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!

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. Kai says:

      Great job! Normally I consider it sacrilege to paint brick, but in that kitchen I would! Kudos for tearing out part of it!

  4. 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… 🙂

    1. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

Comments are closed.