...because home doesn't happen overnight.

That was the Underdog’s kitchen a year ago. A year later, it’s by no means completely finished but from a renovation standpoint, it’s done. We have plans to add open shelving and a backsplash. The french doors and their surrounding trim need painted, and I still need to organize everything in the glass-front cabinets. I’m also on the hunt for a comfy upholstered stool for the desk area. Here it is as of today.

All cabinetry, hardware and most of the appliances hail from IKEA. When we tell people we recently renovated our house and installed an IKEA kitchen, we get mixed reactions. Some equate the Swedish retailer with cheap, flimsy materials and assume that any IKEA kitchen will result in dissatisfaction. Others are more curious about {if not accepting of} our decision. This week I’m sharing our entire kitchen renovation process, from concept to reality. First up, the design.

We demo’d the original 1950’s kitchen.

The cabinets had sustained water damage and were rotted through in places. They weren’t worth salvaging but we were able to sell them on craigslist for $100.

When we first toured the house before we bought it, Handy Hubby and I were imagining the possibilities. We both agreed that tearing down the kitchen walls between the living and dining rooms would make the house function better for our family since we prefer an open living space. After we bought the house and the renovation started, removing those walls was one of the first things we did.

Losing two of the kitchen walls meant the kitchen layout had to be totally reconfigured. The refrigerator had previously lived along the kitchen-living room wall and needed to be relocated. We also wanted to incorporate a dishwasher {something the original kitchen didn’t have} and we envisioned a large island for everyday dining and a desk area devoted to paying bills, making grocery lists and blogging. We’re not formal people and a formal dining room wasn’t on our wish list. So, the decision to extend the kitchen into the previous dining room was an easy one. {FYI – We do have plans to incorporate a small dining area in our mudroom for occasional use and entertaining purposes.}

With the measurements of our gutted room, we used IKEA’s online planner to come up with a preliminary design. I’d been eyeing two-tone kitchens for a while and was loving the idea of black lower cabinets and white uppers, and I wanted to mix and match cabinet styles for a custom look. Even though we were buying from a big box store, I didn’t want the kitchen to have a big box aesthetic. IKEA offers many different options for cabinetry and we were happy to find colors and styles that suited our taste.

{The ‘den’ area has since been re-designated as a mudroom/dining room/laundry nook combo.}

As far as the details go, the online planner was great for space planning. It took a little getting used to but once we played around with it for a while, we were able to nail down a pretty concise kitchen design. The planner would notify us whenever a choice we made wouldn’t work. For example, if the top of a base cabinet was too close to the bottom of an upper cabinet then a warning would pop up to change the size of either the base or upper cabinet. Standard things like that that you don’t always know off-hand what is kosher {unless you’re a kitchen designer in which case I don’t think you’d be using IKEA’s online planner} were very useful. The 3D visual aides were great for getting as close to the real deal as possible without spending a dime.

We saved our preliminary design to IKEA’s server so that we could open it up at any IKEA store in the kitchen department. In theory, that sounds great, right? However, the first time we went to an IKEA store to tweak our plans and ask questions, the store’s computer system was down and we weren’t able to pull up our design. Bummer. It was a total waste of time except for noting a few appliances that we liked in person. If you are planning to use IKEA’s online planner in store, I would highly recommend calling the IKEA store beforehand to make sure all systems are go before making the drive. We were told by store employees that the ‘systems down’ thing happens more than they like it to.

IKEA’s kitchen specialists were extremely helpful. We actually visited two different IKEA stores in two different states during our design process. Both stores had knowledgeable staff who were able to answer all of our questions. It was very reassuring to have confident employees give us straightforward answers without any hem-hawing. They knew their stuff. Maybe we just got lucky but I would still recommend going over your kitchen design several times at home and in-store with an educated employee before buying anything. You know, dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

If you are considering an IKEA kitchen here are some helpful hints for the design phase:

*watch this video

*take exact measurements of your space

*take photos of your space as-is

*look over inspiration images to nail down your desired design aesthetic {Believe me, if not, you will get confused and become indecisive.}

*create a preliminary design using the online planner and save it to IKEA’s server

*call your IKEA store to make sure their server is up and running correctly before making a special trip to discuss your kitchen design

*meet with an IKEA kitchen specialist to discuss your design – ask LOTS of questions!

*if possible, go over your design several times at home and more than once in-store

After we were 100% satisfied with our design and excited to make a purchase, we sat and waited…for one of IKEA’s 20% off sales.

Next up, the purchasing phase. It’s not as straightforward as you might think. Stay tuned…

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking



I think your kitchen is proof that you can have a beautifully designed, quality kitchen from Ikea. I’ve talked with a couple of people that have been equally satisfied with their Ikea kitchens.

The only think I would add to your list of steps would be to modify your second one: Take exact measurements THREE times. If any of those times you come up with a different result then take them three more times. My husband was in the kitchen remodeling business and he said that even kitchen designers would get the measurements wrong. And you only figure that sad fact out when you are trying to install the cabinets.


Dana, I was surprised to see that the front-to-back measurement is only 18.5 ft. So this leaves you with a 9×21 ft living area, and a 9×21 ft kitchen. That seems really small on paper, but it doesn’t look anywhere near that small. How is the space working out for y’all?


This is such an amazing and inspiring transformation. All while HH worked full time and you were pregnant with small children kudos.


Yes, measure, measure, MEASURE!!


Sorry, the actual front-to-back measurement is 25′. I think I remember us not using the exact measurement for the planner just because we were planning the kitchen…not the living area so it didn’t matter too much. That means the kitchen area is more like 10’x21′ and the living area is closer to 15’x21′.

The main 25’x21′ living space is working great for us. It feels much larger with the vaulted ceiling, skylights and no upper cabinetry on the back wall. To keep it feeling that way, I’m using low profile furniture like the backless stools at the island.


Hi – Your kitchen turned out amazing. What a transformation from a year ago. You and HH have good vision. In regards to the Ikea kitchen and the mixed reactions you get, my brother, who is a General contractor and works on high-end homes in So. California, chose Ikea cabinets for his kitchen redo. They too gutted their 1960’s kitchen. The cabinets are amazing and the kitchen looks great. They got their appliances at Ikea as well. I think people underestimate Ikea’s quality just because it’s a “do-it-yourself”.

I love the new look. The vaulted ceiling hands down were the best decision.


I”m curious to know whether you all sit at the island to eat meals together. What is the plan when Mabrey gets big enough to join you?

Are those skylights in the kitchen ceiling? Do you have recessed lighting up there too? If not, do the island lights provide enough light after dark? I’m thinking about when it gets dark by 6PM in the winter and wonder if that’s enough light for cooking prep, eating and clean up. We will be remodeling our kitchen this fall and I think it will be brighter than the sun in my new kitchen with recessed lights in the ceiling, pendant lights over the island and sink, a kitchen table light plus under cabinet lighting.


I just LOVE this! I remember when I first started reading your blog–it wasn’t long before you announced that you’d be downsizing–and watching the transformation is so inspiring! Great work!


Your kitchen looks awesome! IKEA should be paying you for such a beautiful display of their products! :-) Wish you had finished your kitchen when we were still in the planning/building phases of our house! Oh well…


it’s stunning! what an amazing before and after. i’m curious to know—how high up is your backsplash going to go on the wall with the hood? and what colors are you thinking for the door?


Hi Dana!

Love love love your kitchen. Its so refreshing to see a non-white kitchen! For your dining solution, may I suggest the Ikea Norden Gateleg table (http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/20104718/). it comes in birch and white and can sit up to 6 people, yet folds away small AND has storage. I use one in my condo with some folding dining chairs from Costco

You can kind of see them in this post, but the chairs still havent been re-upholstered


So, yeah, you noticed a little snafu in our plan! When we designed the kitchen last year we were a family of 4 and intended for it to stay that way. Lil’ Mabrey was a huge surprise. When she’s old enough to join us at the island, I’ll pull her high chair up to one end. Once she’s graduated to stool status {3 yrs maybe 4 yrs old?}, during the day when HH is at work she can join me and the boys easily for breakfast and lunch and snacks. For dinner when HH is home, we’ll probably slide the {non-existent} desk stool over to make the island seat 5. Yes, we really do eat meals at the island together and love it. It suits our casual lifestyle.

The skylights are on the kitchen side of the room. There aren’t any recessed lights but track lights run along the ridge beam at the apex of the vaulted ceiling. There is also a light over the sink, pendants over the island and a light within the hood. We plan to add under and above cabinet lighting as well. The lighting we have is sufficient for us.


I love all the light and the clean lines of your kitchen. Really one of the best make overs in the design blogosphere. It’s unique as well. So many kitchens are looking cookie cutter nowadays. I’m also envious of your darker wood floors. Our builder talked us out of dark wood because of our pets. You can see every speck of dirt on black appliances so I can understand him leading us to natural hickory. Still though, your kitchen is so beautiful and timeless.


Hey Dana,

Love your kitchen! We did ours with Ikea last year and it’s held up beautifully (two dogs and three adults hang out in it regularly). Our store is right down the street, so it was really easy to stop down whenever we had questions during the installation phase, and just to check out how they did things on the model kitchens. It got to the point that the people in the kitchen department knew my name. I adore our Ikea kitchen, and think it was the best route for us to go.

You can see our kitchen on the House Tour page – http://kissletsathome.com/house-tour/


I love it! We have a similar laid out ranch, and this gives me sooo many wonderful ideas. Skylights for one. And raising the ceiling. SO doing that when we get around to fixing up ours.

Question for you though: Did your heating and cooling run in floor? And if so, did you move it to the ceiling?

Great post. Your kitchen is amazing. I used to have the same reaction to Ikea cabinets.. but then I started seeing them in really nice homes. First time I saw them was in a beautiful million dollar shore house in Cape May, NJ. I think they’re a great look and if they hold up well, you’re in great shape. Even though we ended up building our own kitchen cabinets in our first house, we used the Ikea kitchen planner to design the layout. It was hugely helpful.


Thanks for this information! We are headed to IKEA on Saturday to decide on cabinets for a small “wetbar” type kitchen area in our downstairs family room. I am hoping you might finish this series of posts before we go!

My questions are: Do you need to schedule an appointment with one of the kitchen specialists before you go? Or is a kind of a “take a number” thing and you wait your turn until someone is available? Are they there during all business hours?


We are in the final install stages of our own Ikea kitchen. and we couldn’t be happier :) I love how customizable everything is. Yours looks great!


As far as I know, you can’t call ahead for an appointment. You meet with a kitchen specialist on a first come, first serve basis although there is no number-taking. A specialist should be available during all business hours. It may be a good idea to call ahead and ask when is the least busy time to come in and speak with a kitchen specialist. Best of luck!


All the heating/cooling ductwork runs through the slab with floor vents in every room. We didn’t move any of the registers. In the kitchen, there’s a floor register just inside the french doors and also one under the kitchen sink cabinet. It’s difficult to notice in the pics but there is no plinth along the bottom of the dishwasher yet to let air flow from the register under the sink cabinet. HH will add a vent to the plinth under the sink cabinet but for now this is our solution. So many little things left to do!

The vents you may see in the walls and/or ceilings are return air ducts. We did have to add one to the great room since we vaulted the ceilings. My dad is retired from sheet metal work, so he was able to make most of it himself for us. It was a great housewarming {meant to be taken literally!} gift!


Your kitchen looks fab and happy!


I LOVE your kitchen and your blog! I check it daily for updates as I totally relate to your style and opinions on home decor. This is totally random but where did you get the little wooden side table next to your chair in some of your pictures?? I’m looking for one of those that isn’t West Elm as I thought theirs was a little too small in diameter in real life….

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! Congrats!

Sigh….I have serious Ikea envy……Looks amazing!! You guys are doing such a great job!

Wow I love seeing the process it looks amazing. What a great after vision you had the open floor plan seems so nice. I have the same stools for our bar and I love the look. Enjoy the new kitchen!


I love the way this has turned out! Breath taking!

Closing that wall in really changed the whole shape and space of that room… WOW!


Thanks for this post. I can’t imagine the task of renovating a kitchen from the ground up, but you make it sound quite straightforward. I love your tip about keeping your inspiration photos clear so as not to become swayed by all the other pretty options out there.

Looking forward to the progress! Your home looks so peaceful… I assume that is because I can’t hear the three children just outside the shot. :)


You are so right about not being able to hear the kids!


You mean removing the walls?


I’ve been checking on your blog almost daily ever since I discovered it. I love how you have downsized and are transforming your new home. I noticed the new couch in some of the pics; I’ve loved it ever since you blogged about the purchase. How is it holding up? Is it as comfy as it looks? This is very important since our couch gets a lot of use and abuse from the entire family!


Are the counter/island stools from IKEA as well? Can you give me info on cost and item name, etc? Looks phenomenal!


I read your blog all the time just to follow your remodel. Great job so far! And congrats on your baby #3.

We are getting ready to demo our kitchen and do an IKEA one, too. Here’s my question. Were you and your hubby nervous about putting such a heavy counter atop your island? Those island cabinets are sitting on the feet that ikea supplies, right? Or did you attach the cabinets to the floor somehow?

We’ll be putting in a peninsula and want to do something similar to what you’ve done with the counters overhanging about 15″. The people at Ikea told us they recommend a pony wall for extra support…and I just kept thinking, “Housetweaking doesn’t have a pony wall!!”


No to pony walls, LOL. Your kitchen is simplicity at its finest. It has a simple unfussy vibe while still being obviously custom, perfectly balanced.


Your kitchen is divine! I love your bar stools, would you mind sharing where they came from?


I LOVE your kitchen. This looks like a completely different house now. Its so modern but warm/comfy looking. I cannot wait to see updated pictures of the whole house, I love your style. Everything is simple, and clean. LOVE IT, great job!


Your kitchen has to be one of my favorite kitchens i have seen yet! Did you add the high wood ceiling panelling yourself? That was not part of the original blue print, correct?


I love how your kitchen has come together. Those pendant lights are so gorgeous :)


We did vault the ceilings and add tongue and groove planks across it. My husband did the install with the help of some friends and family. Those weren’t shown on the IKEA kitchen design just because it wasn’t an option on their planner. We knew from the get-go that we wanted to vault the ceilings.


HH made a base for the island and so the cabinets sit on that…not the standard legs. But the island countertop is wood not granite. The perimeter cabinets are on the standard IKEA feet. HH did add a wood support along the wall of the desk area {where a stool will someday go} to support the granite there where no base cabinet is.


Hi Dana,
I’m going to be renovating my parent’s kitchen (I get to have all the fun and they pay for it!) and I’m considering Ikea cabinets. I’m hoping you can answer a question for me with regards to placing the cabinets next to a wall. I noticed your upper cabinet in the top left corner and the cabinets that make up your desk that join the wall are not directly next to the wall. When I try to place my cabinets next to the wall the ikea planner gives me an error. I’m working with a very short but fat galley kitchen. If I can’t place cabinets adjacent to the wall I lose 6+ inches of cabinet space which is pretty significant in a little kitchen. Is the problem that the doors won’t open? Or that the cabinets can’t actually support the weight of the counter and a support is required?

Your kitchen is beautiful, I’m hoping I can do something similar in this kitchen!


The reason for the gap between the upper cabinets and perpendicular walls is to allow the cabinet doors to open completely. That’s why the IKEA planner won’t let you scoot them right up to the wall. We also asked a kitchen specialist about it and they advised not putting them right up against a wall so that the door can open all the way. HOWEVER, I’ve seen them installed right up to a perpendicular wall before and much prefer that look as opposed to the gap. Even if you aren’t able to open the door >90 degrees, you would still be able to open the door because the frame sticks out from the door about 1/4″ – at least with the style door front we chose. The door isn’t going to rub against the wall when it opens. Another thing to consider would be what hardware you’ll use as it will also determine how far the door will open against a perpendicular wall. I would definitely sit down with an IKEA kitchen specialist to consider your options. We didn’t really need that extra ~5″ of space, so chose to have the gap so that the door would open fully with the hardware we were wanting. Hope that helps! Remodeling a kitchen with someone else’s $ sounds like a dream! Best of luck.


Thanks Dana! That helps a lot. We’re hoping to go to Ikea before the sale is up and discuss our situation with a kitchen planner!


What a beautiful remodel. This is very inspiring!!! Where are the pendent light from?


West Elm!


Love love love the kitchen!! I found your site whilst struggling with what kind of wood floors to match with the ultra dark cabinets I just got delivered from Ikea. Looks like you pulled it off – may I ask what kind of wood flooring did you go with?


My Ikea kitchen is well over 8 years old (self-installed May 2004) and apart from an end-of-counter side panel it still looks and function the same as when we installed it. Oh yeah the reason that side panel is looking dingy? The dogs’ elevated stainless steel bowl are attached to it and it gets food and water splatters ALL the time so requires an *energetic* scrub weekly. If it wasn’t for that it would still look perfectly fine.

Everything is still perfectly sound and strong, no need to update/fix anything. Although I still like the style of it, I’m getting tired of pale wood colour, so I’m toying with the idea of either replacing the front panels/doors/drawer fronts, or *gasp* painting them…

Whatever I do, A think sheet of plexiglass or similar will get bolted to that end panel before the dog dishes go back up… Lesson learned, I think.


My husband and I are looking into purchasing our cabinets from Ikea, and I was wondering which cabinet styles are in your kitchen? Is the bottom style different than the top style?


The upper cabinets are AKURUM in white and the lowers are RAMSJO in black-brown. Good luck!


Wow – what a transformation, and what a beautiful living space you and your family now have. I am truly blown away by how classy your kitchen looks; doubters of IKEA have no basis! We’re debating on an IKEA kitchen and were thinking RAMSJO black-brown but will probably do LIXTROP. Your kitchen is so impressive and inspirational; it’s sold me on taking IKEA pieces and making them your own. Congratulations on the reno!

Thank you for sharing what wonders can be done with IKEA kitchen cabinets. Posts like yours keep us inspired for the work we do. It looks lovely and congratulations on your remodel! It looks fantastic!

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Your kitchen is gorgeous! I’m about to embark on a kitchen renovation and before I came across your blog, my plan was for all white IKEA cabinets (floor only) and counter tops (caesarstone). Now I’m intrigued by the black IKEA cabinets with a light counter top. Do you have any regrets, especially with small children? I feel like black cabinets won’t show up nearly as much (food splatter, etc.) as white cabinets, but I’d love to hear your experience. Thanks!


I’m still really happy with our choice to do black lowers and white uppers in this space. It receives great natural light even on cloudy days. Plus, I feel like the black lowers help ground the kitchen within the open concept living space. While the black does disguise things like spaghetti sauce and fingerprints, it shows lighter things like milk splatters, pancake mix and dust. We had white lower cabinetry in our previous house and I prefer the black with kids. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a cabinet out there that magically hides all the things when kids are involved. Ha!


What are the dimensions of your kitchen island not counting the overhang? I read that it is 9′ long but I’m wondering about the depth specifically.


What is the height and width of your glass front cabinets in your kitchen?


The glass front cabinets are ~39″H x 36″W each. We hung three in a row.


The island is made up of three 36″W x ~25″D cabinets mounted to a base on the floor. Hope that helps!