40 Years of IKEA Kitchens

From AKURUM to SEKTION to Dendra Doors

How did IKEA products go from being considered low quality to being the foundation of many thousands of custom kitchen cabinet systems each year? In this post we’ll take a look at the history of IKEA’s cabinetry and take a look at the company’s commitment to quality. We sit down with John Webb of John Webb Construction & Design to learn a bit about customizing IKEA Kitchens and how Dendra Doors came about.

The Early Days of Installing IKEA Kitchens

It’s a funny thing, I’ve been using IKEA for years. Gosh, I used it back in the late 80’s when they only had two colors (for the US Market): White & Almond (visit the IKEA Museum). And, it looked like garage cabinetry, or closet cabinetry. And, I liked how everything went together, how it rolled together, and how it was attached. I learned. We didn’t have YouTube back then, so I honestly had to learn the hard way. I wasn’t always asking enough questions.

But, they’re all modular. It all rolls around for the European Market and their limitations on square footage. The square footage per home is lower, the cost per square foot to purchase is a lot higher than it is here in the United States. There in Europe things are tighter, better planned, and they maximize their storage space. If they’re renting they bring their cabinets with them anyway, and they take them when they leave. And, they just add onto them if they need another cabinet or another area.

So, IKEA has been around for many, many years. We had a recession and IKEA is still here. They take care of everybody wonderfully. The people that work for them are conscientious and I feel that they really care. I think they really care about the environment, waste and preventing it.

They have a bad rap. People complain: “Oh it’s IKEA. It’s cheap furniture.” Well, they have some things that aren’t made as well. An, some of it’s not made to be put together and taken apart several times. I mean, if you do that and it gets rickety, you need to get glue and glue it together.

But, the IKEA Cabinets are warrantied for 25 years. And, if you consider the recession in 2008, how many companies aren’t even in business anymore? Or, went bankrupt and went off to do something else? IKEA is still here, and the quality has just gotten better.

I have an AKURUM kitchen and it went through me raising two boys that were very difficult with it. And, it still looks just as good as it did when I put it in 20 years ago. Now I’m not as much into the Birch finish. I wish I had went with something a little bit darker. But, other than that it still operates well and it’s not beat up.

Learning How to Customize IKEA Kitchens

We started doing all custom work so I started doing my own custom overlays. Custom doors, custom panels, the same as IKEA, that go over the cabinets. They were just specialty, a few here and there. But, we’re custom builders, so we make anything anyway. Anything!.

If we can’t buy it we make it. And the nice thing about IKEA is that the boxes are all a certain size. And, we modify them to make them anything you want when we’re doing custom panels and sizes. It’s always a good base that you can go and buy tomorrow, right off the rack, and get going. If you wanted to order cabinet doors and they didn’t have something you wanted, that’s something you can do.

As things progressed over the years, IKEA went to SEKTION, a new cabinet line, and they discontinued the AKURUM. The parts doubled. So lets say AKURUM had 2000 parts, SEKTION has 5000 parts. So, that means 5000 options. With drawers-in-drawers and slide-outs and sizes and how they’re stacked together. They simplified how they’re installed, the boxes are still nice, they have really nice German hardware, soft closes, and a good base price. All of which you could get tomorrow. And, you could buy all their drawers. Some of their doors I feel are a better quality than other.

The old solid wood butcherblock countertops were really good. Some of their things have gotten a little thinner and some of their countertops are not as well made. And, I’ve tried all of them. I have some in the house that are the laminate. And, we use those – they’re a nice thick cabinet counter. You just learn to seal things. You have to prepare. You have to think farther ahead of what could happen. And, you seal edges if your cutting with particleboard because water will damage it. But, the old solid wood butcherblock countertop was really quite nice and it was really well priced.

Everything they have it really just gets better. It’s thought out. Sometimes it’s simplified a little bit. You know, I like some of the doors better than the newer doors. I mean, I think that it’s a little bit of the appearance. And, after so much time I can tell how it’s all lasted, how it’s going to be more timeless and still looks great after all these years. I always get a little nervous when I try some of the new stuff. Is it going to hold up? I’ll try new products all the time in our own properties. Just to see how they wear and tear. I’ve had really good luck.

Creating Custom Fronts for IKEA Kitchens

With all the custom stuff we build and design, and gear towards whatever the client’s wants and needs are, we started a door company called Dendra Doors. A partner and I started it back about 10 years ago. We make doors and finishes exactly any way you could possibly imagine. You know, from any kind of metal, to any kind of wood, to any kind of laminate, to the new kind of SuperMatte laminate – the sky is the limit. Anything you want we can come up with and figure out how to do.

So, the door company wraps IKEA cabinets. So, that’s a viable business now. It runs on it’s own and it seems to grow a little bit every year. We’ve got a pretty good clientele on the Dendra side.

Even so, if you were to go on our website, most any kitchen you see on there is an IKEA Kitchen, with Dendra Doors finishes on them. You might not think that they’re all IKEA, but most of them are. Or, they’re boxes that we’ve altered or changed and made into whatever we, whatever our clients wanted.

People do freak out a little bit when you start doing things to an IKEA product, that they’re not warrantied. You know a melamine box is a melamine box. You know, as long as you seal it and cover your cuts, when you do things right, you should never have any problem with them. We haven’t had any. But, then again we’re, we’re custom builders. We’re custom craftsman – we don’t think anything about it. It’s kinda nice to have something ready to go. If we have to alter it a little bit, it’s simple, instead of starting from scratch.

Quality & Timelessness - IKEA with Dendra Doors

All the Dendra Doors stuff is really nice. When I think of timelessness though, I always think of wood. And when I say timeless I think of things as far back as, you know, when my Grandma was around. Stuff from back then that’s still in use today and still looks good. It’s timeless, it’s the test of time. So when you look at wood, you know it’s timeless. Stone is timeless.

I think that our really popular one right now is the Shaker Slim – that seems to be a hot product. It’s really handsome, it’s just got a smaller frame on the Shaker. And it’s a little cleaner, more modern look. But, it can go into something more traditional also, when you’re staying in the woods.

I always think of low maintenance. Whatever you’re going to do, it’s low maintenance you don’t want to have to repaint it or repair it, or whatever. So, I always think of finishes that way.

Wood, you know, you can dent, but I think of handsome old things as a kind of patina of use and age. You know it’s used – it could be a hundred years old, but it’s still a handsome piece of furniture or handsome cabinetry, if it was planned and built well.

And when you start thinking about lets say, the painted surfaces, now they have a SuperMatte which is a totally covered door, that’s flat, that kind of repairs itself. You can, honestly, wash it hard and use a scrubbie on it and it’ll take any marks and whatever else, and it snaps back leaving it looking just like it was brand new. So, these products are getting pretty sophisticated these days.