The flat-pack challenge: How to build an Ikea kitchen

Ireland gets its first Ikea on Thursday, when the Belfast store opens. It’s a great place to buy a kitchen in theory, but plenty can go wrong

Ready for lunch at last: the finished kitchen, featuring Ikea Sorbo cabinets. Photograph: Alan Betson

We love our new kitchen. We love its indestructible cabinets and their sleek birch-trimmed doors. We love its pull-out baskets, its soft-close drawers, even its double sink and chrome-plated tap. We’ll love it even more once we’ve unpacked it. But for now it’s sitting in 87 boxes on two huge delivery pallets. And it’s flat-packed.

No problem. Within a week we’ll have slotted together the 100 or so pieces that make up the cabinets, secured them with the 500 or so screws, nails and other fixings that Ikea has included, clipped together 30 drawers, attached 120 runners and soft-close gizmos and be ready for our carpenter to fit the whole caboodle. He’ll be here in the evenings and at weekends, so how long will he need? Another week, we reckon, or two at most.

We’re so looking forward to showing off our new kitchen that we’re throwing a family Sunday lunch a month from now. That should be plenty of time to finish everything. What can go wrong?

We start well. It only takes an hour to rip out our old kitchen, a bespoke – some prefer the more precise term “home-made” – pineand-MDF affair whose rustic charms faded once the cutlery drawer jammed for good and the third door fell off its hinges. The old Belfast sink – lovely to look at but unforgiving to delph – goes, too, so now the only running water is in the bathroom.


We’re using the opportunity to sand the floor back to life. We head off for the rest of the weekend, so the carpenter can get on with the job without having to contend with the six of us – four humans, two dogs – as well. He should be able to sand today, varnish tomorrow and start installing the presses during the week.

But old floorboards can be awkward customers, and, diligently, he has to spend the whole weekend tackling them. When we get back they’re beautiful but still decidedly bare. The varnish has had to wait. Two days in and we’re a day behind. We could take it as an omen. But let’s be positive.

The carpenter’s positive, too. He drafts in a friend to help us get back on track. They begin with the centrepiece of our kitchen: a large island that will provide most of our storage space. They’re pros: it’s a doddle. Except for the floor. One side turns out to be four centimetres lower than the other. As slopes go we’re talking Himalayan foothills rather than Mount Everest, but the carpenters have to work out lots of angles on the backs of envelopes, to make sure the island ends up level and in line with the rest of the kitchen.

Good to go: the finished Ikea kitchen, including some of the Sorbo cabinets' soft-close drawers. Photograph: Alan Betson

We had been tempted to fit the kitchen ourselves. Ikea’s instructions are very clear, and the guide on its website makes the installation process look incredibly simple. If we had, we’d be grinding to a halt right about now, unable to cope with the slanting floor—and, as it turns out, with wonky walls. For the carpenters’ next discovery is that our kitchen is sorely deficient in right angles. Eighty-seven-degree corners: check. Ninety-three-degree corners: check. But 90 degrees is as rare here as it is during an Irish summer.

We wish that whoever built our house had been better with his plumb line. The arrow-straight rows of units are showing up the bows and bulges in our kitchen walls. And the carpenters have needed twice as long to install each cabinet as we were hoping. Washing up in the bathroom didn’t have much appeal to begin with. Two weeks in and we’re longing to get our dishwasher back. We put the family lunch on hold.

Shouldn’t be long now, though. Just the oven and hob left. But there’s a snag: a central-heating pipe is stopping the oven from sitting flush against the wall. It’s a small job to move it. But plumbers don’t like small jobs. They’re the supermodels of the construction world, reluctant to get out of bed for less than €10,000. Well, €1,000, anyway. We try a few contacts, but their diaries aren’t looking good this side of 2010. The carpenters go home. They’ve got to move on to their next job. Finally, a friendly plumber says he’ll be around before the week is out. We wait. And wait. Samuel Beckett would love it. Then he arrives.

Three hours later and the plumbing is done. But the carpenters can’t come back for two weeks. We’re beginning to think that we’ve cut a corner too many, that we should have bought our kitchen the conventional way and had it installed in 48 hours. It has been six weeks since we ripped our old kitchen out, and still we can’t boil an egg in the new one without firing up the Stanley—which is to say both ovens and the full hotplate.

But then, one Friday evening when the last thing we feel like is listening to hammering and sawing, the final unit goes in and the final worktop goes on. We’re the proud parents of an Ikea kitchen. It was a long, difficult birth. Now it’s time for the christening. Quick, call the in-laws. Lunch at our place. At last.

Long haul: for six weeks we couldn't boil an egg without firing up the Stanley—both ovens and the full hotplate. Photograph: Alan Betson

Where to start with an Ikea kitchen

Plan online

The Ikea website ( includes the essential Planner Tool, which lets you enter the dimensions of your kitchen, then add units, doors, worktops, sinks and appliances. Click on “Save to Ikea” and the plan will be available to discuss with staff in store. (Be careful, though: your plan won’t be available if you save it to your PC rather than to Ikea’s server.)

Then plan your visit

Getting to the store early can make your day a lot easier than it might be if you arrive with the hordes, especially if you want to talk to staff. The Belfast branch will be open 10am-10pm Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm Saturdays and 1-6pm Sundays. Expect it to be packed for months.

Don’t forget the fittings

The Planner Tool calculates how many doors, drawers, legs, handles, counters and carcases you’ll need, but it ignores internal fittings. It’s up to you, at the store, to choose drawer dividers, pot racks, bins, carousels and even floor-level drawers.

Be patient

If you want to bring your kitchen home yourself, staff will print a list of the parts you need, which you collect from open shelving. Expect to make a second trip, to pick up forgotten parts. Ikea will also deliver, for a fee that starts at £100 (€140), depending on location. The downside is that you’ll have to wait for your kitchen to arrive; the upside is that, if Ikea forgets a part, it has to solve the problem, not you.