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The IKEA Effect: A Delusion That Drives Kitchen Designers Crazy!

The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on what they partially create.” Wikipedia

The IKEA effect was identified and named by Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School, Daniel Mochon of Yale, and Dan Ariely of Duke, who published the results of three studies in 2011.

In these studies researchers found that consumers value their own work product far above what would be considered reasonable or rational.

For example, researchers found that the majority of people attempting origami for the first time rated their own creation better than those done by an origami master.

As Kitchen Designers The Ikea Effect is troubling for two reasons.

First, IKEA cabinetry is poorly constructed and not a particularly good value, yet due to this documented effect homeowners rate IKEA cabinetry above ALL other brands in Consumer Reports and JD power rankings.

Even more concerning to kitchen designers, IKEA and others now supply complimentary and extremely rudimentary kitchen design software. Due to the same IKEA effect people can believe their designs are equal to, or better than designs done by professionals.

island with table attached. Cabinetry in the photo is only 20% more than IKEA but far better made.
The Fabuwood Kitchen above is about 20% more than IKEA. The cabinets come assembled with all plywood construction, solid wood dovetail drawers, and soft close doors and drawers. Main Line Kitchen Design also carries Cubitac Cabinetry. Cubitac is made the same as Fabuwood, comes assembled, and is approximately the same cost as Ikea.

Many other local cabinet dealers have similar lines that are also better values than IKEA.

People accept that they can’t fix their transmission or cut their own hair without professional training. Yet many assume that they don’t need help designing an expensive kitchen.

As a kitchen designer who studied Engineering for 4 years at The University of Pennsylvania and ran a construction a company specializing in kitchen renovations, I know that my own kitchen designs from 20 years ago were simplistic and uninspired compared to the designs I do today. It took me many years working exclusively as a kitchen designer to become a good one. And part of becoming a good kitchen designer is being able to help a customer spend the money they have budgeted for their renovation effectively.

Helping customers understand what options they have within their budget is not intuitive to anyone without extensive experience as a kitchen designer. The videos below elaborate on this in both an informative and humorous way.

Please enjoy them, beware of the IKEA effect, and of course . . . Bon Appetit!

Paul, Julie, Chris, Lauren, Ed, Jeremy, Camilla, Juliet, and Mark

Main Line Kitchen Design

23 Replies to “The IKEA Effect: A Delusion That Drives Kitchen Designers Crazy!”

  1. Aditya Rawat

    People nowadays just work on the visual aspect of the house, but the main part is the core we should work on the core of the house. Thank you so much for the blog keep up the good work 🙂

  2. Marie

    I had IKEA cabinets installed in a seashore area. They were the best cabinets. I had them installed in 2012 and love them just as much the day I sold the house in 2022. There was no warping and they looked brand new. Ikea had the cabinets I wanted and I looked in other places and trust me they were far more expensive. High gloss gray

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Marie,
      The high gloss Grey is a color and style that is less common and so harder to find. However, as a professional kitchen designer and a cabinet dealer I know the pricing and quality of most brands. There is no arguing with the fact that brands like Cubitac, CNC, Procraft and Tuscan Hills from Costco are the same price as IKEA and are far, far, better made. They also come assembled which means they are actually less than IKEA. A high gloss grey is offered by CNC. The CNC cabinet box is made of 3/4″ plywood instead of Ikea’s slightly less than 5/8″ particle board.

      While your kitchen lasted the 8 years without issue most people would hope to have a kitchen last a lifetime. As the blog post points out consumers are almost always happy with their IKEA cabinets. To disparage them would be criticizing themselves.

      1. John Whittaker

        CNC, and really all cabinet makers use 1/2” plywood for their boxes not 3/4. Make sure you know your info, this is it only on their site but an industry standard to use 1/2” plywood. Being a kitchen designer you should know that.

        1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

          You should check before commenting. While you are correct that CNC and most well-constructed FRAMED brands use 1/2″ plywood. IKEA uses FRAMELESS cabinet construction. CNC makes BOTH FRAMED and FRAMELESS cabinetry. Their FRAMELESS cabinetry is made with 3/4″ plywood sides as apposed it IKEA’s approximately 3/8″ particleboard.

          While 1/2″ plywood is fine for a framed cabinet because the cabinet has a solid wood face frame, when you eliminate the face frame you need much thicker sides. Even with 3/4″ plywood you still won’t reach the durability of a framed cabinet using 1/2″ plywood sides. IKEA uses the worst construction of all. Sides that are about 1/2 the needed thickness AND particle board instead of Plywood. I am using approximations of inches as IKEA is in Millimeters.

  3. Amber

    What a terribly condescending way to introduce your company and your services. The basic message you are sending is that customers don’t know what they want or need – without giving any specific examples of what you know that they don’t or how your services are helpful.

    I came here because you’re paying for advertising on Facebook for people who might be interested in renovating a kitchen – me.

    I’m so glad I clicked through – I can see very clearly what your opinion is of customers who have…thoughts in their own heads? Opinions about what they might like?

    It’s possible to take a different approach to the “Ikea” problem – to embrace that customers would like to be involved and consulted and feel in charge of making at least some of their own choices, that they’ll be much happier with the outcome. You chose, instead, to give us your take – that customers are dumb.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Amber,
      We don’t say anywhere in this article that customers are dumb. However, because they are human beings, they have been proven often to be delusional about the level of their abilities when it comes to kitchens. Why are so many people convinced that they don’t need help with their kitchen renovation, but would get professional help with any other important task that they have no experience in?

      As kitchen designers that’s our job most days IE convincing people that the need our help. Customer’s that resist professional help usually prove difficult to work with. And so, it is OK if this blog turns off the people we aren’t really looking for as potential customers. That’s why Baskin Robins has 31 flavors.

    2. Deanna

      Thank you ! My thoughts exactly! A very rude and disrespectful attitude towards anyone who disagrees with him . Who’s paying him ? The three companies that he mentioned ? Why did he pick IKEA?

      1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

        You and Amber don’t seem to understand that it is a scientific study that is documenting the delusions of people who buy IKEA. I don’t mention three companies. I mention three universities, Harvard, Yale, and Duke. The prestigious colleges where the authors of the study were professors. As a kitchen designer I do see real life evidence of the conclusions that the study pointed to.

        I also see real life evidence of another phycological delusion on a regular basis. The Dunning-Kruger Effect. Unfortunately, we live in a world where many people can’t analytically evaluate the information that they receive. Hence the popularity of conspiracy theories and Fox News. This type of thinking devalues experts, science, and even belittles intelligent thinking.

  4. Aleta Sparano

    It is possible to use a kitchen designer and IKEA cabinets though. They are not mutually exclusive. I believe for many people it comes down to cost. The same kitchen could have a price range in the ten of thousands depending on the chosen cabinets.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Aleta,
      IKEA is not the least expensive cabinet brand but they are just about the worst constructed. There are many RTA brands that you can order on line that are built far better than IKEA and some are less expensive. Or brands that come assembled that are only 10 % more than IKEA and much better made.

      Only homeowners that don’t know any better think that IKEA is a good value.

      We don’t recommend RTA cabinets but there are dozens of framed lines no more than IKEA. You can Google to find them or any level 1 brand on our cabinet review blog Link here will be the same price and better made. We don’t sell any of the level 1 brands so we can’t be biased recommending them.

      Lines rated at the 1.5 or even 2 price point will only be 10 or 20% more than IKEA, they will come already built and the well rated ones will last a life time.

      When you add countertops, appliances and everything else you might be buying plus the labor costs, getting terribly built cabinetry just doesn’t make any sense. Unless maybe you are flipping a house and live right next to an IKEA. The cabinet costs might be the same and the home buyer might be equally in the dark about what constitutes a well made cabinet so buying IKEA would be more convenient.

      Of course IKEA also has no qualified kitchen designers so you would have no professional helping you make good design decisions. We offer design help every Friday free of charge 2-4pm so there is free help if you need it.

  5. Barbara

    I had a professional design my new kitchen ten years ago. Electrical outlets at places where I need them. All doors open. Lots of good lighting, cabinet space, and counter space. But the best thing is the triangle between cooking space, counter space and refrigerator. On a daily basis I am joyful when I prepare a meal with a graceful, efficient trip between those parts of my cooking work. I look at many kitchens in designer-type houses where I would not want to work due to what looks to me to be ineffective planning. Often builders don’t have a professional kitchen planner in their crews. I know that my previous kitchen was an inefficient space whose major contribution to my life is to make me appreciate my current one all the more.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Barbara,
      Very astute! Some of the largest home builders like Toll Brothers refuse to let kitchen designers help them. I know the rep for the cabinet brand that Toll Brothers used to use and the rep begged them to let the brand help them with designs free of charge, because they were so poorly planned by the architects and building managers. So many people simply refuse to accept that kitchen designers have expertise that they need. Even when it’s offered for free, many will not take it.

  6. Kimberly A. DeVane

    My husband and I learned the hard way that even the most basic L-shaped kitchen with an island if you want to do it right requires a general contractor and/or kitchen designer.

    Our kitchen had custom cabinets put in by our original gc. It was deceptively simple looking, and since we were “bulding out” a warehouse @1894-1901 with interior brick walls and 40 ft beam ceilings, exposed duct work columns of iron and exposed iron beams he worked with an architect to plan around existing elements.

    After 21 years of surprisingly few issues and no home owners claims, our kitchen dining area guest bathroom and laundry room flooded from the water heaters “exploding.” This was 21 years after they were installed. State Farm had Serve Pro, who they fired, then Servicemaster come in to do the tear out. Our lives turned upside down, our hardwood ripped out to the beams, our custom cabinets ripped out of the walls, we unfortunately signed a contract we only later understood was giving Servicemaster the position of general contractor.

    We are still living though this nightmare. State Farm pushes their claimants into this unholly alliance with what is essentially a water remediation business. Why? Because they come in with ridiculously low replacement bids.

    After Servicemaster got half of the total they drug their feet and did not work with us on ANYTHING. WHY? Because they had no idea what the replacement costs really were for our custom cabinets, our hardwood floors, tile, island hardware, etc., They found themselves stuck in a low bid situation of their own making. Our home was appraised at $425,000 they gave State Farm a bid of $28,900. For all of the above, including labor.

    I’m not sure what State farm would have done if we had gotten three bids from actual professionals. Since they are the fourth worst insurance company in the nation, I’m sure they would have underpaid the claim regardless. But we would not have had to suffer through the horrible experience with Servicemaster.

    And we would have had a paper trail from legitimate contractors as to the REAL replacement costs when we sued them for bad faith. (State Farm). The collusion between State Farm and Servicemaster is, and I’m sure will continue to be, the subject of litigation. Only class actions can stop what State Farm is doing to homeowners. Our home is now reduced in value significantly due to this.

    WARNING: Get three bids from LEGITIMATE home renovation contractors. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand after a fire or flood which leaves you vulnerable and off your game.

    Your own insurance company will not have your back.

    If you are voluntarily undergoing renovation then the same advice goes. The time you spend picking that general contractor and kitchen designer could well save you $100,000 or more in lost home value. That does not begin to include your lost income, physival and emotional wellbeing and the strain on your family.

    The cost including labor in rebulding a kitchen the right way which includes those boring details like not severing gas lines, reinstalling plumbing correctly, electrical etc., and the cost of returning your home to it’s former condition aesthetically especially when it comes to cabinets and you get an idea why the rule of thumb is 20% of the value of your home. That is how important your kitchen is to your home’s value. By that standard we should have been allotted $100,000 from State Farm to rebuild our kitchen and dining area. [Not including the laundry room, and guest bathroom, and refinishing the old hardwood to match the new hardwood. Replacing drywall, the tile floors and repainting.] $28,900 was a joke.

    For safety reasons, and aesthetic reasons you need a professional. We are living with the aftermath. Knowing that without a lengthy and expensive lawsuit, we will never recover what we lost. Caveat Emptor.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Yes never use anyone recommended by the insurance company. They will be overpriced and in co hoots with them. Get A public adjuster to arbitrate with them and a general contractor you select to do any work.

      1. Cw

        Co-hoots? Man this article is just about the perfect example of what not to do with your business. Condescending, arrogant, putting down other companies. Is rather embarrassing.

        Think what you want with your “engineering education” – but you need to learn a bit about business as well. I feel bad for your team.

        1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

          People that take offense to this blog are fascinating. The blog itself only explains the documented and respected delusion named THE IKEA EFFECT. It explains why this delusion reported on and named by respected academics can prove problematic for kitchen designers in our industry. Taking offense to the blog generally means that the study itself is confronting someone’s delusion and that they usually have IKEA cabinetry in their home.

          AS far as being condescending, arrogant, etc. and it not being good business to acknowledge this issue in our profession, I think it is arrogant to believe that professionals don’t know more than nonprofessionals about their industry. Alienating people that take offence to the study could never mean that we would lose a good customer. We can only help the people that will let us help them by giving them the information that they don’t have. If the information itself offends them than they will always be customers that we would prefer to avoid.

  7. Meredith Weiss

    An excellent read. I hope consumers realize the value a seasoned designer brings to the table.
    Thanks for writing,
    Merri Interiors

  8. Julie Schuster

    I really enjoyed this article! Thank you for making it and I hope that potential clients also read and watch! Well done!

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Thanks Toni and Julie! We seem to be getting positive feedback on this blog which is encouraging.

  9. Toni Saccoman

    Thank you, I couldn’t have said this any better!

  10. Vita Burdi

    Awesome, thank you so much.

    I’m amazed at the amount of money folks spend at the salon, and yet in their homes they become do it yourselfers.

    The cost of remodeling a kitchen “the correct way” while working with a budget is no small task. The Remodelers and your designer can be at it for 4-6 weeks with a team of professionals, just imagine if your hair dresser and colorist were at your home for those hours what the cost would be.

    Thank you so much for putting it so eloquently, experience is what you get with a seasoned designer.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Thanks Vita,
      Many people get angry at us when we give them this analogy. My own kids made fun of me saying anyone could design a kitchen. They were both great students and went to prestigious colleges. So I gave them a kitchen test and designed a 3D kitchen with 34 major mistakes in it – 6 of the mistakes could cause fatalities. I offered them $10 each to find mistakes. They found a few but had to admit when I showed them all 34 and how doors wouldn’t open, cabinets would catch on fire, how people would easily injure or burn themselves that there was more to designing kitchens then they thought. Suddenly my job wasn’t so silly and to this day they respect it.

      We actually use the test I made to interview kitchen designers. You will not get hired at Main Line Kitchen Design unless you can find the majority of the errors pretty rapidly.

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