Published on July 3, 2020

The kitchen is frequently the most expensive room to remodel—but it doesn’t have to be. While bespoke details like butcher block slabs or intricate ribbed cupboards might typically have your wallet begging for relief, there’s a certain Swedish retailer that’s been doing the heavy lifting for a while now. Sure, an IKEA kitchen may not look like your dream setup at first, but sleek silhouettes and easy-to-assemble fixtures make for a perfectly customizable room. Thanks to companies like Semihandmade and Plykea, there are infinite ways to upgrade. Take it from these eight spaces that you would never guess started with flat-packs. 

These savvy homeowners pulled out every trick in the book, from dressed-up hardware to smart styling ideas. The result? A catalog of inspiration sure to come in handy for anyone who is planning a makeover. 

The Geometry Lesson 

white kitchen cabinets wood open shelves and dark charcoal backsplashPin It
Photography by Virtually Here Studios; Design by A1000xBetter

The kitchen: Clean edges rule in Carly and Justin Wilczynski’s Pasadena, California, space, where linear features take over everything from the soapstone backsplash to the beaded doors—which are, in fact, an IKEA score upgraded with Semihandmade fronts.  

The hero buy: White beaded cabinets from Sarah Sherman Samuel’s collaboration with the retailer.

The style upgrade: Spice up neutrals with a darker backdrop to create a perfect balancing act. 

The High-Low Compromise

black kitchen with wood panel wallsPin It
Photography by Sean Litchfield; Design by Alex Fawcett

The kitchen: Alex Fawcett’s mid-century Connecticut home is brimming with custom details. In the cooking area, this includes a handful of splurges (professionally powder-coated handles, waterfall counters, and hidden appliances), as well as a sneaky save: matte black storage units.   

The hero buy: A set of contemporary Kungsbacka doors.

The style upgrade: Paired with an equally inky soapstone surface, the budget find looks instantly more expensive. Bonus points for the minimal hardware. 

The Candy-Colored Confection

pink kitchen cabinets white zellige tile backsplashPin It
Photography by Jeff Mindell

The kitchen: In Kelly and Jeff Mindell’s 120-square-foot galley, every finish counts. A bubblegum pink base (Dunn-Edwards’s Galveston Tan) sets the scene for layered accents, like a vintage rug and Technicolor collection of dinnerware. 

The hero buy: Stripped-down fronts from Semihandmade’s Chris Loves Julia line are prime for painting. 

The style upgrade: The duo combined their affordable DIY with a textured zellige tile wall, which lends an old-world charm to an otherwise modern space. 

The Rental Revamp

white kitchen with light blue cabinets and beige tile floorsPin It
Photography by Reserve Home

The kitchen: Mallory Fletchall’s renovation secret weapon? Supportive landlords. After getting the green light, she completely refurbished her temporary ’90s kitchenette, complete with new lower cabinets and marble-effect countertops—both of which are from IKEA.   

The hero buy: The Sektion system and Ekbacken laminate, for an allover brightening effect. 

The style upgrade: The pared-back hues might look washed out were it not for all the cozy elements Fletchall peppered in. Follow her lead and infuse as much greenery, artwork, and patterns as possible to give a flat-pack room instant character. 

The Scandinavian Haven

wood kitchen cabinets mint green sconcesPin It
Photography by Sofie Amalie Rolandsen of Thus the Fuss

The kitchen: Minimal and polished, Copenhagen blogger Sofie Amalie Rolandsen’s home is every bit the calming oasis we’d expect. She improvised a semi-store-bought approach, ordering her cupboards’ structure from IKEA and adding her own wood fronts. 

The hero buy: The Ekestad system provided the framework for her bespoke design. 

The style upgrade: To keep the focus on the stunning woodwork, Rolandsen did away with upper shelving completely, instead opting for mint-colored sconces that make what could have been a crowded corner (the kitchen only exists on one wall) feel effortlessly airy. 

The French Country Dupe

navy blue kitchen cabinets with butcher block countersPin It
Photography by Margaret Wright; Design by Renovate108

The kitchen: In Jessica and Tyler Marés’ fixer-upper the butcher block slabs cost only about $350—pretreated with hard wax oil and easy to install, they were a no-brainer way to add a little character to the tiny room. 

The hero buy: Oak Mollekulla counters bring the farmhouse appeal. 

The style upgrade: The reason this charmer looks like it could be in a chic Provence villa rather than its actual Los Angeles location is largely down to the accessories: Matching open shelves are lined with glass canisters to store pantry essentials, and woven baskets hang on the wall for some extra texture. 

The Chef-Approved Corner

pink kitchen plaster walls white smeg fridgePin It
Photography by Lauren Stelling

The kitchen: “Decide on a few key details that are important to you, then build your budget around that,” says foodie Alison Wu. In her Portland, Oregon, residence, those priorities were the Smeg fridge and marble countertops; IKEA cabinetry softened the financial blow.

The hero buy: Semihandmade’s simple Desert Grey slabs ground the rosy room. 

The style upgrade: To balance out the stark smoothness of the lower units, Wu took an old-word approach to the decor. Swirly Venetian plaster mellows out the style, and brushed brass pulls from Park Studio add interest. 

The Spin on Tradition

white kitchen with black stovePin It
Photography by Tessa Neustadt

The kitchen: Semihandmade fixtures were a must in Bri Emery’s 200-square-foot cooking area: The designer didn’t want to rip out her existing cupboards, so she tapped Sarah Sherman Samuel to zhuzh them up with covers. Luckily they match the light-filled retreat perfectly. 

The hero buy: Looks like Samuel’s white beaded fronts are a popular purchase; they also form the base in this breezy space. 

The style upgrade: All-white kitchens are nothing new, but thanks to an expert blend of tone and texture, Emery’s feels fresh. A concrete tile backsplash, netted dining chairs, and plenty of marbled finishes work together to prove once and for all that neutrals don’t have to be boring. 

Introducing Domino’s new podcast, Design Time, where we explore spaces with meaning. Each week, join editor-in-chief Jessica Romm Perez along with talented creatives and designers from our community to explore how to create a home that tells your story. Listen now and subscribe for new episodes every Thursday.

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