Lessons from Small Apartment Kitchens

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We started out remodeling a whole building's worth of small kitchens, about 35 of them. The building's owners had hired a cabinet maker to build custom cabinets into each of the units in an historic Pasadena, California building. Not only was the price outrageous, but each kitchen took three months. Which means three months with no rental income!

When I came on the scene, I had a strong interest in quickly completing the rehab of each unit because my pay was largely leasing bonuses. I wanted the units done, the owners' happy, and most of all, I wanted kitchens that wow'd prospective tenants. These apartments were on the small side, the rent on the high side, and although they were in a great location, there was also lots of competition for qualified tenants in the neighborhood.

So we turned to IKEA for the kitchens. A quick tour with the Owner gave us the go-ahead for two trial kitchens. We made our first IKEA kitchen mistake at that point, which was measuring and designing ourselves. Of course now we are pros but that first kitchen took two weeks to install because of planning errors. Another reason I strongly encourage people to work with an expert designer.

We used Adel birch doors for these first two. The cabinet guy had been using plywood painted white and although the kitchens he built were nice enough, they just did not compare with these new IKEA kitchens insofar as wow! factor. I demonstrated the corner lazy susan and the smooth drawer glides when I showed these units when they were done. They rented almost instantly. At market rent.

We went on to install IKEA kitchens in the rest of the building. We learned as we progressed but even the units with tiny kitchens leased quickly. It's hard to ignore a beautiful kitchen in an otherwise ordinary apartment. And boy, do those drawers slide nicely, year after year.

The Owners, of course, were interested in the bottom line. The cabinet guy had been charging about $6000 per kitchenette, more for the larger kitchens. Our IKEA versions ran about $2600 for cabinets and $1500 for installation. Note that this installation price did not include any demo, plumbing, electrical, or countertop installation. Remember that, often, you will pay the same or more for installation as you will for your cabinets. Labor cost is almost always the larger part of a kitchen remodel budget.

I am proud of the beautiful kitchens we left behind in that beautiful old building. I heard not long ago that the building had been sold and I am certain the net profit was significant. A lot of work went into the rehab, but the costs were contained and reasonable. Those IKEA kitchens will endure for two or more decades. That's a lot of rent.

The choice of durable doors, strong frames, and, most of all cost and the speed with which we could get a unit completed (average was three weeks from demo to occupied) were major issues with the kitchen cabinets for these rental units. A homeowner doing a single family home has more issues to address. But it is still true that IKEA cabinets are reasonably priced, durable and beautiful, and once your design work is done, you can have a new kitchen in just a few weeks.

If you'd like to discuss your project with me, I can offer you a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Here's my calendar, just pick a time that works for you.


Our company, Modern Family Kitchens, offers an IKEA kitchen design service. We can provide this service locally, or remotely. We think you'll spend the least and get the best results when you invest in expert design. Call or write us to discuss your project. 971-313-4449. info@modernfamilykitchens.com