This Old House logoMaybe you know This Old House as a long standing television series.  Maybe you know Tom Silva, Kevin O’Connor, Ask This Old House, Inside This Old House and the list goes on – America’s Most Trusted Home Improvement Brand.  And maybe you then know This Old House, the Magazine, first published in 1995.

TOH (as I sometimes call it) is one of only a few magazines that I have subscribed to in my adult life.  Originally a gift from my MIL, it is the only print subscription I’ve maintained uninterrupted through the years.  (Yep, every issue since 2001.)

Maybe you also know Ikea as a Swedish furniture maker.  Maybe you know them for their self-assembling goods, their meatballs or their lingonberries, and you even know them for, well, their funny sounding product names – Affordable Solutions for Better Living.  They are makers of bar stools and dinnerware, lighting and linens, accents of all sorts and, yes, they even make stuff for your bathroom and your kitchen.

Ikea's the Life Improvement ProjectNow, and like my wife, you’re asking, “What’s the connection?”  I mean – This Old House = Old House.  Right?  And Ikea = Contemporary & Modern.  No? “Why then am I reading about them together here?”  Well, a program called the Life Improvement Project joins these two powerhouse brands, a handful of times each year.

Through the Life Improvement Project, Ikea works with media outlets (like This Old House) to produce in-store seminars covering various aspects of … living.  And this past weekend I had the opportunity to swing into Ikea Baltimore for a presentation called Creating a Cook Space that Works for You.  Alex Bandon (Online Editor) and Amy Hughes (Features Editor) hosted.

Here’s how the event was billed:

This Old House editors Alex Bandon and Amy Hughes help you pick a kitchen style to match your cooking and entertaining style, your budget, and, most important, your lifestyle. For the DIYer, they’ll cover everything from taking your own measurements and drafting a plan, to actually installing the cabinetry, plumbing fixtures, and integrated appliances. They’ll also be working one-on-one with IKEA customers, so come with questions!

Nestled in a cozy kitchen vignette, Alex and Amy (rock stars really, in my eyes) spoke frequently of their own kitchens as they walked a small audience, and passers-by, through a four-part program.  Topics included Accessing Needs, Mapping a Plan, Picking Products and (a little surprise) Developing a Lighting Plan.

This Old House Magazine Ikea-Vignette


Creating a Cook Space that Works for You (the TakeAway)

* Questions Lead to Answers

What are your needs?

  • More importantly — Why redo?
  • Is there a life change?  A child off to college or are you aging?
  • How do you cook?  How do you plan to use your kitchen?
  • Will it be a “show space” or will it be simple and functional?
  • Will it serve multiple functions?

What are your goals?

According to Alex, “These are not always lifestyle-related.”  Instead think of it in terms of what youCreating A Cook Space that Works for You Amy Hughes + Alex Bandon LOVE! On defining pros and cons, Alex and Amy both made some great points.  We (general) often focus on the cons when we are thinking about a kitchen redo – “I don’t like x about my kitchen.”

We should also be tracking (with a little notebook) what we love and/or have loved about the kitchens we’ve known from our own personal histories.  Think of the kitchen we grew up with or a rental or a friend’s house.  What worked in these spaces?  And write it down as it comes.

Answers to these questions will lead you then to the “Wish List.”  On this, the ladies suggested, “Go big!” Then rank things in terms of importance and priority.

* Mapping a Plan

Think about the space — function and clearances, and keeping in mind certain standards (or items) that are not easily changed.  Amy says look at windows, doorways and the inside walls (those that may be bearing or might contain vital “organs”).  “Measure, Measure, Measure,” she says.  And get out the graph paper.Standard Kitchen Measurements via This Old House

Alex points out that if you look at the “standard measurements”, these are historically derived and are based on the woman of the household.  (A great graphic to the right there.)

Returning to the Wish List, she says, “Ask yourself, do you want parts of your space to be multi-functional?”  Are you going to hang in yours like they do on Cougartown? (< Yep, a quote.)  Could a void in the plan be better filled with a desk or used for a Baking Station?”

Again, they suggest ranking the ideas and items that make it to your Wish List.  What are the “Do-Nows” and what are the “Maybe-we-can-Do-Laters”?

Amy Hughes with Bill Meiswinkel Ikea Baltimore

Both Alex and Amy stressed the importance of getting the behind the wall stuff right . . . of course – the first of the Do Nows.  This includes layout as well as systems work like plumbing, electric, gas and ventilation.

Another very important Do-Now (in the case of a gut/reno) — the cabinets, amounting usually to 25% – 40% or more of the total budget.

Some examples of possible Do-Laters – Appliances & Lighting.  If you are not doing a full gut/reno, Alex and Amy suggested looking toward quick fix updates like Hardware or Paint.

And here, Alex reiterated a ruling guideline for the magazine. “We rarely use terms like ‘Should’ ‘Must’ ‘Required’ because we know each situation is different.”

* My Ikea Has a Wonderful Place Called “Småland”

Alex Bandon with an Ikea Customer

Unfortunately, I missed most of the discussion on products, and there were many questions from those in attendance (some folks even lingered afterwards).  Ha! I had to retrieve Eva, my six-year-old, from the “ball pit” (as my wife and I have come to call it).

They finished the program focused on Developing a Lighting Plan – of high importance as it was presented as a means of punctuating the space you are just now about to create.

Both Alex and Amy had installed Ikea kitchens, I believe, in their own homes.  (I myself have installed a few for clients.)  Amy saying of her Manhattan apartment, “It just made sense.  Ikea has such a huge presence in NYC.  And the ability of Ikea to provide non-standard sizing was invaluable.”  Every inch counts — during the presentation, she highlighted a 12” deep base cabinet that was at least similar to one she chose for herself.


If you are unfamiliar with This Old House, the Magazine, it features everything from how-to’s and the latest in project know-how to reader Before & Afters and “This Old House TV Project” updates.

By my records, the next engagement for Creating a Cook Space that Works for You is scheduled for June 2nd in South Philadelphia.  I say thanks out to both Alex and Amy; it was a pleasure.  Everyone else – Please go check ’em out! ~jb


An Ikea Outtake (My Friendly Neighborhood Decor Store)

Evyn Handing Out Ikea Chocolate :: Evyn Aleksandra, 8

Some of the more interesting tidbits I have for this particular Ikea — it is walking distance from my mother’s house, the house I grew up in.  Believe it or not, I would walk to it way back in the day, when I was knee-high to the seventh grade . . . many years ago.

It was a pleasure too meeting Stefanie Smith (Regional Marketing Manager, Ikea) the day of the presentation.  She told me quickly that this, my, the Baltimore location, is in fact the 3rd oldest Ikea location in the US.

She also told me that each store manages their own Twitter handle.  Mine = @IkeaBaltimore.  (Hence the (original) title.)

She gave me a quick overview of some of the newer initiatives/programs/things happening with Ikea.  These include:

  • A new(ish) Picking and Delivery Service – a personal shopping assistant (essentially) creates a list for you, which you then take with you to checkout as well as to and through home delivery.
  • A new/expanded Loyalty Program, with many family-oriented perks.

Stefanie continued on to say (speaking of Alex and Amy), “This presentation was by far the best I have seen.”


Back to the Life Improvement Project.  If you can, take a minute to peruse the Manuals section found on this site! This one in particular caught my eye >> Ha! Build Confidence (go figure and only as Ikea could).  Below — a sample.

Build Confidence Life Improvement Project

Great day! ~jb

6 thoughts on “Building Moxie Archive: This Old House as seen at Ikea Baltimore :: Creating a Cook Space that Works for You

  1. Excellent post. Love TOH & Ikea. What a great combination. Good tips for creating at kitchen that works for you.

    I’ve had an Ikea kitchen and for any who are skeptical, don’t be. In the right location they are a kitchen cost savings dream and there is no skimping on quality.

  2. Thanks for poppin’ in Lisa and I absolutely agree with your statement. The one thing to plan for, of course, is the assembly of the boxes (which you may be able to arrange via their Assembly Service). The great thing I find with Ikea’s kitchen systems is that they can be a true do-it-yourself project. Because the wall cabs are hung on a rail they really are a one-man/one-woman type job. Cheers and a great day. ~jb

  3. ’twas indeed. I mean how often can you go see a seminar and know that you kids are not only safely tucked but also really having a blast. thanks Chris. ~jb

  4. Looks like they knocked it out of the park with this pairing! What a great way to feature the Ikea products and educate consumers, great write up JB. Curious if they recommend bringing in a contractor or designer to help guide the homeowner through the process?

  5. The presentation absolutely included discussion of the contractor, especially when talking full gut/reno.

    Bill from @IkeaBaltimore (pictured above) at one point interjected to say that “their installers” could handle any of the “behind the walls” stuff. I am pretty sure that my Ikea (and probably most) offer formal design services. But I really couldn’t help thinking of folks like Becky Shankle @ecomod who work primarily (?) with Ikea packages.

    I will say the presentation is a little more of a high level view targeted to folks that really just need a direction when getting started. Cheers. J. thanks for popping in.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *