Monday, March 30, 2015

The advantage of IKEA Hacking

Chapter 1

I am in the process of building my new favourite thing - they are all my favourites. This design was particularly challenging - given the desire to create a a elements of symmetry - and balance - in a difficult space. I am using my favourite material - plastic laminate from ABET - nice, white, high-gloss. My favourite thing about laminates is the ability to create large seamless surfaces - properly prepared substrate will produce superior results - large flawless sheen. Put that together with some detailing and proportions and you got yourself a beaute! 

Not only it is a nice design, I am have the pleasure of building it properly - just as it should - the right material used in an appropriate way - structurally superior. It just feels right. 

The right materials are always used for the appropriate purpose. Exterior plywood that is glued and screwed together will make for a nice rigid base - it will need it - it will fill with books in no time. Bookcases are so nice to design and build because they are put to use immediately - they just fill up with books right away - the new owners take advantage of the increased functionality immediately. 

In front you can see the bottom of the torsion box that will be used to create the two slabs. The really nice, I wanna say 'luxurious', detail is the curvature of the horizontal slabs - they are very subtle - gentle sweep across the bookcases - top and bottom. On top, two boxes with dividers - the most optimum way of utilizing that space, but still making it look really good. Curved elements always require making of a template that is then used to fabricate the finished piece.- it's an additional cost. Here, I bend a plank to achieve a fair curve. 

Chapter 2 - Semihandmade has done it!

IKEA only makes profitable decisions.  Semihandmade, from California, is just riding that wave! Ever since the launch of the SEKTION, Semihandmade has dramatically expanded their selection of doors - seriously. Are we talking a Renaissance of American manufacturing? 

New production technology has led to great improvements on what can be achieved in melamine - a sheetgood, particle-core - no longer limited to flat, single colour, with dull texture - melamine nowadays is...fashionable! - that's the term I would use - and it is going to be a dated look at some point in the future, I predict - that's just my personal opinion as a designer. 


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Properly installed IKEA island - part 2 OR What was wrong with AKURUM?

CHapter 1 - From my last e-mail;

Hi Richard,

Sorry, one last thing - I opened a set of legs - I wanted to see something - if you could not return them - I will pay you for them. I opened them because I wanted to see how they would perform in your situation - if you hired anyone else they would have very likely used them along with the 'stabilizing kit' - which in my opinion is not that great.

I expect to be in Oakville in near future, I could always pick them up then. I could always look at the slab too, see how it is sitting.

Also, based on my experience with this slab - since I make 'aftermarket parts for IKEA kitchens' I was considering making a set of L-rails predrilled for IKEA pattern that would allow for slab such as yours to be held down properly - would you be interested in an add-on like that? There is cool metal shop right next to my shop‎ - I would ask for a quote - this would be a prototype - if you decide to purchase then I will install it for you free - a test. I think it would be successful - and I will start offering it.

All best,

Studio Kosnik

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone.


I am a sucker for my Blackberry - Q20 - it's easy to bang out e-mails like that. It's natural.

Chapter 2 - What was wrong with AKURUM?

This install actually got me thinking - what if Richard did not hire me, it would have been likely that whoever did the install would have used the IKEA legs - at about 6" high, they would be tipsy. 6" was not an arbitrary height, it was required to match the other side of the countertop height. My idea to start making custom bases for IKEA kitchens came out of the frustration of plastic legs snapping off during AKURUM installs - especially on tall pantries - 'it was pain in the a** to use them!'. Then it was only natural that when the first kitchen island came, and it was like 'how do I fix this thing to the floor now, so it don't wobble?' - and the plywood kicks were so easy, especially with plumbing or electrical, it was good fit. Once the parts were fabricated - with the use of adhesives - one part naturally reinforced the other, all components working together - it was easy to level - great deal of frustration was taken out of the process of installation. I had the AKURUM system nailed!

And then SEKTION happened. Now SEKTION did not happen arbitrarily. IKEA recognized that there was market for a well manufactured, mass produced, very affordable kitchen. They sold 7.7 million units previously and they are clearly going for a new record - everyone needs a kitchen. The renovation market is huge, why not advantage of it. SEKTION has completely new geometry - for me, who is a designer - I consider myself fairly experienced - I am still thinking about all the choice that IKEA made - IKEA does not make arbitrary choices - IKEA only makes profitable choices. Any difference between AKURUM and SEKTION are a direct result of an improvement of a weakness. Here is the list - there probably still will be things added to it, but these are my immediate thoughts:

A] Made in the USA. AKURUMS were also made in the US, but the print was tiny, and easy to miss, and no one at that time was mass producing cabinetry in China. But on SEKTION? Boy, when I saw that big, bold and printed on the back of the gables, for something that will never see the light of day except for few short hours as it is being put together; good choice of font; great contrast; clear and easy to read on what seems to be a sealed edge [I am actually quite curious as top that edge treatment - remember, I am new to SEKTION as well, just like you dear reader] - 'MADE IN THE USA!' it shouted. It's true there is a lot of cabinetry - cheap cabinetry being imported from places were labour is cheap and sourcing of materials is not as strict and regulated. Feel good about your purchase, you are supporting a strong AMERICAN economy! Although I bet that it is manufactured somewhere in the deep south - not the heart of Manhattan.

Remember NAFTA? Just for kicks, I will price out an identical kitchen in the USA - say New York City, Manhattan? - and than factor in pick up+delivery - and with the plunging plunging Canadian dollar, who knows...road trip! Through the Catskill's cheaper...we'd stop to swim in a river...haulin' IKEA SEKTION kitchen. I like long roadtrips - I would make it a good one - we'd have to shoot video. This is what the drive through Catskill Mountains looks like...

And if you are thinking, that this is outrages - I was once asked if I would consider doing an install in Buffalo, USA! There is no IKEA in Bufallo, the kitchen was purchased in Toronto, Canada and hauled over the border. I did not do it - yes, I would show up with a van full of tools, and I would have to explain to the American border agents that I am going to Buffalo to install cabintery, and I would be back in few days - I would promise them that...

So, 'Made in the USA', it is a purely psychological improvement - IKEA always made their kitchens for the North American market in North America.

B] that printed dotted line - also found on the back of the gables - it indicates 'nail along the line'. I bet that there were lots of missed nails, visibly popping through the sides - it happened to me too, couple of times - although I used a nailer.

C] the grooved gables + slide in backs - if you did not glue in your AKURUM back and put in an occasional screw, the humidity, the movement eventually cause for gaps to appear between the flexible, thin backs and the more rigid sides. Grooved design eliminated that. 

D] the MDF stretchers on AKRURUMS are now replaced with steel stretchers. They would occasionally snap - I always made a point of not lifting AKURUMS by the stretchers - sometimes I would add a plywood vertical strip to it - when it was possible to do so, for strength.


FIN [the end]

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Properly installed IKEA island.

Chapter 1 - A nice IKEA kitchen island - properly installed. 

I am getting so many requests for a 'full-explanation' blog post on how I build my IKEA islands - from all over North America. 'Please write more'., 'provide illustrations'. I like the idea, but consider that it may take up to 36 hours to produce a proper e-book that would deal with the subject. And I would not call it a beginner's project - if you are having trouble assembling the SEKTION boxes, than you likely would find fabricating my kicks challenging. But I am considering it - I am not sure how much I would charge for such an e-book. And I would likely expand on more subjects - pertaining to what I call a 'better IKEA install'. 'IKEA does a good job - you make it better' - I should copyright that phrase.

Look - once the solid wood slab will be added, this thing is going to be like a rock! Here is something - the height of the wooden slab on the island was matched to that the existing granite slab. But, the height of the the existing garnite slab is atypical - it's higher - at that height I would advise against using the IKEA plastic legs - IKEA base cabinets are only 30" high. With my system, this was not an issue at all - it was set at the required height - that's flexibility. 

Here is my base all nice and leveled. The geometry and method of fabrication make the base act as a thick slab - it's very rigid. 

What is the easiest way to strengthen any project - on the cheap? Use adhesives - the right adhesives. Woodworking glue, silicone adhesives, polyurethane adhesives are inexpensive, and if properly used will provide superior performance  - I use adhesives liberally in all my work. This bottom cleat is screwed down to the floor but it is also bedded in an adhesive - it will make for a a very strong joint between dissimilar materials. 

And finally, even for smaller IKEA installs it is surprising the amount of equipment required to achieve superior execution. This is my setup - I have all the tools. Biggest chuckle I get is out of those IKEA instructions booklets showing a Philips screwdriver used for major assembly, ha ha ha! Put in that cordless drill! Be realistic at least!
I really love my minivan - the Dodge Grand Caravan will fit a 4x8 sheet of plywood flat, once the seats are folded into the floor - it is an excellent, very flexible work vehicle for me. I use it to haul from IKEA all the time. 

EDIT: Someone commented on my Grand Caravan. My Grand Caravan is awesome! If you live in the city of Toronto and spot a dark Grand Caravan with blue lights underneath - that's me! When I was in high school all the 'cool kids' had lights under their cars - and I was preparing for my 'engineering career', and I promised myself that one day I too will have a cool car with lights underneath. Now - years later... - someone's got to live the dream, right?  LOL.

Chapter 2  - Symmetry is beautiful

One of the greatest challenges when designing millwork is dealing with 'awkward dimensions'. What are 'awkward dimensions'? Well, so imagine a nice house. And that house has a very nice, big, spacious, bright, open, finished basement. What it also has are - windows, casings, doors, bulkheads, boxes, access points. How do you create a nice, coherent design in a 'chaotic space'. Creating symmetry is such space - using cabinetry - is very challenging. 

But I think I have succeeded. I am finishing sketching/resolving/brainstoming all the nitty-gritty details that were bothering me - it's an important step - for a really nice design. It will have a very luxurious feel - it's gonna be part IKEA hack - part custom built. It will have all the right design elements. It will look gorgeous. Check back, for the next update I should have some elevation sketches ready and be cutting into the Billy bookcases!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Where are the kitchens! Huh?! Where are the kitchens?!

Chapter 1 - Sorry!

No kitchens here just yet! They are coming though! See - blogging - is almost like a full time job on top of being a designer and a woodworker. My hope is to give you 'the best of Studio Kosnik' - I almost had a TV show - for real - so there was an opportunity to stream my crazy life for all to see - but that fell through when IKEA sued and the producers got scared. Ya, crazy - I wrote about it here.


Someone wrote complaining that there are 'not enough kitchens' being shown. 'Where are the kitchens?!' - they wrote - 'where are the kitchens?!'.
Well.... Instead of a kitchen I present you 'the library'! Keeping in line with me being efficient - just like IKEA - I blog and e-mail at at the same time so.

Hello Katherine and Darren, I would like to present you with your new 'little library'!

Couple of points:

A] Remember to tighten/un-tighten the screws on the door by hand - if you use a power tool you run the risk of stripping the thread. The human hand will apply just enough pressure to properly adjust any screws. Also remove all hardware prior to painting. Once dry you should install weather-stripping on the interior frame to completely seal the box - no bugs will get it.

B] All exterior screws are stainless steel - just paint them over - it's an economical way of building. All joints feature exterior grade glue. 

C] The plywood itself is hardwood - baltic birch plywood, 1/2" thick. The box features a design that - in my opinion - is 'vandal-proof'. My worst fear was a bunch of teenagers driving in an el-Camino on a Friday night  smashing the mailboxes/libraries. The doors are partially set-in to protect them from side impact. The box is very rigid with interior hardwood framing - it will take quite the bashing before it breaks - AND - it protects the doors. I decided to upgrade the window to thicker acrylic. 

D] Reading properly into the 'small library trends', I made a decision to make the library compatible with LP [aka VINYL], large coffee table books, hard cover units as well as paperbacks, pulp fiction and even 'cheesie' harlequines [sp?] - if you choose to. It will be up to you to make a decision as to what to stock up and what not.

E] The oak doors are well made and can be stained and then need to be clear coated with an oil-based top coat - 2 coats minimum- sand lightly between coats. One thing to keep in mind, varnishes require more maintenance than solid colour paints. 

F] Leave the roof unfinished. It's cedar shingles - they will age nicely and acquire a charming patina. I tarred the roof before application of shingles! Only quality build here!

To be continued!

Chapter 2

Some pictures, because they still show I work, but they take less time to post!
I am a visual person too!

From ABET's Serigrafia collection, I am using it do a nice Storage/Media unit - it's going to be a MALM hack. I keep promising the guys at ABET [Hi Hernan!] that I will write a proper review of how much I love ABET Laminati, what an awesome product that is - I have done acres of laminates in my previous life as a commercial cabinetmaker - they are beautiful quality, Italian laminates, that come in all 700 colours of the rainbow - in stock everyday. Their showroom is incredibly impressive - all the finishes are ABET - from laminates, to flooring, wall treatments, lighting panels - absolutely anything you would need to spec out your project! There I did it! A short and sweet review!

It was so nice and warm for the last couple of days that I opened the door to air out the shop. First time this season!!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

IKEA the Beautiful [also important stuff about IKEA kitchen islands]

Confessions of an IKEA Hacker.

*HEY! Before I forget Here is a tip from IKEA Hacker - you get a $100 back for every $1000 you spend. Buy the core with the the $1000's  - like boxes and doors - spend the refund on the interior fittings! 

In Toronto, Canada, IKEA has a kitchen on sale right now. I know because I went through it - intentionally, on the weekend - with my son - the restaurant was overwhelmed, we were lucky we found a table to eat. The kitchen planning department was busy, with extra staff on hands. I hear from from e-mail exchanges - via quotes - that IKEA is very extra busy on the weekends - they often run out of specific the Sektion cabinets and the people come back on the weekday. I speculate that they renovated - enlarged - the IKEA Etobicoke location specifically because they anticipated higher traffic and warehousing needs due to their kitchen launch - what a smooth oiled machine, IKEA is!

My favourite thing about being an IKEA hacker, is that IKEA forces you to be efficient, to constantly evolve and adapt. Example - from now on, I will answer e-mails and blog at the same time. The questions that I get - majority from North America   [that's my IKEA perspective], but they come from  from literally all over the world - wherever IKEA sells - are all good and relevant questions and I want to share the answers with a wider audience. 

Richard asks about my IKEA kitchen island install - does the quote include fixing to the floor? Yes, it absolutely does - I build custom kicks for all IKEA cabinetry. I developed a nice system for creating sturdy, rigid and stable frames that the actual SEKTION boxes are installed onto. They are fabricated on site to ensure proper size and accommodate site conditions -  I do not use IKEA's plastic legs as it's a weakness of the system, in my opinion. This was particularly evident when it came to the islands. SEKTION partially addresses that issue with the introduction of 'stabilizing kit' for islands - I bought one and am yet to open it and inspect it. 

My philosophy is though - why 'stabilize' when you can 'set it down' properly? So I build my own kicks - they are all constructed out of Canadian, 3/4", exterior grade ply that's nailed and screwed together - it aint' a looker - but it is a quality product that will survive a flood, other than being easy to level and will work with any subfloor - wood, concrete, tiles, vinyl, anything. The kicks get clad with standard IKEA mouldings or toe-kick covers. 

Wanna see what it looks like - here is my system

And now, for something totally different! - 

Look - 

 and here is another shot - 

Now, before you say 'hold-on! it's blue and oak!' or 'no! it's grey and oak!' - here is another issue to consider. IKEA introduced new mouldings - as illustrated above - for their SEKTION kitchens - remember? 'everything is new and there is more of everything'. That island is solid - I know because I tried rocking it - I am sure that they did not spare on the 'island stabilizing kit' on this one - the geometry also helps [see, my system works well regardless of geometry - you can go with any crazy design that you want, including cantilevers! ]. But notice that nice moulding around the base? - it is flush with the exterior. 'So what?' you ask.

Here - kitchen islands have a purpose. One of the functions of an island is to increase the overall work- surface area of the kitchen - increase functionality. There is a lot of ergonomics that goes into designing a kitchen - like heights and depths and radiuses, etc. One of those dimensions is the set-back on the kitchen kick - it's a space about 4"x4". That space is allocated for your feet, it allows you to stand right against the work-surface for a more comfortable work position. In the image you will notice that IKEA eliminated that element from the island - I am assuming that was done to showcase their new SEKTION base mouldings. And that is perfectly OK - from the ergonomics perspective - if the island is used for storage, or it is used for brief intervals. But try spending 3 to 4 hours leaning forward over your island while preparing a large Thanksgiving dinner for your family and guests and I assure you that you will feel the pain! 

CHALLENGE - do it. Go to your kitchen right now and stand back about 4" from the edge of the countertop. Try making a sandwich, or better yet, prepare yourself lunch. It is uncomfortable, isn't it? Yea. 

So, when making a decision whether to install the IKEA base moulding on your island consider how will that island function? - sure the mouldings are 'perrty lookin' - but if you intend to spend extended periods of time standing against it - the island - you want to make sure that you will be comfortable and efficient - you don't want to end-up with lower-back pain every time you cook dinner!

And hey! Want to add some flair to your island? Hire me for the install - not only will I do a good job, but I will let you know in what ways you can customize it with readily available IKEA pieces - your design style need not impact your love of cooking! Hey! I like cooking myself! 

Chapter 2 -  IKEA the Beautiful

I love IKEA. It is a such a wonderful corporation! 
Other than them doing their taxes in that little European duchy of Lichetenstein [sp?] I think that they are flawless. 

here - IKEA fantasy booth! In an attempt to reach out to a younger demographic - mainly the one using '#' they set up this cool 'fantasy booth'. 'Imagine yourself in a new bedroom' was the tagline. My youngest one sure did! Their frozen yogurt is a good deal too!

When there is a need to spend time some man-to-man time with your oldest - he is practically a teenager, IKEA is an excellent venue. The variety of healthy and hearty meals and a very reasonable price. The 'limited time' beef is saucy and rich - cooked in a slow cooker? - the mash potatoes are mashy and the veggies? - well, you got to eat them right? The fish and chips are good too - benign enough that even my 12 year old - who is still a picky eater - will eat the whole thing. I'm loving' it! It helps that I live about 5 min away from IKEA Etobicoke, too. 

While on the weekends IKEA turns into a zoo, the weekdays are much slower and easy going. Slow-n-Easy Mondays - IKEA supports  entire senior ecosystem - healthy and affordable $1 breakfast and free wi-fi attract top senior crowds. 

Example - grandmas lounging on display.  

And my favourite: IKEA is my other office....