Monday, November 11, 2013

New Kitchen Supplemental Post Part 1: Why Ikea?

Before I start this post, I'd like to say thanks to all veterans and current soldiers for their service. Without their fight to maintain our freedom, I wouldn't be here typing on this blog, right? Thank you.

So I thought I'd do a few more posts about the new kitchen, just extra stuff that I thought would be useful to share that would have otherwise bogged down my normal posts. In this first post, I'm discussing the benefits and disadvantages of using Ikea.
I've been thinking a lot about the quality of Ikea's cabinets lately because for some reason, Ikea has a reputation for being cheap, in the bad kind of way, and there are people who have an embarrassed attitude about admitting they own Ikea furniture. I personally love it. If you shop and style carefully, Ikea furniture can look awesome.
{my simple Ikea glasstop desk}
Instead of "cheap," a better way to describe Ikea is "affordable, efficient, and practical." Why do so many people think that things that cost less are automatically poorer in quality? I feel like it's an American attitude to think that more is always more; disclaimer: I'm American so I'm allowed to generalize us. I have a few friends who work long hours at their jobs and they think that means they are hard workers. Honestly, if I were a boss, I'd prefer to hire an employee who is able to execute all of his/her work properly in a shorter amount of time over an employee who takes 10 hours to finish a simple task; I'd prefer someone efficient and smart. Let me clarify here that of course there are exceptions to this. I know that many times, cheaper is cheaper and you get what you pay for. But in the case of Ikea kitchens, they are just the hard workers in the scenario.
{Ikea kitchen display}

AFFORDABILITY
Like most people, I don't have a lot of extra money laying around so I had to decide exactly how to divvy up my budget for my kitchen renovation. I couldn't put 80% of my money towards amazing custom cabinetry and settle for sub-par appliances and laminate countertops. I love to cook so I needed the equipment to do so and nothing against laminate but I had my heart set on quartz (or some other stone-ish surface). Ikea just fit the bill and I have no regrets.

The main reason Ikea furniture is so affordable is because they don't fuss with the superfluous stuff. It's a flat-pack furniture store where almost everything must be found and picked up in the warehouse by the shopper and then assembled at home. The flat-packs allow the factories to ship a greater number of items to warehouses in fewer shipments. It allows warehouses to stock more stuff in less space. It also means that what a consumer wants will likely be in stock and allows him/her to bring home more purchases in fewer trips. Ikea also works on their designs to make them efficient to produce, efficient to pack and ship, and yet still accessible in terms of assembly. There are fewer middle men and that's the main reason it's affordable; not because they just slap together some crap materials and call it a day.

Sometimes, Ikea comes up with a more efficient way to produce something and you'll see that item in the store with a little poster that explains why it costs less than it did last year, even though it's the same exact item. I think that's awesome.
DURABILITY
Ikea cabinet "skeletons" are made of an engineered wood (made up of wood fibers and resin and wax) and it's denser than plywood. Yes, particle board/MDF can be susceptible to warping when exposed to moisture, meaning your kitchen sink explodes and the pipes leak everywhere and it floods your home. It doesn't mean your MDF cabinets will warp because of the humidity of a rainy day (unless they are super poor quality). People who are big advocates of plywood: newsflash, plywood is susceptible to damage when exposed to moisture too. The solution here is to just prevent water damage, i.e. hire a plumber to properly set up your sink. Also, wood tends to swell and contract with the temperature and humidity quite regularly and may warp more noticeably than engineered wood.

Good quality plywood that should be used for cabinetry is way expensive and not in most people's budgets. Plus, plywood isn't as eco-friendly as MDF, since MDF is manufactured using scrap wood.
Most of the non-custom cabinetry on the market right now is MDF. The biggest difference is that Home Depot, Lowes, and any other big box supplier probably doesn't offer a 25-year warranty with their kitchens and Ikea does. And, typically MDF (for cabinets) is 5/8" but at Ikea, it's 3/4" - yeah, 3/4 > 5/8 - fractions!. Also, Ikea's wood is sourced from sustainable sources and their MDF is formaldehyde and VOC-free, which, if you're a human and you care about the planet are two v. important factors.

Ikea's drawers are made of metal, not wood or particle board or MDF, so they won't expand/contract with the weather/temperature; the expansion/contraction is what causes most drawers to malfunction and/or break. And since drawers are the most finicky element of kitchen cabinets, the fact that these are metal earn Ikea another few points. Plus, the hardware in Ikea's kitchen cabinets is awesome, not just for the price but in general - dampers, slow-close mechanisms, smooth gliders - these are the small touches that will make you love your kitchen. The hardware is manufactured by Blum which is commonly used by high end cabinetry makers.


LESSONS LEARNED
Ikea is great and I don't regret using them to furnish my kitchen but the affordable furniture does come at a time-consuming price. I want to share my lessons learned about dealing with Ikea and their flat-pack furniture so that if you, the reader, are also interested in furnishing your kitchen through Ikea, you can go into the process as a well-informed consumer.

Design
  • Ikea's kitchen planner is a great tool but it will drive you crazy. Save your work and save it often.
  • Measure once, twice, three times and make sure you get the same measurements every time. As you'll read below, the returns/exchange process with Ikea can be a stressful and tiring process so it's good to get it right the first time.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to think about your design, sleep on it, ask friends for advice, and look at inspiration photos. Spending a lot of time on the design is important in order to end up with a kitchen that you love.
Shopping
  • Bring a printout of your design. You'll kick yourself if you show up without it and for some god-forsaken reason the computers are down.
  • Ikea is busy every single day of the week. I know this because I've been there on a Saturday (the reputed worst day to go) and I've gone there on a Wednesday and it was the same thing both days: just a chaotic mess of stressed out shoppers. Go first thing in the morning to avoid the busiest crowds. Plus, going early means the workers are less likely to be in a crappy mood because they haven't dealt with hoards of complainers yet.
  • Browse online before you go shopping to check stock. This is more for those of you who plan on forgoing delivery and bringing the items home yourself. Ikea has an app that makes it really easy to make a list. The app also tells you if items are in stock and exactly where to find what you want so you can make a game plan.
  • Ikea doesn't provide shopping bags so bring your own bags (or boxes) so you don't have a million things tumbling around your trunk, which will make it more likely for items to end up damaged before you get home.
  • If you get your items delivered or if you use Ikea's picking service, make sure to look through all of your packages to check them and alert Ikea to any missing or broken items within 72 hours of your purchase to ensure a smooth resolution. This includes opening up boxes to check for damage, which is especially important for anyone who lives far from an Ikea location. We discovered a few broken items a few weeks after our delivery and made a few trips back to the store to get them exchanged, but we only live 25 minutes away from our Ikea. I don't know what we would have done if we lived an hour or more away - probably plop on the floor and weep.
Customer Service
  • I phoned Ikea's call center line a handful of times and every single time, I was on hold for at least 15 minutes before I got in contact with an actual human. So once I got a person on the phone, it was extremely important to make sure everything I needed was resolved. Have your order number in front of you and make a list of the questions so you don't forget anything.
  • Ask your customer service representative for the extension numbers of the kitchen department in your preferred Ikea location. This will make it much easier for you to reach your actual Ikea store. Plus, once you get an idea of how the extensions are set up, you can type in a few different variations until you reach a human (e.g. if the rep tells you ext. 2500, try 2501, 2502, etc.). Desperate situations call for desperate measures.
  • If you'd rather not waste your cell phone minutes or time sitting on hold, you can always try emailing Ikea. It can take up to three days to receive a response but if you have a simple question and you don't need an immediate answer, then it's a heck of a lot less stressful than phoning them.
Assembly & Installation
  • Follow the assembly directions exactly as depicted in the illustrations. Ikea has uploaded a bunch of videos on youtube that might be helpful if the coloring book-style directions just aren't doing it for you. And even if Ikea's youtube channel doesn't have the answer, someone else out there has probably put the answer somewhere, whether it's on youtube or a forum or a blog. It's important to build the furniture correctly to make sure you don't ruin any of the components and to make sure you don't void the warranty.
  • We assembled the cabinet skeletons and then had a bunch of screws and hardware leftover for pieces that we planned on installing later (like the doors and shelves) and because we had so many cabinets, it was important to keep it organized. To keep everything in order, tape up and label any remaining hardware to make it easy on you later when you have to use all that leftover stuff.
Returns and Exchanges
  • We had to go to Ikea to exchange a few broken drawers and to pick up our sink. The returns & exchanges line is a nightmare at every hour of the day so be prepared to wait. Bring a book or iPad or something to occupy your time so you don't go crazy.
  • If you can, send someone into the store ahead of you to grab a number while you park the car and bring the items inside. Ikea's returns/exchanges line is like a deli counter - you have to take a number and wait for your number to be called.
  • Once you exchange your items, open them up and check them for damage before you sign the receipt. We discovered that one of the new drawers we had just exchanged was also broken! So we ended up having to wait in line again. It was horrible but we learned our lesson.
  • We also drove home with our sink (which we didn't want to open up because it was humongous and heavy) and found out it was broken AND missing the hardware to install it after we got home and decided to go back (the same day we picked it up) to exchange it. We went prepared with supplies so that we could open up the exchanged item before bringing it home. Bring tape and scissors with you so you can inspect your items and then tape them back up so that they're secure for the trip home.
CONCLUSION
This post was written neither to encourage nor discourage shopping at Ikea but just to inform any readers and share what I found to be good and bad about using Ikea to furnish my kitchen. It always helps me to make a decision if I know what other people have gone through so I thought it would be prudent to share. Despite the amount of labor (assembling 14 cabinets, including a monster-sized pantry), the amount of time spent without a kitchen (more than 2 months), and all of the stressful moments (waiting in the exchanges and returns line at Ikea), when I take a look around our kitchen, it's validating and I know it was all worth it.
If you're also an experienced Ikea kitchen shopper and have any words of wisdom, please comment below.

And if you're ever embarrassed to say, "Ikea" when people ask you where you got your kitchen, just say, "It's European." What? It's true.

Thanks for reading.

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