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;