Perfecting the Imperfect In Our IKEA Kitchen: Fillers, Panels + Toe Kicks

If you’re anything like me, you often find yourself tripped up over the details (also known as losing All the Sleep). You fret over upcoming dinner plans, your grocery list or, in this case (and for us, most cases), your current project du jour. The garden apartment has come leaps and bounds since we first shared the initial walkthrough, and we’re getting to the point where our lists are much shorter but much more detailed. Spackle. Sand. Caulk. Fix the drain. Install the lights and the switch plate covers and scrub the floors. Of course, this is a good thing – no, a great thing! – because it means we’re finally able to see the light at the end of this long, winding tunnel!

One of our most recent nit-picky-and-incredibly-necessary details, however? The kitchen fillers, cover panels and toe-kicks. The cabinets are in, the counters are in-progress and we’re picking up tile for the backsplash later this week. But! We can’t really stick a fork in the cabinet install until we perfect the imperfect. Those small 1″ gaps along the walls need filled, the bright white cabinet boxes need panels and their legs need a toe kick to hide behind. I told Scott that I feel like the final fillers and trim are one of those details that seem to magically happen, but there’s little explanation of how in the world they actually get done! The devil is in the details, and today, we’re going to get into it.

When we ordered our IKEA kitchen, the salesperson helped us determine the proper amount of panels we’d need based on our room layout. We were given an 8′ side panel for the fridge, a couple of small 15″ x 3′ panels for the uppers and one perfectly sized 24″ x 30″ panel for our one exposed base cabinet:

We started there, since it was by far the easiest. With every cabinet, IKEA provides a handful of screws that are used to attach the cabinets together, or in this example, to attach any necessary panels. For every side panel, we used four screws – two in the top corners and two in the bottom corner. The screws go directly through the cabinet box, but with the instruction that we avoid those ubiquitous pre-drilled holes. This allows the screws to bite nicely into the wood-slash-particle-board.

The cover panels for our upper cabinets were slightly trickier only because they required cuts. After tightly clamping the panel to the cabinet and ensuring level, we drew a faint pencil line where we’d need to remove the excess, and Scott used a circular saw and a straight edge to create a nice, straight cut. Tip: Blue tape will help to prevent the finish from chipping during the process!

We turned the panel upside down so that the finished edge was revealed on the bottom, and it was secured in the same way as the panel on our base cabinet:

On the opposite wall, we opted to use panels to cover the exposed white boxes above the sink. We considered covering the underside of the shortest cabinet, but since we’ll also be installing a sconce there and none of the other undersides were getting panels, it felt like overkill. (Also, ahem, we didn’t have enough leftover panels – ha!) We used our last remaining panel to make two cuts – one for each side – again, making sure that the finished edges were along the bottom:

Next, it was on to the fillers! The fillers are the detail I was perhaps the most nervous about, but with a bit of patience and careful measuring (and Scott’s can-do attitude!), we were super happy with the results. Using leftovers from the fridge side panel, we had more than enough to fill all the gaps where the cabinets didn’t quite meet the wall.

To start, we measured each gap in three places – top, middle and bottom:

The first filler we did was by far our widest – a result of using the recommended 30″ wide upper above a 36″ base cabinet to prevent the upper from touching the (future) vent hood. As a result, we used scrap wood to create a slug that the filler could safely rest against. Using our nail gun, we attached the scrap to the wall and ran a thick line of constructive adhesive along it:

Scott used his circular saw on all the cuts, and once we had our first filler to size, we used short 1.25″ nails with our nail gun to attach the filler to the cabinet. The gun was angled ever-so-slightly towards the back to prevent a rogue nail from poking through the front of our finish piece. (And yes, we held our breath with every pop!)

We continued with this same method around the room, although none of the other fillers needed a slug, as they were mostly 1″ or less. Once all the fillers were in place, I followed up with a line of caulk for a seamless finish. (Aah, caulk. The glue that holds this old house together!) After running the bead of caulk and smoothing with my fingers, I used a damp paper towel to go over the filler pieces themselves so that no reside remained on the gray. The visible caulk that’s left will get painted the same color as the walls:

Finally, we could finish up with the toe kicks! You might remember that IKEA base cabinets have 4.5″ legs that can be adjusted to accommodate un-level floors – a saving grace, truly. We cut the toe kicks to the proper width on our miter saw, and then we used the IKEA provided clips that slide into a groove along the back. These clips can be easily adjusted to the left and right, and they attach directly to the legs. For exposed corner pieces, there are small caps that can be snapped on so that no raw cuts are visible:

We completed the fillers, panels and toe kicks over the course of 2 weeknights, so as per usual, all my nervous fretting over the details was for nothing. One of these days, I’ll learn! (But probably not anytime soon.)

You may have noticed fresh baseboards and butcher blocks counters creeping into some of the photos! Some of the base will need quarter round to complete the look, which we’ll be slowly knocking out over the course of this week and next weekend. The countertops are almost done (they still need a few more coats of Waterlox), and we’ll be sharing that process with you soon!

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  • Sarah - July 18, 2017 - 8:06 AM

    It is looking so so good in there and I can’t believe how quickly it’s coming togather! You guys are amazing!ReplyCancel

  • Katherine - July 18, 2017 - 10:57 AM

    This looks so good! Watching you guys do this has made me want to use Ikea cabinets in our own kitchen but go with the custom cabinet fronts from Semihandmade!

    Quick question–we actually just bought a Pax closet to go inside our current, deep, reach-in closet. According to the direction, we totally had enough space to clear the ceiling…but in a *d’oh* moment…we don’t and should’ve built the cabinet in the closet. Have you guys ever disassembled a pax or other ikea cabinet? I assume the kitchen cabinets go together in a similar way. How do you get that little locking thing out? (NO idea what you call that thing that basically secures that the pieces are fit together)ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 18, 2017 - 12:10 PM

      Thanks, Katherine! Semihandmade has so many good door options!

      Hmmm, we haven’t taken a cabinet apart after we’ve put it together. Is it something that can be twisted out with pliers? I’m having a hard time imagining exactly which locking part you’re talking about – I feel like all IKEA parts lock together in a magical way!

      Anyone else?ReplyCancel

    • Marjory - July 18, 2017 - 2:46 PM

      Do you mean these things?

      I messed up when I was putting a Malm dresser together and used the plastic one when I should have used the metal one. I tried everything I could to get it out and ended up breaking it. I could almost get it with pliers, but I couldn’t get it that last little bit. Can you turn the piece on its side or something one you’ve pulled it with the pliers and try to shake it out? I found this youtube video that you might could try:

      • Kim - July 18, 2017 - 2:59 PM

        You’re the best, Marjory!ReplyCancel

  • AmandaKB - July 18, 2017 - 2:47 PM

    I’m a details person, so I love posts like this. Thanks for not skipping over it! The progress on the apartment is exciting :)ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 18, 2017 - 2:59 PM

      The details are everything.ReplyCancel

  • Eric - July 19, 2017 - 2:45 PM

    It’s all these little details that make the house a home. Looks great. And don’t those folks at IKEA think of everything?ReplyCancel

  • Lacey - July 20, 2017 - 5:24 AM

    Do think you should have gotten a 36″ cabinet for next to the range hood so you wouldn’t have needed a filler? I’m designing my own IKEA kitchen right now, and they recommended getting a 30″ to me as well.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 20, 2017 - 8:58 AM

      I fought them at the store on it, but she INSISTED we go with a 30″. I honestly don’t think it would have been a big deal to go with a 36″, but we trusted their judgement in the end!ReplyCancel

  • lauren l price - November 10, 2017 - 1:52 PM

    Hi there! SUCH a helpful post!
    One quick question, did you use cover panels on each side of every lower cabinet? I know that we need one on the exposed white part of the end cabinet, but I am wondering where else I really NEED them. I am thinking between where a cabinet meets an appliance(like dishwasher and stove)?

    • Kim - November 10, 2017 - 2:22 PM

      Hey Lauren! We only used a side cover panel in between the fridge and countertops and on the very end when you first enter the kitchen. We didn’t use any in-between the dishwasher or oven, for example. I think it would be a waste of $$, honestly, as you would never, ever see it.ReplyCancel

  • Katie Belmont - December 24, 2017 - 1:09 AM

    I have a question about toe kicks! If you are using an end cap on the front piece, and then butting the side piece up to it, how are you attaching the side piece, where the leg is already being used to secure the front piece. Hope that question makes sense!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - December 24, 2017 - 8:45 AM

      It makes perfect sense! The side piece still clips to the same leg that the front piece does, but the clip will just go above or below where the front piece clip is. There is enough height on the leg of the cabinet for both clips to have room.ReplyCancel

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