Shopping for Countertops

Get our FREE ebook, "How to Budget for an IKEA Kitchen Remodel"

...and visit our website to find out about expert IKEA Kitchen Design Services


Countertop can be one of the larger purchases a homeowner will make during a kitchen remodel. There are many options and brands, but really there are only a few basic types to choose among.

Natural stone, which would include marble and granite.
You can find bargain slabs at stone yards but keep in mind that natural stone is brittle and can crack during installation. Get a warranty and skilled installation.
Average cost: $50-$300 per sq.ft

Man-made solid surface.
Well known brands of this type are Corian and Caesarstone
Average cost: $35 to $75 per sq. ft.

IKEA and other home improvement stores offer low-cost laminates in many colors and finishes.
Average cost: $4 to $30 per sq. ft

Ceramic tile.
There are almost infinite color and design choices. For counters, grout sealing is a key consideration.
$10 to $40 per sq. ft.

Butcher block (wood).
Two styles are available at IKEA and there are other types available elsewhere. Wood surfaces, ideally, should be stained but not sealed because many sealants are toxic can gradually erode onto food prep surfaces. We don’t recommend using an under-mount sink with wood countertop.
Average cost: $10-$40 per sq. ft.

Concrete counterop is pre-formed in a factory to your kitchen specifications. The concrete is sealed but can stain or scratch if not treated correctly.
Average cost: $75-$150 per sq. ft.

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.


How to Save Money on an IKEA Kitchen

Get our FREE ebook, "How to Budget for an IKEA Kitchen Remodel"

...and visit our website to find out about expert IKEA Kitchen Design Services

“It is not unusual for labor to cost more than materials in an IKEA kitchen remodel. In fact, it is likely.”

Here are my top three tips for saving money and staying within your budget when remodeling with IKEA kitchen cabinets.

Order during a sale, only if and when the timing is right. This may seem obvious, but sometimes a project can’t wait for a sale, or in other some way the timing isn’t right. Unless you can safely store the flat-packed boxes (a dry storage area) in which your cabinet components are delivered, it’s best not to order far ahead of when you’ll be ready to install the cabinets. You can save $500 and then find your stored cabinets have warped in damp storage, or that your plans have changed. 

Typically, your IKEA order is delivered about two weeks after ordering. During sales this timeframe can get longer but sometimes, in non-sale periods, it can be just a few days. 

Some door styles are kept in stock so if you choose one of those for your kitchen, it’s possible to bring your own truck and take your kitchen components home the day you order. The IKEA kitchen catalog shows which styles are kept in stock. Because of the sheer volume and weight of boxes for a typical kitchen order, and because most IKEA stores have very reasonably-priced delivery service, most homeowners are likely to choose to wait for home delivery.

Sometimes, the sale discount is irrelevant. If you are not buying IKEA appliances and countertop, the sale discount may not be worth waiting for. A typical sale requires the purchase of one or more IKEA appliances and your discount can vary with how many you buy. Sometimes the sale requires a minimum purchase, say $2500, so if you have a small kitchen and you are not buying appliances, your total IKEA cost may be under this amount. 

When the discount is based on how many IKEA appliances you buy (which is not uncommon) consider buying a $200 IKEA dishwasher, or even two such appliances, to get the discount up. If you are buying $12,000 in cabinets and countertop for a large kitchen, a 10% discount of $1200 puts $800 in your pocket after paying for two $200 appliances. Sell the appliances on Craigslist, or give them as gifts. 

Invest in professional design. This may sound like a vested interest since my business ( is a pro IKEA kitchen design service. But even if I wasn’t in this business, I would strongly recommend working with an expert on the kitchen layout. Although you’ll spend a few hundred bucks on a design fee, you can save more than that by having a well-thought through plan.

As a former contractor installing owner-planned kitchens, I have seen many plan errors that cost the homeowner time and money. Even if you have measurements taken by a contractor, there can be variances that the measurements don't take into account and an inch or two can make a difference in both design and installation. Many homes, new and old, are less than perfectly level and plumb, which can make a room 2 inches wider on one side than on the other. 

A ceiling height taken in a corner that would allow for an 18 inch cabinet above the fridge, turns out to be an inch lower in the central area where the fridge is. A pro designer knows this can happen and can not only help you avoid the problem in the first  place, but can help you order some optional parts so that if you run into this, you don’t have to stop the project to get different parts. For homeowners more than an hour or two from an IKEA store, this is absolutely vital. 

One of the few downsides of IKEA cabinetry is the limited number of cabinet sizes and configurations, compared to other brands. I could go on for pages about how many times an installation was hung up on measurement issues that our designer resolved in a few minutes. With an expert and knowledgeable IKEA designer on your team, you can customize and alter cabinets to solve a wide variety of installation problems. We found this to be vital to get the kind of custom look and elegant installation result our customers demanded. I recommend design help as a key way to save time and money on your project. 

One of our designers is an IKEA kitchen “ordering genius.” He knows the ins and outs better than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s save people thousands of dollars by knowing how to buy components and how to use the sale discounts optimally in planning the kitchen. This is just a minor feature of our Design Service and yet it packs quite a punch for those on a tight budget. 

Work out all your costs before buying anything. Many homeowners visit IKEA, see the impressively affordable price tags on the display kitchens, and decide to move forward on a kitchen remodel before looking at labor costs or considering other materials than might be needed. 

It is not unusual for labor to cost more than materials in an IKEA kitchen remodel. In fact, it is likely. Although cabinet assembly and installation is not expensive (estimate $100 per cabinet), there is always more labor involved in a kitchen remodel. I’ve written other posts about typical labor costs and I have an eBook which you can get on Amazon  for 99 cents that is a comprehensive IKEA kitchen budget guide.

To stay within a budget, you really do need to know labor costs ahead of time. You might find that to remodel the kitchen, you need to replace your electrical panel. This is not unusual because most older homes have 100 amp panels which are simply inadequate for modern lifestyles. An average cost to replace a panel and rewire is $2000. It can cost twice that in some areas or in large houses where the wiring is bad or where the kitchen is far from the panel. 

The point is that you need a close look at the labor before you move forward. It is best to estimate that the labor will cost as much as the materials, at least. Often labor costs are higher than materials costs. 

The way to save on labor is to get a really comprehensive bid, not an estimate, before you start. A bid is a line item, detailed list of all services your contractor sees will need to be done to complete your project. It is not a promise that the list is complete, but am honest contractor will do his best to make it so. 

An estimate is rarely useful. I can look at a kitchen photo, and the layout for the remodel, and quickly estimate the remodeling labor costs. But without seeing the electrical, looking closely at plumbing and wall integrity, it’s just a guess. 

One thing to know is that change orders, which are additions to the contracted specs of  project, are typically more costly than items on the original contract. I won’t go into why this is, but I can say that, as a contractor, one makes more money on change orders. In the middle of a project, a plumbing problems is discovered that has to be remedied before the project can go on. A homeowner is unlikely to argue or, if the contractor is doing a good job so far, to get other quotes for this additional plumbing work. This is not dishonest or unfair. It’s just good to know, as a homeowner, that your own understanding of remodeling and the condition of your home, and a carefully done comprehensive bid from an honest contractor, are key ways to save on your kitchen remodel.

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.


How To Do Your Remodeling Research

...and visit our website to find out about expert IKEA Kitchen Design Services

To remodel a kitchen, a bath, or any part of your house, you need a lot of data. You have questions, ideas, a budget. Perhaps you’ve already collected some of the facts you feel you need, but with the Internet, there’s so much data available so readily, it becomes impossible to know what is true, what is false, what is useful and what is just a “pitch.”

What is a “pitch?” It is data that seems to be helpful but is, in fact, slanted towards the prejudice or hidden intention to sell, of the source.

As with any other worthwhile project in life, sifting the facts from the pitches, the useful from the distractions, is vital. So while you research appliances and cabinets, and check out flooring and tile, you are not only creating your new kitchen, but you are building confidence in yourself to make the right choices. The more you know, the more informed the decisions, the better the result.

Your remodeling budget is obviously a fundamental issue. We have not yet, over hundreds of projects, found a homeowner with unlimited funds. Most worry about money, and to whatever degree they don’t feel certain about costs, the project hangs up or goes off the rails.

Some homeowners will set aside more than they are actually going to need, but then worry just as much if they lack data. Thus, big budget or small, knowledge is a better guarantee than money of a great result.

A contractor who gives you an estimate of $39,500 to remodel your kitchen leaves you with a dozen or more uncertainties, even if you have $50,000 to spend. In fact, even if you have a contract that lists each product or each service the contractor will provide, if you haven’t planned the project thoroughly, you may have overlooked costs that are not included.

How to do a remodel with confidence that you’ll stay within your budget and get a great result, no matter if you have $8,000 or $80,000 to spend?

First, seek the help of experts, but only those who have no pitch, who have no reason to steer you one way or the other. An appliances salesperson is probably not the best source of data on appliances, even though he/she may know a lot.

While doing Internet research, if a website makes money from advertising, be wary of the "tips" or "reviews" it offers. This is not to say that ads or websites that sell ad space are bad. Just be aware of the possibility of a hidden bias or pitch.

Likewise, a site or service that claims to qualify service people so that you don't have to is worthless at best because it gives a false idea that you are protected when you are not. These companies are charging service companies that can't get work any other way big bucks and then promoting them to you. The qualifications to be promoted by the web site are that the contractor can afford their ad rates. The service company then charges you more to make up for the fees they've paid. Here is an example: A lousy, irresponsible painter who pays $20,000 a year for ads on a website that posts reviews, is going to look good in the reviews.

Instead, use your own opinion, your own understanding of people and ethics and responsibility. Call contractors, write them, see how quickly and how well they communicate with you. Use and have confidence in your own judgment because that is the only guarantee there is.

If you want unbiased data on a contractor or service person, check with the BBB and the Contractor's State License Board in your state (in CA it's

Also ask your friends and family about products and people. Their opinions are much more valuable than an anonymous review online.

Unless you feel that newspapers and magazines tell the truth and paint an accurate picture of the world, be wary of print articles on remodeling as well. A magazine that gets big bucks from an advertiser is not going print an article in which that advertiser's products or services are rated "mediocre." Enjoy articles, learn from them, but don't base your remodel on them. Note that kitchen photos taken in a studio setting are not going to show you what a real kitchen is going to look like.

Keep asking questions, and then evaluate the answers as to whether they are useful to you or not. Toss the data that isn’t helpful. Better to start over than to be left with confusion or uncertainty.

Research, but don’t believe the data just because it’s there. Sift the true from the false, the fact from the pitch.

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. 877-550-1753.

Cabinet Guys, Contractors, Installers: Inside Scoop

...and visit our website to find out about expert IKEA Kitchen Design Services

After doing hundreds of IKEA kitchen remodeling projects in perhaps the biggest IKEA market in the world (Los Angeles has five IKEA stores in the wider metropolitan area, including Orange County), I've come across a wide variety of contractors and installers, and there is vital data that IKEA is never going to tell you.

For many years, each IKEA store would choose one or two local contractors who they would call "Certified IKEA Installers." The certification process consisted of the contractor providing evidence that he/she had done some IKEA kitchens and had appropriate license and insurances (vehicle and liability). A bond is required for every contractor in California (and in most other states) so it's a given. A meeting with local managers would clinch the deal. The contractor signs a contract with Corporate IKEA agreeing for the contract period not to leave the relationship, and to charge IKEA-set pricing for installation of their cabinets. IKEA can, of course, fire the contractor at any point for more or less any reason.

Keep in mind that "contractor" almost always means a small local business. A small local business often means a man or woman or a partnership of both, trying to make a living to support a family. IKEA, of course, is an international mega-corporation. Rumor has it that the founder/owner of IKEA is the richest man in the world.

IKEA sells great kitchen cabinets. I have to note this down to keep on track. No matter what, if you understand the situation and act intelligently and legally, you should certainly use their cabinets for your remodel if they are the right product for you.

Why do I say "legally?" I say this because those local contractors are bound to IKEA but IKEA holds no liability for the quality or type of work they do for you. IKEA might fire a contractor (meaning sever the contract) if they get too many complaints about a "certified" contractor. But the homeowner may think that IKEA is going to protect them if something goes awry with the installation. I have never seen any paperwork from IKEA that states this. Unless something has changed radically, recently, you are hiring a "certified" contractor on the same basis as you would hiring any other contractor: buyer beware.

In California, a contractor is required for any remodeling project over $500. This contract must be very specific as to what the labor (and materials if the contractor is providing any) services will be. NEVER allow a contractor or even a handyman (legal under $500), to do work on your home without something in writing.

Second, if you are hiring the installer IKEA referred you to (which I highly recommend you don't), understand this: that contractor IS NOT going to pull permits for you. Changes are, he will gloss over that entire subject (that you are required to have a permit in most places to replace cabinets, not to mention do any plumbing, for example a dishwasher installation,  not to mention any electrical work).
This, my reader, is, actually criminal. If you are required to have a permit, the contractor who does the work without one is breaking the law.

So, you ask, what are the risks? First, the contractor can lose his license for doing un-permitted work. Second, you take the chance, because without a permit, there is no city inspection, that the contractor has done everything perfectly, has not cut through electrical wires behind the cabinets, has sealed the sink correctly, has added light fixtures per code.

I want to be very clear here. It is understood that some homeowners do not want to get permits. They cost money, although not much, really. Worse, if you have un-permitted work already done on your home, you might have to get that remedied to even pull permits for a kitchen remodel. Oy.

So why not just hire the cheapest "certified" contractor, ignore permits, forge ahead and get it done? Here is why:

First, you are doing something illegal. You know this, your add some nervousness to your life. Who needs it.

Second, permits keep you safe, and keep your neighbors safe. You would not want your next door neighbor to do bad electrical work on his property, you would want him to do it legally, and to have it inspected. You too want that inspection that the city provides when you get a permit to check the work of your contractor.

Third, it is vital to understand that buying cabinets at IKEA is just the shopping part of your project. They are just materials. We're talking about something else entirely, the labor, the skilled work that is needed to remodel your kitchen, with ANY cabinets.

Kitchens, like bathrooms, have plumbing and electrical in them. You cannot avoid doing some in 95% of kitchen remodels. Just replacing the sink is PLUMBING and requires a permit in most places. Demolition (removing the old cabinets) can require a permit. Certainly cabinet lights, overhead lights, adding outlets, all require a permit.

So, to keep this simple, don't hire a contractor who cannot pull a permit for the work he is going to do unless you will pull your own permits. In most cases this is doable. But there is a lot to know about pulling permits on your own. In some cases, for example for condo owners in Los Angeles, you cannot pull plumbing and electrical permits, only a licensed contractor can do this for you.

Also, if the contractor glosses over the subject of permits, or if in the fine print of his contract it states that he will not pull permits, don't hire him unless you will get your own permits. A contractor who charges more but will pull permits for you is a MUCH better choice than one who charges a little less but who pretends this is not important. Inspections take time, they cost the contractor money when he waits half a day or more for an inspector. But BOY do you want him there for that inspection! Worth every penny to have a beautiful, and safe, remodel.

And then there is the future, when you want to refinance, or sell, your home. If you didn't get permits, your remodel was not done, according to the banks. In some cities, you can't even sell until you get the work permitted, which is a huge hassle to do years later. Worse case scenario, you have to pull everything out. It's happened.

OK, that's enough prophecy of doom. Just be an honest citizen, hire an honest contractor, use IKEA cabinets or any other that make you happy and that you can easily afford. Do the project legally, read your state's Contractor License Board website to fully understand consumer rights and responsibilities in remodeling.

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. 877-550-1753.