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Lessons Learned from an IKEA and Semihandmade Kitchen Renovation

  • April 16, 2019

WHEW! We just completed a three month long IKEA kitchen renovation project that started after our dishwasher broke Christmas evening. The water from the broken valve flowed under our floating hardwood floors and went all through the downstairs. We had to get a water mitigation team out to deal with the water damage. Then we started the process of figuring out what kind of kitchen we wanted.

We knew right off that bat that custom cabinetry was out of our price range. Our previous kitchen had melamine wrapped cabinets (that eventually peeled). I didn’t want to deal with that again, so I wanted shaker cabinets that I could paint and customize with the colors that we chose. IKEA SEKTON cabinetry was attractive because of its modularity, the price, and the well reviewed hinge hardware. However, IKEA doesn’t offer a version of door fronts that can be painted. For quite a while I have admired the genius of a company called Semi-handmade that creates fronts for IKEA Kitchen SEKTON cabinets, and storage units as well as bathroom vanities. We decided to go with the Semi-Handmade Shaker cabinet and drawer fronts.

While researching IKEA kitchens with Semi-handmade fronts I didn’t find a complete guide on what the process entails, best practices and things to watch out for. I hope this post helps others!

Step 1: IKEA planning

-The first thing we did was visit our local IKEA Kitchen department to see different kitchen configurations. We opened doors, and we took notes of what we liked.

– The next step is to make an appointment with an IKEA Kitchen staff member to discuss options for measuring and planning. You can DIY the whole process with the online tool on IKEA’s website but IKEA also offers two other planning options. The first option ($200) is to use Traemand,
IKEA’s third party vendor they contract planning to (IKEA also recently purchased a stake in Traemand so maybe they will improve?). Traemand sends someone to come to your home and measure. Once the measurements are in, you meet virtually with a Traemand planner.

-The other option is to make an appointment and go into an IKEA and meet in person with IKEA kitchen expert directly but you need to measure the kitchen yourself. We chose the first option and we REGRET it. RUN far from Traemand. Their reviews online are horrible, and we really should have listened. In hindsight – I wish we would have worked with IKEA Kitchen department directly in person. Or, later we found out there are lots of other contract planners (unaffiliated with IKEA) out there who are great at planning out IKEA kitchens. (You can contact Semihandmade for some references).

About Traemand — The first step with Traemand is that they will have someone come measure the space. Second, you meet virtually (meaning through a Web portal and over the phone) with a planner who goes through the process with you. You discuss what you want, where you want things and they use their expertise to build the cabinet system that will work best for the space. They use IKEA’s incredibly non-intuitive rendering system to provide a 3D image of your kitchen space.

Once you have the space the way you want it, Traemand will put together your price list, as well as a bid for installation. You take that list to IKEA to buy your cabinetry. It sounds simple but for us this was a NIGHTMARE. Traemand mis-measured, twice! Our planner made at least a dozen errors that were incredibly costly and time consuming to correct. His errors caused us to have to redo two cabinets, and order several new Semihandmade fronts. IKEA did give us about $700 back after a half day in person meeting at IKEA with photos discussing all the mistakes made. Lesson for you all – DON’T USE TRAEMAND.

Step 2: Order from Semi-Handmade

My experience with Semi-handmade was the opposite of my experience with IKEA. They were so, so helpful and easy to work with. They caught mistakes, and helped us through the whole ordering process.

You have several options when it comes to fronts. I wanted the paint-able Shaker style fronts, but they also have some gorgeous wrapped fronts in several styles and colors (this would be a MUCH easier option, though more expensive). The shaker fronts are beautiful and ready to paint. The easiest thing to do is to enter your order, based on your IKEA list, then you upload your plan. A semi-handmade person goes through your plan in detail to make sure that everything is correct.

Extra things to think about:

Panels, Toe kicks, Deco strips

Panels: IKEA kitchen cabinets are wrapped with panels to cover the white MDF cabinetry. We found that the DIY style panels that Semi-Handmade uses are actually ¾ inch MDF board that you can find at Home Depot or Lowes. They do wrap a nice veneer around the edges. They are VERY expensive through semi-handmade. We decided to DIY ours. It wasn’t hard to wrap the veneer but it was really time consuming. However it saved us about $1,500.

Toe Kicks – These are about 4 inch wide strips of wood at the base of the cabinets that cover the plastic legs. You can get MDF cut into strips that is a cheaper option but we used the Semihandmade toekicks and painted them.

Deco-Strips — we actually purchased our deco strips from IKEA because they had a version that was extra white that pretty much matched our painted white upper cabinetry. You will need deco stripping to hide under counter lighting and if you run cabinets to the ceiling its also used to finish things off.

Step 3: Finding the right installer

IKEA kitchen cabinets are really in their own class of cabinets. Unlike American cabinetry that uses cleats, IKEA cabinets are hung on long metal strips. They are modular, and have particular nuances. Though its not crazy difficult – I do recommend using someone with expertise in installing these kitchens. Also, we found someone who was also familiar with Semi-Handmade. The Semi-handmade doors and drawers are ever so slightly larger than IKEA versions. Expect installation to take 2-5 days depending on the size. Semi-handmade has recommendations. We used Yelp and reached out to a few people for quotes. (Cabinet installation can be anywhere from 2-8K and up depending on the size). Our installer quoted us $95 a cabinet for installation.

Step Four: Painting Shaker Semi-Handmade doors

Painting Semihandmade fronts

If you have the budget, I recommend using a professional painter, simply because the painting process is so time consuming, messy and you need a LOT of space. I was SO fortunate my artist/painter mom stepped in to help. We bought a handheld sprayer from Graco, Graco 17D889 TrueCoat 360 VSP Handheld Paint Sprayer which worked beautifully. The problems we faced were primarily that this project took place in winter and we have had a ton of rain this year. Therefore, the paint did not cure before transporting to our house from my mom’s. We had a lot of nicks and other smudges we had to touch up.

The painting process is fairly straightforward. The fronts have to be wiped down, then sprayed with a primer to seal the wood and ensure a good finish. We used Sherwin William’s Eurethane paint. I can’t comment on durability yet. We haven’t had it long enough, but it was very rich, thick paint. The sprayer did great even with the paint thickness.

My mom suggests that you use a lazy Susan when painting the shaker fronts. This is a much easier way to paint the sides.

Other Tips:

Wait to install lower fronts – One thing I noticed was that our lower cabinet fronts were dinged and dirtied by the install of our marble countertop, and by our tile backsplash. The messy nature of tiling, and the construction for the countertop mean that I need to once again go back and touch up paint. If I could go back. I would have taken off all the fronts/or not installed them until completing everything else. We were just so ready to have our stuff put away in drawers etc. that we wanted them on.

IKEA’s 21 inch lower cabinet –– The 21 inch cabinet must be a less-used size of cabinet, but it is the best fit for next to our range. I was really excited to get the three drawer (10 inch) option with a hidden inside drawer to use as a spice drawer. After installing we learned that the 21 inch cabinet is the only size that does not offer the hidden inside drawer option. Bummer.

Trash bins under the sink — I bought the optional slide out trash bin system for under our sink. When we tried to install them however, we found that our undermount sink hung too low and hit the cans. Wait for your sink to be installed to make sure it will fit before you purchase the trash slide out system.

Lower 24 inch cabinet with microwave opening — Our kitchen is not terribly big. I was excited to put the microwave in a lower cabinet to get it off the counter. IKEA offers two options: a 30 inch cabinet, or a 24 inch cabinet. I opted for the smaller one. The only problem is that there are ZERO options for microwave cover kits for this size unless you purchase the $700 dollar IKEA microwave (seriously?!). You will have to build a custom surround for the microwave to cover the white IKEA cabinetry. Our lowers are dark navy so we still need to build this.

Microwave opening – you will have to custom build a surround for the microwave

So, in closing out this post – I definitely am happy with our kitchen. There were a lot of lessons learned along the way, but overall we are very happy. I’ll do some follow up posts on my sources for paint, cabinet pulls, lighting, etc. Please do comment with questions. I love to help!

IKEA Kitchen
  • Corinne

    Such great information!!! We are redoing our kitchen right now–just had our IKEA meeting and will soon get all the rest together with Semihandmade. I am extremely curious exactly how you DIYed your panels and trim pieces! If its just MDF, I would love to save more by doing what you did–but what kind of veneer did you have to wrap/what’s that process like??

    • Sarah

      Hi Corinne, This is super delayed so its probably too late, but we used MDF panels from Lowe’s that we had cut to size (based on the IKEA plan) we sanded them. The veneer strips comes in a package you can get at Lowe’s or Home Depot and its iron on and goes around the edges that will be seen. Once its ironed around the edges I took an exacto knife and made sure it was flush and then sanded it really well. After that we painted it the same as the rest of the cabinets. So far its holding up well.

  • Amy

    Hi Sarah – Gorgeous kitchen! Well worth all of your hard work! We are about to start a remodel and are contemplating Ikea/Semihandmade however I have had a really hard time finding any blogs or comments about how the cabinetry has held up over time. Would you be will to share any insight now that you’re several months after install?!

    Thank you!!!!

    • admin

      Hi Amy! I’m glad you found my blog. Sorry for the late reply. So far its been good. Keeping up with the dark blue painted cabinets is definitely something to consider, in terms of you do see scuffs on lower cabinets and you can see dust – but its nothing that touch ups and dusting don’t fix. We have been happy with the general cabinetry and the pull outs and the hinges have held up really well. So far we love it!

      • Katelynn Grimes

        Hello! I was wondering if you ever figured out a solution for the microwave. We are in the middle of an Ikea kitchen remodel and I have yet to find anyone with good photos or video.
        Kitchen looks beautiful!

  • Maggie

    hi there! thanks for all this info. i am thinking about semihandmade but wondering if i need to get their panels. you mentioned they have a veneer on it – what kind of veneer?


  • Unsatisfied Customer

    AVOID SEMIHANDMADE!! Our kitchen remodel has been a nightmare because of them. Not only is the quality of their product extremely subpar, their customer service is rude.

    Within two years, the cabinets’ thermofoil (same style as in this post) started to bubble/peel away from the cabinets and while they replaced a few, more and more cabinets continue to do the same and now they don’t want to deal with us. What guarantee is there that it wouldn’t happen again with the new batch?? Not only that, we have to pay more money to have the replacements installed. The material on any cabinet near the stove/oven has melted as well! Look up the one-star reviews on yelp, etc and you’ll see that this is a recurring issue that they have not and do not seem interested in addressing.

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