Architect Chandler Pierce says one out of every 10 kitchens he designs features Ikea cabinets. "You are limited in size because of what Ikea produces, but if you know and understand [those limits], you can put them together in a creative way," says Pierce, a partner with Cecil, Pierce & Associates, Architects, in New York City.

Remodeler Bruce Mason of T.A. Russell Restoration has used the Scandinavian company's prefabricated cabinets in Glendora, Calif., for six years. "When we started using them, they were an alternative to more expensive prefabricated cabinetry. Now, more contractors are using prefab," Mason says.

The two men say that in addition to being cost-effective, Ikea cabinets have the European look many of their clients want. Mason says Ikea has the added advantage of instant name recognition.

Clive Cashman, public affairs manager for Ikea US, notes that although homeowners make up the core customers of the company's 15 nationwide stores, Ikea's buyers include remodeling contractors. "We have installation services, but some customers purchase the cabinets, then buy installation from a contractor," he says.

Working with Ikea cabinets is different from working with traditional cabinet manufacturers: Ikea doesn't offer special prices for contractors, for example. "We offer the same price for everyone," Cashman says. Along with the affordability of the cabinets, he touts the range of coordinating products available and Ikea's showroom displays.

Credit: Courtesy Ikea

Design on a dime

Pierce says many of his clients approach him with the idea of using Ikea to save money over high-end European cabinetry costing 10 times more. He designs kitchens mostly as parts of additions. If he used standard cabinets in a small to medium-sized kitchen, he says, they'd cost $47,000, vs. $8,000 for Ikea cabinets. "Everyone has a budget and runs out of money," Pierce says.

Mason concurs, adding that the lower cost doesn't compromise the design. "It's a more economical kitchen that still is very attractive," Mason says. In fact, he says if he placed an Ikea kitchen next to a custom-cabinet kitchen, at first glance it would be difficult to tell the difference.

Cashman prices Ikea cabinets for an average-sized, 150-square-foot kitchen at $2,500 to $5,000, which he says the company can do because of the volume it does worldwide. The lack of a middleman also helps keep costs down. "It's direct from supply to retail," Cashman says.

Credit: Courtesy Ikea

Mix and match Ikea's cabinets are frameless, and the company offers a range of laminates and colors as well as stain-grade wood. "There's enough variety that we're able to pick out something that most clients are happy with," says Mason. He also says the no-stile design makes the cabinets easier to use.

Pierce prefers mixing Ikea's contemporary designs with other cabinetry. "That elevates the whole design," he says. On a renovation for his own house, Pierce is using Ikea metal-frame cabinets with glass inserts for the upper run of cabinets. "I used expensive handmade cabinets below," he says. He also mixed in a custom cabinet wrapped in stainless steel. The two 36-inch-wide and two 18-inch-wide Ikea cabinets cost him $562.

Cashman says Ikea is known for contemporary designs but that the company is broadening its line. In addition to a "Scandinavian country look" and classic white bead-board fronts, Ikea's new offerings include an inset door. The retailer offers 3/4-inch panel frames, clip hinges, and drawers with full-extension hardware. Ikea also sells refrigerators, sinks, faucets, countertops, and laminate flooring.

Credit: Courtesy Ikea

Support services

In addition to its products, Ikea offers in-house design consultations. Mason sends his customers to an Ikea store with measurements in hand. They look at the cabinets, and the in-store designers fit the modular units into Mason's plan, giving the homeowner a computer sketch. "They fax us the plan and send a price to the customers," Mason explains.

Pierce, meanwhile, chooses cabinets from the catalog, sends a fax to Ikea, and within an hour has a price and shipping date.

Cashman says in-store designers aren't the only option for contractors. Ikea has a measurement service, an in-store planning center, and an online catalog and planning service. "We try to make this as much an à la carte menu as possible," he says.

Mason is happy enough with the product that he advises other remodelers to look into using Ikea cabinets in their projects. "Try them out," he suggests. "There's a learning curve with putting them together, but after the first kitchen or two, a guy who is sharp and has done finish work shouldn't have a problem."

Field Adjustments

Remodeler Bruce Mason has his Ikea cabinets delivered in pallets to the jobsite, where his efficient crew assembles them. Before installation, Mason bolsters the prefab boxes with extra bracings. He also adds molding, usually on the bottom of the upper cabinets, and paints it to match the cabinets. "You can take the cabinets and improve them a little, and it doesn't take much effort or material to do," he explains.

Architect Chandler Pierce also modifies Ikea's products, in an effort to prolong their life span. He asks his installers to glue and power-nail all connections and clamp the boxes to make them more rigid.

"If you put them together properly, you have longer-lasting boxes and, therefore, longer-lasting cabinets," he says.

Ikea offers limited sizes, but Pierce says its cabinets are so cost-effective that he can afford to have his contractors customize them in the field.