Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why I Love IKEA Kitchens

Customized Kitchen with Ikea base cabinets - by Carol Reed Interior Design

Customized Ikea Kitchen - by Carol Reed Interior Design 
Photographed by Michael Graydon for Canadian House & Home

Ikea Kitchen - by Carol Reed Interior Design

This won’t be the first time you hear me declare my love for Ikea kitchen cabinets.  I designed and installed my first Ikea kitchen about 7 years ago and I’ve been a loyal fan ever since.  The three photos above are of some of my favorites that I've designed, one I've posted about previously (see cover of Canadian House & Home link in the sidebar) and the other two will be featured in future posts.   For anyone who has doubts about the quality of Ikea kitchens or for those who think its just not good enough for them, I have a little secret to let you in on.......Designers and Architects LOVE Ikea kitchens and use them all the time, have been for years.   We were quick to recognize the hardware they use is the same we were specifying for our custom millwork jobs,,,,and that we could shave 2 months off our construction schedules because this stuff was off the shelf!   When your budget and timeline are tight, you just can't beat it.  But it hasn’t been until more recently that the option of using ikea cabinetry has become more mainstream and appreciated for its great price and quality.  Here's another little secret, I have clients in quite affluent neighborhoods opting for Ikea over custom - some actually request plain, unmarked delivery trucks so their neighbours won't know!!!!  True story ; ) 

To really appreciate the quality, design and selection offered by Ikea you first have to have an understanding of kitchen cabinetry in general and what is available on the market.   Anyone who turns their nose up at Ikea cabinets is either completely in the dark or their kitchen budget is in a different stratosphere than the average homeowner.  Basically unless you’re going for a custom wood kitchen (meaning the base cabinets are made of wood, sized to fit, and start at at least $35k) then every other option you’ll look at will consist of base cabinets made from melamine, this goes for in-stock cabinetry and semi-custom cabinetry at Home Depot, Rona et al, and even semi-custom kitchen companies like AYA and Canac and Cameo - are all melamine base cabinetry.  And I can tell you, no other stock cabinetry has drawer boxes nearly as good as Ikea nor do they use high quality Blum hinges like Ikea does, never mind they don’t have nearly the selection of cabinets or interior organizers to chose from.   As for the kitchen companies, I have seen one of these companies that uses the exact same drawer boxes as Ikea and the same hinges, but none of them have as many cabinet sizes to chose from nor the interior accessories - and they’re at least 2 to 3 times the price, even factoring in installation.  I just have a hard time justifying to anyone why you should pay $20k or more for melamine cabinets that you can get for $6k or $7k.  These serious costs savings mean you can splurge on counters and appliances - which in my opinion is much better value for your money than expensive melamine cabs.

As far as new home construction goes, with few exceptions, they have some of the  poorest quality kitchens i’ve ever seen despite their luxury price tags.  Last year I toured a development in Yorkville which was selling multi-million dollar luxury condominiums ($2M and up),,,,of course the first thing I checked out was the kitchen cabinetry and sure enough behind the lovely wood cabinet doors was your basic melamine cabinet with cheap hinges and really lousy, poor quality drawer boxes.  

With all melamine base cabinets being equal (although not all drawer boxes are!) what it comes down to is you’re ultimately buying a door style.  Aesthetically, this is what your kitchen is all about because obviously its the visible part of your kitchen.  To me, this is the biggest differential between Ikea and any other kitchen options because Ikea certainly doesn’t offer the range of doors and glass that the kitchen companies do.  So you have to weigh the benefits of paying a premium for a company that offers more door styles or, compromising on your door style so you can take those savings and put that money into counters and appliances.   Alternately, if Ikea doesn’t offer a door style that you like then you can customize one of their doors (spraying) or simply order your doors elsewhere from a company like Cabinet Mart, an on-line supplier of made to measure doors.

Below are some photos of other Ikea installations published in various magazines, mostly from the UK magazine Living Etc.  I really think the Europeans do Ikea best, probably because they take a more utilitarian approach to kitchens, the cabinets are never the ‘feature’ of the room, always simple and understated.

Customized Ikea Kitchen - Living Etc. November 06

Sleek & White -  Living Etc.

A monochrome look in stainless - Living Etc., January 06

Mixed with antique buther block - Living Etc. March 08.

Ikea Stainless  - Living Etc. July 09

Rustic Loft Kitchen - Living Etc. December 08

White Kitchen - Living Etc. April 08

White & Wood kitchen in a Swedish flat -  Kitchen via Desire to Inspire

My favorite door style of Ikea's is the Applad white or any of their simple plain slab doors, they're understated and timeless.  For a more traditional look I like the Tidaholm shaker style but I'm not a fan of the natural oak colour so I prefer it with a custom sprayed finish.  The photos below are not Ikea kitchen installations (I'm pretty sure the 3rd one down is but I just wasn't able to confirm), however you can get this same look with Ikea.

Kitchen Design by Timothy Mather photographed for Canadian House & Home.

Sleek Glossy White - Living Etc. July 07

Living Etc.

Here’s a brief summary of my thoughts on Ikea:


  • excellent value,,,top quality hardware
  • love their drawer boxes
  • huge selection of cabinet styles
  • their butcher block counters are fantastic value
  • amazing selection of interior organizers
  • limitless design possibilities using their standard cabinets
  • 12”depths avail. including drawers
  • automatic self-closing drawers are standard
  • RETURN or exchange any unused pieces or pick up more pieces easily (in most cases) if there is a change in plans
  • SAVE thousands by installing yourself (if you’re really ambitious)
  • low cost of cabinets means you can splurge on counters and appliances
  • order online or by phone for delivery anywhere
  • 25 yr warranty


  • limited selection of door styles
  • they don’t do the greatest wood (basic birch, oak)
  • drawer widths limited to 30” (not a big issue)
  • the Ikea logo on their appliances (a huge turnoff, who wants a retailers logo on anything?)
  • the price does not include assembly/installation (add in another $1200 to $1700 for the average kitchen)
  • As of this summer, kitchens purchased in store now require most parts/pieces be picked up by the customers in the self-serve warehouse!!!  Insanity!  This is a MAJOR bummer, up until recently you only had to take a written order to the cash desk and be on your way - piece of cake.  The new process now requires loading up two or three carts and lots of help to wheel your flat packed kitchen to the cashier and then the delivery desk.  And once at the cashier, the cashier has to go thru every single item (there are hundreds of pieces).  Trust me,,,,this is not fun.  I hope Ikea comes to their senses and changes this system - this makes the experience completely frustrating, physically challenging, prone to errors, and hugely time consuming for their customers and staff.  It's enough to turn many people off using this product again.


  • AVOID the catalogue look ......use only their cabinetry.  Purchase sinks, faucets, lighting, handles/knobs, appliances and kitchen furniture elsewhere or your kitchen will look like an ikea showroom display
  • don’t buy their appliances with the Ikea logo on it!
  • stick to classic door styles .....avoid their cabinet door styles that are uniquely ikea, stick with cabinets that are more generic and available at most kitchen supplier (ie; white flush doors, shaker style, doors with plain glass, )
  • think of the base components like lego’s or building blocks to create unique layouts, the possibilities are limitless
  • take advantage of their full height end panels and various size cover panels which can be cut-down and used as filler pieces, trim pieces, valances etc.
  • you don’t have to order a ‘cabinet assembly’, you can order the components individually ie; just the base cabinet, or just the drawers,
  • mix two or three different colours, ie; wood end panels with white doors,,,or white or wood end panels with stainless steel doors
  • don't use 12" deep gables and cabinets around your fridge, enclose it fully for a truly built-in look (those black sides of your stainless steel fridge aren't meant to be seen!)
  • visit the showroom as not all their cabinets or parts are shown on line or in the catalogue
  • mix Ikea cabinets with freestanding furniture and shelving for an unfitted look
  • if you want a cabinet colour other than what ikea offers, have your doors, end panels and cover panels custom sprayed (tips on this coming up in a future post). 
  • use an experienced installer who's worked with Ikea cabinets before.

All of this being said, I’ve seen some really unappealing and poorly designed Ikea installations so like any home improvement project, the end result is only going to be as good as your design and the installation.  For the best results, hire a designer to plan your Ikea kitchen for you, no matter how much you spend on your new kitchen, it will fall short on function, style and quality without a great design plan and proper installation.  Check out my e-design website for more samples and info on affordable kitchen redesigns like Lori's kitchen shown below, seen at

Ikea Kitchen installation in progress - Kitchen design by Carol Reed via

Photos: 1st, 3rd, and last photos by Carol Reed.


  1. I've scoured the world wide web, for months, to find non-IKEA IKEA kitchen pictures and I think you are the most successful designer at acheiving that goal that I've been able to find. I can't wait to see your recommendations on the painting of IKEA cabinets. I'm about to go down that path with Tidaholm, along with a new kitchen layout. Love your website.

  2. Hi Karol,
    Thank you! I'm currently in the early stages of a large kitchen re-design for a chef that will feature Ikea cabinetry (not sure which door style yet) mixed with lots of great appliances and customized details. I'll be posting about it in the coming months as well as showing more photos of an Ikea kitchen I designed last year, using the Tidaholm doors with a custom paint colour.


  3. Hi Carol,
    As an Ikea Kitchen Planner I love this page. Just a few things to note though. The biggest drawer size is 36". The new appliances no longer have the Ikea logo and I think items being self serve depends on the store.

  4. Hi Genna,
    Thanks so much for the info - one thing I really like about Ikea is that they are constantly adding new products and features, but I have to say I'm thrilled to learn they have 36"drawers, I remember trying to spec them some time ago and they weren't available - I haven't looked into it since. Last time I was in the showroom (today) they still had Ikea logos on appliances but not all. Really glad to hear they're phasing that out. I place all my kitchen orders at the Ikea Etobicoke location and unfortunately they started the self-serve policy on the kitchen orders this past summer and have no plans of changing it anytime soon, so I'm told. Its really too bad because I thought the process prior to this, worked quite efficiently and was more effective at controlling the inventory. Thanks for reading!


  5. What do you think of the Applad door style. I know it is bottom of the Ikea line, but I am considering using that door style with marble countertops, stainless steel legs for the bases, and the long stainless steel door handles. Is it wise to mix bottom of the line doors with upscale finishes?

  6. Hi Jenifer,
    I totally encourage mixing high end counters and appliances with Ikea cabinets this elevates them from budget look to custom look. you will see examples of this in the first 3 photos of this post, these kitchens are ikea cabinets with marble, concrete or stainless steel counters. Many of the other kitchens posted above also are using the applad or similar door. The applad door style is my favorite, they may be 'botton of the line' as far as price point (because they're just a simple slab door) but they are high on the style list. you can see how i used the applad doors with marble counters in a small budget kitchen redesign I posted about on this blog Dec.13/09. Good luck with your new kitchen!


  7. Hi Carol, Nice Blog you have! Could you tell me the color of the Nexus cabinets in the second picture? Black/brown or Brown. Which is your favorite? Thanks in advance.

  8. The Kitchen in the 2nd pic was my own kitchen, it was in a condo and was designed/installed about 7 years ago (looooong time ago!) this was before they even had the Nexus door style but that colour would be similar to the Black/Brown. The door style you see in that kitchen was the Adel birch but it had a custom applied espresso colour finish on it. I think that was the last dark wood kitchen I designed. I'm very much a fan of white kitchens, or simple slab natural wood doors. My favorite Ikea door is the Applad, white.

  9. Carol,

    This is a fantastic post! I am getting ready to print it. My family and I are remodelers and my Dad has been an IKEA cabinet naysayer, I am going to forward this to him.

  10. Hi Sarah,
    You can find hundreds of Ikea kitchens and laundry rooms featured in magazines, often you'd never know unless you read the source list - as I mentioned, designers and architects have been using them for years.

    I'm about to post a blog entry (tomorrow) on a new kitchen renovation I'm working on......its for a chef's home kitchen and you'll be able to see the design plans and follow the progress of what will be another beautifully bespoke Ikea kitchen!


  11. Hi Carol,
    I stumbled upon your blog after many hours searching for images of Ikea kitchens. I love the first photo in this post and it is very similar to what we want to do with our kitchen. Can you let me know when you are thinking of posting details on painting Tidaholm doors? We want a white shaker kitchen, but don't like the Adel doors and so will opt for Tidaholm with the extra step of painting them. Still much better than getting custom cabinets made!

    Thanks for all your tips!

  12. Hi Dustin,
    I just posted about a kitchen reno project I've designed which is now under construction. We'll be using Ikea cabinets with the Tidaholm door style (same as the first photo in this post) so sometime within the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting tips and advice about the process of ordering and custom painting the doors/drawers as I'll be going thru this process on this project.

    Thanks for reading!


  13. I'd love to hear your tips on painting ikea -- it looks like you have yet to add this to your blog. Great collection of photos!

  14. I'm hoping my ikea Nexus brown kitchen turns out as beautifully as these

  15. Hi Carol, you are a fantastic designer, I have seen quite a bit of your designs in house and home magazine. You had mentioned that you like Applad, white doors and I agree they are a great choice. But I just wanted to get your take on their durability considering they are painted doors. What about abstrakt white I noticed quite a few designers are now using these doors. Do you think they might go out of fashion because they are high gloss?

  16. Carol,

    My friend is getting ready to have her IKEA cabinets sprayed. Should she just take the cabinets in pieces/still packed to the finisher?

  17. cannot wait for my new kitchen.
    my friend did an ikea red kitchen which is HOT!

  18. a good article, thanks! For yet more inspiration, you can see some photos of a customised/upgraded Ikea kitchen on my blog.

  19. Carol,

    What are your thoughts on kitchen flooring and backsplashes?

    My husband and I are renovating our kitchen, and we are looking at the many options out there for backsplashes - from mosaic tiles to chalkboard and everything in between.

    If you have time in between your many projects, we would love to hear your thoughts about the practicality and beauty of different materials, and mistakes to avoid.

    Thank you!

  20. Thanks Carol! this is exactly what I've been looking for. I'm located in the GTA - do you have the name of an installation company that you can recommend?


  21. Hi Carol, let me start by saying that I love your work and your blog. Every post is always inspiring and educational to say the least.

    I love the first image in this post (with marble backsplash to the ceiling). I wanted to ask what is your opinion on marble backsplashes in the kitchen? I love the look, but I'm worried about stains. I use my kitchen a lot, so I need for it to be as practical and low maintenance as possible.

    Thank you! :)

  22. Hi Carol,

    Love your designs, hope my kitchen turns out like yours !
    I have a question for you : is it true that Ikea make funky size cabinets and you have to buy Ikea appliances? I want to buy higher end appliances and do not want to use fillers between appliances/cabinets.


    Martha I.

  23. Anonymous said...Hi Carol:

    Echoing @NK: Style-ING w/ Children; i love your work and the first image in this post is my favorite! I love that marble! Are the counter and wall the same marble? Any cost effective ways of getting that marble or similar look-alikes? Is it carrera or calacutta?

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  24. Hi Carol:
    I absolutely love your designs and especially like this article about Ikea kitchens. I am in the planning stages of my kitchen renovation and would like to use Ikea Abstrakt and carrara marble countertops. I've been recommended by many people/contractors not to use marble and unfortunately read many articles online which also tell the same story (etching, stains, etc). But, I see you like marble and use it in your designs. I am not a neat freak but any stretch, but I don't leave a mess in the kitchen overnight because I don't like waking up in the morning to it. What do you think about realistically using marble in a kitchen used to actually cook and entertain? Thank so much!


  25. Have you used the new Ramsjo white doors from IKEA and painted them? The Tidaholm is no longer available unfortunately here in California.


  26. Thank you for your excellent article and beautiful examples of Ikea kitchens! I am truly inspired now to redo my kitchen using Ikea cabinets.



  27. I'm so sad that tidaholm was discontinued and might be going with ramsjo :( (Painting the upper & lower cabinets different colors. ;)

  28. Hello Carol, I can't tell you how much better I feel after reading your post. I just bought a foreclosured house (the big reason was also that I KNEW nobody will have kitchen and bathrooms in my style-I am European fashion stylist-imagine:-).
    The house is in very nice area, looking rich and of course-like you, my first walk was to the kitchen. This is the cheapest kitchen I had ever seen, inside out!..not even talking about the style. So I met several contractors, who were so disappointed with my "only flat door, functional style" kitchen idea. After long talk they (well 4 companies right now, I am not sure if I can handle another meeting)suggest to use a particular board and paint it, still I am at $ 10 000, just for replacing and painting kitchen doors. I am going to Ikea tomorrow and see, hope I will get somebody who understand me and finally get some sleep:-)

  29. Carol, thank you for this inspirational post. The link with your recommended method of painting Ikea cabinets doesn't seem to be working. If you get a chance to re-post, I'd so appreciate it! I'm adding your blog to my reader. Thanks again!

  30. Hi Carol. I love the look of the cabinets in the 'Ikea kitchen installation in progress' (the last picture). The upper cabinets look to have a decorative wooden soffit with crown molding to make them appear longer and more elegant. Could you please let me know how that was accomplished?


  31. Sandra,
    That's a drywall bulkhead above the cabinets, same depth as the cabinets and then a crown moulding applied across the top. This photo was before painting was done, the entire bulkhead and crown was painted out to match the colour of the cabinets, resulting in it all looking like its built-in cabinetry. ~ C

  32. Carol,
    Amazing how popular this post still is two years later! For the last 4 years we've lived with a nasty 70s DIY kitchen and were finally ready to splurge on custom cabinetry, but financial priorities have changed and we're going to go with an IKEA kitchen instead. We'll be using the Applad doors and would like to customize by adding trim/moulding - just wondering if you've found a paint match to the Applad doors?

  33. Meagan, I've used BM's Chantilly Lace several times to match up with the Applad White. ~ C

  34. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I think I will leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
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  35. Thank you Carol for this post. Before this, we had been scouring the net and asking people about their kitchens. In preparation for our kitchen reno. We've gone to Binns, Cameo, Aya, and for some reason avoiding IKEA because we had somehow assumed it was inferior quality to these much more expensive kitchens. We check out new builds and check out the kitchen to find cheap hardware. I've always wondered where they got their kitchens.

    We are willing to pay for quality, but if there's no diff between an IKEA kitchen and say $50-100K Siematic, Artcraft, Cameo, or AYA one in terms of build quality, hardware is Blum, etc. What am I paying the extra $$$ for if it's not construction quality?

    Also, we are looking to do a high gloss white cabinet with the small pull tab, we didn't want any hardware on the actual front of the door. On that Sleek Glossy White - Living Etc 07 photo. What material is the counter and what is it on the end gable? Is it the same as the counter?

    My wife and I will be following your blog from now on!
    Ray & Tresa

  36. Carol, I am wanting to do and Ikea kitchen. I am interested in reading your painting advice but the link provided says post no longer available. Would you be willing to fix the link or perhaps just repost for us new readers of your blog.

  37. Have you ever used the Ramjo Black/Brown? If so, have you tried adding a larger crown molding that required matching stain color? Not sure best way to handle this as Ikea crown molding is pretty small.



  38. Have you ever done a kitchen in Ramjo Black/Brown? I like this style but not crazy about the small crown molding. Have you ever matched the stain colors on any IKEA?


  39. Hi Jon - no i've never used the Ramjo black/brown. As I've mentioned above and on other posts I'm not a fan of Ikea's wood, generally I find its difficult for any mfg to do good wood on a large volume, low price point basis. However the black/brown is so opaque its almost a painted finish. I'm not personally a fan of black/brown or espresso stained wood products at the retail level (ie; not antiques or vintage pieces etc.). My own kitchen from 10 years ago was a deep dark brown which at the time was just becoming popular and was not even offered by Ikea, and a look I concluded was not something I would want to live with long term in my own home. ~ C

  40. Hi Carol, I am definitely bookmarking your blog to enjoy at leisure. In planning an update of our kitchen a stumbling block seems to be my preference for a tall fridge-freezer. What are your tips/avoids around these? Thank you. Helen

  41. Hi Carol!
    Loving this post as we are just about to remodel our kitchen - it will now be IKEA, thanks to your helpful info. I would like the Tidaholm doors and have them spray painted. Therefore I am very keen on reading your post about this, but the link seems to be broken. It looks like many of your readers are very keen on reading this info. Will you repost? Please, that would make my day :)
    Best, Marianne in London

  42. Just wondering if anything has changed much since this article was written 3+ years ago. We're just starting to look into Ikea cabinets but don't have much to compare them to.

  43. Hello Carol,
    Any advice of which line to go with? I think I want a light warm kitchen, so I was leaning towards Orsa, Adel, or Ramsjo - since I think I want the frame to be solid wood. Any issues with fiberboard or particleboard? It seems like most of the others are made of that, even some of the slightly more costly ones.

    Thanks, Annie

  44. Hello,
    I love your blog. Any advice on which line you like best? I'm going for a warm light kitchen which flows into the living room (NYC apt so not too big!). Any concerns with particleboard or fiberboard? I was leaning towards Orsa, Adel, or Ramsjo because I think they look nice but also because most of the others didn't have wooden frames, where as all these are made from Birch. Any advice would be very helpful!

    Thanks, Annie

  45. Hi,
    It is a very helpful tip for home cost-effective kitchen makeover Thanks!

  46. Hi Carol,

    I really like your blog on ikea kitchens. I'm looking at purchasing some ikea kitchen cabinets in abstrakt red and wanted to paint the existing kitchen cupboards to match. The nearest ikea is a few hours drive for me so trying to plan in advance. Do you know the closest paint colour match to abstrakt red?

  47. CarolReedInteriorDesignJanuary 27, 2014 at 10:30 AM

    Hi Jacinta,
    I'm sorry I've never used the Abstrakt red nor have I ever needed to specify a matching red for it. All i can suggest is to search on the internet for someone who has used these cabs, or, order a couple of the doors (home delivery) and take to a local paint store to have it matched. Good luck with it. ~ Carol

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  51. Thank you Carol for this post.

  52. CarolReedInteriorDesignMay 28, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    Your Welcome! Its an oldie but still all still valid and relevant points. I'm thinking of doing an updated version of the subject as this topic is as popular as ever. ~ C

  53. Awesome post. It seems that someone has give his best. Loved the images too. Beautiful home needs beautiful windows and doors fittings and kitchen fittings too in interior. keep up the good work...

  54. Hi, Just stumbled across this blog. Hope you update it. This is a great post! We're about ready to order our kitchen cabinets in Adel Off-white. I was intrigued by your interest in the Applad white. While the sleekness of Applad is growing on me, I think we might end up going with Adel because we're in a colonial style home back East and with Applad I fear it will make the kitchen too contemporary for the general feel of the house. Adel feels like it'll be a good medium--push the envelope just a bit with the white and clean look (replacing dark oak cabinets from 35 years ago)...

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  57. Hi Carol, inspirational blog, thanks.
    I know this is an old post, but have you ever tried painting Ikea high gloss Abstrakt cabinets?

    We recently bought a house with a pretty new kitchen in Abstrakt grey. The layout etc is perfect, style really doesn't suit the house (a Georgian stone vicarage).
    I can't really justify ripping out a perfectly good kitchen, and hope that a change of colour - preferably with a more matt finish - would make all the difference.

    I've seen several products for painting cupboards, but I'm concerned that on the high gloss I'll just make a mess - especially near the oven where it gets hot.

    Have you any experience of custom painting high gloss units?


  58. CarolReedInteriorDesignDecember 5, 2014 at 6:06 PM

    Hi Vicky,
    No i've never had the high gloss doors painted. The only Ikea kitchen door fronts that I've painted are the wood ones. I'm sure its possible to paint over the high gloss ones with the right primer and proper prep work but for best adhesion and durability I prefer to paint over their synthetic or high gloss surfaces.

    I have two recommendations for you,,,,,if its just the high gloss you don't like but are ok with white, then replace all your door and drawer fronts (and any visible end panels etc.) with the Applad white which is a low sheen matt finish. It will be a fairly simple straight swap out that won't cost that much more (if at all) than having the old doors painted. The Akurum line won't be available much longer as a new system is being introduced (sometime in 2015) so order the new fronts now while you can.

    My second recommendation for a wood option would be to check out, they specialize in making door/drawer fronts specifically for Ikea cabinets (also any other end panels or gables you need). They do excellent work and ship to Canada. In your case, at the cost of only replacing your fronts and end panels you can have an entirely new looking kitchen. Good luck with it. ~ Carol

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  73. It's very useful information and guide to buy buy kitchen furniture in London. You have given nice and very depth information.. Please make regular update about more furniture ideas. thank you!

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