Monday, February 2, 2015

IKEA's SEKTION - The Good, the Bad and the Functional


Chapter 1 - First Impressions*  - the installation.

*without all that glitz and glitter of the IDS show. 

It was a dark and stormy night in Toronto. On February 2nd, IKEA's SEKTION public launch, the city woke up to cancelled school bus routes, closed schools and un-plowed roads - lucky IKEA Etobicoke has a underground parking garage - but their top level parking lot was clear, in anticipation of the crowds.

It was also an exciting day for IKEA co-workers, still setting up, still putting up signage, and there were already eager customers trying out IKEA's new kitchen planner software. IKEA spared nothing, including upgrading their playlist - more youthful, hip - I heard Weezer, Buddy Holly song! There was cake and non-alcoholic champagne for first guests! Look - 

I had some cake and cookies. 

The first kitchen I stumbled across was 'the new Lidi' called 'Bodbyn' - who comes up with those names? - I guess it is that 'Swedish Charm'. This time around the doors are manufactured in Portugal - most likely a lower cost, given that before LIDI was made in Sweden.

[ ASIDE Ha! Barenaked Ladies on the playlist in IKEA! I'm writing the review at the store...]

IKEA installers - under the direction of the designer - did the best of that standard limited decorative moulding - some nice detailing that I am sure to copy - and maybe expand? I think there could be nicer, more impressive top mouldings - IKEA uses the same moulding for all application.

All the kitchens featured quartz countertops - with matching profiles - but they do add significant cost - can come close to the price of the cabinetry. I like that IKEA is upfront about that cost, and offers a lower price point. Look - 

But the biggest, 'Ah! Ha!' moment came for me, when I tested the first kitchen island! For real! It was wobbly! I could not believe it! I recorded a video of it, just so that nobody accuses me of fabricating stuff! This is how I test all my cabinetry - I stand at one end of the island, firmly grab the ends and give it a shake - try to wobble it [!!!] - my cabinetry is SOLID, like a rock! - shot with my Blackberry* - Look - 


Now, I know that it was the first kitchen island that I encountered, and that I tested all the kitchen islands - and some were sturdier than others, probably due to geometry - and that IKEA now offers a 'kitchen island stabilizing kit', that I am yet to get my hands on and test it. Look - [A]

IKEA did come out with hardware to accommodate mounting island cabinets back-to-back, or mounting the large panels - I am looking forward to trying out that piece of hardware. 

VERDICT: So as much as I love their boxes and their hardware, IKEA's kitchen islands still remain a weakness of the system. Upon closer inspections I noticed some awkward hardware creeping into the cabinets; the much touted 'new base mouldings' felt awkward and there was very little flexibility. You really should get me to design and build you an IKEA kitchen islands - my system eliminates all those deficiencies - it is a custom solution, that will open up possibilities. 


So once you get past the well made SEKTION box, once you get past the super functional hardware and organizers [they truly are amazing!], you get to the doors. The doors and the panels are where you make your true design statement about your kitchen. Right off the bat, I will disclose my 'conflict of interest' - I am a professional woodworker and a finisher, and I have built and finished some pretty impressive doors and panels in my career. I know how to gauge the quality of a door by its built and by the quality of the finish - I am a perfectionist - my previous employers and my past clients will attest to that.  

So, how do IKEA doors stack up? Let's start:

A] they are production doors - there are millions of these being made, and for the sheer volume produced the quality it excellent. A lot of the doors run on an automated line - no human handling - and such any defects are 'the robot's fault' - if there is ever an issue, you can always take it back to IKEA and they will exchange, no questions asked - that has been my experience - I have had some doors with minor damage that were replaced immediately - you just have to make a trip to IKEA and have a receipt handy. 

B] they are production doors - upon closer inspection I can immediately spot where a bit of 'human hand' involved in the process might have produced a better result. This is especially obvious on the lacqured doors - the MDF end grain is a little bumpy - this would not pass under my watch - I recall spending significant amount of time in the finishing room sealing the end-grain with two-part filler, to ensure that the sealer coat would go on equally smooth - face and edge are of the same quality. That's the 'custom' vs. 'production' door dilemma.  

C] their high gloss slab doors are good - for production doors they are nice, flawless and glossy. 

D] wood grains or wood grain imitation - well....that's a different story. There are several wood grain scenarios: 

Scenario A - the doors are 'shaded' with stain - to even out the 'tone'. It's a professional finishing technique, where stain/colour is mixed into the top-coat, and applied over already sealed wood. This results in wood-grain doors that are consistent in their overall 'colour' and 'tone' - but wood grain ends up looking 'muddy' - personally, I don't like that look. That's how you get IKEA's 'white ash' doors, that's how you get their 'black grain doors' - the grain is completely obscured by pigment. 

EXAMPLE - look - shaded doors. 

Scenario B - the doors end up-looking a patchy. Again these are production doors and there is no way to ensure consistent matching grain from door to door.  Look - 

Scenario C - best looking wood grain doors, in my opinion, are simply 'clear coated' - they showcase the wood's natural grain and beauty. 

Remember, IKEA's doors are meant to appeal to widest possible audiences; satisfy the most popular looks; provide widest possible price-point spread; give best possible quality under automated production settings, and if those are the criteria that we are judging them, then yes, they are successful.**

[To be continued...]

*shameless plug - I love my Blackberry phone. 
** remember, you can always hire my to design and build you some IKEA doors and panels -  it is one of the services that I offer. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

IKEA's SEKTION and the 'last kitchen' you will ever need - REVIEW

Chapter 1 - Confessions of an IKEA hacker - why I love the SEKTION kitchen!

You should buy an IKEA SEKTION kitchen. I am buying it for my dream kitchen - with few mods, mind you. 

Often times people get confused what it means to have a 'custom kitchen' - it's the IKEA vs. Custom dillemma. People feel that they cannot get a good enough of a product going with mass produced. In fact, I am aware of a trend - people disliking the IKEA model perceiving it as cheap, lacking in quality. 

This could be farther from the truth when it comes to IKEA's kitchens. IKEA's kitchens are well made, 3/4" construction and are well edged - premium features in my opinion.  You can do so much to improve on the original assembly - I offer that service. But you can do an awesome job assembling and installing it yourself. You should get a professional plumber and a licensed electrician if you need any of that work done - plumbing or electrical. 

IKEA is amazing at its hardware. Here check out this video from BLUM that I shot at IDS - this is BLUM's premium hardware line -


and this one - 


and this one - 


Nah, you will not find these on an IKEA SEKTION kitchen, but IKEA worked with BLUM and they created - in my opinion - the optimal solution - I have not seen that many organizers since ever. I am yet to check out the pricing - but if you can afford to add their bells and whistles - it makes your kitchen infinitely more practical. There is storage for practically everything - small and light to big, heavy and awkward - the kitchen is designed to anticipate changes. In my opinion, at the IDS, no kitchen exhibitor showed anything closely as practical as IKEA - with the closest one being Scavolini - and they had their awkward moments.  I was very impressed - it really made me question why I build premium baltic birch drawers - tradition*? This is the photo that gets me -

The geometry of the boxes is very clever, it allows for any style to be expressed especially when paired up with SEKTION doors - modernist, classic, contemporary. Nobody can beat them on their slab, solid colour doors. That style doors is the staple of any modernist looking kitchen - they do it plenty, they do it well. It is when you get into the wood grains is when you run into trouble - the grain - door-to-door - does not match, it may end-up looking like a patchwork, a wooden quilt. IKEA does best to minimize that with the choice of darker, evened-out, 'shaded' [proper finishing term] tone to their wood grains. As a purist, I have to disagree with IKEA on the wood grain doors - all the finishing completely obscures the grain - in some ways you might as well just paint it. 

And this is precisely why I am offering nice matching wood grain slab doors for IKEA SEKTION boxes. I also make matching cover panels for kitchen islands, fridge panels, full length dishwasher panels [IKEA doesn't do that!], and any required fillers - you always need those. 

And finally the price. IKEA has the lowest market option. You cannot possibly get a better quality kitchen - some exceptions. It is the economy of scale that lets you purchase one of the most versatile and practical and amazing kitchen system for so little money - it would not have been possible before. From what I have been able to gather at the Toronto Interior Design Show, is that unless you are purchasing a kitchen like Scavolini or Boffi, which I think are bought for their specific, unique design features, IKEA does not have a competitor. All the other exhibitors built well with 3/4" materials, but none offered such a range of interior fittings. True that IKEA uses white powder-coated steel instead of chrome and glass, but IKEA BLUM hardware is essentially 'the best' of BLUM - here - 

minus the motorized option - you are still getting the best design on hardware for an incredible price. 

And if you think that by paying more - you get something of superior quality, then think about this: 

A] this kitchen must have cost tons of money, and it advertised itself as such,  but the hardware on it was so utterly impractical. This piece of hardware gets a complete fail grade - look - 

How big does your kitchen need to be so that you Kitchen Aid mixer gets its own lower cabinet? That's just an inefficient use of space. I was really unimpressed with the expensive kitchens. Yes, they had tons of detailing, tons - beading and arches, and fancy solid wood countertops that definitely attracted the eye, but were in no way practical - to maintain them and run a normal kitchen would be a nightmare. 

SEKTION truly is an amazing system.  

SEKTION being so modular, so versatile needs to be properly designed. There are thousands of combinations and thousands of price points. I think first time ever, it will make sense to hire a professional designer - I think this may be the only weakness of the SEKTION system. Look, it almost feels like you need a rocket scientist for the job - you really don't, all you need is me - 

Oh, and the plastic legs on the kitchen islands - they never work - wobbly! You have to use my system - I honestly believe it is the best option. It makes the entire IKEA kitchen solid - the electrical and plumbing are easy to do properly. 

Tomorrow I am heading straight to IKEA to catch a peek at the kitchens - first thing in the morning. 

*they look good in wardrobes;

Thursday, January 29, 2015


'A thousand possibilities....'

From the new IKEA SEKTION catalogue:

   'A SEKTION kitchen from IKEA lets you create literally thousands of different combinations so you're sure to be able to put together a kitchen that's just right - for you. 

I completely agree with this statement. That is precisely the strength of the system. This is why I will be cutting less and instead be more efficient with the boxes - that's the change for me. And I think, it is the same conclusion that the IKEA's SEKTION designers came to - the AKURUM 'kitchen box' being so versatile worked in all situations - basements, laundry, mudrooms, play rooms - any general storage! And if you did not like the BESTA media unit, there was no reason why you could not go with a AKURUM - you just needed a creative individual to modify the system to suit your particular needs.

IKEA Etobicoke was just recently hiring kitchen planners -

  • Ikea Kitchen Planner Job Description
The Kitchen Planner IS tasked to assist customers or make accurate designs and layout in proper time in customer’s transaction process. Ensure that the labeling and presentation of the merchandise is accurate and clear. He/she must also be updated and knowledgeable on product features and customer selling strategies.
Ikea Kitchen Planner Hourly Salary Range: *****

The ad also listed some carpentry experience would be an asset. So the individuals who will help those millions of customers purchasing their new  kitchen are there only to ensure a proper shopping experience - a successful sale. IKEA does not mention or seem to require any actual design experience from their planners - that is a weakness of their system, in my opinion. For a complex system like SEKTION - yea! I think that is a one flaw that SEKTION has, its complexity - you do need to understand how to make that functionality work for you; how to make that functionality work with your budget.  

IKEA does have a 'third party' affiliated with them that offers:

A] a measuring service - self-explanatory;
B] a service that will provide you with a 'detailed layout and 3D image of your kitchen' - this is a little ambiguous to me - who are these people? are they designers? [I will find out and update this entry when I do]
C] delivery service - self-explanatory - I think they actually have pretty good prices!
D] installation services - the plastic legs are back on SEKTION! read here what I think about them, and what I do differently.

There will be two things that will be happening as a result of this overt SEKTION complexity:

A] Inefficient designs - or mistakes - I consider myself a good kitchen designer not just because I love cooking, or that I worked as a line cook in a professional kitchen [lunches was the most challenging that I did, it was still busy!]. I consider myself a good kitchen designer, because I am a schooled designer [Craft&Design diploma,  Furniture Design major], but also because I have built numerous kitchens, some of them commercial [my guess would be in the vicinity of about 50?].

And when I was looking over the designs at the SEKTION booth, I was always, in my mind, trying to rationalize the decisions made. So:

A] showcasing functionality but raising cost;
B] purely for looks - significantly raises cost;
C] a functional compromise in an awkward situation - cost conscious;
D] wow! a low cost solution that works!

Like that, and there were many more. How is an average person to navigate all that without professional help? Based on my experience, designing and assembling an IKEA kitchen is not impossible - but it is challenging. I speculate that every IKEA kitchen buyer's worst nightmare is when they need to check the product count upon delivery - all 2000 pieces - awkward Swedish names; long strings of numbers punctuated with periods; no indication as to the actual size - is this item 'small' or 'big'? Often times people will have the kitchen delivered mid-reno, but actually start opening and checking a month later, things have been moved around several times.  No jokes! I've seen it all! It's a puzzle that many homeowners dread.

B] Complexity of the system will result in the creative and functional potential of that system not being fully realized.

I know that it will take me some time and several projects to not only fully grasp the potential of SEKTION, but also how I can add to it - or better - in what ways can I hack it? One thing I know for sure, SEKTION will work wonderfully with customs doors and panels that I will launch for it - I will make it look like a million bucks!

For the last 2 week, I have had a major dilemma - with AKURUM being phased out, I have began to postpone any quotes that required the old system. Some doors are not available anymore it seems - put out in the AS-IS section. I will have to wait few days till the new system is released to begin using it in my designs. In some ways, I think, SEKTION will really let me showcase my creativity in designing millwork. They way I look at it - it's just a box! and needs a master. LOL.

I am so eager to get that tool in my hands - SEKTION here I come!

Monday, January 26, 2015

IKEA SEKTION launch - what's really in the 'kitchen'? + SCANDAL [part 1]

[this post was started the day of the launch - Trade Day at the IDS...]

Part 1

Today IKEA launched SEKTION - the kitchen system that replaces AKURUM - at the 2015 Toronto Interior Design Show. IKEA had another exhibitor Semihandmade removed from the show first, and then they launched.* I felt that it was a bit heavy handed on their part - they have a history of being heavy handed. If you are curious, or you have been living under a rock, Semihandmade picks up where IKEA kinda' leaves-off** - they make aftermarket doors for IKEA boxes - kitchens and wardrobes and others. By IKEA's account, they have sold 7.7 million kitchens and by Semihandmade's account they have sold over 700 door sets. Personally I don't think IKEA had anything to be concerned about - in terms of volume of sales - I rather think that the professional audience that day, might first see what a lot of people already see - beautiful modern wood grain doors [or custom paint shaker] - that fit IKEA kitchen boxes - custom look on a budget - and that market is only going to grow. 

Hey! I'm offering that service for the Canadian market now! Get custom made doors for your IKEA SEKTION kitchen!

As much as their 'popular marketing' is warm and inviting - giving us that cozy feel of Scandinavian Modernism - they are brutally efficient. IKEA has the lowest market cost option - that's a statement pulled off their European produced marketing video, delivered by a woman with blond hair, very blue eyes, and a frigid gaze that pierces the soul of any competitor. 

IKEA is Blum's [the hardware manufacturer] largest customer - IKEA says 'jump!' and Blum says 'how high?'.  Their designers worked together on developing efficient and functional - optimal solutions - to the kitchen dilemma. IKEA, it seems was able to lower the production costs of hardware AND made it more functional - they did several things - keep on reading till the end.   

IKEA has a history of being able to reduce prices over the years - mainly by finding efficiencies within their system. 


LAST MINUTED UPDATE - while writing

IKEA wins BEST BOOTH AWARD at the Interior Design Show!
[why wouldn't they? they had the largest booth in a premier position [$$$]; they had the tallest booth in the premier position [$$$]; and they did have a spectacular interior design [$$$]]


They invest heavily in automation - BILLY bookcase production is fully automated, no human hands touch that bookcase other than yours [see video in this post]. The first step in production of Klippan sofas is shrouded in secrecy, no on has access - other than employees - there are no images and no video footage exists of that 'production first step'. I speculate that it has to do with the automation of the first step - there is some cleverly designed machine  that in a single 'insert' eliminates about 4 hours of skilled manual labour - there are 800 sofas manufactured bye SWEDE WOOD, in Poland, for the world's consumption every day. IKEA - along with a complete switch to LED lighting - has invested in a windfarm, in the province of Alberta, Canada, which will allow them to become energy independent. So while the rest of us will be at the mercy of the market swings - shortages, conflicts, politics - for our energy consumption, IKEA will be able to operate in total independence. And that is their goal for 2020 - total energy independence. They are also investing in their labour force, now offering a pension to any employee that has been with the company for at least 5 years - I've been going to IKEA Etobicoke for the last 15 years, and I keep seeing the same faces. It is stunning to me, the amount of foresight that IKEA has an as a corporate entity. 

Part 2

So the public got a first hand view and try of SEKTION. 

That old system AKURUM has been my 'go-to' box for a large portion of my business - I was curious how my business is going to be affected - and it is, I can already see it. I went into IDS 2015 IKEA booth and opened everything, inspected all the hardware and place of origin [AKURUM boxes were manufactured in the US; some doors were made Sweden; some parts were made in China; some parts were made in Russia!]

I also knew that there be lots of other kitchen manufacturers - large and small. By seeing all of them, by inspecting all of them - their kitchens all in one place - I would be able to better position the IKEA kitchen in the market - is SEKTION a good product? What are its strength and what are its weaknesses? 

SEKTION has definitely that European feel - at the show, each SEKTION box was full of hardware - BLUM - that optimized the interiors. Traditional shelving was banished to the upper boxes - anything above about 6 feet. Drawers, drawers, drawers everywhere! IKEA has done away with their aluminum RATIONEL slide-out boxes - nice, but still the interior walls were slanted reducing the drawer 'floor area' and thus capacity - and replaced it*** with a white, powder coated steel, rectangular slide out box - more storage, likely [I haven't gotten the specs yet, a good indication are the gauge of steel and colour of the runners on the slides] increased weight capacity. 

Here - traditional hinged doors with internal drawers

And - 

There are plastic dividers that further divide this box. 

[To be continued]

*IKEA is rewriting design history - there never was Semihandmade at the show IDS 2015. It did not exist. SEKTION is and always will be. 

** Because IKEA veneer and veneer-imitation doors are production doors there is no way to ensure that consecutive doors have matching grain. Matching grain on sequential doors and panels is usually found on high-end kitchens. 

*** Revision, the BLUM boxes still have the lower walls slanted - not as much though as before.