Ikea kitchens — cheap & cheerful midcentury modern design

ikea kitchen

The 1963 remuddled kitchen “before”

You know I am the world’s biggest proponent of doing things “the hard way.” But sometimes, I see these Ikea kitchen makeovers, and I think: They look pretty darn good and would be so easy, especially compared to spending five years hunting down vintage steel cabinets. Case in point, above: Jerry has embarked on a new project — buying midcentury homes in Pittsburgh and renovating them, as required and in period-sympathetic style, for rental. I like to show lots of different ways to go after your home remodeling projects. I have never shown an Ikea kitchen before. I think this could be a very practical and relatively affordable solution for many people. Read on for Jerry’s story, for more photos, and for more discussion of The Ikea Option. Do you have experience with these cabinets? Please share!

Yo, Jerry — at Pam’s Diner in Pittsburgh!

Jerry writes:
Hi Pam,
I have attached pictures of my first Mid-Century Modest Renovation. The house is a ranch built in 1963 that I renovated to rent to retro appreciators. So far that has been a bit of a tough sell in Pittsburgh, but I am not giving up. In fact, I am looking at a second property to rehab in the same manner. Many of the resources I used to refurbish this ranch came directly from info I obtained through Retro Renovation.
Actually, aside from the kitchen not much is new. The kitchen was gutted, everything is new except the doorbell cover (Nutone). The pattern for the floor tile came from Retro Renovation.
Ikea cabinets, glass back splash and fixtures (new). Boomerang Formica counter top. The only color still in the line (gray). I have also attached an image of the kitchen (before). The old metal cabinets are still down in the garage, but I am afraid this kitchen endured a bad 70’s makeover.
white bathroom retroBathroom does have new sink, toilet and medicine cabinet. The cabinet came from Retro Renovation. The sink in a house brand, but I thought it looked a lot like some of the Crane models you showcased.
The black and white tile is original as are the chalk fish above the shower (attached). The floor tile was original. It was hard to believe that the whole first floor was covered in this sherbet green sculpted carpet, even the bathroom. When I pulled up the carpet in the bathroom there was this beautiful white tile with black and grey specks. It took a bunch of stripping and scrubbing to get the old wax and carpet residue off, but it came out really beautiful.
midcentury living roomThe drapes either came from companies you listed on RR (living room) or from cloth purchased at a local thrift store, thanks to my wife Mary Jo. All the furniture is mid-century, mostly purchased from two local stores Mostly Mod (no longer in business) and Retro on 8th both in Homestead, PA right down the street.
Lane dressersretro house numbersThe Lane bedroom came from Craigslist. The hardwood floors were refinished. Oh, and the house numbers came from Home Depot through information from one of the blogs you link to. All the light fixtures are new except the swags and the side-table lamp in the living room.

More info and more photos on this rental house in West Mifflin, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania can be seen at:
Thank you, Jerry — what a lovely remodel, and way to go for your love of the midcentury modest and your desire to preserve and restore these homes.
I really love the way you rearranged the appliances in the kitchen — the refrigerator looks great at the back now. The floor is terrific, and I know that many readers will love how you incorporated the glass tile backsplash. You also finished out the bathroom perfectly, and omg, that original floor! I sure hope you find an appreciative renter for #4201 — and for a long series of fixer-uppers to come. P.S., Go Steelers!!!!

Resources for this remodel:

ikea akurum kitchen cabinet sink base

Let’s talk about the long-term quality
of Ikea and other stock kitchen cabinets today

Okay, peoples, now on to Ikea. It is pretty amazing, the selection of cabinets this company offers, including the many door styles and colors. The basic white sink cabinet I showed above is: $58. My gosh, my family can spend that much on dinner at an inexpensive Italian restaurant.
birch cabinet ikeaTheir Akurum kitchen cabinet offers doors covered with birch veneer….
Glossy red over MDF — sliders in the case of the wall cabinet, above.
avocado kitchen ikea
Hey, the door above ain’t too far from Avocado, so Ikea gets props from that. There are many colors and woodgrains, glass-fronts, too….
Honestly, I’ve never written about Ikea cabinets before, for two reasons. (1) Because I always felt like other blogs had that territory well covered, and I wanted to plow new ground. And (2) Because I have these qualms about the longterm quality of these cabinets. Hey: I have my qualms about the longterm quality of Almost All stock cabinets you’d buy today “at low prices” from Big Box stores… and even qualms about “not so low priced” cabinets from a variety of sources.
I am not an expert on all the different kitchen cabinet manufacturers or even, exactly what to look for to ensure good long-term quality. When I was doing my aquamarine kitchen, I bought a Consumer Reports online subscription to see what they recommended. As I recall, key issues included looking for: Solidity of “the box” that that doors and drawers to screwed on to. Indeed, the doors and drawers on our 1975 cabinets were all falling off their cheap (clearly) particle board boxes.
I have this expectation, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable: Kitchen cabinets should last virtually forever. Well-made 1950s wood cabinets did. My steel cabinets will. How long will these Ikeas — and other “affordable” kitchen cabinets made today — made today last?
ikea akurum kitchen cabinetsThis summer, Dear Husband and I stayed at a place on vacation that had an Ikea Akurum kitchenette — I took photos, of course, there it is, above. I just asked DH what he remembered about the cabinets. I knew he would remember, because I was all interested in them at the time and tortured him to look at them with me. His recollection, verbatim: “They were nice, they were stylish… but they were chintzy… you know… thin.”
I don’t want to make anyone feel bad if they have these cabinets in their home. I think they could work very well for many people. They may last a long time — much longer than my fears suggest. And oh my gosh, the price for the style sounds fantastic. But will they last long enough and provide the solid “thump” hand-feel that would it would take to satisfy hard-to-satisfy me? I don’t think so, not to live with for the rest of my life. But for a carefully used single-, couple- or family kitchen, a rental, a mother-in-law apartment, a vacation house? Yes, sounds like Ikea is worth checking out.

Readers: Who has experience with Ikea kitchen cabinets?
We’d love to hear!

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  1. Suzy VanDuyne says

    We have a mid-century duplex rental. One of the kitchens was recently renovated with Ikea cabinets and I LOVE them. They were relatively inexpensive and the quality is very good. But, plan an extra few days for your remodel time for proper assembly. Most important, have someone who knows what they’re doing assemble and install them, and don’t take shortcuts if you want to get the most out of them. I’m planning the remodel of the second kitchen later this year, and once again will choose the Ikea cabinets.

  2. Jay says

    Ikea opened its first store in USA outside Philadelphia back in the 80s. I would wager that there are many homeowners that purchased new kitchens then that are still going strong. (25 + years later). One I know of is my brother. They are well suited for the DIY but you better have strong shoulders – all that MDF stuff is heavy. If you favor the european look with flush doors and hidden hardware, Ikea is a good option. Me, I’ve done my share of Ikea furniture assembly. I’m older now and would rather buy good second hand furniture. As for my kitchen, I’m sticking with my original worn “WOOD” birch plywood cabinets.

  3. Leann says

    Five years ago we installed 15 Ikea cabs in our laundry room. A mixture of wide and narrow tall pantry cabinets, horizontal upper, tall upper, and a base cab for a big laundry sink. We did get the least expensive flat doors. And yes, as some noted in the comments, some of the doors look cheap… but using Ikea allows you to change those doors as you like down the line.

    We have pull outs for all our cleaning supplies, pull outs for pantry, a wide tall pantry for appliances that aren’t used often, upper cabs over a small freezer for general storage… We really have more storage than we need right now. I really still like the doors and don’t plan on changing them anytime soon. They look great, have held up well considering the cabs are used much more than we ever envisioned. Interior features have held up very well and really look/act like new.

    We do plan on using Ikea in our kitchen in our MCM/modern home. Not the same doors, but we will use more of the pullouts and all the interior features Ikea has to offer.

    We weren’t sorry about any of our choices and have encouraged others… Not that they needed much encouragement after seeing our laundry room. 😉

  4. says

    The previous owners of my MCM split level put in an IKEA kitchen. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with it. The cabinets feel solid and they clean up easily. Here’s what the kitchen looks like:


    The kitchen has a modern and bright feel to it which I like. But if it had been up to me (not the previous owners), I would have remodeled the kitchen with more of a retro flair. But I can’t complain though.

  5. Anja says

    The hardware of Ikea kitchen is mostly manufactured in Germany and is the same the use for high end cabinets in Europe. Good quality for a reasonable price.

  6. RudigerVT says

    We thought about them, VERY seriously. Went up to the ginormous Ikea in Montreal. This may be harsh, but when we examined the well-worn doors on the showroom floor, we thought…..naah.

    Granted, we ended up spending about 11K on full-custom cabinets, probably 2x what Ikea would have been. But they’re custom. Cherry. A gorgeous mid-century design (photos forthcoming).

    I can see why people’d take this route. Seriously. We didn’t.

  7. Christa says

    I urge people to at least get an estimate for having cabinets built for you by a finish carpenter. Those guys are looking for work in this economy so prices are lower than you might imagine. I got a great quote from a local craftsman to build using top grade materials and euro hinges/sliders, but allowing me to put the stain/finish on the cabinets myself to save $$. He would also be able to reuse some of the existing parts (good for the planet). The cost was 25% LESS THAN BUYING IKEA CABINETS.

    I never installed IKEA but I visit lots of houses with them, as well as big box cabinets. The shelves bow under heavy weight. The faces chip, and frames swell where water has gotten into the particle board. Quality costs more but it saves you money in the long run.

    • vintigchik says

      I will definitely check this out! I would rather a local craftsmen get my business! I did not realize they would be this affordable.

      • Just another Pam says

        My advice would be to make sure, if you have all wood panel doors made, is to make sure that they float. My last kitchen was all wood and for reasons that escape me they secured the panels so a number of them split at the 8 and 10 year mark. And unless you have a well controlled environment remember if you buy in winter, they’ll swell in summer and buy in summer then they’ll shrink in winter.

        If I learned nothing else in the ten years I worked in a small furniture building shop I learned that wood has issues just like mdf et al. Maybe fewer with the new finishes where I used milk paint and oils.

  8. says

    I saw a couple of mentions of using just the IKEA cabinet doors, and I’ve been wondering about this, too. Our 1955 ranch has a pretty horrific 80’s/90’s kitchen re-do with white melamine cabinets. Plus, the layout makes it so that we have barely any counter space, and there is no pantry. But, the biggest issue is the cabinet doors. Some dingleberry who rented our house before we bought it (it was a foreclosure) painted all of the cabinets with crazy flowers and stripes and dots. I spent HOURS scraping and cleaning the cabinets when we first moved in, but the melamine (or laminate or whatever it is called) is just damaged. It always looks dirty. Since we don’t have the budge to redo our entire kitchen, I really had hoped we could someday just get new doors from IKEA that simultaneously made the kitchen look more 50’s retro (and less 90’s retro) and would allow us to purchase one single tall cabinet to use as a pantry. Does anyone know if the IKEA doors would work on cabinets that are from that era? I wish there was an easy option for those of us with these 90’s monstrosity kitchens. If I had an unlimited budget, I’d move the floor vent and light switch to allow a new layout and create even more storage and counter space. So then I get hung up on that “if we can’t afford to do it right, maybe we shouldn’t do it at all” thing… But I continue to keep hope alive and check Retro Renovation for ideas!

    Oh, and I have to say, we used a blue mid-century Catharine Holm pot as our color-inspiration and just re-painted our kitchen. I took the top of the pot to the paint store and they custom matched it. Having that beautiful Norwegian blue on the wall makes the cabinets slightly less painful…

  9. vintigchik says

    I am really looking at the IKEA kitchens for our redo. Unfortunately our original cabinets are in pretty bad shape even though they are soild wood. I want the flat front cabinets as that is what is in here now. The original color is super dark and I am disappointed that they discontinued the medium wood tone. I know lots of people like white, but it just shows every mark and is too stark for a late 60s home such as mine. 50s, yes, but I think a “earthier” feel is better for late 60s. This is just about the only option we have on our budget, so I am glad to hear about the quality. I have never seen an IKEA kitchen installed in a home, only at the store. I am afraid that it may be hard to sell our home. I am still going to redo it in a retro style because if it doesn’t sell, I still have to be happy. I am hoping that I will find someone that appreciates retro wonderfulness :). Love the house featured. I would definitely rent this.

  10. oldgun31 says

    I have a set of Homarts and I’m putting Ikea Capita legs on them. All i had to do was take of the lower stand and put an 6″ 2/4 wood block in each corner. I had to drill 4 holes the the wood so it wouldn’t split and I needed a forth hole. The seam is open a little and two holes lined up from the old mounts.I used 1.5″ wood screws ,and that’s it.
    I need a taller work space so I bought 8″ legs to replace the 4″ stand.I’m thinking of the Framsta system to have a lit glass wall to hide the new fridge and the magnetic knife holder. I was days from paint but collage started up and i don’t have the 3 days to kill. I did get every thing primed and half of the old cabinets ripped out and the mount for the ge wall fridge on. I just need a little time.

  11. Steve 66 says

    Wow! I really like Kate’s new cooktop and hood! I think they could easily qualify as “timeless kitchen design” (from one of Pam’s recent posts). Now if only they made a matching wall oven?

  12. Just another Pam says

    With all the great colors Ikea has available for kitchens you could put together a Mondrian kitchen fairly easily.

    Sigh, I don’t love my perfectly good mid-century sorta teak kitchen but it’s only 6 years old and it would be so wrong…..pout….but I could really get over my black and white passion for something like that.

  13. Ally Cat says

    You guys crack me up! I am a kitchen planner at IKEA and bought and installed (with help!) an IKEA kitchen the second year I worked there, and I love my dang little kitchen. I gotta say many of the comments I’ve read here, I’ve heard in the store. And doing what I do long enough, I can recognize that some people are gonna take to it, and others just aren’t no matter what. It’s funny to hear customers criticize all the appliances as made to “european” standards, when they are made for IKEA by Whirlpool. But the store is an experience, and the hard-sell just isn’t the way to convert anyone, so I find a way to communicate that without anyone feeling bullied. Some of my favorite customers are the converts who first thought, “this is all crap” but turned into, “I need more cabinets”.
    I’ve had builders who come and buy all the interior fittings like hinges, drawers, etc. and make their own boxes, or others that use the frames and guts but make their own doors. In fact, there are whole companies out there that make custom doors to fit IKEA cabinets. I’ve had cabinet and furniture-makers who incorporate IKEA into their own homes and praise it, cause those guys know more than anyone how much time and money it takes to make everything by hand, and wood these days is not cheap! So really, there can be something for everyone in their home project if they need a stylish, affordable solution that works.
    One of the comments here mentioned a Mondrian-inspired kitchen, and we did that at our store when switching out cabinet doors. At one point, shiny modern white, red, and gray fronts were all mixed in the same space and it looked fantastic! Really, when you are the designer, your only limits are your imagination!… (and your budget, your taste…your, um, plumbing…electrical… :)

    • Just another Pam says

      Gee Ally Cat, European standards are rather high, funny that’d be a complaint. As a Canadian I have one, the price difference. 62 dollars more on a corner cabinet pull out fitting, almost 200 on another item. Oddly, Home Depot matches the US price on the former and the extra 200 allowed me to go custom on the latter. The downside of websites for companies I guess.

      My favorite kitchen, after the one that had been a butcher shop between the wars, was an Ikea kitchen and my ex & his partner put one in four years ago and it’s like new.

  14. Amy Salmon says

    I love what Jerry is doing! One thing, though — a contractor who was helping us design our Ikea kitchen told us that here in Sacramento, CA, it was a code violation to have the side of a stove open (meaning: no cabinet/counter next to it.) He explained that a child could come up next to the stove, get burned, etc… So, we made sure our stove placement allowed enough room for some counter/cabinet on each side. I don’t know if this code is the same in other parts of the country, but it might be something to consider when redesigning a kitchen’s floor plan.

    • pam kueber says

      Great point, Amy. Yes: Check local codes before you do your own DIY renovations so that you don’t do something you have to fix to pass your inspections.

  15. Melissa says

    I have always had good esperiences with IKEA kitchen cabinets. My grandmother had an IKEA kitchen installed in 1999 and other than a bit of discolouration in the white thermofoil cabinet doors it looks like new.
    I think that I will most likely use IKEA cabinets to renovate my 1938 kitchen affordably.

  16. CarolK says

    There’s been some discussion here about slab doors and full overlay cabinet doors. Turner Classic Movies is airing Send Me No Flowers as I write. Guess what kind of cabinets that Doris Day and Rock Hudson have in their kitchen? Cabinets with full overlay, slab doors! It looks like the kitchen has Formica countertops and a yellow counter-depth fridge. I love it!

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