesigned the drawer layout of the 2 side cabinets (opposite sides of the sink cabinet) so I would have a 12 inch deep “Al Bundy” drawer next to the throne. It holds over 12 rolls of toilet paper, several books and magazines with room to spare. Above this drawer, I have 4 drawers 5 inches deep that hold a sundry of toilet items, again with room to grow.

    This cost me extra because the deep drawer fronts come boxed in pairs of about 11 and 12 inches deep. So, 2 drawer fronts could not be returned.

    I feel IKEA is missing a large audience by not making bathroom displays using the kitchen cabinets. Also, the added height is great on the small of my back.

    After the sale, don’t expect great service from IKEA, stone supplier or the cabinet installer. I wrote numerous emails to corporate. IKEA suffers from growing pains or the learning curve.

    Next, if you want a stone top, shop for that separately some place else for better service. The further you are from the fabricator, the longer it will take for them to get a load to go in your direction. My granite took a month or more to be installed because they were 30 miles away. The local stone guy was a mile from my house and I had my choice of several more for my bathroom. Don’t shop a granite seller, shop the granite fabricator, which is the shipping point for you. The price was comparable for both tops. The install time was a week from the date of my order for the vanity granite.

    My bath was down to the studs and complete in a month only because I knew all the pit falls. My kitchen cabinets were ordered April 30 and the kitchedn was done in late Aug. My carpenter and electrician were always there the next day. All the delays were because of IKEA and their sub contractors.

    Would I do it again using IKEA? You bet. It looks like a $50,000 kitchen that cost $18,000 with stainless appliances, ceramic floor, track lighting, and granite top with a full granite back splash to the top of my above cabinets.

    One more thing. IKEA generally has a fall and spring cabinet sale where you get 20 or even 30% off if you buy 3 of their appliances for $200 or more each. The rub is that they don’t have all the sizes. So I only bought and used the stainless hood (nice) and sold the 2 over the stove microwaves on craigslist for 1/2 price that cost me $200 each. The final cost of the cabinets was about $4,200.

    Regardless of the European name on their appliances, they were all made by Whirlpool in 2009.

    I wish I could post a picture of my kitchen. I’m as proud of it as I am of my son.

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