The kitchen is the heart of the home. It’s the place where the whole family comes together and it’s one of the most-used areas of any household, so it’s important that the entire kitchen area is spacious, welcoming and most importantly, practical.
If you’re planning on renovating to give your old and tired kitchen a much-needed makeover, there are two options to choose from: you could go the traditional route with a custom kitchen renovation, or you could choose to buy and install a modular kitchen.
But which of these two options is the cheapest, quickest and least stressful? And above all else, which approach produces the best results?
With the spread of IKEA’s worldwide furniture empire in recent years, modular kitchens have enjoyed a rapid increase in popularity. Offering significant advantages in price and convenience over a custom kitchen, flatpack kitchens are an affordable but high-quality solution.
Modular kitchens are a bit of a niche product and are mainly available at IKEA. They’re available in a vast array of unique designs and styles, from traditional or country kitchens to modern kitchens, gourmet kitchens and kitchens specifically designed for apartment spaces.
Once you’ve chosen a design, you can assemble it yourself using common household tools.
Installing a modular kitchen
If you struggle to put together a chair or coffee table without losing your cool, a modular kitchen might not be the right approach for you. However, putting together a modular kitchen is a fairly easy job, so don’t be put off by any fears that it may be overly complex.
To give you a better idea of what’s involved in the installation process, let’s take a look at what you need to do to add an IKEA modular kitchen to your home. There are four basic steps to follow:
Measure. The first step is to measure the existing space – you can do this yourself or use IKEA’s measuring service for $99.
Plan. Now it’s time to choose the layout of your kitchen. You can split your kitchen into work zones – storage, washing and cooking – to provide a practical structure, and choose from a range of layouts (U-shape, L-shape, straight-line or island-bench kitchen). IKEA also has an online 3D planner to help you visualise your plans, and you can choose appliances, interior fittings, kitchen lighting, taps and sinks, cabinets and handles, and benchtops.
Order. Head in-store to have an IKEA kitchen expert look over your plans and product list and help you place your order.
Install. It’s now time to open all the boxes, read the instructions and start putting the kitchen together. You can do it yourself or use IKEA’s kitchen installation service to be matched with reliable tradespeople in your area.
Tools that come with an IKEA modular kitchen
IKEA’s kitchen installation guide contains a list of the tools you may need to use to install your kitchen. They include:
A fine-toothed handsaw
Mitre-box and saw
A flathead and a Phillips head screwdriver
Hole cutter (for drilling the hole for the mixer tap in the sink)
It’s also worth pointing out that no wall mounting hardware will be supplied with your cabinets, simply because there are so many different types of wall. You’ll need to purchase this hardware yourself from your local hardware or home improvement store.
How to install an IKEA kitchen
Set your suspension rail. IKEA kitchen cabinets can be hung directly onto a suspension rail so that they are easier to install and adjust.
Install your cabinets. The wall cabinets usually go in first, followed by the base cabinets.
Install your worktop, sink, lighting, and appliances. Once the worktop is in place you can get water, gas, lighting and appliances hooked up. This must be done by qualified and properly licensed professionals.
Install shelves, drawers, doors, knobs, and handles. You can also add any internal storage hardware at this stage.
How much does a modular kitchen cost?
The overall cost of a modular kitchen varies depending on the design, features and accessories you choose, as well as any professional help you get along the way. It’s also worth remembering that plumbing, electrical work and gas fitting should only be done by licensed professionals, so you’ll need to factor the cost of hiring experts into your calculations.
To give you a better idea of the costs involved, let’s take a look at some of the options available from IKEA.
A standard L-shaped kitchen from IKEA costs around $2,000-$3,000, including cabinets, drawers, shelves, hinges, cover panels, countertops, sink, tap and handles. Your choice of appliances, lighting and backsplash are sold separately.
Adding on an oven, stovetop and range hood will add at least $2,000 to the price, but if you choose higher-level appliances and add in a microwave and integrated dishwasher, appliances alone could total an extra $8,000.
Ceramic and stone backsplashes start from $30 per square foot, while glass backsplashes are closer to $40 per square foot and up. Lighting costs vary depending on your needs and the products you choose.
Modular kitchens: The end result
Modular kitchens are perfect for homeowners, DIYers, and investment property owners and are often less expensive and easier to put together yourself. They come in a huge variety of configurations and finishes, with a great mix of quality, style, and value for your money. They look just as good as a custom kitchen if installed correctly, which is why a carpenter can be a huge help.
Pros and cons of modular kitchens
Cheaper. Costs vary depending on the size and type of your project, but modular kitchens are generally significantly cheaper than custom kitchens.
Huge selection. There’s an impressive range of designs, styles, and colors to choose from that can help you create the space you want.
You take control. Instead of waiting around for contractors who fail to keep their appointments, modular kitchens allow you to take charge of the project yourself.
You need to be handy. Before tackling a DIY kitchen installation, you’ll need to be sure that you have the building skills to complete the job and the long list of suggested tools.
Can be stressful. Anyone who has ever assembled a piece of IKEA furniture knows that things often don’t go to plan, so taking the job on yourself can be a stressful and time-consuming process.
If an off-the-shelf modular kitchen isn’t right for you, you can instead go to a kitchen showroom and have your kitchen designed for you from top to bottom. The main advantage of this approach is the level of customization it provides – you can ensure that you end up with the kitchen you want, from the overall design right down to the smallest little details.
You do have the option of going the DIY route with a custom kitchen reno. You make all the choices and then hire all the necessary contractors to install everything. Alternatively, you can approach a kitchen specialist to manage the project from start to finish. They can help with the design, source the necessary materials and products, and then coordinate all the contractors needed to install the kitchen.
How much does a custom kitchen renovation cost?
The cost of a kitchen renovation varies depending on a huge range of factors, including the size of your space, the complexity of the design, whether any plumbing or electrical connections need to be moved, and the materials and appliances you select. Whether you handle each stage of the process yourself or get a kitchen specialist to project-manage for you will also affect the cost.
With this in mind, it’s impossible to provide an accurate one-size-fits-all figure for the cost of a custom renovation. As a general guide, budget prices start at around $10,000 and can easily reach the $50,000 mark with the right appliances and trims. Get quotes from a number of kitchen installers in your area to get a better idea of how much your project will cost.
With a custom kitchen, you get a space specifically designed to suit your tastes and requirements. If you have a very tricky space, a custom kitchen can help overcome tricky layout issues. However, if you don’t like renovating and want someone to take it all on for you, then a showroom kitchen is the way to go.
Pros and cons of custom kitchens
Customization. A custom renovation allows you to create a space that suits all your needs.
Choice of fixtures, fittings and finishes. If you want a unique look or a special inclusion in your kitchen, a custom renovation provides endless choices.
No hassle. Getting a kitchen specialist to organize the renovation can take all the stress out of the process for you.
Expensive. Hiring a specialist kitchen company to create a custom kitchen is much more expensive than a modular kitchen. You can usually save money by project-managing the renovation yourself, but this can be time-consuming and also quite stressful.
No noticeable difference. Even with all the extra money spent, a custom kitchen may not have a noticeable difference in quality when compared to a modular kitchen.
Before you spend thousands of dollars on a full kitchen renovation, it’s worth asking yourself whether you may be able to achieve a similar end result by spending a whole lot less money.
Kitchens can be notoriously expensive to renovate, labor-intensive and time consuming if not properly planned and executed. And that’s not great news for an investor who has their property sitting empty while the delays rob them of potentially thousands of dollars in lost rent.
That’s why a kitchen makeover instead of a full reno can be a smart strategy for investors. If the kitchen is well laid out and structurally in good shape, then a few modernizing tricks may be all that’s needed to give it a completely fresh look.
Here are a few tips for a budget cosmetic kitchen renovation improving what is already there by updating a few key areas:
New countertops. This can also provide the opportunity to tweak the layout if you want to, for example, create a breakfast bar or add an extra base cabinet or two.
Funky tiles. Tiles are cheap to buy and can really leave their stamp on an otherwise bland kitchen, even if it’s just a ‘wow factor’ backsplash.
Updated appliances. There’s nothing worse than a stove with only two functioning burners or an oven that barely works. New appliances can be purchased very cheaply these days and always win brownie points.
New cupboard fronts. If all the cabinets are solid but the cupboard and door fronts are chipped and worn, one option is just to have new fronts made up in a modern finish. Way cheaper than an entirely new kitchen, and you’ll achieve a similar impact!
New fittings. Dingy lights and fixtures can really date a kitchen; modern ones can lift it to a whole new level. Consider getting cabinet lighting to illuminate the countertop of your choice, a fancy feature light and contemporary taps. Places like home hardware and IKEA offer loads of great options.
If you decide that you’d rather go with a custom kitchen reno, remember that you can get the experts to take care of the job for you. There are hundreds of specialist kitchen renovation companies across the country that specialize in project managing kitchen renovations from start to finish. They can take care of everything from design and layout to choosing fixtures and sourcing contractors, ensuring that the entire renovation project runs as smoothly as possible.
However, there are also several advantages to installing a modular kitchen. Value for money headlines this list of advantages, but when modular kitchens are installed correctly, there’s no discernible difference in quality when compared to a custom kitchen renovation.
Modular kitchens have greatly improved over a short time; these days they are often very high quality and come in a huge range of colors, materials, and finishes. You can always up-spec your modular kitchen using a designer-looking tiled backsplash, great handles, or a composite stone countertop. Take your design inspiration from the showroom and then apply that to your kitchen renovation project.
Whichever approach you choose, make sure to research and compare your options before starting work. This will help you find the right renovation solution to create your perfect kitchen.
Kyle Morgan is a writer and editor for Finder who has worked for the USA Today network and Relix magazine, among other publications. He can be found writing about everything from the latest car loan stats to tips on saving money when traveling overseas. He lives in Asbury Park, where he loves exploring new places and sipping on hoppy beer. Oh, and he doesn't discriminate against buffalo wings — grilled or fried are just fine.
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