Semihandmade townhouse kitchen.
In this Brooklyn kitchen, designer Alison Jennison painted Semihandmade DIY Shakers in Benjamin Moore’s Black Knight. Photo: Alison Jennison/ A.Jennison Interiors

You don’t need deep pockets to outfit your kitchen with custom cabinets. These days savvy remodelers who can’t spring for a cabinetmaker are opting for a high/low kitchen plan that combines Ikea’s trusty budget system with beautiful handmade doors and drawer fronts by Semihandmade. The California-based company, which launched in 2011, works with old and new Ikea kitchens and closets to help you design the space of your Pinterest-dreams. Here’s how it works: Plan your kitchen with Ikea. The genius Swedish retailer knows you love a good hack, and lets you order cabinets without the doors, drawers and hardware. Submit the plan from Ikea’s website to Semihandmade, and select from one of its 60 styles to put your stamp on the finished look. The brand also features a DIY option that allows you paint cabinet doors whichever color your heart desires. One of our favorite kitchens from designer Sarah Sherman Samuel, which is something of an online sensation, features cabinets in Farrow & Ball’s Pigeon.

We spoke to founder John McDonald about the benefits of using an Ikea system and the relentless appeal of the Shaker door.

Why go with an Ikea kitchen?
The benefit of Ikea is it’s the biggest furniture retailer in the world. Some of their stuff doesn’t have a long shelf life — their kitchens are different. JD Power rated them for the last couple of years No. 1 in customer satisfaction, a really great system. They have solid boxes. It’s a particle-board box, but that’s the standard in Europe. That’s the standard with some of the most expensive cabinet manufacturers in the world. People in the U.S. can complain, like, “Oh my God, it’s so cheap.” That’s what the rest of the world uses, and it’s perfectly fine. They also work with Blum, which is the best-known hardware supplier in the world for hinges and door slides.

Semihandmade white cabinets

Brass hardware adds a modern touch. Photo: Havenly


Your doors aren’t solid wood?
Just to clarify, solid doors don’t really exist. You couldn’t make a rectangular door in solid material without it being unbelievably heavy, expensive, time consuming. And it would crack and warp. Most of our doors have veneer faces. Veneer is a thin layer of real wood that is applied to both sides of a three-quarter-inch MDF core.  MDF, or medium density fiberboard, is just about the flattest and most structurally stable surface available.  Certainly a plywood box is better, but it’s a lot more expensive. And the question is: What do you need it to be better for? It’s like saying a Porsche is better than a Toyota, it absolutely is. But a Toyota is still a really good car.

What are some things you’re excited about?
We work with well-known companies like Stikwood and make doors with their products, like reclaimed-lumber doors. We work with companies like Art of Board, which is a recycled-skateboard company, and Plyboo, which is a really high-end bamboo company. Some of those are solid and really high-quality. On the other hand, we do have doors in the last year that are more at the Ikea price point. They are still all made in the U.S. but it’s much more for a customer who is budget-conscious and on a tight timeframe.

Semihandmade walnut kitchen

Buy the bones of your cabinets at Ikea, and add your signature with hardware and fronts, like these in Walnut. Photo: Destination Eichler

Kitchen-remodel trends
The biggest seller we have is what we consider traditional Shaker doors, which is a simple frame and panel door. If you go in to Instagram, the biggest response is from the traditional doors. But I always say, a Shaker is in between traditional and modern. It can look like both depending on how you accessorize it. We’re also seeing a lot of two tones. A lot of kitchens right now are doing darker lower cabinets and light uppers. And if you can hide the appliance, integrating a seamless look as possible is what people want. The exception being a stove, which is like a piece of furniture. It’s a point of pride for people. 

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