The Stress of Kitchen Remodeling

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Replacing the cabinets and appliances in a kitchen seems to be a fairly straightforward process. It's usually more complex than choosing and buying a car, even though, with IKEA kitchen projects, a car can cost considerably more. 

I speak with many homeowners who are really nervous about, even overwhelmed by, the prospect of remodeling their kitchens. I do all I can to help calm the waters by providing data, facts and knowledge, which is the best way I know to alleviate the worry of uncertainty. In fact, this is why I write this blog. 

With an IKEA kitchen project, you can do a great kitchen remodel for a very reasonable cost but the same factors come into play with any kitchen remodel. Your budget has to be sufficient, something you  have to work out in advance. You also need to decide on various materials such as cabinet styles, appliances, tile, flooring, lighting, and more. 

You also need to design the kitchen layout, which can be hugely stressful in itself, and why I recommend working with a professional. After all, the layout is going to determine most of the other factors. 

The best tips I can offer to avoid or minimize stress are these:

1) Do enough research well in advance of your project. Enough means you feel confident you know what you need to know. If you don't know, and can't find out with research, find a professional to help you.

2) Consider that IKEA is a cabinet warehouse, not a service provider. Your local store may offer referrals to designers or installers, but these are usually bare bones services and you'll have to run the show. 

3) Use the help and expertise of professionals. It is always worth it. Ask around and find a local, independent licensed contractor, or several, and meet them and get bids. Hire a professional IKEA kitchen designer, like my company. The difference is huge when you have reliable professionals. 

4) Don't ask for the opinions of too many others. Decide what you like and what you want and go ahead and get these things. Too many cooks spoil the soup, and back seat kitchen remodeling drivers can drive you crazy (what a mix of maxims!)

5) Stay well within your budget. Pay cash if you can. 

6) Keep it simple. There can be 100 factors in a kitchen remodel, or there can be 10. You control the complexity, not the other way around. 

7) Use my free eBook to sort out all the costs before you buy anything. Know before you go. 

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.


IKEA Kitchen Services: Are They Right for You?

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It's not a bad thing that, in theory, you can walk into IKEA and get at least a start on all aspects of a kitchen remodel, not just cabinets. In most areas, IKEA now offers rudimentary planning and installation services. The question is, are these services right for you? Are they good enough for your project?

First, note that IKEA just began to offer these in-house services. For many years the most any store could offer was a referral to an installer and, in some areas, to a kitchen designer. These installers and designers had to be contracted with IKEA to receive their referrals. They have to follow IKEA rules and procedures and charge IKEA stipulated prices. 
IKEA Kitchen beautifully designed
A professionally designed kitchen. 
For a short time, while I owned a remodeling company in Southern California, we were one of these "certified IKEA kitchen installers." It took a long time to earn this title and it brought us loads of small installation projects. However, our crews were skilled with carpentry, plumbing and electrical, not just cabinet installation, and we found that many small cabinet installation projects were unsatisfying and, ultimately, not good for our clients. 

Here's the key. A kitchen remodel, to get the best result and value for your investment, requires professional design of the kitchen layout, expert cabinet installation, skilled plumbing and electrical work, and often several other skilled professions, to complete. Wall removal or repair, window or door installation, flooring, tile setting, are all professional skills. 

IKEA services are not licensed, insured and bonded general contractors, necessarily. They may not even be skilled professionals. They may do IKEA cabinet installation and then sub-contract the rest of the work needed for your remodel. This is ok, but it is not the best way to go. 

First, you are dealing with employees. Second you are dealing with a new program just being piloted by IKEA in 2013.

My point? It's better to deal with the owner of an established remodeling company that is not tied to IKEA and who can offer you a competitive bid, genuine customer service, and whose company does not subcontract most of your project. (in case you do end up with sub-contractors, before you sign anything, read your state's laws about remodeling contracts and sub-contracts. Did you know that sub-contractors can sue you if the contractor doesn't pay them? Did you know that you might not even realize there ARE subs on your project, although disclosure is required by law everywhere).

Not to go on about this too long, consider that IKEA is a great source for cabinets. It seems like a homey, friendly place. They have good PR and marketing. But it's a warehouse store nonetheless and the services they offer will be bare bones and not necessarily even cheaper than much more professional and reliable services you can get from a good local contractor. 

Finally, no matter how "vested interest" it sounds, I have to tell you this: the caliber of "kitchen planning" services IKEA offers do not come close to what my company provides to our clients. Apples and oranges. You see, IKEA offers kitchen planning, which is not the same as kitchen design. Don't settle here, either. A lot of your remodel depends on beautiful design. 


Increasing Home Value with IKEA Kitchens

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Kitchen remodels in the US cost, on average, $57,000.  In my years as a remodeling contractor specializing in IKEA kitchen projects, the average cost of an IKEA kitchen project was under $20,000, labor and materials. Some were under $10,000. And a few about $5000.

If you have read our eBook, How to Budget for an IKEA Kitchen Remodel, you can see how the costs break down.

However, a very important question comes to mind.  Immediate costs aside, how does an IKEA kitchen remodel compare with another type in regard to increasing home value?

One things we've learned is that it's easy to be short-sighted when you are facing a large project on a tight budget. You try to keep costs contained and sometimes, the choices you make seem frugal, but may not be.

Here are some ways to ensure that you add the most home value, for your kitchen remodel investment.

First, consider how you use the money you have to spend. IKEA cabinets are a great value, and if the kitchen is done well, no future buyer will consider them a compromise. But the key is, the kitchen has to be done well. Layout is a big factor. Tight walkways, inadequate counter space or storage, too many tall cabinets, not enough drawer space, or an awkwardly sized or placed island, are examples of layout errors that can degrade  the beauty and functionality of a kitchen and cost you thousands, or tens of thousands on a future home sale. As our happy clients tell us, skimping on expert design is a false economy.

Second, consider ways to use your money for the biggest "bang for the buck." For example, a few glass door cabinets with interior lighting, or just some task lighting under cabinets, can add a sophisticated look to any basic kitchen. A farmhouse sink and butcher block counters are modest-priced items that can create a style that is elegant and affordable.

Speaking of counter top, consider using your funds on better appliances, flooring and cabinet doors, while saving  on counters by installing nice laminates, for the time being. In a few years, it's easy to replace the laminate with solid surface counter top, such as Corian or Caesarstone. This can save you $3000 to $10,000 right now.

When you are planning your kitchen project, look to the long term, as well as the short term vision of a better kitchen for your family's use right now. IKEA kitchens, done well, may be the only type of remodel that gets a homeowner a return on investment. Make sure the kitchen is well-designed, include a few "sizzle" items in your budget, and use your available funds for higher quality permanent items and upgrade less permanent items down the road.

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.


Tips for Measuring Your Kitchen

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With our international design service, we aren't visiting a home so we provide instructions for measuring to our clients. But our designers also look closely at these measurements and existing kitchen details in photos to ensure they have all the measurements and all the data needed. If you are doing your own measuring, here are a few tips that might help ensure your cabinets will fit and install correctly the first time. Measure twice, install once.

1) Make sure you take ceiling height measurements in more than one location. Sometimes, ceiling height can vary across a room. Even an inch can make a difference if you have barely adequate clearance for, say, 39 inch high IKEA wall cabinets (the taller of the two sizes).

The height at which wall cabinets are installed varies with the fridge and fridge cabinet height. An inch or two can make a difference and you want to avoid having to remove all your wall cabinets to re-mount them once you get to a side of the kitchen that has a lower ceiling height. Thus, it's good to measure ceiling height at all four corners, before you plan or buy cabinets.

2) Don't forget to mark down molding widths. These are usually around doors and windows.

3) Note down "door swing" of any doors that open into the kitchen. Draw the curved line that shows the "swing" and then provide some measurement to the widest part of the swing.

4) Note down where the plumbing and gas lines come out of the wall or floor. Note that plumbing can usually be moved easily (you can run PVC pipe behind or through IKEA base cabinets, if needed). Consider moving a sink or stove and find out the actual cost to move utility lines. It could be too costly, or it could be relatively cheap to do, and very worthwhile insofar as optimal kitchen layout.

5) You can mark down where all electrical outlets are but don't let their placement determine your cabinet layout. It's worth the work or money to move and add outlets during a kitchen remodel.

6) Include heights and widths of all windows and doors, including how far from the floor the window bottoms are. Include "swing" width for windows that swing open.

7) On your measurement drawing, note down what is on the other side of all walls you've drawn in. This will help your designer or contractor understand your kitchen space and requirements better.

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.


Notes for Planning your IKEA Kitchen Remodel

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During the planning phase of an IKEA (or any) kitchen remodel, there seem to be countless decisions to make and dozens of questions that need answering:

Can you achieve the look you want with IKEA cabinets?
Are you going to replace the stove?
Do you have to get new flooring?
What about lighting?
How to find a good contractor?
How long does IKEA take to deliver?
What kind of sink should you get?
Will the fridge fit with the new cabinets?
How high is the ceiling?
Will the cabinets last a long time?
What kind of counter tops will work?
Can I re-use my relatively new disposal?
Is the wall load-bearing?
Do I need permits?
When are we going to start?
How much will this cost?

...and many more.

To achieve a truly wonderful result that will bring your family enjoyment this year, and increase your home value in the years to come, there are several dozen factors that have to be addressed, coordinated and handled.

The first steps include creating a budget for your project (get our free eBook, How to Budget for an IKEA Kitchen Remodel), and designing the kitchen layout. One of many reasons we recommend working with a professional on the design is that you'll also have an expert on your remodeling team who may be able to provide a lot of answers to many of the questions that need to be answered.

If you forge ahead on your own, keep a notebook. Go around your existing kitchen and write down what you see. Sink, window, wall, Kitchenaid mixer (a tall item that needs to be put or stored somewhere in your new kitchen), water filter, baking pans, flooring, outlet, large utensils, etc.

Each item is something to consider in your remodel. Many are simply "items that need storage." Some are contractor issues, such as an outlet in the wrong place. Some are design issues, such as "where will the Kitchenaid mixer go."

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.


10 Common Layout Plan Errors

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If your budget or DIY spirit is such that you do go ahead without expert design help (, here are some tips to help you avoid costly errors:

The IKEA planner tool is a way to get a general idea of your kitchen layout, and the cost of the cabinets in that layout. It is very limited insofar as what, how, and where it will allow you to place cabinets. It will not allow you any customizations, which, for many kitchens, are the key to a beautiful finished appearance.

Kitchen design is a skilled and creative application of established kitchen design principles. It eliminates plan errors and solves issues optimally. The result is a beautiful, functional kitchen with a harmonious configuration of necessary and desirable items. If you are winging it, doing your own layout, watch out for these common errors that can create problems during installation, and after.

1) Check, double check, and triple check measurements. Ceiling height is crucial to many layouts. It can vary from one side of a room to another. Don't assume the width of one wall or window is necessarily the same as another.

2) Make sure to plan for door swing on your fridge, oven and for pull out clearance on drawers and pantries. Take into account the handles you will use on your new cabinets. Check the door swing on the doors leading into the kitchen.

3) Window and door frames also have to be measured and accounted for.

4) IKEA cabinet frames are not meant to be exposed. This means that at the end of any row, a cover panel will be needed. Take the thickness of those panels into account in your plan.

5) An island or a peninsula will need large panels or cover panels for the back side. Often, a large panel is cut down to fit. Try to work it out so that any seams will be aligned or centered or both.

6) Traditionally, sinks are centered under windows. Homeowners often lay out the entire kitchen around this one placement and run into half a dozen problems as a result. Consider various sink sizes, and small amounts of filler. Filler is material like your cabinet doors that is used to fill in gaps, small ones, between cabinets. Cutting and installing filler so that it looks beautiful is one of the challenges of cabinet installation. When you need to use some, try not to use wide sections or a lot of filler, generally. If you have a 3 inch gap, use 1.5 inches on either side of a cabinet or appliance.

7) Use corner storage options. Sometimes it can seem as if a base corner cabinet just won't fit. This is just one instance in which you call in a pro designer. Making use of corners, unless your kitchen is huge and you have loads and loads of other storage, is vital.  Wall corners have several options other than wall corner cabinets.

8) Consider the future homebuyer when planning the kitchen. Even if you plan to stay in the house for awhile. The investment you make now in a great kitchen will pay you back later. Kitchens sell homes. Don't skimp on something now that will, in a home sale, turn into $10,000 or more in the purchase price. (A top reason to invest in expert design). A mediocre kitchen layout, which could have been a great one, can cost you $30,000 on a home sale.

9) Consider the future insofar as young children, multiple cooks, short people, tall people.

10) Consider safety. Along with code requirements, there are important safety issues in appliance and sink placement. Don't inadvertently design a hazardous kitchen.

Kitchen plans need to consider these and many other issues. Kitchen design has established, proven principles. If you are doing your own layout, do some research and reading. When your kitchen is done, you want a beautiful, safe, optimally functional space for your family and friends to gather in, work in, and cook in, and enjoy.

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.


IKEA Kitchen Layout Tips

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

Since right now there is a kitchen sale in progress at IKEA, I've been talking to several homeowners each day about their IKEA kitchen projects. It slows down a bit after the sales, but it is so worthwhile to order during a sale that we do what it takes to get every project sorted out, into the hands of our amazing design team, and through the design phase.

Thus, I have many kitchen layout issues in my mind and on my desk. Here are quick notes I took from one  consultation this weekend:

Prep sink
Bottleneck near fridge
Pantry space needed
Husband, wife, son cook
Wrong hood size
Microwave location
Claustrophobic area near door
Walkway danger issue

 The homeowners had designed a layout in the IKEA online planner. These were the issues in their plan that they were concerned about.

Although kitchen design is a professional skill and it takes a professional to sort out half a dozen or a dozen issues like these and bring the layout together so that it really works,  we do sometimes talk with homeowners who feel their kitchen is simple and straightforward and there will be no issues during installation or after with your self-designed layout. In that case we offer to plan check, not to design from scratch. It's a really smart thing to do, either way.

That said, here are some basic tips for kitchen layout, more to come:

1) You probably want to center the sink under a window. It's traditional. Make sure it is exactly centered, in the layout AND during installation. Correctly placed filler can be needed to pull this off.

2)  Watch out for bottlenecks. You should try for 36 inches around an island, all sides, or more.

3)  In case you have gotten frustrated and thought it was you, know that the IKEA planner is a very basic tool. It is there to sell you IKEA cabinets. It won't let you do many things that you envision or think should be possible. In many cases, the software is the problem, not your ideas. Realize, if you use it, that your kitchen is going to be as nice as that planner tool allows it to be, and no more.

4) In most cases it is better not to place tall cabinets on either side of a narrow door. Claustrophobic.

5) There are  safety issues in kitchen layout. Especially when there are young children in the home. Or will be. Low drawers, cooking appliances placement, walkways, all must be correct to avoid having danger zones.

6) The kitchen should be correct for the size of the house.

7) If there are three cooks, design the layout with this in mind.  

 8) Keep future in mind. Maybe you are single and plan to stay that way for now, but a married couple with two kids might want to buy your house someday and they won't pay your asking price if the kitchen has to be remodeled, for their needs

More tips to come. The phone is ringing.

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 Thousands on an IKEA Kitchen Remodel

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

To save a lot of money on an IKEA kitchen, it's not who you know, but what you know.

The research you do, the articles you read, the comparisons you make, the hands-on inspection of cabinets, countertop and appliances, and the advice you gain from experts in this field, will add up to a lot of money saved. I guarantee it.

Here is an obvious example. You have a contractor come out to do a bid. He cannot make a profit on IKEA cabinets (since you buy them directly from IKEA) unlike some other brands where he gets a commission for selling them to you. So he tells you bad things about IKEA cabinets. He says he would not install them for you because "they are such junk."

If you have done your research, checked Consumer Reports, compared some other brands hands-on and by price comparison, you realize the contractor has a vested interest and you thank him and find another contractor. The remodel he is offering you has a $29,000 cabinet cost. For a lesser quality cabinet. You have knowledge, however, and you know you can get more beautiful, better quality cabinets at IKEA for $7500. And you do.

I would like to offer one caveat to you, the reader, and to myself: Don't go looking for bad things on the Internet. If you are like me, when you get a "suspicious" red dot on your leg, you run to the computer to search "red dot on leg." Don't go looking for angry or highly critical reports. On IKEA kitchens or on anything else, although there is very little bad stuff about IKEA kitchens. Perhaps the architects who design $150,000 kitchens would have worthwhile input, but if your budget is $12,000, why bother with it?

OK, so how do you save thousands on an IKEA kitchen? Here are some well-tested suggestions, for today. Our design team is compiling their best tips, additional ones, which I'll post on this blog very soon.

1) Research, as above. Decide what is true in what you read, and what is hype or unproven.

2) Buy your IKEA materials during a sale, IF the timing is right. Sometimes it is not. You don't want to store cabinet components for a long time. Read my other blog posts on this subject.

3) Make sure your kitchen layout is correctly designed. Layout errors can be VERY costly during installation. Invest in professional design. Read this post:

4) Shop around for appliances. IKEA sells Whirlpool appliances. Any brand can work with IKEA cabinets, you don't have to buy IKEA appliances if you don't want to. Same with countertop although during sales, IKEA prices are hard to beat on solid surface. IKEA laminate and butcher block are also very high value products, in my opinion.

5) If you have an IKEA expert (like my company, hint) to work with, ask about the best way to order, the best time to order, and how to maximize your discount and minimize your costs.

6) If your budget is really tight, consider using laminate or butcher block and replacing it in a few years. Your new kitchen will still be beautiful. It is easy/low cost to remove laminate or wood and replace it. It is not easy to remove solid surface countertops.

6) Finally, note that this writer surely has a vested interest insofar as your choice to invest in professional design, but note that it is heartfelt (and it is not a big cost, and it is a much better way to do an IKEA kitchen remodel). However, you should generally be on the lookout for contractors and other sales people who have a vested interest (are you smiling or grimacing at me now?). Don't ask the appliance salesman at Lowe's what he thinks about IKEA appliances.

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.

-Susan Wain
Owner, Modern Family Kitchens

IKEA Stores Phone Directory for the US

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US IKEA Phone Numbers

Tempe (480) 496-5658

Burbank (818)842-4532
Carson (310) 527-4532
Covina (626) 732-4532
East Palo Alto (650) 323-4532
Emeryville (510) 420-4532
OC Costa Mesa (714) 444-4532
San Diego (619) 563-4532
West Sacramento (916) 371-4532

Centennial (303) 768.9164

New Haven (203) 865-4532

Orlando (407) 355-3155
Sunrise (954) 838-9292
Tampa (813) 623-5454

Atlanta (404) 745-4532

Bolingbrook (630) 972-7900
Schaumburg (847) 969-9700

Baltimore (410) 931-5400
College Park (301) 345-6552

Stoughton (781) 344-4532

Canton (734) 981-6300

Twin Cities (952) 858-8088

New Jersey
Elizabeth (908) 289-4488
Paramus (201) 843-1881

New York
Brooklyn (718) 246.4532
Long Island (516) 681-4532

North Carolina
Charlotte (704) 549-4532

West Chester (513) 779-7100

Portland (503) 282-4532

Conshohocken (610) 834-1520
Pittsburgh 412-747-0747
South Philadelphia (215) 551.4532

Dallas (972) 712-4532
Houston (713) 688-7867
Round Rock 512) 828-4532

Draper (801) 572-4532

Woodbridge (703) 494-4532

Seattle (425) 656-2980

Can You Design Your Own Kitchen?

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

Recently, I've spoken to a quite few homeowners who drafted their own layout in the online IKEA planner. They emailed me the plan and asked for help. (We offer a complimentary design consultation. If you would like one, use this link to schedule: Design consultation.

Most of these homeowners sent me the layout work they had done.

15% of the layouts were pretty good overall. In this group, the homeowners knew one or two key areas were unresolved. An example would be optimal placement of pantries, or optimal island size and placement.

60% of the layouts were not nearly as functional and beautiful as they could be. In these, one or more fundamental kitchen design principles had been overlooked. Usually the layouts did not make the best use of the space or the layout was not correct for the size of the home (always consider future buyers when remodeling a kitchen). Many small errors and oversights add up to a non-optimal overall layout. Just not what it should be.

30% of the layouts had errors, but were also dangerous. Walkways around islands were too narrow, sinks or cooking surfaces were in incorrect locations, pantry, fridge, oven or dishwasher doors or cabinet drawers were arranged to open into kitchen traffic flow. For all homes, but especially where there will be young children in the kitchen, layout safety factors are vital to consider.

You could say that the IKEA online planner is a disservice to IKEA kitchen customers. It surely encourages people to buy IKEA cabinets, but it allows them to believe that kitchen design is just a matter of lining up some cabinets and appliances along walls. Kitchen design is a professional skill. There are vital principles, specialized techniques, and, most of all, know-how gained from sheer experience with thousands of kitchen projects. Customizing IKEA cabinetry for optimal functions or difficult areas, solving a homeowner's special kitchen requirements creatively, and having the foresight to avoid installation or long term functionality issues is the realm of an expert.

Obviously, in business, one can't take it personally that a potential client turns down an offer of service. But I admit to feeling sad occasionally, especially after I speak with someone for awhile and come to like them, when they choose to use their existing plans, without allowing us to provide expert help.

1) Question: What is IKEA's purpose?
Answer: To sell you the their cabinets and other materials.

2) Question: What is an independent kitchen designer's purpose?
Answer: To ensure your new kitchen is beautiful, optimally functional, and that the project stays within the homeowner's budget.

Does IKEA's online planner exist for #1 or #2?

If you are going to spend $8,000 or $18,000 or more on a kitchen remodel, it is wise to invest in expert design. You might think that spending a few hundred bucks on design isn't necessary. Of course you can design a layout in the IKEA planner that looks ok, it might even be pretty good.

But when you see how an expert creates a kitchen layout for you within that same space, you will know for yourself that what I an saying is true. Hire us, hire another expert IKEA design company if you must. But treat yourself to a truly wonderful kitchen by having a truly wonderful kitchen design.

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.