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...A Mini Reno Retrospective

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Home renovations are expensive! Kitchen renos, in particular, can break the bank. With the temptation of fancy upgrades and top-of-the-line appliances, it's nearly impossible to stick to a budget and achieve the look and functionality you're seeking.

The key is to skimp where you can, and spend more where it makes a difference. In this post, I'll share how we saved money on our kitchen remodel by using IKEA cabinets, and where we splurged to achieve a more custom look.

But first, a little background...

When we were house hunting, we really took to heart the old adage about buying the worst house in the best location you can afford.

We were instantly drawn to our gorgeous tree-lined street.

The house itself, though, was a crumbling, century-old semi that had been sloppily converted into an income property/rental duplex. But, we convinced ourselves that she had 'character' and 'good bones.'

We were eager to start renovating; however, like many new home owners, we were house poor. We started with improvements we could do ourselves at little cost, like knocking down walls to convert the two rental units back into a single family home.

My husband, the demolition man! (Forgive the picture quality, these were taken before iPhone cameras had double digit megapixels).

We also did some 'cheap and cheerful' sprucing. In the kitchen, we removed the awkwardly positioned cabinet hardware, switched out the brown (wtf???) range hood, and painted over the faux marble formica counter tops.

The 'before' picture was taken during our walk through with the real-estate agent while tenants were still inhabiting the first floor. (To each his own, but my OCD just won't allow me to let you think that I was responsible for this amount of clutter)!

When we were finally in a position to spend some real money on renos, we set our sights on the kitchen.

Excited, but wary of future renovations (i.e. expenses) yet to come, we approached with some financial restraint.

After comparison shopping between an IKEA kitchen, custom cabinets, and everything in between, it seemed almost irresponsibly extravagant to go with anything other than IKEA cabinets (especially since we took advantage of their 'Kitchen Event' and got 20% of our purchase back in gift cards).

The problem: we craved that custom look. Fortunately, we came across a lot of inspiration online (i.e. Pin-spiriation) from people hacking their IKEA kitchens to look like custom creations.

The beauty of IKEA, other than their modern Scandinavian aesthetic, is how hack-able their designs are! Who doesn't love the satisfaction of a good hack?

Because we saved a small fortune using IKEA cabinets, we had some room to splurge, in the right places, to achieve the look we desired.

My husband drew up the plans for our kitchen on AutoCAD (he's an engineer, and handy like that!) and we hand-picked and sourced all of the finishes ourselves.

In this post, I'll show you how we 'hacked' our basic IKEA kitchen to achieve a more custom look.

1. Switch Out the Hardware

IKEA cabinets don't come with pre-drilled holes and you have to buy (and install) their cabinet hardware separately. This is the perfect invitation to substitute almost any hardware of your choosing!

The right hardware can elevate otherwise basic cabinets.

Our gold (brushed bronze) cabinet hardware was one of our biggest splurges. It was purchased from a specialty hardware store here in Toronto.

Gold hardware white cabinets

These weren't available at the time, but Amazon now sells nearly identical hardware for a lot less:

Gold hardware amazon

2. Splurge On A Fancy Faucet

The kitchen sink is often a focal point in the kitchen, so it's worth investing in some eye candy here.

During our search, I Googled 'gold faucet,' saw this one, and fell in love. There were definitely more economical options, but nothing compared to this beauty.

This elegant faucet is one of my favorite things in our kitchen. I love gold (bronze) hardware and the way its warmth contrasts with cool greys and whites.

Delta gold faucet

3. Opt for Custom Countertops

Shopping around, we found IKEA countertops weren't much more economical than those of other suppliers, so we decided this would be another good place to inject some non-IKEA flare.

We didn't go with anything too fancy, just a speckled white quartz. But, the custom waterfall edge at the end of our peninsula adds an upgraded feel.

A closeup of our quartz counter tops. The speckling adds some visual interest and camouflages stains!


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Kitchen Drawer Organizers


4. Spring For Some Non-IKEA Appliances

It's tempting to stick to IKEA when choosing your appliances since theirs are sized precisely to fit within IKEA cabinetry. We chose an IKEA oven and microwave because it was very difficult to find off-brand options that fit as well, delivering that built-in look.

We did, however, go non-IKEA for the fridge and gas stove. Since these are the 'big ticket' items that we use daily, we wanted to make sure they had the look, quality, and features we desired.

After a lot of shopping around, we ended up with these beauties:

Stacked: our IKEA microwave and oven. Not-so-IKEA: our Electrolux fridge.

5. Make a Statement With Your Backsplash

Our marble backsplash, and the decision to take it all the way up to the ceiling, was another one of our big splurges. A counter-to-ceiling backsplash gives the kitchen a luxurious, cohesive feel. Since our first floor is 'open concept,' the kitchen really influences the overall aesthetic.

6. Add Floating Shelves

It actually took some convincing from my husband for me to agree to open shelving in the kitchen. I didn't like the idea of clutter on shelves, out in the open, for everyone to see. (This likely stems from the same warped part of my psyche that doesn't want anything on the kitchen counters and can't bear to go out in public without any makeup on).

Luckily, there are ways to style floating shelves so that they look organized and uncluttered. There'll be a post on this in the future...

Kitchen floating shelves

I'm so glad we went with floating shelves instead of cabinets here. They really open up the kitchen (but don't tell my husband that I admitted he was right)!

My husband designed our shelves and we had them custom-built by our contractor, but there are similar shelves with hidden brackets (for the 'floating' look) that you can get online:

WOLTU floating shelves

7. Add A Unique Design Feature

If you really want to achieve that custom feel, consider adding a personalized touch; something that caters to your specific needs. For instance, you could add a built-in desk or workstation, or shelving for your extensive recipe book collection. Maybe even banquette-style seating--I would have loved that! If only we had the square footage...

We chose to add a column of drawers on the

outward facing underside of the kitchen peninsula (groundbreaking, I know!). We use these as junk drawers.

The top drawer is a communal junk drawer and the bottom two are catch-all drawers for me and my husband, respectively. I'll have a future post on junk drawers and the benefits of having more than one!


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So, that's how we 'hacked' our IKEA kitchen for a custom look.

Do you have an IKEA kitchen? What do you love/hate about it? Let me know in the comments below!

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