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How to Choose Inset vs. Overlay Cabinets for Your Home

CEO Khai Intela
When it comes to building or renovating a house, there are countless decisions to be made. One important choice is whether to opt for inset or overlay cabinets. While you may initially focus on the...

When it comes to building or renovating a house, there are countless decisions to be made. One important choice is whether to opt for inset or overlay cabinets. While you may initially focus on the color and style of your cabinets, it's crucial to consider how the doors and drawers will be placed as well. Let's explore the differences between these options, so you can make an informed decision that suits your home.

Inset Cabinet Doors

Inset doors are seamlessly set into the frame, creating a customized and polished appearance. When closed, the doors, drawers, and frame align perfectly, providing an elegant aesthetic. However, it's worth noting that inset cabinets usually come with a higher price tag and require hardware or a push system to open them. Despite the occasional annoyance of slight gaps, I find the overall look of inset cabinets to be beautiful and streamlined.

PROS: Higher-end look, cleaner lines, and the option to have visible or hidden hinges. CONS: Higher cost, noticeable gaps in some areas, and slightly less storage space due to the doors being inset.

Full Overlay Cabinet Doors

If you desire a similar look to inset doors but with a more affordable price tag, full overlay cabinets are the way to go. The doors and drawers completely cover the cabinet face, resulting in a flat front that emulates the appearance of inset cabinets. I personally opted for full overlay cabinets in my laundry room, basement bar, and secondary bathrooms, and I couldn't be happier with the fabulous look they provide. Moreover, I saved a significant amount of money by choosing this option instead of inset cabinets.

PROS: Streamlined and sleek appearance, less expensive than inset cabinets, and no noticeable gaps between the frame and door or drawer.

CONS: There really aren't any significant downsides other than the fact that they aren't as high-end as inset cabinets.

Partial Overlay Cabinet Doors

If you're on a tight budget, partial overlay cabinets are the most common and cost-effective choice. They offer a more traditional look and do not require hardware since there is space to open the doors with your fingers. The doors rest on the cabinet face, leaving a gap of about 1" between them. Although my home office cabinets feature a minimal partial overlay, typically, there would be exposed cabinet frames on either side of the doors. Both overlay options provide more storage space within the cabinet since the doors sit on the outside of the frame.

PROS: Least expensive option available.

CONS: Doesn't offer the same high-end appearance as the other choices.

As with any decision regarding house design, there is no right or wrong answer when choosing between inset and overlay cabinets. It ultimately comes down to personal preference and what best fits within your budget and desired style. I hope this article has provided you with the knowledge and confidence to make an informed decision for your home. If you would like extra guidance in making design decisions, feel free to download my FREE guided Design Decision Worksheet.

Inset vs Overlay Cabinets Figure: Inset vs Overlay Cabinets

Remember, your cabinets play a significant role in both functionality and aesthetics, so take your time and choose wisely.

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