Once Honest Husband and I finally decided to dive head-first into a kitchen remodel, the question of what to do with the cabinets was (understandably) the very first concern we needed to address.  We wanted the remodel to be significant enough that we wouldn’t feel compelled to do it all over again after ten years, but we needed to stay within a pretty modest budget (right around $6,000—$5,000 for the cabinets, and $1,000 for the flooring. We’ve managed to stay pretty close to that budget. More on that later.).  All of the labor and work would be done by my husband, with me providing modest backup support (we’ve been really lucky and had lots of babysitting by my mother-in-law during this project, so I’ve had several days where I was free to actually help—sweep, vacuum, make food runs, supply paper towels, hold tape measures, give feedback), and it had to be work that could be completed either on the weekends, or in that glorious hour in between when our girls went to bed and when we did.

Knowing that my favorite style of kitchen cabinetry is a simple Shaker, Honest Husband (who is in love with his router, and seriously tried for months to talk me into a more complex design, I think just so that he could use it more. To be fair, it is a pretty sweet tool) at first suggested painting out all of the cabinet boxes, then building new doors for all of the cabinets.  He figured the doors would be a project that he could tackle himself, with the help of his dad’s old table saw (having a mechanic/contractor for a father-in-law is a really big advantage) and some relatively cheap (but still better than builder grade) lumber.

But then I told him that I’d really like the old pantry to be removed and the entire kitchen opened up to the family/play room.

The pantry obscured my view from the kitchen to the playroom when I stood at the sink.

The pantry obscured my view from the kitchen to the playroom when I stood at the sink.

And the cabinet box under the sink needed some serious rebuilding after we discovered old water damage (and a little bit of mold. Again, more on that later.).

Also, the (empty) cabinet above the microwave needed to come down to make room for the new range hood.

That awful microwave. It was only 9" above the cooktop!

That awful microwave. It was only 9″ above the cooktop!

And the sink that we both fell in love with (an Ikea farmhouse/apron front sink. The only one we found that had the attached drip rail in the back where I could set sponges and soap—a major advantage for finding cheap countertops, too. Without the necessity for a large hole cut into a single piece of countertop, the square footage needed for the kitchen countertop was cut way down) was 36” wide, not 33”.

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Image Credit

And, well, so long as we’re talking about what we’d ideally like to see, there’s the issue of that soffit . . .

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“You’re never going to be fully happy with this kitchen until that soffit comes down, are you?”

“Well,” I was willing to be flexible.  I was at least willing to look like I was flexible.  “I just don’t know.  I’ve heard horror stories of people who tried to take down their soffits and wound up needing to do some major work because it turned out that all of their plumbing went through there.  So maybe we just don’t even want to touch it.  And, I mean, I’ve seen some soffits that are painted beautiful colors and designed to go with the cabinets that have been installed.  My cousin just remodeled her kitchen a few years ago, and they kept their soffit. You barely even notice it because everything else is so great.”

He looked over his glasses at me. “Rachel.”

“No, no, no. We can work with it.”

“Rachel . . .”

“Okay! Okay. I hate it and always will.”

He sighed. “I guess I’ll just have to build you some new upper cabinets then, huh?”

That was when I started to suggest Ikea cabinets for the whole kitchen.

My husband immediately balked.  “No. I don’t like them. They’re frameless. It looks cheap.”

“Really?  I think it looks really modern and clean.  And they don’t have any stiles or rails in the middle of their big cabinets. I’d be able to put everything in there. Now I have to wiggle and force it all.”

“It’s cheap. It covers up the boxes because the boxes are just MDF. Having some space between the doors shows off the real wood. I don’t want this to look cheap.”

“You just want it to be cheap.”

“Exactly. Besides,” he said, “I’ll be able to do this cheaper on my own.”

So, we started researching all of the different cabinet styles and options that we found and liked.  We wandered through the kitchen sections at big box stores, snapping photos and grabbing cabinet samples that we liked. He leaned towards a more traditional, raised panel design, worried that my simple Shaker style would look too clean, too plain. We compromised after finding these cabinets on display at our local Lowe’s.  They were Shaker with a twist. An extra detail of routing around the inside frame. Shaker and stirred. It was perfect.

KraftMaid Sonata cabinets, available at Lowe's.

KraftMaid Sonata cabinets, available at Lowe’s.

“Take a ton of pictures! Like, a ton!”

But I was still unconvinced that having my husband build the cabinets was really the best solution.  Please know, I wasn’t in any way hesitant about his abilities, or about the quality of work that he would generate.  I knew anything that he built would be incredibly durable, overbuilt, even.  I knew that it would be measured precisely, and give the whole room a custom look, fit, and feel.

But I also knew that I didn’t want to live with him while he was building these cabinets.

I know the level of perfectionism and obsession that my husband possesses. I knew that every not-entirely-square corner of the kitchen walls will be discovered and thoroughly cursed.  I knew that he would break out his calipers in order to build cabinets with indistinguishable uniformity.  I knew that he would spend hours in the garage, leaving me to watch the girls while they scream for daddy, and telling them that they just can’t help daddy right now because he’s working with nails and glue and saws and heavy lumber and all kinds of dangerous things.

I knew that I’d start to resent him. Even while he was working to give me this incredible gift.

So I kept saying it, “Ikea.” I pointed out every kitchen I saw on the television (most of them are made with Ikea cabinets. Just about every advertisement that is filmed in a kitchen is filmed in front of Ikea cabinets. Also, even high end remodeling shows like “Property Brothers” use Ikea cabinets).  I looked up pictures on Houzz.  I found every DIY, lifestyle, remodeling blog I could find.  I slipped the suggestion into every conversation we had about the kitchen. “Ikea.” He started reading a few of the testimonials I had talked about. He looked through Ikea Hackers, and Ikea Fans.  He read articles on how Ikea constructs their cabinets.  Suddenly, he started talking to me about how the construction of the boxes for Ikea is the same as for the big box stores, as for custom cabinetry.  He started to research hardware, and found that the hardware Ikea uses is considered some of the best around. Especially for the price.  He started to think about ordering doors from some of the companies that specialize in replacement doors for Ikea cabinets.  But after pricing those out, we started to look at the options available from Ikea itself.

“I’m coming around to Ikea cabinets. Really, I am.”

Finally, we took a day trip over to our closest Ikea (about a two and a half hour drive away). When we saw the Ramsjo cabinets in white, it was all over:

Shaker, and stirred.

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In the car that day, my husband concluded, “They’re not the best looking.  They’re not the cheapest.  They’re not the highest quality.  But they do seem to have a really good balance of all three.”

I had him.

It had taken months of convincing, cajoling, arguing, suggesting, needling, guiding. But I had him.

Now all we had to do was design the damn thing.

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