shoestring reno: kitchen – ikea cabinets + kitchen construction plan

This, friends, is what an ikea kitchen delivery looks like. 25% of the boxes not shown. Number of pieces match - will be going through boxes and checking stuff off in the next day or so. #moving #newhome #kitchenreno

Hi folks, Happy New Year! I didn’t think I’d post until later in the week, but I really wanted to get this post out. I started writing it as we were making incremental progress, and this morning, fueled by yesterday’s stresses over having to readjust our kitchen budget upward (with the money we don’t have – yay!), I was propelled into completing the post today! Getting it out and published will feel very cathartic – so here goes.

This is the second installment of my “Kitchen Renovations Diary”, so to speak – it’s a long one, so bear with me. I know that it might get boring to read after awhile, but if you’re thinking of embarking on kitchen renovations in 2014, I highly recommend you read this to the end, or bookmark it for when you have some time. You might even want to print this out and highlight those parts most relevant to you. I tried to make this as comprehensive as possible and hopefully didn’t skip over anything. However, if any info seems to be missing or is unclear, please leave a comment and I’ll be sure to answer it right away.

Remember that half (err quarter) wall? It's gone now. This is what the kitchen looks like today. #kitchenreno

1. Via catalog or a trip to Ikea, figure out what you want – roughly. I.e. do you need cabinets or drawers, open or closed shelving, finishes/covers, pulls, etc. As I mentioned before, it’s helpful to have your appliances picked out (and for you to know and have their dimensions handy) especially if you’re getting them elsewhere like we did.

2. Book an appointment with an Ikea kitchen planner. You can certainly measure the kitchen yourself, if you prefer, and lay it out in the store with a professional. In our case, the kitchen layout was tricky. A wall was going to be removed and we weren’t 100% sure of the dimensions because there’s a weird beam in the middle of the wall that cannot be removed because it’s structural. Given that we were planning on spending what we consider a big sum of money, we decided to pay someone $200 to measure our kitchen and help us plan it out. If you are getting your countertops elsewhere – we are getting marble counters, which Ikea does not offer – you are going to have to wait until the subcontractor delivers you some kind of a plan (etching) so you can then go to the slab yard and pick out your slab or marble/granite/soapstone/etc. I am currently working with some marble folks and they seem great, but I’ll wait to do a full write up/review until we complete our work with them. Ditto with our contractor – I will do a summary post when all is said and done and list vendors, costs, and our impressions/thoughts on their timeliness, cost, quality.

3. Once the kitchen planner measures/maps/plans out your kitchen, he/she will create an order form for you – the order form will include all that you will need to get your kitchen delivered. So that if you (or someone you hire) will start installing your kitchen post delivery, you have (hopefully) all the parts needed. More on that later. Also, the kitchen planner, probably from Traemand (I’m told they’re licensed by Ikea to build/install your kitchen) will give you an estimate of how much the services (cost of cabinets is separate) will cost. Put that slip of paper aside. You will get another estimate from the subcontractor. We live in New York, and Traemand outsources general contracting to other companies because they don’t have a NY presence. So, things like demolition, plastering/painting walls, floors, etc. will be done by another company. They, too, will give you an estimate. Do not make the same mistake we did – these are TWO SEPARATE NUMBERS AND YOU NEED TO ADD THEM TOGETHER. As you can probably tell from how emphatically I’m telling you this, I learned the hard way (i.e. right before we were to sign the contract yesterday) that these numbers were separate. Don’t ask me why, but this was not made clear to me beforehand, despite me asking questions like, “Why is the estimate from the kitchen planner about half of the estimate that you, contractor, have given me?” It should be noted here, that yesterday afternoon was an expletive-hair-pulling-hand-wringing-filled one.

Also, before you sign anything with your contractor, ask them for a list of references and call those references. Three out of the four people I spoke with had very positive things to say: timely, diligent, on top of it. One reference decided to tell me the story of his life – he seemed pleased with the work that the contractors did, but the majority of our thirty-minute conversation was a review of his life as a renter in New York.


4. Once you get a kitchen planner to draw up a plan for you (and give you a list of cabinets you’ll need), at this point, you can go to Ikea and order the cabinets yourself. You have to go to Ikea physically to place the order. Also, if they happen to be missing a cabinet or two from your order, you have to come back to order those again (when they have them – which isn’t 100% guaranteed, so call ahead). HOWEVER, I recommend you hold off ordering your cabinets UNTIL you meet with your subcontractor who will do his own measuring and compare it to that of the planner. Please see above – you will get ANOTHER ESTIMATE from this sub-contractor. Do not confuse it with the estimate from the kitchen planner. If your estimate is a bunch of zeros that add up to a large number, demand itemization, and refuse to move forward with anything until you get an itemized list. Haggle on price. Ask for a reduction. Ask for what happens if you pay in cash. But most importantly – get things itemized. Our initial estimate was a list of services that were all, seemingly, free, and magically at the bottom of the page, a huge number was staring me in the face. With ten years of finance under my belt, I nearly lost it – how do you invoice anyone like this, I don’t know. I would’ve gotten laughed out of any office I’ve ever worked at.

5. The subcontractor will come and remeasure everything and compare it to what the kitchen planner did. I suggest that you wait until this time to go to Ikea and order your kitchen cabinets. It makes for less fuss/work, but it might delay your process by a week or two. Either way, it just depends on if you don’t mind taking some flatboxes to Ikea and exchanging them. We wound up doing that and it worked out (fingers crossed) for us, but some people might not be in as much of a time crunch as we are.

If your subcontractor finds slight discrepancies in what the planner has given you, and what he/she has deduced, you will need to return the ‘wrong’ cabinets in exchange for the right ones. This is precisely what happened to us, so to save you an extra Ikea trip (you’re welcome), I recommend that you wait.

Kitchen reno

6. When you place your order with Ikea, and if your building has a delivery time cut-off (like our co-op that requires ALL deliveries be made Monday-Friday between 9am and 5pm) make sure it is noted on the order form. However, be aware that just because the Ikea sales person has written it down and signed a sworn affidavit that he/she will communicate this to the delivery people, that the message will get through. In my case, the delivery people informed me on Christmas Day, via a recorded message, that our cabinets were to arrive between 3pm and 7pm. While I tried to get in touch with them by phone, after over an hour on hold (and being told that my estimated wait time is 1 minute) that very night, I decided to try them yesterday. I did manage to get a a customer service rep on the line, but he informed me that not only did they NOT get the message from Ikea but that they had no means of tracking their drivers to deliver the updated message and in any case, they need that sort of info 48 hours ahead of schedule.

When Ikea cabinets arrive, in an ideal world you’ll go against your itemized slip and make sure each and every box is here. In the real world, your delivery people have other deliveries waiting, so what you will do is ask to see their slip, and note the number of items you’re supposed to get. Then you will count the number of boxes that they delivered. Then after they are gone, you will start going through the boxes and compare them to your slip, checking off each box that is there. This is a long process and you might want to allocate several hours to doing so. My delivery people were lovely and super nice, “Put some music on,” one of the guys said, “when you and your husband go through these. It’s a process – try to make it fun!”

If you find that something is missing or damaged, you have 72 hours to go to Ikea and exchange/replace/return. It’s much easier within 72 hours – I’m not sure what happens thereafter, since we did exchange our cabinets in that time frame.

Also, check to see if there is any damage to the boxes – chances are a damaged box means a damaged inside of the box. While a lot of people recommended that I go through all the boxes (i.e. physically open each box and make sure all the contents correspond to the list of included parts) and what is INSIDE them, our subcontractor advised that we just let him handle that. Should we make another last-minute trip to Ikea, he’d rather be the one to advise of what/how to proceed.

After all this, we have scheduled construction to start January 6. We are hoping that it’ll take them a week to do the install – minus sink, etc. hook-up because we will still need countertops. We’re going on vacation the 11-19, so work will have to halt until we return. Wish us luck!

And with that, I’d like to wish you all a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2014!


  • Kate

    I am saving this and will be using it as a guide if I ever get a kitchen I can renovate! I’m sorry the process isn’t going terribly smoothly for you, but it sounds like you’ll be able to save others from a few pitfalls. Happy New Year, and here’s hoping 2014 is lucky for both you and your kitchen!

  • olga

    Kate and Sara Kate – thank you, ladies! It’s an adventure either way :) And happy New Year to you both – may it be healthy and full of joy.

  • merry jennifer

    Oh, wow. What an ordeal! I sure hope the kitchen construction goes smoothly when it starts next week. I know you’ll be so glad to have your kitchen space reclaimed!

  • kickpleat

    Such a helpful post, Olga! We used the ikea online tool to give us a rough budget of a new kitchen and it’s a bit more than we want to spend….additional costs include smashing out the bulkhead above our cabinets & installing new flooring too. Maybe we’ll have enough saved in a couple of years, but I love that you’ve so clearly laid out the process!! Good luck + I can’t wait to hear more.

  • olga

    kickpleat – So glad you find it useful/helpful! I really tried :) Of course, more stuff coming and I hope others can learn from our experience, good + bad :)

  • lisa

    Reading through this post reminds me of our Ikea renovation a few years ago. I don’t think I’ll ever put myself through that torture again. I’m happy with the results, though. We went from the Kennedy administration to the Obama administration — big difference! Enjoy your vaca!

  • mike pattenson

    Hiring a pro to do all the design and construction requires a lot of $. I know it because I’ve hired pro before to all my home improvement needs.

    But, I recommend doing the improvements by your own. Not only it saves you money but you also have the options for customization.

    DIY improvements requires you some skills and techniques to help you:

  • olga

    Mike – thank you. Normally, I would agree with you, however, given I’m working on 2 books and have a part time job AND i need my kitchen for work purposes, I actually need to be done in a speedier matter. Also, I won’t know the tricks of the trade you only pick up after you’ve worked on many different home reno projects. Just as I’m much better at baking a cake than an average person (because I’m used to it) – so is the kitchen :) We went with a contractor – not an architect. But if I had the money, I would definitely hire a good one. Sometimes they think of things you don’t. :)

  • RJ

    Who was your Ikea installer and who was your contractor, if you do not mind saying?

    I did an Ikea kitchen renovation on another apt about five years ago and my installer was great, as was my contractor. The entire process took only a few weeks and there were no missing parts or going back to Ikea for anything.

    Sadly, both of them have fallen off the map and now that I am doing another kitchen renovation, I cannot find trustworthy Ikea installers or contractors. The Yelp reviews are all terrible!

  • david

    Do Not hire Traemand to design or install your ikea kitchen, they are using “sub contractors” basically any fly by night dude with a truck and some tools that have no knowledge of the frameless system and will install your kitchen with attitude of “how hard can it be” , their designers have no experience measuring a a room and almost never taking human engineering in to consideration when designing a kitchen and they will make your U-Shape kitchen look like a walking clothed,

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