or, How to Take Advantage of Small-Apartment-High-Ceilings
One of our short-term goals over the holiday break was to improve the storage in our apartment. Like many Torontonian condo-dwellers we live in a cosy (read: tiny) modern apartment with very high ceilings. Our building is the typical trendy "soft-loft", meaning a new building built to resemble a loft. Our "birdhouse" as we call it is 615 square feet, open concept, 10-foot unfinished concrete ceilings with floor to ceiling windows. We love living in our small space, but as any reader of this blog knows, I also LOVE to cook. Modern apartments are designed with the tiniest kitchens - perhaps with microwave chefs in mind? And I have always found our storage to be severely lacking.
On top of the kitchen storage we also needed room for the following items: my husband's drums/percussion equipment, our vinyl collection, and our custom-built video game arcade (yes you read that correctly).
We used a hodgepodge of shelving to barely contain these items: a metal shelving rack, a second-hand china cabinet and a vintage stereo cabinet. It looked ok; we passed it off as "eclectic". But after may days of staring at the clutter, at the kitchen aid accessories spilling over the top of the china cabinet, at the slow cooker and juicer parts crammed into a lower cabinet...I knew there was a better solution.
Enter the Ikea SEKTION kitchen cabinet system! Read on for our built-in tutorial. At the end I list my top tips, how we saved money and the entire Ikea item list that we used.
Measure & Identify Needs
We measured the maximum space we had for storage. We had roughly 8 feet between power outlets along the wall, and about 8 feet to the bottom of the bulkhead on our ceiling. We opted for a shallow cabinet depth of 15 inches (14 3/4 technically) instead of the regular depth of 24 inches.
Important to note:Ikea cabinet heights do not include the legs. Legs add at least 4 1/2 inches, more or a little less as they are adjusted to be level.
We also designed the cabinet layout for our specific needs. From left to right: a 24x30" base cabinet with counter top to hold our records and arcade, with a 24x20" wall cabinet above for random storage; two high 18x80" cabinets for kitchen storage and "china cabinet" storage; a 24x80" high cabinet for drum storage. We kept the proportions balanced on purpose (width: 24", 18", 18", 24") and designed the doors on the high cabinets to align with the 30" base cabinet and the 20" upper cabinet: Bottom doors at 30", upper doors at 20". For the two middle cabinets we decided to go with frosted glass doors for a china-cabinet look.
Build in Ikea Kitchen Planner App. (Turns out this is important)
I played around in the easy to use and fun Kitchen Planner app on my computer at home. It is a very cool tool that allows you to build your entire kitchen and model it in 3D. You can even select interior fixtures like shelves and drawers, and select finishes. What I didn't realize until I went to order the cabinets is that this model is what they use to process your order. You cannot order cabinets by serial number or by just telling the associate which ones you need (like I thought you could). Take advantage of this app and build your kitchen plan at home, then when you go to the store all your have to do is log in and they create the order from there.
Tip: Picking Finishes
As this wasn't going to be our kitchen, but rather added on storage, we needed to make sure the finishes would compliment each other. We went to Ikea and bought the cheapest/smallest cabinet door they had in our finish and brought it home. Once we knew the finish would work, we returned the cabinet door (when we made our actual order). We chose BROKHULT walnut effect light grey. Our existing cabinets are also a horizontal woodgrain and are dark blackish brown.
Pick-up vs Delivery
To save the $100 delivery fee we borrowed a family member's minivan. Once the stow-and-go flip down seats were hidden we had ample room to transport all of the boxes, including the very long 80"+ ones.
Assembly - Hanging Cabinets
Our biggest concern going in was the galvanized metal bars that the cabinets hang off of. They have to be mounted to the wall a) securely and b) perfectly level. If you choose to not use them you void the 25 year warranty. That's right. Before assembly we bought a light cordless drill (2 speed, adjustable torque), a stud/electrical finder and borrowed a long level. We had actually anticipated the wall being concrete, so we bought some masonry drill bits as well. After using the stud finder and poking around we discovered that the wall was drywall (yay!) with metal studs. Tip: The galvanized metal bars are sold in 8 foot lengths. Since we were installing exactly 8 feet of cabinets no cutting was required!
The Ikea instructions are very thorough and tell you at exactly which height to mount the bar. The two of us were able to mount it, perfectly level, quite easily. Since we couldn't screw into the metal studs we used high quality drywall anchors and used more screws than the recommended one-per-12 inches. We had one long bar for the three high cabinets and one upper, and one lower bar for the base cabinet. Tip: Be sure to use the level to check for bowing in the wall. We failed to do this and ended up having a rough time levelling our base cabinet in line with the others. Had we checked the wall we would have shimmed behind the lower bar.
As hubby finished securing the galvanized bar I assemble the upper cabinet. It went together very easily and quickly - especially since I was using the drill to fasten screws (not a screw driver). Once it was assembled we used the metal hanging system to hang the cabinet, and, voila! We couldn't believe how simple it was. And yes, that little metal bar does actually hang those heavy cabinets.
Assembly - High Cabinets
The high cabinets went together exactly as the smaller ones did. They hang off the top bar and sit on the floor with two simple plastic legs. After all the cabinets were hung we levelled them by adjusting the height of the legs. We then squared the cabinets flush to one and other and screwed them together. Tip: We knew where our hinges and shelves were going to go, so we used the pre-drilled shelf-peg holes as pilot holes for the joining screws.
The hinges were ridiculously easy to install into the cabinet doors. We had a bag with about a thousand hinges - the way we matched them up to the right doors was by comparing the product numbers to the order sheet. The door side of the hinges press easily into the pre-drilled holes. Hanging the (heavy) doors definitely took two of us, but was also easy. Tip: Make sure the cabinet part of the hinge is facing the correct way. (There is a little arrow that should point to the front of the cabinet). We tried in vain to attach the first door only to realize that we had the cabinet part on backwards.
Cover Panels, Counter and Toe-Kick
Since our cabinets are exposed on both sides we had to order cover panels. This is optional: we could have left the white outer sides of the cabinets exposed. It looked fine, but once we held up the cover panels that matched the door front, we knew we had to install them. They were extremely easy to install, we just used the four included screws and attached them from the inside of the cabinet. For these panels we did drill pilot holes as recommended.
The counter top was only sold to us in a 6 foot length (!) so we had it cut to size (see note). We bought the cheapest melamine white counter top - it only cost $45. In the future we may consider replacing it with white quartz to match our kitchen. Once it was cut we installed it by attaching 4 screws from the inside of the cabinet.
Tip: Make sure the finished side of the counter is facing out, and that you don't pierce the top of the counter with long screws. Once that melamine cracks, there's no fixing it.
The toe kick was so easy to assemble as well. It is quite literally just a long piece of plastic. C-hooks attach on the back, which snap onto the legs of the cabinets. Brilliant. We chose a faux stainless finish to match the toe kicks on our existing cabinets.
Note: We did have to get the cover panels and toe kick cut to size. We made a trip up to a relative's who had a table saw and he completed the cuts in about 15 minutes. I would truly not recommend using a jigsaw or a hand saw.
Lighting & Handles
To enhance the look of the frosted glass we installed a cabinet light in each 18" cabinet. The wires are fed out through the back through a drilled hole, then behind the cabinets and out the side to an LED power transformer, and then to a power outlet.
Tip:Install these lights in the cabinets before you install an adjoining cabinet. We had already installed the whole unit before deciding on lights. The Ikea coworker told me it would be next to impossible to install the lights now that the cabinets were up. Here's how I MacGyver'ed them! I fed the wire downwards through the drilled hole so the entire wire was behind the cabinet. Using my tape measure like a hook, I fed it behind the cabinet from the side, hooked the wire, and pulled it towards me out the side. I could have used a straightened metal coat hanger as well. Then I fed the wires behind the base cabinet and out the back where the toe-kick meets the base board.
The lighting turns on and off with a switch, however you can buy a remote control as well! As for handles, we chose the cheapest and least invasive Ikea handles (again, to not try and compete with current kitchen hardware). They too simply screw in with the help of a pilot hole and drill.
We are so incredibly happy with how the built-ins turned out! It was so very satisfying to place shelves exactly where I needed them to create storage for all of our items. We have had zero issues so far and they completely enhance the look of our space. We used white wooden shelves for most items and glass shelves behind the frosted doors.
- account for height of cabinet legs (4 1/2")
- level wall to check for bowing
- galvanized tension bars & toe-kicks come in lengths of 8'
- be exact in Ikea Kitchen planner app, including interior shelving & lighting
- use a drill to assemble Ikea furniture
- find a friend, relative or hardware store that can make cuts on a table saw
- install in-cabinet lighting as you go
How We Saved Money
- Promotion: we purchased while Ikea was running a promotion: buy a kitchen and receive 10% back in gift cards. We removed small items from our order (shelving, lighting, etc) and then returned to pay for them with the gift cards
- Pick-up: By picking items up ourselves we saved around $100
- Returning items: There were some items we initially ordered but decided not to use (including the door front we had bought to test the finish). We were able to return these no problem.
- Counter-top: Since the counter would be hidden under the arcade, we purchased the absolute cheapest option.
Ikea Item List
- SEKTION cabinets: 24x30x14 3/4" base cabinet, 24x20x14 3/4" wall cabinet, two 18x80x14 3/4" shallow high cabinets, 24x80x14 3/4" shallow high cabinet