Ikea cabinets or custom built-in?
March 7, 2012 5:56 AM   Subscribe

Should we go with Ikea cabinets or plywood custom built units in our remodel?

My wife and I are planning to add a counter unit and a large wall of cabinets to our kitchen. We have two proposals we are trying to decide between. The slightly (10%) cheaper one uses Ikea cabinets for both the wall unit and the base of the counter unit. The more expensive one uses custom built (from good plywood) units for both. There are a few things which recommend the proposal using the Ikea cabinets, all else being equal, but not overwhelmingly.

We have some Ikea cabinets and they seem to be holding up fine, but we've only been in the house 3 years.

What have been your experiences with Ikea cabinets (with glass doors and glass shelves, if that matters)?

Frankly, the custom built unit seems like a better deal even with the slightly more expensive price, but is there something we are not considering? We've seen examples (in person) of the carpenter's work, and while it is not the most beautiful (it's a tad clunky), it is very well built.
posted by OmieWise to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Ikea... unless.
Ten years ago there was no choice, you'd go with custom built, but Ikea's cabinets and hardware have improved enormously in the meantime. I have a friend who installed kitchens in Brooklyn, NY and he always used Ikea cabinets, sometimes with a 'custom' counter top, sometimes with 'custom' doors. Everyone was always happy.

I've had three Ikea kitchens and been perfectly happy with the build quality of all three. Also the ease of installation.

My only gripe with Ikea is I don't like their drawers but it's really only 'dis-like' and it's not enough to actually do anything about. Also, with the Ikea the build quality is a given/known quality - good quality.
posted by From Bklyn at 6:06 AM on March 7, 2012

When I walk into a remodeled house, it is a turn off to be able to determine where installed things came from. It is very easy to walk into houses and determine, yep, those are Ikea cabinets. It is almost as if the cabinets are never yours, they are on loaner from Ikea. No o one will ever say they love your taste, they will say they like your Ikea cabinets.

IMHO, that eliminates them.
posted by LeanGreen at 6:17 AM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Second IKEA. We researched cabinets seven years ago when we redid our kitchen, and found they got really good Consumer Reports ratings. We have been 100% happy with them since, and get compliments on our kitchen all the time.
posted by instamatic at 6:19 AM on March 7, 2012

When I walk into a remodeled house, it is a turn off to be able to determine where installed things came from. It is very easy to walk into houses and determine, yep, those are Ikea cabinets. It is almost as if the cabinets are never yours, they are on loaner from Ikea. No o one will ever say they love your taste, they will say they like your Ikea cabinets.

The asshole in me knows exactly how you feel about this. However, not everyone is like this and most people won't notice if they're ikea or custom made oak from a gnome who lives in the silver mines down the way past the bog.

tl; dr: if you're at the price point where you're considering ikea cabinets, no one is going to notice/care.
posted by some loser at 6:22 AM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

In my experience, Ikea cabinets hold up just fine and aren't all that cheap in quality or even price. We have them in our finished basement and they work exactly as we need them to work, without fail.

Just remember though, some people will look at Ikea cabinets and judge them cheap and tacky.
posted by lstanley at 6:24 AM on March 7, 2012

When I walk into a remodeled house, it is a turn off to be able to determine where installed things came from. It is very easy to walk into houses and determine, yep, those are Ikea cabinets. It is almost as if the cabinets are never yours, they are on loaner from Ikea. No o one will ever say they love your taste, they will say they like your Ikea cabinets.

IMHO, that eliminates them.

I think eliminates is a strong word. It may be a good point to drop in the "cons" column. I am, in fact, on a quest to eliminate all Ikea furniture from my Swingin' Bachelor Pad (tm) on exactly that basis - that I hate having hyper-recognizable items; "Oh, a Poang chair, and a Lekvik table!" So I'd make that call for myself. But for other people, well, they're high-quality, attractive things for cheap; I don't know that "Not ideal from a socio-aesthetic snobbery perspective" necessarily eliminates this for the OP.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:24 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you are moderately handy it's possible to do Ikea cabinet installation yourself. I did so about 7 years ago. We had lots of kitchen cabinets plus biggest pantry. The overwhelming thing was the amount of boxes -- we had over 250 different items on our invoices/ delivery.

Cabinets costs ~$4500 when comparable cabinets elsewhere were 3-4 X. I put everything together and attached to walls myself. Had professional install custom granite countertop in the kitchen and handyman put wooden Ikea top into pantry. Recommend also using professional for kick-boards unless you can do nice, precice cuts. Cost savings were substantial as couldn't have installed any other cabinets myself.

My advice -- read the instructions again and again. When hanging anything up on the wall make sure that you put the cabinets up in the right order. Nothing more frustrating than having secured five heavy cabinets into the railings/ wall and then figuring out that the need to remove them as the corner cabinet needs little more wiggle room to get in...
posted by zeikka at 6:27 AM on March 7, 2012

We just re-did our kitchen with cabinets from Cabinets To Go. Way cheaper than any other remodeling solution but so, so nice. Depending on how "custom" your needs are, this might be a nice compromise. (Picture of our in-progress kitchen here.)
posted by getawaysticks at 6:28 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Er, the "IMHO, that eliminates them" in my comment was meant to be in italics, too, as it was part of the quote. My bad.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:38 AM on March 7, 2012

...and IMHO means just that IMHO. But IMO it does eliminate them from MY prospect of buying Ikea cabinets.

Regardless of where cabinets come from, they are expensive. Everything in the kitchen is expensive during a redo. Therefore you must consider resale and how other people WILL view your kitchen.

If this is your kitchen till the end of time, or your kitchen until the cabinets will be naturally dated and need replacing by the next owners, then go for it. However it sounds like the OP was leaning away from them.
posted by LeanGreen at 6:49 AM on March 7, 2012

We redid our kitchen over the summer with Ikea cabinets, including glass doors and shelves above the sink. They look fantastic and we get compliments on how the remodel turned out all the time.

I would recommend against Ikea appliances, but the cabinetry looks great. Pick a less "ikea-y" style of doors and fixtures if you're worried about your friends judging you.

We took lots of photos, memail me if you want me to send them along!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:50 AM on March 7, 2012

In certain rooms Ikea cabinets make sense but for my kitchen I went with custom. But my cabinets were very custom due to the oddities of an old house and the design. We did consider Ikea but when we went to the store and scoped out cabinets the displays were in awful shape (hinges falling off and draws off rails level). The situation did not speak well of their long term use in a very busy use area. What then clinched it was the contractor telling us that Ikea cabinets were not his favorite to install. My custom cabinets were not much more expensive.

Now if I was needing cabinetry for a garage, rental or children's playroom then Ikea makes perfect sense.
posted by jadepearl at 6:50 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great comments so far. All are relevant, although we are most interested in how the cabinets might be in terms of quality and life-expectancy. The aesthetics are a secondary concern because, frankly, there are other much uglier things about the kitchen and neither option will match exactly what we have in place.
posted by OmieWise at 6:59 AM on March 7, 2012

I'd check out Home Depot or Lowes, as well. We did the high-end stuff from Home Depot (Kitchmaid or Kitchen Craft.. I get the Lowes and Home depot brands mixed up) but our carpenter said they were some of the best-built cabinets he'd seen and better than custom ones he installed the week before that the people paid 5 times as much for. I've had them for 3 years now and they are fabulous.
posted by rich at 7:57 AM on March 7, 2012

The quality of the Ikea cabinets has been great. If you have good contractors who will do solid work, then you should be fine. If they're used to working with Ikea cabinetry and fixtures then they'll know how to build you a kitchen that lasts.

I did a lot of research on the different cabinet systems available before we did our renovation. As far as I can tell, the quality of the cabinetry from Ikea and Home Depot is basically the same, it's more a matter of personal preference. I really liked the european-style cabinets -- for example, I hate how most American-style cabinets have "lips" at the front -- and that helped guide my decision. But I also had a specific designer and contractor I wanted to work with, and they were Ikea specialists, so that nudged me the rest of the way in one direction.

If the price isn't too big of a deal for you, I would go with the contractor you feel best about -- the difference in quality of the cabinets themselves probably won't matter as much as the skill of their installation.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:28 AM on March 7, 2012

From personal experience, I can say that even the cheapest Ikea cabinets last at least 30 years. My parents bought a demo kitchen from Ikea in 1984 that's still going strong today. It was the cheapest, low-end white foil units they sold. The cabinets themselves have little wear, but the butcherblock countertops could stand replacing.

We've had to pull the kitchen apart 4 or 5 times---for issues unrelated to the cabinets---but everything has gone back together without problems. In fact, it will be taken apart, again, in the next couple of weeks to get access to the plumbing stack for a second floor remodel.

We keep talking about replacing them, but the argument always come back to the fact that they're in good shape anyways, so why bother. We don't hate them enough to spend $5-10k on them, that's for sure.
posted by bonehead at 8:29 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Consumer Reports says that Ikea is the best option in its price range. Here's a Washingtonian link that has info from CR: "they outperformed much more expensive units in CR's quality tests."

You should only worry about the prejudices of strangers if you're thinking of selling sometime in the next decade.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:30 AM on March 7, 2012

I did a kitchen remodel with Ikea cabinets last year, and I love them. I think the value for money is amazing, and the cabinet build quality is much the same as units from home depot/lowes. The drawer hardware is absolutely top notch, if you plan to install drawers. They use a lovely soft-close mechanism that is incredibly smooth and sturdy, and pretty high end for cheap cabinets.

If you do decide to go with Ikea, ask at your local store about a certified Ikea installer (they probably have business cards on display in the kitchen dept). We did a total kitchen remodel, and our contractor (who knows and approves of Ikea cabinets) said it was better to have the certified installers do the cabinet installation, as they know the ins and outs of the Ikea system. So we subbed out the cabinet install to them, and it was a real time saver. They looked over my plan to check for issues in advance. We had a couple of issues on the day of install (my fridge didn't quite fit into the fridge space, even though I'd planned around the specs), and they suggested a variation to make it fit, gave me a list of extra pieces to order, and then constructed that on their second visit. Highly recommended!

I agree with Narrative Priorities, don't get the Ikea appliances, they are bottom of the range whirlpool rebrands, and you can do better. Also, if you're considering Ikea, do check out Ikeafans, they're a community of ikea fans and hackers. The kitchen planning forum was invaluable to me before the remodel, as it appears to be populated by a number of regulars who are kitchen designers in some fashion (or just talented amateurs) who are unfailingly helpful. They will review your plan and suggest revisions. They have links to how-tos of cool cabinet hacks (adding a rev a shelf, or making a sink unit with a pull-out etc).
posted by Joh at 8:54 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Then FWIW, I'll come back and say that seven years ago, IKEA cabinets were rated third out of all kitchen cabinets reviewed by Consumer Reports-- may third out of twenty? (it's probably worth a subscription to check current ratings for a kitchen remodel.)
posted by instamatic at 8:55 AM on March 7, 2012

Oops, sorry about that, I somehow managed to cross post with several.
posted by instamatic at 8:58 AM on March 7, 2012

Numerous people have suggested I use Ikea when I do my cabinets, including a builder and the friend who carefully researches the specs of everything she buys. If you go with the custom cabinets, I'd make sure the bid includes all the little stuff that Ikea's cabinets do (the thing that helps doors close softly as Joh mentioned).

But if I could assure the quality of his work, I'd choose the local person, for two reasons: to support a local business, and so I could ask him to use formaldehyde free plywood (e.g., Columbia Forest Products). Most plywood sold in the US off-gasses formaldehyde, a carcinogen, at a level that is illegal in Europe and even its own country of origin, China. I found inconsistent information on Ikea's formaldehyde levels, so I'd assume they're better than average, but not assured to be formaldehyde free. I can't speak to the durability but did run across this: "Every single contractor I spoke with, however, advised against them -- and without conflict of interest, since I was planning to order my cabinets directly -- because they'd demo'd so many Ikea kitchens and saw how badly they fared over time. The main reason is that the cabinet boxes are almost all made from pressboard, which will fall apart if wet."
posted by slidell at 9:19 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

If near-indestructibility is what you want, you might want into laminate (the stuff they make cheap counters of) -- my parents had an all-white kitchen made over 20 years ago, and it still looks almost new.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:17 PM on March 7, 2012

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