A Week (or Two) in the Life of IKEA Cabinets

From on April 09, 2009 in Light Construction

planningtool.jpgIKEA: that iconic superstore, the crowned (Swedish) prince of DIY, the apex of self-assembly. Walking into the IKEA warehouse is like strolling right into Home Remodeling for Dummies. You simply choose a table leg, now a table top, and…okay, grab your allen wrench and have a nice day. At IKEA you can get everything from bulk tea candles to a new kitchen; and all you need is a screwdriver (and wallet).

But is it all really worth it? Can those Swedish geniuses behind easy, prefab home remodeling really be that smart? Well I recently had my first chance to find out, and with the scariest DIY remodeling venture of them all: new kitchen cabinets.

The Showroom

ikeashowroom.jpg I must admit that IKEA certainly has the look and feel right. Within moments of entering their showroom I felt like I could do anything. After a quick trip to the salad bar (yes IKEA has a cafeteria too), it was on to see the kitchens. Now, this was a friend’s remodel and I had little to do with the selection process, so I won’t go too deep into that.

I will say that you can sit down on a computer right there and design your kitchen using their simple CAD-type program. Exhibit frames of every cabinet they sell hangs on the wall in front of you, and if that is not enough, there is even a small, gridded diorama with small magnetized blocks just in case you’d like a 3-D representation of your kitchen-to-be.

The only issue at the showroom was understaffing. Even with the help of a computer, choosing your kitchen cabinets is no small feat. It takes time and a good deal of attention from employees. Unfortunately, on my two visits to IKEA there was rarely more than one person in the vicinity. They were very polite and hardworking to be sure, but if there are more than one or two people trying to choose cabinets at the same time be prepared to wait. To be fair, both my visits were on weekdays and I can only assume that weekends are much more heavily staffed.


After the choices are made and cabinets bought, delivery is scheduled (at a cost unless you live close by). Now is where you want to harness all your skills at paying attention to detail. For the kitchen in question, there were to be 16 cabinets, kitchen island included. For those 16 cabinets came 181 separate boxes of materials, all of which must be inventoried on arrival because once you’ve signed for it, consider it bought.

boxes.jpgHaving plenty of free space in which to organize this slew of boxes is key because things get confusing real fast when you start trying to fumble through everything to get ready for assembly.

NOTE: Be sure to protect these boxes from the elements, even in your garage. In my case there was an accident with spilled water (undiscovered for some time) and entire cabinets were rendered useless. IKEA cabinet frames are made with particle board and soak up water like a sponge (It was an hour-and-a-half drive back to the store for replacements).


Assembly. Now we get down to the heart of what makes IKEA great: easy-to-assemble products. A child could do it! Well, maybe not, but it is very simple, and all I needed was a screwdriver and hammer. Other than that it is all dowels and pressure fits. Assembly will take time, so be prepared. It’s fairly easy to get the hang of but it is tedious work. I highly recommend some music or talk radio—whatever swings your hammer, as they say.

As far as directions go, I hope you’re into hieroglyphics. That is to say there are no words, only pictures. This works just fine for the most part. If you have any questions there is a picture of a nice little IKEA rendition of you calling the store for answers. The biggest problem I had with this is the lack of cross-referencing, or side notes, or little alerts to let you know that doing this could affect that later on. Before all was said and done, I found myself moving pantry drawers to get out of a door hinge’s way. Just little things that had a tendency to add up to frustration.

And even though there are no words, it is still a good idea to read the instructions all the way through, and to remember (or check those valuable notes) anything that you may have gone over with the IKEA professional back at the showroom. My friend had an issue with forgetting the intricacies of the design, which led to some mistakes being made. To be fair, it had been nearly a month from design to assembly and he was in the throes of a kitchen remodel (at this same time new tile floors were being put in throughout the house, not to mention framing, electrical, etc.)


IKEA’s method of installation was spot on—incredibly easy. A metal suspension rail is provided that attaches to the wall at the studs. Provided hardware then allows you to attach the cabinets wherever necessary along this track, without having to worry about studs, wood blocks, or the like. The base cabinets come with adjustable feet so that you can set them up and slide them right up to the wall. Wooden toe-kicks simply clip onto these legs to seal off the underneath of the cabinets.

Attaching the front of the cabinets to each other is a snap as well. There are pre-drilled holes on every cabinet, with the cabinets flushed up and clamped tight, these holes will line up. It’s a cinch to drill aligning holes all the way through and use the provided connection screws to fasten them together.

Attaching the cabinet doors or drawers is simple as well. Integral hinges pressure fit into pre-drilled holes on the inside of the door and screw into specified holes in the cabinet frame. Doors can be taken on and off with a snap. Drawers were a bit trickier, installing them was a cinch but when taking them on and off I felt like I was going to break them (it took a little wrestling). But I didn’t and the drawers and glides held up fine.

In Conclusion…Time is Money

Bear in mind that my little review here is not meant to be a “How to install IKEA cabinets” blog at all. As I mentioned earlier, it is a very detailed process and I’m willing to bet that it has driven as many homeowners mad with rage as it has bouncing with glee. I have had good deal of experience in all areas of construction and I still made a number of mistakes from ordering parts to putting them together.

An unprepared or unorganized DIY’er will have a field day looking for missing pieces or assembling-disassembling-reassembling and then shouting. Do not hesitate to get online and go to IKEA’s website. There you can find step by step instructions on installation (you may just want to Google “install ikea cabinets,” it’ll be faster). You will also be able to pull up your specific kitchen design/plans if need be.

Yet there is just no telling what can go wrong when 181 boxes are delivered to your front door, each containing several pieces of its own. Purchasing your kitchen cabinets, office furniture, or anything from IKEA may be cheap—and a whole lot easier than building your own—but DO NOT expect to save any time. In fact leave plenty of extra time to get the job done. It calls to mind the old adage that “time is money.” For IKEA cabinets, nothing could be more true; what you save in money you will make up in time invested. If you’re okay with that, then you’re okay with IKEA.