Why We Decided Against IKEA Cabinets for Our $48K Kitchen Remodel
The cost of going custom is less than you’d think.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 5:45 PM
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Nashville-based musician and songwriter Gabe Simon and his wife, June, have Spider-Man to thank for their kitchen makeover. No, the superhero didn’t save the day with a sledgehammer and paintbrush. When the couple set out on their remodel, they had an all-in budget of $35,000. But when, halfway through the planning stage, Gabe’s song “Tambourine” was featured in the official trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home, they suddenly had a lot more wiggle room—roughly $10,000 worth—to work with. Local interior designer Lauren Bradshaw saw to it that they put every penny to work, while Gabe played the role of general contractor.
“The most challenging part was the room itself,” recalls Gabe, noting the “wonkiness” of the unleveled floors and varied ceiling heights. Once they made the dated space symmetrical (a challenge, given that when the crew attempted to raise the floor by ¼ inch, the windows on the second floor cracked), Bradshaw set her sights on luxe, Scandi-inspired finishes. With a new budget of $48,000, the designer splurged on elements the Simons and their two young daughters would look at and touch the most, and saved by sticking with the old layout. Here, the designer and homeowner walk us through the newly renovated space.
Do the Math on Custom Cabinets
Bradshaw: A lot of clients come to me wanting IKEA cabinets with Semihandmade doors, and the Simons were no different. So we used IKEA’s online planning tool to map out the space and price out the cabinetry. Once we added the cost of the new doors, the total only ended up being $5,000 less than a bid we had received for custom ones. Because the Simons knew they wanted to be in this home for a long time, it made sense to spend a little more on something that was sturdy.
Be Scrupulous About the Little Stuff
Bradshaw: Once we decided that craftsmanship mattered, it became a question of how do we celebrate that? The exposed dovetailing on the drawers (an additional cost) was one way. To me, it screams, “This is all-wood cabinetry!” Then came the super-simplified handles—I’ve seen a lot of Scandinavian kitchens with no hardware. The fabricator mocked up two versions so we could make sure the diameter felt comfortable for fingers. For the white uppers, I still really wanted the wood to shine through. I came up with the idea of adding a small sliver of oak behind the opening.
Put Your Floors to the Test
Simon: We looked at a lot of very expensive, aesthetically pleasing floor tile options, like terracotta, but I tested dropping a knife on it and it damaged the stone on the first hit. Find a tile you love that doesn’t make you terrified every time your kid knocks a fork to the floor. We went with hexagons that are made of porcelain but look like cement.
Create an Even Playing Field
Bradshaw: One side of the kitchen is really hardworking (there’s an appliance garage, the stove, and a full-height backsplash). We knew it was going to look heavy, so on the other side, we brought the backsplash up to the height where the upper cabinets start and painted the wall white. That way there’s a continuous line across the whole room. It’s a subtle way of creating visual symmetry.
Beware That Lighting Can Add Up
Simon: Lighting was the most surprising cost. We wanted variety (bright options for when we’re cooking and cleaning, dim options for when we want to enjoy breakfast or share a bottle of wine), but the wall space was limited, so we had to build custom switches to be able to control the vibe.
Plan for All the Seasons
Simon: In the midst of the project, we debated installing heated floors. We ended up not doing it because I thought it was unnecessary—a big mistake. You’ll never regret having warm toes during the winter months in an old house. If you need extra encouragement, just think of your kids’ cute little nubs turning into tiny ice cubes.
Leave the Trends for Another Room
Bradshaw: Because the Simons want to be in this home for a while, we didn’t want to do anything too trendy (like a waterfall edge) for the island. I got inspired by a table I saw online that had hexagonal white oak legs. I thought: What if we made it look like a timeless piece of furniture? It was a similar story with the quartz countertops. They’re super-durable and the veining is subtle, so the family won’t grow tired of it.
Take the Lead
Simon: I can’t encourage people enough to personally manage their own renovation. Gather subcontractors for the tasks you feel limited in and map out the next few months. Most of them love having confirmed jobs weeks in advance. It’s a lot of work, but the satisfaction is immense and the savings (we only spent $9,000 on labor) allow you to splurge elsewhere.
See more stories like this: We Transformed an Old Porch Into a Laundry Room for $6K Almost Half of Our $16K Exterior Remodel Budget Went to Painting the Fence It Cost Us $25K to Turn an Old A-Frame Into a Scandi-Inspired Getaway