Sunday, June 13, 2010

Painting Ikea Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen design by Carol Reed

When planning or dreaming of planning a new kitchen the key aesthetic decision to be made is what style will the cabinets be.  The first dilemma is deciding will they be a wood finish or painted?  Dark or light? Contemporary or traditional?  Whatever door style you chose to go with will have an impact on your budget too.  Wood doors are more expensive than painted (or lacquered), exotic woods more expensive than domestic, plain doors are less expensive than panelled doors etc. etc.  Your budget will determine whether you can afford to buy custom cabinets, semi-custom, or if you'll be purchasing non-custom stock cabinetry.  If you're going the non-custom off the shelf route (Ikea) then your options for door styles obviously are limited to what is offerred.  Ultimately, its the door style you chose that will dictate which mfg or supplier you end up going with.  If Ikea just doesn't offer a door style that appeals to you then you're less likely to go this route despite the huge cost savings.  

I'm not a fan of showy extravagant kitchens unless the kitchen really is just for show, (for those who eat out a lot or hire caterers) nor am I a fan of overly adorned cabinets with intricate mouldings, corbels, columns and doo dads.  My ideal kitchen are kitchens that have a utilitarian aspect them, its all about cooking tools, food, great light and above all comfort and efficiency, I prefer the lines to be simple and the materials natural.  I don't necessarily want the cabinets to be the focal point or the showstopper, I want them to evoke a mood and enforce a style which is part of a bigger picture, they're just one element.   In open style homes when your kitchen is exposed to your living and dining rooms its often appropriate to go for a bit more of discreet look with your appliances and tools more integrated and concealed, with separate kitchens the concept can be more relaxed and casual.  In either case the style of the kitchen cabinets should be consistent with the style of your decor and the character of your home.  For many of these reasons Ikea's range of door styles suit my needs for various projects because they offer some basic classic door styles. 

Chosing an Ikea Door Style
To me what makes an Ikea kitchen design successful is when no one can tell its an Ikea kitchen.  One of the keys to this is to pick a classic door style for the cabinets, by this I mean, stay away from the door styles that are unique to ikea.  If you stick to a plain slab style, shaker door or the simple raised panel door,,,these are more generic looking because they're door styles that you can find at most any kitchen company.  It won't be obvious its Ikea unless you tell people or unless there are lots of other ikea elements in the room.  If Ikea doesn't offer a door style in a colour that you want, then you have two options, you can order just the base cabinets from ikea and have custom doors made from a company like or you can have your Ikea doors painted to whatever colour you want.

Kitchen Design by Carol Reed

Professionally Painting your Ikea Cabinets
If your plan is to paint one of Ikea's door styles, then you should select one of their wood door options.  The white or coloured doors have a polyester coating on them which isn't conduscive to painting, you'll get a superior finish (adhesion) painting over wood.  As I mentioned in my post Why I Love Ikea Kitchens, my favtorite door styles to paint is the Tidaholm in solid oak because its a true shaker style door with square edges and solid wood joinery corners (unlike the Adel).  I've custom painted Ikea cabinets several times in the past and I'm currently going thru this process again for Gail's kitchen.  In the past I've done a custom finish applied on site (see photo above), which I wouldn't recommend to the average diy'er its time consuming and requires a skilled painter/faux finisher.  When I'm having a new Ikea kitchen painted for a client this is the process that I've developed for my own porjects and its works like a dream.  (Please note this is the process I follow to have cabinets professionally sprayed off site (shop finished) - cabinets can be painted on site by yourself or a hired painter but I'm not going to go into the 'how to's' of that here, you can google hundreds of sites for more information on that process.)

Painted Tidaholm cabinets.  Kitchen design by Carol Reed
('xcuse the not so attractive window, its part of the condo building's interior courtyard design, the blinds are between glass and common elements the unit owners can't change.)

The following steps assume you've arrived at a final kitchen layout and you're ready to proceed, your contractor or kitchen installer is already lined up...

Step 1:  Sample 
  • Colour test:  Go to the as is department and buy a small door (or two)  in the same style or styles your considering and use it to test paint colours on.  You can buy these for about $5.  If they don't have any, you can go to the kitchen department and order a single small size door in the style of your choice.  After you've painted up sample doors and confirmed you want these painted cabinets, you're ready to order.  But I warn you, be prepared for the onslaught of comments from parents, friends, neighbours, contractors and delivery guys about how crazy you would be for painting over such 'beautiful' brand new oak (!!!!!???), and be especially strong when they actually start to convince your husband they might be right - just envision what their kitchens look like, then its easier to ignore them.

Step 2 - Buying Your Cabinets
  • Split The Order:  This is the best tip I can give you.  When I sit down with the kitchen rep at the store I pull out my drawings and before they start entering the order I tell them I want to split the order in two.   I want one order to have all the base cabinets, drawers and any inbetween panels needed to install the basic base and wall cabinetry, and nothing else. On the second order, I want all of my doors, drawer fronts, toe kick, end panels, cover panels - basically all the exposed pieces that I need to have painted.  (Even though they illustrate complete cabinet assemblies in the catalogue and online, all the components are broken down at order entry and you can order the components individually ie; the drawer boxes are one item, the drawer fronts are a separate item.)
  • Timing: Splitting the order is also key to your schedule.  The Akurum base cabinety is typically instock and available same day or for delivery within 2 days (where I live).  But ALL WOOD doors and drawers fronts etc. are stocked in the Montreal distribution centre and aren't shipped to any store until orders are placed and this takes a min 2 weeks. 
  • Delivery:  Arrange for the order with all you base cabinetry to be delivered to site and the kitchen install can start immediately (assuming you're ready for the install).  The entire kitchen can be installed without the door fronts and trim pieces.  The benefit of this is you're shaving weeks off your schedule by not waiting for your doors and now once you have your base cabinetry instaleld you can even have your counters templated while your doors and end panels are being sprayed.  Your templater can factor in any end panels not yet installed.   Next arrange for pick up then delivery of the second order, all your door fronts etc., to go straight to your cabinet refinisher.  Of course you or your contractor have to let them know ahead of time that your order is coming. 

Step 3:  The Paint
  • Lacquer:  I have my cabinets sprayed (off-site in a shop) in a lacquer paint as opposed to having them sprayed with regular paint that's thinned out with water and sprayed on.  I believe the lacquer is more durable but I do admit paint products are changing by the day and I havn't tried all the newest and latest.  My Farrow & Ball rep swears their paint is just as durable and perfectly suitable for kitchen cabs, but I still use the lacquer.  You have to find a specialty paint store who mix lacquer paint, they can match any mfg's colour chips or anything else you bring them for reference.  You need to factor in a few days for this in your schedule, you can't walk in and pick this stuff up same day like regular paint, they need a few days.  You also want them to do a draw down for you so you can approve the paint match before they mix the 3 or 4+ gallons of lacquer.  In addition to the lacquer you'll need primer.
  • Melamine:  The same shop that will mix the lacquer for you will mix some melamine paint for you in the exact same colour as the lacquer.  The melamine is needed to paint anything on site that you can't have sprayed off site.  Or for touching up panels after the counters are installed.  For example, you may need to install full height end panels beside your fridge or your wall ovens in order to complete the base cabinetry install so if you didn't have those sent to the refinisher, they went to the job site and are still in the original colour.  These can be painted on-site in a horizontal position before installation for best results, or if needed, vertically after installed.  The melamine is self-priming and self-levelling (no brush marks) with a sheen level the same as the lacquer.  It dries to a beautiful smooth finish that looks like its shop applied.  Use a small veleur or foam roller to apply a min. of 2 coats in a dust free environment.  You can do these pieces yourself or have your painter do this for you.
  • Cost:  The lacquer is fairly expensive, it will cost about $3-400 for the lacquer and primer for an average size kitchen and the cost of spraying the white kitchen in these photos was about $900 for one coat primer 2 coats finish paint but I would use 3 coats if using a light colour.  I use ProGlo paints in Toronto and they supply the primer, the lacquer and the melamine and ship directly to my refinisher.
  • Timing:  The refinisher will require about 2 to 3 weeks to spray the cabinets.  Arrange to have your cabinet installer back to finish the install and install the hardware.
Note that the Tidaholm or other wood doors have an open wood grain surface, and once their painted you will still see the texture of the open wood grain.  Whether you like this effect or not, this is what you'll get, but I can tell you that once the doors are up you don't notice it at all. 

Here's another look at this kitchen I designed about a year and a half ago as it was nearing completion.  The cabinets are Ikea's Tidaholm, custom spray lacquered in Farrow & Balls' Pointing.  Sorry no final after photos just yet!  The gables between the cabinets and the full gables beside the wall ovens were painted on site.

Kitchen design by Carol Reed

I searched around for more photo examples of painted Ikea kitchens, I remember seeing some in various publications but I can't for the life of me find any images now that I'm looking for them.  But I did manage to find photos of the most BEAUTIFUL country kitchen with the same Tidaholm doors and that also have been custom sprayed.  Even though its the same cabinets as the kitchen above, its the complete opposite type of home, the white kitchen in the photos above is located in a 70's mid-town condo, the kitchen shown below is in an old century home in the rural town of Tweed, Ontario.  A testament to the versatility of a simple classic door style. 

This kitchen is the country home of Style at Home magazine editor Margot Austin, the photos are by Donna Griffith as seen in the April September 2007 issue of Style at Home.  I completley love everything about it - I wish I could just move in tomorrow, its perfection to me.   Apparantly I'm not the only one who covets this kitchen, its been reported that Martha Stewart hearts this kitchen too! 

At least five of my favorite things are in this one photo, white walls, windsor chairs, old wood floors, vintage bronze hardware, ,,,and furry four legged kids.

*Update:  see comment section for additional details from Margot herself.

Going back to what I mentioned above,  this represents what a successful Ikea kitchen design is all about - the cabinetry blends so well with the character of the home, its understated and doesn't distract from but rather highlights the real features of the room - that gorgeous island, the dramatic light fixture, the old flooring and antique finds.   This is how you do 'bespoke Ikea' and when everyone asks where you're kitchen is from, you can just say 'its Swedish, I had it custom built'.