Inset for looks v. frameless for space: which to choose at same $

artemis78January 16, 2010

From the beginning of our remodel process, we'd planned to base our cabinets on an inspiration photo I found, which mixed frameless lowers with face-frame inset uppers for a period look. We're going for an Arts & Crafts feel, but since we have a small kitchen and a budget that's barely out of Ikea territory, I could rationalize that approach based on the cost and space savings and was pretty content with it.

Fast forward to this week, when I started getting estimates back, and discovered that one of the small cabinet shops we're looking at will build inset for the same price as frameless, and meets our budget. At first I was giddy since I'd assumed even just the uppers would be a huge reach---but then I realized we would need to resize many of our lower cabinets to account for the rails and stiles (e.g., our 12" pullout that was carefully sized to fit an 11.5" dog food bin suddenly becomes a 14" pullout to fit the same bin, which in turn means the drawer bank next to it shrinks, etc.) Since our layout is drawer-heavy, this amounts to a lot of space.

I've read through the old threads I could find on inset v. full overlay and know you can sometimes lose space with frameless door conflicts too, and can design around it for face-frame with enough space---but since we have a galley layout with only a couple of doors, conflicts aren't a big issue. We only have 13LF of lowers and 8LF of uppers, so space is at a premium. The lowers are drawers except for one pullout, the under-sink cabinet, and one drawer-over-door next to the range to meet code.

This has become a classic form versus function debate in our house, and I'm curious to know what those of you who have inset cabinets (or decided against them for reasons other than cost) think from a utility perspective. Do you feel you've lost much in the way of storage space? Does the aesthetic make up for that, or would you do it differently?


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I can't speak to the question of which is better from the practical point of view--I'm learning myself.

But on the question of which way to jump, ask yourself, "To whom do the aesthetics matter in this case?" That's a biggie.

Many people could not care less about the "form" in this debate. But are they the people who will be using this kitchen? That's the most important question.

Start with yourselves first. Make a Pros and Cons chart if you have to. I hope someone else can help you decide whether the style is a "function" pro or con. I would like to hear the answer myself.

I have also been surprised to learn that some cabinet makers are so hungry right now that they will work hard to please you for an affordable price. I am also finding, though, that each cabinet shop has limits to what it feels is appropriate within their offer of carte blanche.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2010 at 11:18AM
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Kitchen is about function, function, function for me. So my priorities are frameless cabs up to the ceiling, french door bottom freezer fridge, having propane run to have a gas stove, instant hot water, undersink drawer to maximize space, etc. Much lower on my personal priority list would be the specific door style and top-end appliances.

So from my perspective, the vast vast advantage of frameless far outweigh the slight aesthetic appeal that they give to you. In fact, I am so passionate about frameless that for me, seeing inset cab doors drives me nuts because I get hung up on what a poor use of space they are. If you have space to burn, you may not care, but why would you choose a dog food cabinet that is 25% larger than what you had planned for, just so you could have inset doors? I love Arts & Crafts, but you can achieve that same feel with your door style choice, I believe.

Pros of frameless:
-Cheaper, apparently (although I don't recall that to be the case for me in 2007)
-Maximum use of space. This pro, in a small kitchen, cannot be overstated! And to go hand-in-hand, be sure you are getting full extension drawer glides!

You'll have to fill in your own Pros for inset, of course.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 2:56PM
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Reviving this thread because I have the same question.
I thought I had seen threads discussing the use of inset on top and frameless on the bottom. But this was the closest old thread I could find.

My contractor tells me the combination would result in different sized doors top and bottom, and would look wrong or off.

Is he correct?

If so, perhaps the problem is solved by not using doors on the bottom but only drawers? Do drawers not pose the difficulty?

    Bookmark   May 18, 2012 at 9:22PM
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