Friday, November 20, 2015

Confessions of an IKEA Hacker - NOT in LOVE with Veddinge

Confessions of an IKEA Hacker - NOT in LOVE Veddinge, OR Kitchens are not Museums - Veddinge REVIEW

I had some trouble with Veddinge doors recently. 

[edit: great news! I will soon be posting more videos! next project: how I build my bases for IKEA kitchen islands - rock solid every time!]

[this post is long: Too long, don't feel like reading - here is summary]

From a practical standpoint - the Veddinge doors are well suited for display kitchens - the finish on the doors is the weakest of all the solid colour IKEA doors that I tested. It is not recommended that they be re-sprayed [because some people buy IKEA doors and re-spray them for different colour]. It is challenging to achieve proper clean visible cuts and joints, and the cut/ routed edge if not properly protected will becomes vulnerable to chipping; The blistering damage is very visible. It is not advisable to use them in high traffic areas that will expose the surfaces to frequent abrasive contact. Good planning must be exercised to ensure that if damaged panels need to be replaced for aesthetic reasons that they be easily accessible. 

Every product that IKEA puts out clearly has that statement - Design and Quality, IKEA of Sweden. So to be reasonable, since IKEA does set a pretty high standard for their kitchens, I felt that it would be best to test the solid colours in the IKEA family [I know, I am missing Ringhult - don't worry it is good - heat is the enemy of Ringhult] against theoretical damage - a scratch or jab, when you break the surface and expose the substrate. 

Here is an example of me stressing the finish. So these are all 'line scored' with a box-cutter blade - and then the finish was pulled off with the tape - just like in the video. 

My first impression is, that once cut through the finish, there is some great tension in the finish that is relieved and it immediately crackles along the scratch line. Because the finish is so level [flat], that crackled paint is very obvious to the eye. If you run your fingers along, it will start flaking off. 

I inspected the damaged area and the first thing I noticed was that:

A] the undercoat is clear - primer coat is clear. That means that any damage will be very visible due to high contrast with the MDF substrate; Typically, the primer is the same [or close] colour - may not be applicable in this case - given the process that IKEA uses. 

B] the undercoat has a quite a bit of sheen to it. I know that one of the most basic rules of finishing is that you never paint over a glossy surface - paints don't adhere well to glossy surfaces - you always have to abrade the surface. Running my finger over the brown reflective areas it feels very smooth - I want to say nice finish. So was IKEA in their 'efficiency' decided to skip a step? Perhaps, the process, was from the beginning designed not to include that step? Who made the decision to approve this finish and mass produce it on a the scale that it is? I've seen the predecessor to Veddinge, and it did nothing like this - my opinion, they were better quality doors. 

Few days ago I went to see an APLAD kitchen - predecessor to Veddinge - the intent was to replace them with new doors. I had also chance to witness some 'catastrophic damage' to the doors. Even though the damage was all the way to the core - with the finish punctured all the way through - badly gouged - it was still very solidly adhering to the substrate - a typical behaviour when the doors are properly lacqeured. 

I was disappointed. 

I had sneaky suspicion that I am not alone in my issues with Veddinge doors. But how do I test that theory? 


IKEA's AS-IS section should prove a fertile testing grounds - I mean, this is where damaged doors go to die, or shall I say get a second chance in life..... So I went in and carefully went through the racks filled with random doors and panels. And to my no-surprise, large portion of the scratched Veddinge doors had that blistering happening. 

Not in love with Veddinge....

Alright, so with all this negative news, is there hope for Veddinge? Are there any 'up-sides' to the door/panel style that IKEA makes?

There are, don't despair. That flat white slab is the corner-stone of all modernist/minimalist kitchens. Here they are -

--->> The first thing that you have going for Veddinge is your lifestyle. Maybe your kitchen is an oasis of calm and relaxment while surrounded by tasteful modernism. In the morning you make your coffee, tea or smoothie and you enjoy the view out of your large windows. You pet your cat. Later you setup your Macintosh computer on the sit-at marble bar-height counter-top and do some work from home. People do have lives like that, it's true. 

-->> Second thing going for Veddinge is its cost - it's relatively low. It's affordable to exchange your damaged lower drawer front [that's the 'proper' modern look]. The Veddinge drawer or door is readily available at a nearest IKEA* location, or you can purchase on-line and have it delivered right to your door. 

Say you accidentally damage the door - you are carrying groceries and your car keys at the same time; OR you are carving a large piece of meat and the big knife slips out of your hand and takes a ride on the half-open nearest drawer front; OR your little one takes a zoom  on his little cruiser-bike, 'screeeech!' against the island panels; OR your mixing dough in the mixer and it all 'jumps off' the black granite slab countertop and tragically slams against the pantry door**

Veddinge is third least expensive line of doors - if the doors were better quality - like their predecessor APLAD - and that makes for an amazing deal for your modernist looking kitchen. If you don't mind and can afford to shell out few bucks every now and then to replace a visually offending panel or a door then your are good. CAUTION: This is where superior planning and install skill come into play - while it is easy to change doors or drawers, any cladding and panels need to be easily accessible - sometimes in design you end up 'trapping' elements. If this scenario works for you - you want to plan ahead and install your kitchen or build the island assuming that at one point you may be required to do a switch over - remove damaged piece and install a new piece.

-->> Third option 

I make really nice modern laminate doors for IKEA kitchens - it's the 'Semihandmade option' they call it. Everyone that asks me to make doors for them mentions 'Semihandmade' as their inspiration. A knowledgeable client [even designers!] will want to utilize the price point of IKEA Sektion box; they will want to utilize the amazing plethora of hardware, fittings, lights and organziers [an entire kitchen eco-system people! - very well priced] and have it looking like a million bucks. The doors are custom work and are priced such - I only use ABET Laminati - Italian, beautiful product, amazing selection for accent doors and panels. AND! they are significantly more durable than the lacquered doors. 

Important point to remember with modern kitchens. It has to be very well installed - plumb, level, square. The greatest effect that can be achieved, is done with the gaps - perfectly even and level. Also, pay attention to the hinge position - make sure that the hinge side doesn't stick out more than the bumper at the front [about 1/8"] - it's the 'flapping wings effect' - I see it often on DIY installs.

Chapter 1 - Kitchens are not museums

My blog is unique in the sense that it is typically found in an 'organic fashion'. It is not promoted anywhere, it doesn't have cheerful 'share on Facebook or Twitter' buttons - it is found because individuals are searching out for specific information or services. I consider my line of work, Professional IKEA Hacking, a very enjoyable chase between me and IKEA.  I extensively gather information about IKEA's latest endavours and find myself excited when they introduce a new product that I can use to expand on the repertoire of the services that I offer. 

Launch of SEKTION was no different - IKEA made a decision to carve out a solid place for itself - along with the significant chunk of cash that it brings - in the home renovation / building business. There were several shifts happening in the construction industry that directly contributed to that success. 

First of all, gone were the days when you had to hire a 'general contractor' to do your reno. Television was chock full of very popular do-it-yourself shows that showed average folks tackling bathroom upgrades, kitchen makeovers or deck additions with the help of a handy trades people - good looking plumbers, charming carpenters or suave electricians, we are talking women here too.  The 'trade curtain' had fallen and now ordinary folk got a first hand view how things were supposed to be done. The general contractor - typically a middleman with enough connections in the construction industry to reasonable, more-or-less dependable individuals***, that also took a cut of all the expenses that the owner incurred - was beginning to feel passe. I am not going to argue whether it was a good thing or a bad thing - but there was a change - suddenly each individual trade began to have more influence over the way the project turned out - good or bad - this is why it is important to hire good trades - he or she has to care, otherwise it can be a disaster. It also means that it is now up to individual trades to make design decisions - this is a big one - think tiles and wooden flooring - not so much plumbers ****and framers. [To be continued]

* Or an IKEA Pick-UP point! Yea! IKEA knows that people travel long and wide to get those affordable kitchens. In Ontario [a province, large area], Canada, IKEA has opened up several warehouse only locations. You visit IKEA once, check out the kitchens and decide that you like them and want to use them for your reno. Measure, plan and purchase - all online - have it delivered to a pick-up location close to home. 

**this one is a true story;

***it's a curse in the industry - and this is by no means a generalization - but some trades I meet are questionable folk - it's like they live out of their car. It should be a reason for pause if the trade you intend to hire has no internet presence or history - if you work in the industry you got to start somewhere - it could be just some positive feedback on a forum, a rating on a rating site, even a simple free page. I was once reading a feedback column from a plumbing company, and the writing was so terrible, full of mistakes, awkward grammar - clearly non native speakers. I inquired with the owner, he said that he always insists that the client write a rating, even if they don't speak English. Full of errors - more genuine - more business. 

****although nothing is more annoying than 'plumbing askew' - when the finishes are not parallel - toilet - or faucets. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

SEKTION Ultimate Review* - AND - how to make it look like a million bucks.

[WARNING] this post is very long, very technical, and could be very boring. Enjoy it.

Cleo from Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, writes - 

'Hi. I just finished reading your review on Ikea's new kitchen cabinetry and wonder why you think it's value for the money. I'm in the process of designing my "retirement" home and having lived in our current home for over 20+ years, well I got sticker shock when the builder told me how much it was going to cost for custom cabinetry for my kitchen, never mind the ensuite. From what I've read on Ikea's website the Sektion cabinetry is just particleboard, fiberboard and melamine foil. Doesn't sound like quality to me. What am I missing in that you think it's such good value? Please enlighten me.'

What an excellent question!  This post was long time coming. Virtually everyone I talked to, who is considering renovating their kitchens, has at some point considered an IKEA kitchen. Most people hesitate as they cannot believe that IKEA kitchens are so cheap - read 'affordable' - but I use the word on purpose. Yea, they are really affordable. And then I hear about people buying their kitchens from Home Depot - and I am like why would they do that? IKEA makes best kitchens. They are quality kitchens. They offer an incredibly friendly self-install system. If you read around - like my blog - you can find out so much to improve on that system and open great design flexibility.

This is going to be a long post, because such is required to answer Cleo’s question. Some of it is going to get perhaps a bit philosophical - but you know what, I think a lot about the work that I do. I think a lot about the field of design and how I would like to contribute to it - it is high on my priority list. My entire business model hinges around a very successful, very ethical corporation - a corporate goodnik - those are rare - I have no qualms supporting them. Just like IKEA is smart with all that they do - they are light years ahead of everyone - they force me to keep up with them - that constant chase, or a voyage of discovery, is quite enjoyable. Every time I pick up a product that I thought I knew well, I discover that IKEA made small changes to it - improved it. So you can imagine that how shaken up the woodworking/design/renovation sectors were when the SEKTION was announced. The good old AKURUMs were already a best-seller - 7.7 million kitchens that will need refacing one day? Who is going to make those doors? - and first choice for the do-it yourselfer renovator. I am certain that IKEA invested tons of money into designing this line - SEKTION is a well designed, well made kitchen system that offers incredible design flexibility and very cost effective productivity features.

This is also the post that you should read if you want to solidly make up your mind that IKEA kitchen is not the right match for you. Yep, you will learn everything that you need to know to learn how much there is to kitchen design, and maybe make a decision that you want a lot more. 

QUALITY - The greatest Snake Oil that is sold by cabinet shops is that IKEA kitchens are poor quality.

This is a picture that I took in my shop. It illustrates virtually all major [and one obscure] types of sheet good materials that are used in cabinet construction - all those sheets exhibit specific properties that make them more attractive for specific applications. As far as I know every cabinet shop, regardless of how low-end [‘Fly-By-Night' Cabinetry] or high-end [Herman Miller, Nienkamper] use those sheets. All sheet good materials have 2 parts - the core and the decorative part. When woodworkers, designers, snake oil salesman talk about ‘melamine’, ‘maple or walnut sheets’, ‘zebrano or wenge sheets’, ‘thermofoil finish’, etc., they talk about the decorative part of the sheet good - what’s on the surface. 

Particlecore is essentially finely milled wood chips, tiny wood flakes - I am certain that there are some hard manufacturing numbers/specs on the sizing of those wood flakes, but to me more important is how it cuts, for example - mixed in with resin glue, spread into flat sheets, cured/dried and cut to size. Depending on the glue used you can have the same sheets made into exterior grade - cost effective vs. solid wood - on decorative painted elements.  Virtually every aspect of its production can be controlled - uniformity, density, thickness, size - the sheets are made to order for industries. This is an example of 3/4" sheet thick, 4x10 particle core sheets - this is our sheet-good rack - I confess to having strong architectural feelings for it - it's practical size, the right strength and cost effectiveness that make the particle core work in this project This is an old photo, it looks even better now that we put on some trim on it. 

It is dimensionally very stable and it is my first choice when building large surfaces - it will take adhesives, nails and screws very well - always pre-drill for screws. All these characteristics make it ideal as the 'anchor of the industry' - it is everywhere - everyone is using it - from the cheapest Chinese imports, to the Swedish Wonder - IKEA; to the industry captains - Nienkamper. You cannot get away from particle core, and I believe that anyone who is trying to convince you away from it is trying to profit from your lack of knowledge.

Melamine is what happens when particlecore is covered in a thin, plastic, hard finish. When I look closely at a melamine finish I can see 'banding' - it's a spray pattern that is produced  by the mechanical spray arm - but that is only because I've been a 'chief gunner' [aka. 'chief finisher'] in my past life. Melamine can be designer too. It is manufactured in variety of colours - whites, off-whites, at least 50 shades of grey, and funky colours. It comes in variety of patterns as well - mostly mimicking wood grain, in any colour - hundreds of choices. Here is the harsh reality though - the interiors of the boxes are not often seen, or exposed for that matter - especially in kitchens - so I would argue that unless you are designer aficionado who likes his/hers kitchen box in cool grey or smokin' hot red [interior red goes well with flat-sawn teak doors... I've done that combination....just sayin'...] it's perfectly reasonable to settle for a white box - it looks clean. 

Look - this is a cross section of a SEKTION gable - 

It's nice density throughout, 3/4" thick. The melamine is very smooth and it's got nice edging - the edging is better than I would say your typical PVC edging, nicely beveled and buffed - definitely a clean operation.  IKEA must have their own facility where they produce the white melamine sheets - I have not seen melamine sheets that smooth [and by smooth, I mean 'smooth to me' - I've handled countless melamine sheets - melamine is a sprayed on plastic finish that is then cured - the IKEA melamine has a 'smaller flake', that's how I would describe it]. IKEA SEKTION boxes come in two [2] colours - white and dark - the dark mimics wood grain. 

The choice of only 2 SEKTION box colours is the first thing that I hear people grumbling about - and one of the 'snake oil reasons' cited by professionals who claim the quality of the product - more colour choice - especially the 'light maple look'. And I agree - there are only two interior colour choices to pick from. 

So the first question you should ask your Snake Oil salesman - are the boxes particlecore melamine - feel free to show them my picture to jog their memory.

However: I was scouting 'the enemy' once, and the designer told me that they use 'marine grade plywood' for their cabinetry boxes, and he showed me a sample - which it was not - it was regular poplar ply with mahogany veneer. Now, dear reader, I was once a foolish young rebelious man and wanted to build a wooden sailboat that I was going to sail around the world - I bought tons-of-expensive marine grade plywood - because that is what you use for building wooden sailboats [I know, there are many ways to build a wooden sailboat]. Marine grade plywood is a regulated wooden product that is manufactured to very stringent specs - I believe is is an organization called LLoyds of London [Great Britain, London -  not London, Ontario, Canada] that puts their stamps on true 'marine grade plywood' - and unless you are building a wooden sailboat -  no one uses it - it is just too expensive. 

The closest you can come to marine grade plywood is called Baltic Birch plywood. Look - that is a 5/8" sheet - This is 'B' from my first post. 

Out of nostalgia I use it for building drawers on closets. It is very nice hardwood plywood - birch. It is very strong. The number of laminations - layers - ensure that it remains fairly stable - warps very little - but it does warp. And this is the number one reason why not use plywood in box constructions - don't use it for large surfaces. Yes, lacquered birch looks very nice and clean and high-end - but it warps and you don't want that 'warpage' to start affecting your doors and drawers - that's why things 'rub' or are 'sticky'. The only acceptable place to use plywood in cabinet construction is for stretchers [I will get into the box construction later in this entry] - small, structural elements.

Now occasionally I do use plywood in constructing boxes - however it is never a decision I take lightly, I think about which way it is likely to warp and what other elements the warping may affect and I compensate for the anticipated warpage. Always.  

Most often I use Baltic Birch plywood in construction of drawers - I use 1/2" or 5/8" for sides and 1/4" for bottoms. This is an example of how I always build my drawers - my professor showed it me - all the parts of the drawer - sides and slide-in bottom contribute to the rigidity of the box - it is also super easy to finish. I consider Baltic Birch drawers as sort of 'classics'. If you want a nice drawer than there is nothing wrong with having it made out of Baltic Birch

IKEA drawers are made by BLUM, in Austria. Here - 

BLUM sets the standard when it comes to hardware, they make their stuff in Austria - enough said. IKEA being BLUM's largest customer is able to negotiate awesome deals on their hardware. Remember people, hardware - inner fittings - 'the guts' - is what makes your kitchen functional. Large, deep pantries are useless when dry goods expire without being used, buried deep behind piles and piles of other things, because you can't quite get to the back end of your pantry...

Drawers are another favourite of Snake Oil salesman - it's my favourite when they open the drawers to flash that iconic dovetail joint, clearly visible on the side of the drawer box. People melt thinking that there was a craftsperson who spent hours cutting those lovingly, by hand, while standing at a massive workbench. I've done dovetails joints - several times in my career - they are very difficult - you first have to lay them out so they look nice and you have to be super accurate - all sorts of things about dovetail joints, they write books about them - I would say that's the best way to educate yourself about that type of joinery. I can't make a living cutting dovetail joints - very few people can. So you can imagine the conflict that I experience when I see kitchens filled with dovetailed drawers - and heralded as 'the pinnacle of craftsmanship'. I agree, the dovetail joint is an excellent joint, it is visually beautiful and requires skill and expertise to execute. But kitchens? Well, I would say that there is a bit of a 'mislead' there....Look - 

We live in the age of mass production - being efficient is necessary to stay competitive and thrive - that's what IKEA is doing, they are being efficient. That skid is filled with a custom order for dovetailed drawers. 

Essentially, kitchen cabinet places figured out that people really link dovetail drawers with quality. There was a demand for large number of dovetail drawers - which are very labour intensive - and a solution was created. There are woodworking companies - and we are talking about fully automated CNC production - that only make thousands of dovetailed drawers to order. They buy solid maple by the truckloads. They will not make you one or two, but they will make you 40 or a 100 - and send you skid like that. Nothing wrong with that - those are well made, Canadian, white hard maple solid drawers - they retail for anywhere between $40 to a $100, depending on the size - fully finished! That, in my opinion, is an awesome deal! Add to that a set of quality Blum slides with soft close and you got yourself an amazing drawer - not the cheapest - but now you can charge an arm-and-a-leg for that bank of drawers, while telling your client that IKEA drawer boxes are 'cheap' at $60 or $80 dollars [and that price includes quality slides /w softlcose!]. Be honest people!

NEXT Update - 'The tale of two kitchens'.....Boffi and IKEA! This is a true story. 

It was a dark and stormy night, the sea was angry my friends... I was young and beautiful and we were installing a beautiful piece of millwork - zebrawood media unit - slip matched veneers on particlecore - very large. I was fresh out of design school, a bit naive, a bit ignorant. It was a large, freshly gutted house owned by two lawyers - they spared on nothing. The floors, I remember were rift-sawn wenge - to showcase that black beautiful pinstripe. There was another TV on the main floor that had a sliding slip matched ebony veneer door covering it.  This one** - this was custom lay-up, slip matched ebony on a torsion box. We were very concerned that it laminate properly so it does not warp. 

The main floor - showcase - had a Boffi kitchen installed. Downstairs, in the basement - very nice basement - there was going to be a another kitchen installed - the real kitchen where the meals would be cooked by the housekeeper [or whomever] - an IKEA kitchen. Both kitchens were white and high-gloss. Both kitchens were all slab doors and the boxes were full of great organizers and hardware. And, I, in my ignorant ways, did not realize that they were two different kitchens! To my inexperienced, fresh out of school eye - it was all the same - white, high gloss slabs, yea, they had drawers....

But that is precisely the point! - to an untrained eye, that was not particularly into kitchens at that singularity in time - I did not spot the difference! 

I can spot the difference now - I know exactly what the manufacturing differences are, as well as I can appreciate the design features of different manufacturers. 

To be continued...

*What a click-bait title. Shameful.

**hey! if you are curious as to my previous life - visit this awkward blog - it's a proof that nothing on the internet dies - it's my 'the old man  & de stijl ' blog....

I worked then with Derek McLeod - it was so much fun, great work dynamic at Builtwork Design. People this is humour - I am chuckling just thinking about it - we were such silly hipsters - dressing accordingly. I remember on that job, there was another crew installing also some really fancy stuff and we were both 'competing for the hipster awards'. Listen, we were so hip that we would travel to job sites with our own espresso machine! No drinking out of paper, portable, enviro-cups for us - scoff!! - we only did these silly small stainless steel espresso cups...I can't stop chuckling, we were so silly! Silly young man! Cut your hair, be more serious!

Remember - at the end of this post I will show you how to design a kitchen that looks like a 'million dollars' and is still based on the IKEA's SEKTION box. Thanks Cleo! 

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....

Monday, February 2, 2015

IKEA's SEKTION - The Good, the Bad and the Functional - REVIEW part 2

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 again manufactured in Portugal - most likely the setup was just re-programmed. 
[ 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. 

[EDIT: March, 2015] - IKEA has not had the hardware for mounting the panels in the store yet! I cannot believe that they would launch their kitchens without that. On several occasions, the bracket for mounting the back panels was omitted from the design [!!] - I had to improvise with L-brackets, 1/4 ply to join the panels, proper length screws so they don't puncture the panel. Or IKEA associate would substitute the pieces for the 'stabilizing kit'. Yea, I was angry - but in my defence I will say that the sea/lake Ontario was angry too, nasty weather that day! - I went to IKEA, because I was doing an island install and I specifically asked for the hardware, tapped my index finger on the image - this one please! - pay for it, wait 20 minutes in the line-up - just to receive the 'stabilizing block'! What?! And then another 20 minutes wait to return the block....Oh IKEA, how much I love you....Anyhow....I am waiting for that piece of hardware to arrive so I can use it and write about it. 
[end EDIT]

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.
*** Yep, I am a professional finisher....way back throw back...

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!

[edit] this is my most popular review, but I got a much more detailed and technical review of SEKTION here. 

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.

[EDIT: April 2015] 
Want to know how SEKTION is an improvement over the old AKURUM system? 
Read my side by side comparison, changes and improvements - here.

*they look good in wardrobes;

Friday, January 23, 2015

January is Design Week, Part 2

[this is retroactive - it was written the day of]

I did it! I did it and I am alive! The last 3 days I've been in the shop till 11 pm and going to sleep at between 1 and 2 am, because I write daily. 

Sorry, no pics. I have to download and edit - and that takes time. 

6 hours to assemble deliver and install a large platform, that had to be very accurate + floor it + edge it. 

The Dinner by Design install went really well. First of all - I got back to my roots....those beautiful floors. This time, first time ever I installed Moncer flooring product - oiled white oak, 6 inch wide, engineered, solid wood [I will write how nicely it is made and how luxurious it is in another entry!]. Just for this job I had my flooring gun serviced - it's been awhile - just so it operated perfectly - I could not risk a misfiring ruining a board - there were no extras. There were 24* rows exactly, all the boards were labeled, in sequence. There was a row A, and a row B. And between row J and K there was a special row that had the boards laid out for notches around the columns - and the columns have no bigger reveals than 3/16th - that's very small. There were special instructions that there will be no trim around those columns - that came from above. And the columns do look very clean and modern - well resolved. Hey! - I only executed someone elses vision on this one - but it was my best execution. I made this crazy looking jig, but it is crazy only because it was efficiently fabricated - 15 min - while for a more 'traditional looking' jig would have taken an hour. 


I admit, I felt the pressure. For this successful execution under these conditions, absolutely every detail had to be thought out in advanced and an optimum solution achieved. Like, it turns out the the sprinkler system at the Design Exchange might be triggered by the fine dust that results from cutting or using the router. I had to pre-cut every line of flooring to within a 16th of an inch - in the 200k square feet flooring career, I have never done that. When they said - 'no cutting' I was like - 'So how the hell am I gonna do it?'




But you know what the really cool and very rewarding part of this project was?

I got to work with this really cool and fun team from KPMB Architects. Because other than for the base, flooring, metalworking, they still needed to setup the graphics, wire all the fancy lights, someone had to make tough calls - all under the 6 hour deadline. What a great team! They complement each other so well!  So much fun to work with them! I found it incredibly humorous, when one of them, with a very serious tone and face expression assured me that 'they are a serious firm', they don't consider themselves 'a fun office' - which immediately brought an image of a 'trendy, brick walled loft filled with hipsters on Macintosh computers' to my mind - 'it's about the work'. I was chuckling on the inside for so long. Such a good dynamic and camaraderie - no wonder that KPMB produces such nice architecture - no detail left out - even the envelope that I got with the deposit was really nice and had a watermark [!]. 

I was so impressed with that envelope - it really set the standard.

Any time there was an issue, they always had a solution. Like, where do we find a parking for a big truck? Hey! There is an open lot, just behind a new condo building - fits there*! - and it just around the corner! - so I don't have to drive across the city, as was suggested, and walk back - downtown Toronto, tall truck parking is an issue. Routing** the flooring planks for the columns and the flush-trim bit slices the electrical cord rendering the tool useless - my carelessness - IDIOT! - one of them just goes back and re-wires it so the by the time I get around to the second column - it's all done. I felt as if I had personal assistants on this job - everything was ready for me, passed to my hand - the floor, all million individually labeled pieces, almost laid itself. And it was needed - those 6 hours flew by - success!

Hey! - I Loved being part of their team. I was honoured to work with such a talented, eager and handy bunch of architects and one interior designer. 

I want to do jobs like these. 

At the end of the day - late evening - when I emptied the truck of tools and put them away, adjusted the heat, shut the lights off in the shop - I sighed, looked up at the frozen sky and said to myself - 'This is life. I love it! I'm a fighter and that's the best chance I've got!' Then I snuck into Charles' shop, next door - he was still tinkering with something - said goodnight to my friend and headed home to sleep it all off....Tomorrow is another day...

*we were charged double the money 'because it is a big truck'
**I routed in an adjacent storage room