A kitchen transformation, 3 of 8: cabinets

April Dykman | Improvement Center Columnist | March 2, 2015

In the second part of this series, we'd just demolished the kitchen and discovered that the floor wasn't even close to level. This would cause problems installing the cabinets, but we'll get to that in just a bit.

First, let's talk cabinet selection. Cabinets are the backbone of a kitchen. Their size, placement, and finish determine both the layout and the style of the space. They also eat up a lot of your budget, so it's important to put plenty of thought into your choice of cabinetry.

Basically, you can go one of two routes: custom or stock. Custom cabinets are built to fit your space, but they're more expensive and you'll be in for a longer wait. Stock cabinets are bought off the shelf, and they can save you money.

Our budget and timeline pointed to stock. Although initially skeptical, we were pleasantly surprised by the look of IKEA's white Ramsjö cabinets, which had the farmhouse style we were after. We also loved the quiet, self-closing slides on the drawers. So, IKEA it was.

Configuring the cabinets

I was finding it hard to visualize what kind of cabinet should go where, and then I discovered IKEA's Kitchen Planner tool. I was able to create a design the exact size of my kitchen and including windows and doors. After putting in appliances and the sink, I could then insert cabinets around them. The great thing about this tool is that there's a 3-D view that really helps you visualize the space. Unfortunately, it's also really buggy. If you use it, be sure to hit the "save" button frequently.

My other cabinet concern was whether I'd planned for enough storage space. So I looked at the kitchen in our previous house, since we had just moved. The amount of cabinet space was adequate, but I felt we could use more drawers, so I added some to the design.

Tip: Use corner cabinets whenever possible to maximize your cabinet space. Corner cabinets with Lazy Susans are ideal because they allow you to easily reach everything in the cabinet.

Installing the cabinets

After settling on a design and hauling the cabinets home, we started to assemble each component. This takes hours of work, but the good news is that before long, you'll be an expert in assembling cabinets. The bad news is that by the time you become an expert, you're almost done.

Kitchen cabinets being installed

We installed the cabinets according to the directions, and that's when the whole "not-level floor" issue reared its ugly head. Originally, we wanted to stack two corner wall cabinets, as shown in the photo. The lower one would be an appliance garage for the food processor and blender. However, we realized that the back wall dipped and was actually 3/16" too short for the two cabinets to fit! (In the photo, they're stacked on a piece of wood that's not as thick as the counter tops we'd purchased.)

We couldn't lower the base cabinets, and we didn't want to try to alter the corner cabinet, so we just eliminated the bottom corner wall cabinet. I eventually figured out another storage solution for the appliances, but we'll get to that solution later.

Tip: When installing cabinets, levelling and making sure they're plumb is no joke. It sounds simple, but it's not. Dad painstakingly checked and double-checked at every stage of the process. We're lucky to have him -- there's no way we could have done it all on our own!

About the Author

April Dykman is a writer who specializes in real estate, personal finance, and entrepreneurship. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes MoneyBuilder, and Yahoo! Finance.