Ikea Upgrade: The SemiHandmade Kitchen Remodel

Smitten Studio Kitchen Remodel

LA creative director and designer Sarah Sherman Samuel and her husband, Rupert Samuel, thought nothing of tearing out the cabinets in their LA bungalow with their own bare hands. We’ve been watching them in action via Samuel’s blog Smitten Studio. The two are can-do sorts, but not so handy that they could tackle building the replacements. Nor were they ready to shell out for a cabinetmaker. Instead they took the high/low road: They bought Ikea cabinets and turned to LA-based company SemiHandmade to put up a good front. As Sarah explains: “The genius part is that at Ikea you can buy the cabinets without the doors and drawer faces, so then by getting those at SemiHandmade, you end up with beautifully crafted and high-quality doors and drawers, but it’s still less expensive than a custom kitchen. It’s like the ultimate Ikea hack.”

Photography by Sarah Sherman Samuel.

Above: Sarah puts a cabinet door in place. The cabinetry all came from Ikea; the doors and drawer fronts are the work of SemiHandmade, which uses Ikea’s plans (or architectural plans or even legible sketches) to create customized fronts. Sarah chose SemiHandmade’s DIY Shaker design, which is made of maple with MDF inset panels (and is called DIY because the wood is untreated and unstained). 

Above: The cabinet doors freshly painted in Farrow & Ball’s Pigeon await installation. “Originally we were going to paint the doors and drawer fronts ourselves,” Sarah writes in her chronicle of the project. “I researched spray guns and read up on different DIY techniques, but in the end we hired a professional. By the time I factored in the price of the sprayer and considered all the time it would take me, it turns out hiring the professional ended up being more cost-effective.”

She settled on the color by painting foam core boards with several possibilities and moving the boards around over days to see how they looked in different lights. She was initially inclined to go with a dark shade, but during the testing process this nuanced gray-green emerged the winner. 


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Above: Rupert assembles the Ikea shelves. Sarah reports that they were able to follow the Ikea instructions without going too cross-eyed, and that it took the two of them a full day to install the SemiHandmade doors and drawer fronts: “The drawer fronts snapped in quick like lightening, but hanging the doors and adjusting the hinges took a bit of time.”

Above: SemiHandmade ships its designs across the country and is planning to set up showrooms near some of the largest Ikea stores (it’s currently in Burbank, California, two miles from Ikea). Wondering about costs? The company reports that most clients spend $5,000 to $10,000 on its doors, panels, and drawer faces to complete a room. Ikea cabinet boxes and hardware typically cost $1,000 to $3,000, and, if you pay for assembly and installation, that generally runs $1,500 to $2,000–so projects generally total somewhere between $8,000 and $15,000.

Above: Sarah’s high/low approach extends to the fixtures and finishes: The apron sink is from Ikea–the Domsjo; $185.99–while the counter and backsplash is Calacatta Gold marble. The kitchen is shown here nearly finished–cabinet and drawer pulls are still to come.

Above: “I’ve always wanted a kitchen with marble countertops,” says Sarah. “I know they aren’t the most durable or practical, but come on, the heart wants what the heart wants.” She selected the slabs at an LA marble yard and expected to go for Carrara, but discovered “Carrara is generally more gray with smaller veins, and Calacatta is whiter with more dramatic veins. The slab I found was very white and the veins have the prettiest range of colors, including touches of gold and green.”

Above: Further departing from Ikea, Sarah chose a high-end faucet in a brushed bronze finish: Brizo’s Solna design, which has a hidden pull-down spray wand at the tip of its spout.

Above: Sarah test drives her own designs on the new counter. The Walnut Serving Board Hexagon ($48) is from her online shop, Sunny Afternoon, which specializes in picnic wares (most of them made by Sarah and her father). N.B.: The shop is currently on hiatus while Sarah works on her new website.

Above: Here’s a glimpse of the kitchen with the new handles in place–Sarah says she waited for months, until her father was visiting, and got him to install them. They’re brass Lewis Dolin Bar Pulls from

Above: The kitchen opens to the living room and dining area. Upper cabinets flank the kitchen window but fade into the background thanks to the fact that they’re painted white–Wimborne White from Farrow & Ball–to blend with the walls. SemiHandmade supplied the bar front; the stools are from Organic Modernism. Go to Smitten Studio for more details, including Before shots of the kitchen. 

More ways to customize Ikea? Have a look at Superfront, makers of cabinet upgrades; Bemz, which specializes in transformative slipcovers; and Pretty Pegs, a line of custom furniture legs–all made for Ikea designs.

N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on February 17, 2014, as part of our Great Danes issue.

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