Suburban Snapshots

Ikea DIY Kitchen Renovation In
Only 4500 Grey Hairs

Thursday, March 16, 2017

I've been writing this post in my head since sometime in September, two months after we took down our first wall, before I realized that we wouldn't even have countertops until mid-October, and hadn't imagined it would take until January to get the walls painted. These, I recognize, are good problems to have. We borrowed a bunch of money, bought a bunch of stuff, and my smart, handy husband (with the help of a few contractors) got the job mostly done. There's still some trim to finish and the matter of painting the stupid ceiling, which, ugh.

I didn't totally hate my old kitchen, but we'd lived with it for ten years and the original 1950s cabinets weren't tall enough or deep enough for real-people dishes. We couldn't sit comfortably at the breakfast bar, and the white woodwork was always filthy. My pots lived in a hole that used to house a wall oven, and my range was rammed into a space that rendered one drawer and half a cabinet unusable. I also had corner storage so dark and deep I'd have to go spelunking after the crock pot. Also, everyone driving down the street could see what we had on TV. Here are some befores:

Kitchen and dining area from front door

That faux brick attracted so much grease and dust and pasta sauce

Shitty wall oven and broken cooktop we eventually replaced with a used range
We realized fast that even the lowest-end big box store cabinets would eat half our budget, so we looked into Ikea. Steve has so, so much patience for manual labor, and didn't flinch at the task of assembling the entire kitchen even though he doesn't speak Swedish. We got all the bells, whistles and allen wrenches at half the price of our nearest chain home store, and Steve was really impressed with how the system — and especially the quality hardware — worked. We've lived with the cabinets for a few months now, and I don't hesitate to recommend them to anyone with a fully-charged drill, a good playlist, and friends who can be paid in beer. I'll show you all the after pictures, but let me tell you what we learned.
  • Buy during Ikea's kitchen sale (there's one now!) We got 15% back on a gift card, which bought us $900 worth of other stuff for the house, like the credenza and bookcases, and so many Swedish meatballs.
  • Measure, then do it again, and one more time. We had no major mistakes, but were off by an inch or two here or there that would have saved us trips to Ikea. Keep in mind that measurements feel different in real life than they look on the kitchen planning tool.
  • Go to an Ikea to check out the wares and cool storage ideas, and have someone in kitchens review your plans, but then
  • Order your Ikea kitchen online. Delivery cost $200 for our entire kitchen, and I used the list generated by the design tool to check every item (the emailed receipt doesn't group parts by cabinet). Not a single box was missing.
  • Expect to make a few trips to Ikea despite all your planning. 
  • Watch YouTube videos for recent installation experiences, or to troubleshoot.
  • READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. I had to re-assemble a bunch of drawers because I got cocky.
  • Know when to hire out. We needed a crew to slice a door-sized hole in our brick house and to reinforce the load-bearing wall we removed. We also had a plumber install kickspace heaters and take out old baseboard radiators. I'm sleeping with the electrician so at least his work was free. Also, don't live in a brick house, because masons are hella pricey.
  • Invest in or borrow a laser level.
  • Choose your splurge(s). I thought our countertops were my big spend until I met our backsplash. No regrets, but maybe don't accidentally wander into a high-end tile store you found on Google.
  • Everyone who's ever renovated will tell you to anticipate the unexpected. We didn't run into anything terribly budget-busting, but there definitely were a few surprises.
It's hard taking out debt, and it's hard functioning with your house turned inside out. Fully half of our 1,100 square foot house was in revolving disarray for weeks. Dust is still everywhere — oh my God the dust. But having this new layout has made the place where I spend almost all of my day easier to work in, prettier to look at, brighter when the sun shines, and ready for a party. Ultimately it's just "stuff," but it's the stuff I use and live in and look at every day for hopefully many years, and it was so worth it.

Here are the after photos I took yesterday. For reference, the fridge and table didn't move. P.S. it's never actually this clean but those are real fruits.

Kitchen and dining area

There used to be a wall blocking this angle

The wood trim on that left wall will eventually be stained to match the cabinets

View from the kitchen. Yes, it's a disco ball
Sorry neighbors, watch your own damn TV
I got this smooth-drain sink and I love it

Trash and dog food, 100% worth the space it used

Chalk wall for family notes and kid lists

This drawer changed my entire life

I added a $150 piece of glass over the new table because someone is still unclear about how Sharpies work

I offered my electrician a quickie and he wired up the island for me

This recycled glass, shell and resin countertop requires no maintenance
I would actually marry this stained glass tile