The DIY guy

Some homeowners love the Ikea kitchen look, but hate the wordless installation instructions. One businessman steps into the gap between do-it-yourself and custom kitchen.

Bob DeHaven knew his kitchen wasn’t functioning as well as it could, but he also knew the $40,000 estimate for a full renovation wasn’t the answer. “We wanted to keep the character of an existing wall of original 1920s cabinets, so we assumed we had to go the custom route,” explains DeHaven, who lives in South Minneapolis. “But the estimates were laughable for our budget situation. We didn’t need the Cadillac of kitchens.”

Then DeHaven spotted an ad for Minneapolis-based White on White, which specializes in installing Ikea kitchens. “We’d been looking at Ikea options and thought it looked doable,” says DeHaven. “However I knew it was not like putting together an Ikea dresser.”

Unexpected quality

White on White’s owner David Heisserer has been specializing in Ikea kitchen installation for the past three years once the condo boom — which is where Heisserer perfected his Ikea skills by installing kitchen after kitchen in multi-unit buildings — went bust. A combination of appreciation for the product and demand from homeowners meant Heisserer, who has no affiliation with the Swedish mega home store, had discovered a new niche. “It’s just a better product for the money and has great functionality,” he says of his Ikea loyalty. “You can’t find contemporary design for this price anywhere else.”

Heisserer’s initial meeting with clients includes discussions about elements of design, ergonomics, and the pros and cons of various Ikea styles. “David had ideas about how to design the kitchen that wouldn’t have occurred to us if we were flying solo,” says DeHaven. “In our case he suggested butcher block countertops and validated some of our choices. He was the third vote, so to speak.”

After talking to clients Heisserer often sends them to the store with specific instructions about which displays to visit in the massive store. “They do their homework at Ikea and I develop the nuts and bolts of which cabinets to incorporate where,” explains Heisserer. He says the Shaker-style Adel series in white is popular in Southwest’s older homes.

Heisserer takes issue with any suggestion that the store that built its name on particleboard furniture for post-college apartments is the kitchen equivalent of Wal-Mart. “I’ve assembled every piece of Ikea cabinetry that exists and I stand behind the product,” says Heisserer. “The consumer reports are good and the warranties are excellent.”

Trading in the Cadillac

Looking at Ikea’s instructions — and who doesn’t recognize (and loathe) their signature blobular cartoon carpenter on the flimsy directions — Heisserer understands why clients want to hire out the installation process. “I just look past the instructions now,” he laughs. “There are no words and they have really poor metric conversions that are a joke to carpenters.”

Even though DeHaven wanted help installing his kitchen, he also wanted to do some of the project himself, which Heisserer encouraged. When DeHaven lamented his kitchen’s dated linoleum flooring Heisserer suggested he restore the wood flooring beneath. DeHaven skeptical. “But, lo and behold, with some elbow grease that rough floor looks great now,” says DeHaven. “David gave me the confidence to refinish the floor myself, and I did the demo of the old kitchen before he arrived because I can break stuff just as good as the next guy. It was fun to feel like part of the transformation rather than just getting out the checkbook.”

What DeHaven’s checkbook did cover was four and a half days of Heisserer’s labor, IKEA materials, a new oven and miscellaneous costs (light fixtures, paint, etc.) for about $8,000. Heisserer says an average Ikea installation project takes around five days and comes in under $10,000 — in some cases “well under” that. For DeHaven that means he traded the original Cadillac for something more achievable and functional. “David was able to bridge the gap between a great product and our desire to construct a kitchen true to the character of our house,” he says. “It’s the Ford Explorer of kitchens.”

Monica Wright can be reached at [email protected] or 436-4394.