I flipped through the pages of my new magazine, the Ikea Kitchen Dreambook 2013.  I stopped on the page “Common Kitchen Layouts.”

“There! That’s our kitchen!”


The L-shaped kitchen. Stove and vent hood along the short wall.  Sink and dishwasher along the long wall.  Room for an island in the middle.  There was a picture, with all of the necessary “zones” (cooking, washing, storing) highlighted and shown with optional cabinetry.  They already had a full diagram of a kitchen, similar in design to my own.  All that was left for us to do to finalize the design and plans of our new kitchen was to get our specific measurements, and follow the example already set for us.

It was so simple.

Except it wasn’t.

If you are doing research online and looking into an Ikea kitchen for yourself, you’ll find plenty of DIY bloggers and homeowners who spend hours in fervent hand-wringing over one thing: trying to make the Ikea kitchen look “custom.”  Apparently, the biggest fear for a homeowner is that her or his new kitchen will look like an Ikea in-store kitchen display as opposed to a free-standing, unique kitchen all on its own.

This was not a concern of mine.

Honest Husband, however? Well . . .

“It’s all in the finishes. The detail work. The way you get that custom look is to address every visible surface.  No blank panels.  No fillers.  No raw edges.  I’d love to make even the ends of the island interesting.  I’m not just going to let it be flat and white.”

I have no idea how long he worked.  How many hours he dedicated to the design. I know that I would wake up to nurse our baby in the middle of the night, only to find him researching and sketching.  He lost sleep.  A lot of sleep.

<Sidebar>He became so obsessed with the kitchen, that the night before we left to go order and pick up our kitchen, he woke up at three in the morning, ran into our office, and actually adjusted his parts list because he had a sudden inspiration for how to do the cabinet above the refrigerator.</Sidebar>

Here are just a few of the customizations that he’s doing in order to avoid that “Ikea display” look:


Our kitchen previously was dark. Dark oak cabinets, dark trim, dark pinky-beigey paint (my neighbor once jokingly called the paint color in the kitchen “Skin”), and very little natural light (the pantry was blocking most of the light that came in from our 6-foot tall windows in the breakfast nook).  Also, it had only one lighting fixture.  It was a brown cave.

So we are lighting it all up.

White cabinets.  White trim.  Six recessed lights, plus two pendants centered over the island. Under cabinet lighting from a thin, LED strip. All wired to be dimmable, so I will have the ultimate control over the look and feel of my kitchen.

Holy Recessed Lighting, Batman!

Holy Recessed Lighting, Batman!

Oh, and did I mention that the new LEDs underneath the cabinets look WILD? When I first saw them, I had no idea what they were, until Honest Husband stuck a nine-volt battery to them. Ta-da! Lights!



Over-Refrigerator Cabinet

The problem: Ikea doesn’t sell a cabinet that fits exactly into the space between our refrigerator and the wall. Our fridge is underneath our staircase, so we couldn’t expand the space to make room for a larger cabinet, and I didn’t want to lose all of that storage and have nothing above the fridge.  The next smallest cabinet would have been too small. It would have fit, but we’d have to have about three inches of just blank cover panels on either side of the cabinet. Oh, Honest Husband was NOT about to have that!

So here’s what he did.

First, he bought a cabinet box that was slightly too big, both vertically and horizontally.

Then, he cut the box down in both directions, so that it fit the space perfectly.

After he had fashioned the cabinet box, he then bought an Ikea drawer front. Though Ikea didn’t have any upper cabinets that would fit in the space, their drawers turned out to be exactly the perfect size.

He bought the hardware needed to open the drawer front from the bottom, so that the whole thing flipped up towards the ceiling.

<Sidebar>Many, many people have observed that the Blum hardware Ikea uses is superb. And it really is. It is BEEFY. The hinges for this door are way overkill. They could probably lift about 20 pounds-worth of door up and out of the way with ease. And they are smooth, and really very easy to install. Yet another reason why we finally decided to pull the trigger on the Ikea kitchen is because for us to be able to purchase comparable hardware would have set us back a pretty penny. The kitchen hardware gets really high marks all around from me.</Sidebar>

Finally, after assembling it all, we realized that we wanted the piece along the bottom to look more finished than it did (to hide the unattractive melamine box that was exposed), so he attached a second drawer front to the bottom of the cabinet. You’ll never see the whole thing, just the finished edge, but it made it look completely different. High end. Finished.

(I am certain that I took pictures of this cabinet, but I can’t for the life of me find them right now. Oh well. Pics later!)

“Blind” Corner Cabinet

For the record, I am 5 feet tall. On a good day. With sneakers on. So I hate upper cabinets. I hardly store anything in my upper cabinets. They are just for decoration, and to make sure my teapot doesn’t get covered in grease when I cook bacon. Everything important in my kitchen is stored in the lower cabinets, drawers, and shelves.

So when Honest Husband suggested that we do away with the 45° upper corner cabinet and have a 90° “blind” cabinet instead, I was all for it.

But, of course, Ikea doesn’t make one.

So, in order to make the corner on the upper cabinets work correctly, Honest Husband had to purchase a 24” wide upper cabinet box and a 12” wide door.  He installed the door (using a special hinge that he found through Ikea fans that was a good $50 just for the hinge), and butted another 18” cabinet up next to it. The 18” cabinet is 12” deep, so, viola! The part of the cabinet that went all the way back into the corner is hidden, yet still accessible, the doors open up the “correct” way, I don’t feel as though I have an enormous corner cabinet looming over my very petite head, and it’s a perfect way to store vases, platters, and other stuff that I just don’t use very frequently.

In order to space the doors correctly so that they would open without interference, Honest Husband placed a single cover panel between the two cabinets to give them clearance.

In order to space the doors correctly so that they would open without interference, Honest Husband placed a single cover panel between the two cabinets to give them clearance.


You can see the blind cabinet, installed, in the above picture of the recessed lights.


One problem with many kitchen islands is that they are so standard.  A couple of cabinets screwed together. A countertop. Maybe a good space to hide a garbage can. Usually rectangular. Another problem with the kitchen island is that, as an island, it is visible from all four sides. Unlike the cabinets themselves, which are often screwed to a wall or to each other, you see everything that an island has to offer. And it’s usually pretty boring.

Honest Husband and I agonized over the kitchen island.  How big should it be?  What do we want to be able to do with it?  How can we maximize storage opportunities?  Seating options?  How do we make it feel substantial, but not overpowering or clumsy? We measured. We mocked up. We stood next to corners. We carried big pots and laundry baskets around the room, seeing how the spacing worked. I knew that we’d end up kicking ourselves if we did all of this work, only to feel cramped in our own kitchen with an island that was just too big for the space.

Eclectic Kitchen by Atlanta Design-Build Firms Dwellings Design Build

After finding this picture on Houzz, I knew that I wanted to have a countertop overhang that allowed for a single barstool. Not only would it give me a place to eat my breakfast in the morning, but it would also be a great way to hide some electrical outlets, while still keeping them accessible to the people cooking in the kitchen.

To make sure that the back of the island (which is the first thing you see when you look down the hallway leading from our entryway) looked just as inviting and “finished” as the rest of the kitchen, Honest Husband decided to forego the flat cover panels along the back, and instead bought extra Ramsjo doors to go on top of the cover panels.  Layering the doors on top ensured that every visible piece of the back of the island would be a single, uniform finish (the Ramsjo white is more of a whitewash color, as opposed to the bright white of the melamine boxes), and it would give him a great platform on which to miter and attach the rest of the cover panels, so that, once again, even in the corners, every piece of the island would look solid, continuous, and complete.

(I don’t have any pictures of this one yet, because we have yet to build the island.)