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12 Must Know Tips For Planning An IKEA Kitchen

12 Must Know Tips For Planning An IKEA Kitchen

Planning an IKEA kitchen remodel can be both exciting and overwhelming. IKEA cabinets are affordable and easily accessible if you live within driving distance of an IKEA store. However, they have certain characteristics that are much different from traditionally built cabinets. Those little differences can trip up both DIY homeowners and seasoned contractors if they don’t know what to expect. Although IKEA cabinets are stock sizes and limited in door styles, you can use them to create a custom look on a budget, especially if you opt for custom fronts. I recommend them to any client who has a budget under $50,000 and is willing to do a little legwork. Sarah Richardson (host of Sarah’s House and other shows on HGTV) often uses IKEA cabinets in the kitchens she designs as does well-known influencer and designer Sarah Sherman Samuel. But, before you decide that IKEA cabinets are the way to go, there are a few things you need to know.

Tip #1 – Understanding IKEA Cabinets’ Frameless Construction

If you have an old outdated kitchen, chances are that your cabinets are framed. This means that there is a lip around the front face of the cabinet, maybe up to 1.5″, like a picture frame. IKEA cabinets are frameless, which means that there is no lip.

Frameless vs. Framed Cabinet Boxes
Full Overlay Doors vs. Traditional Overlay vs. Inset

Why does this matter? Frameless cabinets have up to 10% more storage per linear foot than framed cabinets. The drawers and pullouts can maximize the width of the box and not be limited to the opening size. Aesthetically, it means that you won’t see any of the cabinet box behind the doors and drawers. You will only see the doors and drawers and no hinges.

Functionally, it is important to understand the difference in framed vs. frameless because there are different rules for frameless cabinets when it comes to clearances at walls and when you change cabinet depths. If you don’t leave space between the cabinet and the wall, for example, your door or drawer won’t be able to open. If the adjacent surface projects further than the fully open cabinet door, the handle needs a place to go for it to fully open at 90 degrees.

#2 – IKEA Cabinets Come in Standard Widths

There are three types of cabinets – stock, semi-custom, and fully custom. I’ve designed kitchens with all three types of cabinets over the last twenty years. Fully custom cabinets are built to order in whatever size you want, down to the 16th of an inch. Semi-custom cabinets come in standard sizes but can be modified at the factory, sometimes for an up-charge. Stock cabinets come in specific sizes, and what you see is what you get – no modifications.

IKEA cabinets are stock cabinets. I like to think of working with stock cabinets like solving one of those puzzles with the little plastic tiles that you need to rearrange until they make a picture. It often involves strategy, experimentation and a little guesswork.

The cabinets come in standard widths of 3″ increments, starting at 12″. For some reason, IKEA does not make 27″ wide or 33″ wide cabinets, which can make planning an IKEA kitchen extra interesting. For example, some homeowners choose 33″ refrigerators, but the IKEA refrigerator cabinet only comes in 30″ and 36″ widths. You can work with the gaps in a couple of ways, but it can be frustrating if you aren’t sure exactly how you want it to look. Extra tip – choose a 24″, 30″, or 36″ fridge to keep it simple.

The IKEA base corner cabinets are 38″ on each side instead of the standard 36″. In an older, smaller kitchen, this could be a deal breaker for using IKEA cabinets because that two extra inches could mean you don’t have space for a dishwasher or stove. One solution is to void the corner, making it inaccessible but giving you more options on either side.

#3 – IKEA Wall Cabinets Are Available in Three Heights

SEKTION wall cabinets come in heights of 20″, 30″ and 40″. This is a little different from standard American cabinets, which come in heights of 30″, 36″, 39″ and sometimes 42″ or 48″.

Kitchen planning is all about math, and the SEKTION wall cabinet heights can make designing your IKEA kitchen a little trickier than if you were using standard cabinets.

For example, if your kitchen ceiling is 96″ tall (typical in many homes), you will have 36″ (typical) for base cabinets and countertop, 18″ (typical) for backsplash, and 42″ left over for wall cabinets. If you choose to use the 40″ cabinets, you can add a very short decorative trim at the top.

The tall cabinets for pantries and wall ovens only come in two heights – 80″ and 90″, not including their toe kick. If you were using 40″ high uppers, then you would opt for 90″ high tall cabinets and adjust the legs so that you have a 4″ toe kick.

#4 – IKEA SEKTION Wall Cabinets are 15″ Deep

Standard American wall cabinets are 12″ deep, sometimes 13″ if the door is inset (set inside the face frame). When IKEA introduced their SEKTION line, they increased the depth of their wall cabinets to 15″, so you get 3″ of additional depth on each cabinet.

If you are retrofitting an older kitchen, you should check your dimensions carefully. There could be a spot where the 15″ depth does not work.

Also, the angled wall corner cabinets are 26″ on each side vs. the standard 24″.

#5 – IKEA Cabinet Boxes Are Not Finished

IKEA cabinet boxes come in two colors – white and dark brown. The white boxes are meant to be paired with all of the light colored doors and the brown boxes all of the dark doors.

IKEA SEKTION Cabinet Box Finishes

No matter what door you choose, the box of the cabinet will not match the door. If you have an exposed end anywhere in your kitchen, you need a panel to finish it. This includes, for instance, the side of a pantry cabinet that is adjacent to a wall cabinet and base cabinet. That panel is roughly 3/4″ thick, so you need to account for that space when planning your run of cabinetry.

#6 – IKEA Cabinets Are Designed To Be Modular

IKEA SEKTION Kitchen Cabinets

The kooky sizes of the IKEA cabinet boxes do have a purpose. They were designed to be modular so that you can combine them in interesting ways and create your own custom combinations.

For example, you could stack two 20″ cabinets on top of each other and put them next to a 40″ wall cabinet.

You can also customize combinations of doors and drawers. A base cabinet is 30″ high. When you add feet to it, you can raise them to the standard 34.5″. Drawers come in increments of 5″ – 5″, 10″ and 15″. So you can have three 5″ drawers and a 15″ drawer or two 15″ drawers or three 10″ drawers.

IKEA now offers an interior drawer feature. You can add a drawer behind a drawer or a door, which is nice if you want more shallow drawers for things like utensils but don’t want your fronts to get too busy.

#7- Order Extra Cover Panels

Panels are easy to cut wrong and to damage. I always order one extra refrigerator panel, which is 36″ x 96″. You can cut smaller panels from it as well as filler pieces.

Whenever I design a frameless cabinet, I always include overlay fillers. I like to use the panels to create overlay fillers so that the fillers are flush with the cabinet doors. A filler is just a small strip of material that is used to fill gaps between walls or cabinets. The filler is flush with the cabinet box. The overlay filler is mounted onto the filler strip.

#8 – You Need a Deco Strip if You Want Under-Cabinet Lights

Under-cabinet lights require a little lip under the wall cabinet so that you don’t see them. Since IKEA cabinets are frameless with flush bottoms, they don’t have a lip. They do sell deco strips that you can add to the bottom of the cabinet to conceal the under-counter lights. The wall cabinet panels actually come sized to accommodate a 2″ high deco strip.

Sarah Richardson IKEA Kitchen
Sarah Richardson

In the above kitchen by Sarah Richardson Design, you can clearly see the deco strip under the wall cabinets. You can also see how Sarah used panels to cover the sides of the cabinets and in between the stacked cabinets. Inexpensive cabinets now look like more expensive custom cabinets.

I have been increasing the backsplash height to account for the 2″. There is nothing worse than discovering (too late) that your coffee maker won’t fit under your wall cabinets. However, this might not be possible if you have an 8′ ceiling and want to use the 40″ high uppers.

#9 – You Must Enter Your Plan Into the IKEA Kitchen Planner Before You Go To The Store to Order

You can design your kitchen with pencil and paper, or using a modeling program like SketchUp, or just inside the IKEA kitchen planner. Regardless of which method you use, you will need to enter your plan into the IKEA kitchen planner before you go to the store. You do not want to do this at the store. Plus, once you have your plan entered, you’ll know exactly how much it costs so there won’t be any unpleasant surprises.

#10 – IKEA Has Designers On-Site To Verify Your Order

When you get to the store, you will need to wait for one of their designers to become available to help you. They will pull up your online plan and go through it to make sure you haven’t missed anything like toe kicks or feet. In my experience, the designers are less about design and more about verification. They are not a substitute for a kitchen designer if this is something you think you need. IKEA now offers design services in some stores, but this is something you should do in advance.

#11- Plan For the Ordering Process to Take a Few Hours

I have never spent less than a couple hours to complete the ordering process, including our last purchase which consisted of four boxes and some panels. If you can plan to go during the middle of the week, you definitely should. I can’t think of anything worse than trying to order an IKEA kitchen on a Saturday afternoon.

Bring a bottle of water, maybe a granola bar or some jerky. Just plan for it to take a while.

#12 – Don’t Blow Off Checking Your Order

If you are planning to take your kitchen home the day you order, you will go down to the area near the exit where they pull the larger orders from the warehouse. Everything is going to come out in pieces. Each cabinet will have a cardboard box for the cabinet frame and another box for the drawers and doors. There could be multiple boxes for the doors and drawers for one cabinet if you created a custom combination. Drawers come out separately as well. So an individual cabinet could have five or more items associated with it and they are all separate.

You must check every piece against your order. It’s tedious and frustrating, but it’s totally necessary. What’s worse than trying to order an IKEA kitchen on a Saturday? Driving home two, three or four hours and finding out you forgot a drawer or a door.

Bonus tip: IKEA cabinets go on sale twice per year. If you can be patient, you can save up to 20% on your new kitchen cabinetry.

Top Tips for Planning an IKEA Kitchen Summary

  1. IKEA cabinets are frameless, which is great, but you need to make sure you have filler space next to walls and deeper cabinets so they open properly.
  2. IKEA cabinets only come in standard widths of 3″ increments from 12″ to 36″, not including 27″ or 33″. You’ll need to get creative with your layout to minimize fillers.
  3. IKEA wall cabinets are 15″ deep instead of 12″ deep and come in three heights – 20″, 30″, and 40″. Tall cabinets are available in 80″ and 90″ heights (sans toe kick) and 15″ and 24″ deep.
  4. IKEA cabinet boxes are white or dark brown. Cover panels are needed to finish all exposed ends and backs. Those panels are 3/4″ thick so don’t forget about them when planning.
  5. IKEA cabinets are designed to be modular. They can be stacked together to create different configurations. Drawers come in 5″ height increments and can be combined in numerous ways.
  6. Order extra cover panels in case you damage one and to be cut down into fillers.
  7. If you want under-cabinet lighting, add a deco strip to your order. The cabinet bottoms are flush with the doors, so you need the deco strip to hide your LED light strip.
  8. Enter your kitchen design into the planner before you go into the store. It will save you a lot of time especially if you work out most of your issues in advance.
  9. IKEA kitchen designers can help you iron out the kinks on site and get your cabinets ready to order. They’ll suggest ordering extra parts and make sure you have all the pieces you need.
  10. Take your time with the planning process both before you go to the store and at the store.

I hope this post helped you decide whether IKEA cabinets are right for your kitchen and answered some of your questions. If you have other questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

You might also enjoy my post on how to make IKEA cabinets look more like high-end custom cabinets.

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Access Doors and Panels

Monday 28th of March 2022

This is a handy article. Thank you for bringing this to our attention; I look forward to hearing more about it. I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say next!


Friday 8th of October 2021

What colour quarts did you use with the Grimslov off white cupboards ?

Cleveland Cabinets

Tuesday 27th of July 2021

Painting cabinets is so tough... add the factor of Ikea being low quality - this is a tough task!

Alexander Davis

Sunday 25th of April 2021

You need to correct #5. IKEA no longer offers dark cabinet bases, so it's white only these days. Which poses a challenge you you select darker fronts. To make things worse, IKEA offers no tips how to make dark fronts work with white cabinets. One approach could be installing side panels matching the front color, but this would reduce the usable width and increase the price. Or filler pieces should be installed flush with the doors (this is typically not done for non-IKEA cabinets). And in some cases neither of this approaches would work (e.g. white shelves will appear between the door gaps of the tall cabinets. So, it's a challenge.


Thursday 4th of March 2021

I'm in the process or have been in the process with my IKEA kitchen build. They're great and easy to assemble in regards to just building the cabinets and installing the doors/drawers. But when it comes to cutting the panels and doing some custom work, then it might require some actual skill. The downside to my experience with IKEA kitchen products is the limited stock. I've been waiting since last October for the 90" cabinets. They've been out of stock and no one from IKEA can tell me when they'll be available. Also, the OMLOPP cabinet drawer lights are hard to get too. So if you're starting your kitchen design with IKEA and you're in a rush to finish your kitchen build, make sure they have everything you need in-stock.

Another thing to mention is the countertops. I got the quartz countertops and the company that was responsible for installing them, well they were hard to contact and it took FOREVER to get my countertops installed. When I finally was able to get a hold of someone and schedule the appt for someone to get all the measurements, then IKEA called and said the countertops I originally wanted are out of stock. So the theme to all of this is IKEA's product availability is awful. Again, if you're in a rush to have a functioning kitchen, make sure you choose items that are in-stock, else you will be waiting and living in a home with a half-assed kitchen.

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