Inset vs Overlay Cabinets

  • Tackling home decor is pure joy at the stage of viewing catalogs. The further you go, the more complex and challenging it becomes. Considering that your cabinet style sets the tone to the feel of the design and decorating style for the entire kitchen, you’ve got pretty essential decisions to take here!
  • There are frameless and framed cabinet styles—and the latter allows us to choose between the three types of cabinet doors: overlay cabinets (with partial overlay and full overlay cabinet doors) and inset cabinets. These seemingly small decisions strongly influence the overall design of our kitchen, so it’s worth understanding the differences. 
  • In the article below, let’s see what there is to know about inset and overlay cabinets. 

Cabinet door style

Inset, full overlay, or partial overlay cabinet doors? Let’s first tackle these terms.

For starters, it’s with knowing that only framed cabinets style let us choose between the 

  • inset, 
  • partial overlay, and 
  • full overlay

doors of our kitchen cabinets and drawers;

Another door style category, frameless cabinets, offers only one option: full overlay, which completely covers the entire cabinet box. These constructions have a more sleek, modern, seamless appearance.

Tip: Discover all there is to know about “Framed vs Frameless Cabinets” in our article. 

We’ll outline the key differences between inset vs overlay cabinets in the following paragraphs.

Important: When looking for the cabinets, focus on the quality of their material, find a style that you enjoy visually, and ensure they’re functional for your space and cater to your needs. 

Read more suggestions on Sarah Jacquelyn Interiors.

Inset cabinets

Inset kitchen cabinets feature doors and drawers that fit inside the cabinet frame (are “inset”). The inset doors fit flush with the face of the cabinet when closed. 

This inset solution is visually smooth and has clean lines. It exposes a cabinet frame with a minimal gap between the cabinet frame and door.

You may not have considered the following option, especially if you’ve usually been dealing with overlay doors. With inset cabinet doors, you can choose to have exposed hinges on your cabinets for an accent detail. Yet, the concealed hinge is also an option—it all depends on your preferences. 

Inset doors require a push system or hardware, as there is no space for your fingers to open them.

There’s a lot of space for creative customization in your inset cabinet design, with 

  • beaded or flush face frames,
  • concealed or exposed hinges, and so on; 

The beaded inset construction is fitted into the cabinet door, providing an edge detail that evokes fine craftsmanship. 

Inset cabinets provide a distinctive heritage look appreciated by many designers and homeowners.

Double doors in full overlay style come without the vertical stile on the face frame. This way, you gain more storage capacity and easier access to stored items.

Tip: In full overlay cabinets, the doors and drawers completely cover the cabinet face, providing a flat cabinet front similar to inset cabinets. It means that while a design is seemingly alike, the price of such a construction is much lower!

What are the cons of inset cabinets?

With inset cabinets, you’re losing some storage space. So you’ll likely have to figure out a different spot for some more extensive tableware pieces. 

Another thing to consider is the price. For example, inset cabinetry can cost around 15-30% more than overlay cabinets of both types. 

Why is it so?

An inset cabinet option—unlike full overlay—isn’t able to cover wood imperfections, which tend to show quite often on this natural material. 

No wonder cabinet makers put more time and effort into making inset cabinets, making the whole matter more costly. 

Overlay cabinets

Overlay cabinets, unlike inset cabinets, are not set inside the frame. 

Overlay cabinets come in two different variations—there are partial overlay and full overlay cabinets. 

  • full overlay doors and drawers—cover the face frame of the cabinet entirely while 
  • partial overlay cabinets—cover most of the cabinet frame but leave a space between the drawers and doors.

Unlike in inset doors solution where there were more options, a full overlay cabinet has a classic design with concealed hinges.

With partial overlay cabinets, you also won’t necessarily need hardware because there is enough finger space on the side of the cabinet door or drawer face. 

However, you’ll still be forced to choose (and pay for) knobs or pulls for a full overlay design. This alternative leaves no space between each door and drawer and, thus, full overlay cabinets hardware required.

One drawback is that overlay cabinets have exposed corners. Since the doors are exposed, exposed corners are more likely to get nicks and dings (you know what puppies and other house pets love to bite most, don’t you?). 

Also, the classic design of overlay cabinets doesn’t always translate to trendy. Actually, inset cabinets tend to attract more buyers these days.

When choosing between the options described above, the overall style of your kitchen remodel will be a crucial factor. 

Opportunities vary, but it all boils down to picking the style you wish to enhance in your interiors. 

If you’re unsure whether to go with full overlay cabinetry, partial overlay, or inset cabinets, reread our article or discuss the issue with experts!

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Frequently Asked Questions

As a rule of thumb, inset cabinets have a more rustic feel. It’s because their structure takes from the historical form of cabinet making, where the door fits flush with the face frame. Yet, this traditional style is coming back to inspire current interior designs, so who knows—inset cabinetry may soon become synonymous with contemporaneity instead.
The partial overlay is the most common and least expensive choice. In partial overlay doors, the door sits on the cabinet face, leaving a space of usually 1-1 ¼ inch between the doors, allowing you to see the face frame of the cabinet.
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