Why are inset cabinets so popular?

ekbecker1May 21, 2013

During my frequent (hourly) browsing trips to GW and houzz, I have noticed that many, many new kitchens are being done with inset doors. I was wondering if someone could explain to me why this is. What are the advantages and disadvantages?

I went into this kitchen remodel with the blind assumption that I would go with full overlay doors. However, now that I am seeing so many inset cabinets it makes me wonder if I should consider it. One of the cabinet lines I am considering is Shiloh and inset is not an upcharge. (However, oddly, I read somewhere that full overlay may be an upcharge in Shiloh. I'll have to confirm with the KD, but he's *probably* not awake right now obsessing over MY kitchen so I guess I shouldn't call him until the morning. . . )

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I want them because they're what would look right in my house, built in the late 1910s. I also want exposed hinges, which seems to bewilder anyone I talk to. "But... but... they're not adjustable!"

In my opinion:
Full-overlay doors look: contemporary, European. Modern.
Partial-overlay doors look: dated, cheap. At least mine do.
Inset doors look: classic, American, clean.

Inset doors are the hardest kind of doors to make. They have to be just so.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 9:31PM
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Sophie Wheeler

Because they are the most expensive kind to do is a big part of it. How many people just want a Jaguar because they know it will impress someone rather than because of an actual appreciation for the performance of the V-12 engine. How many people even wear a watch anymore now that phones will keep time for you? But if they do, for many, it's going to be a "statement" watch like a Rolex. Conspicuous consumption in consumer home furnishings isn't dead. It was only wounded slightly in the economic downturn.

BTW, functionality has nothing to do with the choice of inset. Frameless cabinets are actually the most functional, but Americans virtually won't buy them.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 9:40PM
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hollysprings is right about the frameless cabs being the most functional - the drawers especially use space more efficiently. I would have taken them in a heartbeat, but Mennonite and Amish cab makers (which I used) don't generally do them.

Full overlay is an upcharge from my custom cabmaker, I assume because they take more wood and maybe they have tighter clearances?

I chose partial overlay, but I prefer to think of it as traditional rather than dated. My new partial overlay doesn't look like my old partial overlay - different proportions for one thing.

Except for the increased functionality of frameless cabs, the door choices are really a matter of taste, I think. Inset doors are an old-fashioned style, so they work beautifully in a very traditional kitchen in an older home. Sometimes people with newer homes just like how they look. Aren't inset doors part of the OTK?

Does anyone know, are inset doors fussier? Will they swell in humidity and get hard to close?

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 9:59PM
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7 or 8 yrs ago you couldn't find much if any inset cabinets in the semi custom range, 10 -12 virtually none.
Oddly enough around then it seemed like every other thread here on GW was FRAMELESS!!
Insets are now readily available at lower prices. I think that plays a part. Folks who would never have considered even upper mid range much less Wood-Mode, Rutt or the like can afford them.
There are homes where the style is really essential, like a 150 yr old stone house, then there's nostalgia and the perception that they reflect turn of the century. Not that many of our modern kitchens remotely resemble my great grandmothers.
I'll be curious to see how the trend plays out. My inset sLes are up, every brand I carry offers them, and I do get an occasional stone house. But still makes up less than a third of my sales. Oddly enough some of the increase has been in mixed kitchens, often transitional with frameless bases and inset uppers.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 10:13PM
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They're a beautiful style of cabinetry and are a better fit for certain homes.

I have a solid wood cabinet with inset doors and they do swell, affecting closing. I doubt that's the norm for well made kitchen cabinetry these days though. No one has mentioned it yet and they are selling well!

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 10:28PM
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"Frameless cabinets.....Americans virtually won't buy them.". Gross overgeneralization IMO. Frameless with full overlay is quite popular in my area. Our 12 year old cabs are frameless with full overlay and are more traditional in style and our new ones will probably be the same but less traditional.
I prefer to see as little of the frame as possible unless insert.
Love the look of insert but I have a small kitchen and am told I would lose some space and depending on the manufacturer may not be able to fit dinner plates in the upper unless i order deeper than standard. Also told by 1 KD that they're about 30% more expensive. Not sure how accurate any of that info is yet.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 11:13PM
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I love the look of inset cabinets. So classy and definitely not builder grade. I was going to go with inset cabinets but due to not changing the layout of my kitchen, I would have had 5 cabinets (three upper and two lower) with the middle post again which limits my space. Hence, I have decided to go with frameless full overlay cabinets to have more space despite loving the look of Inset cabinets due to my small kitchen.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 11:52PM
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I've lived in too many old houses with inset cabinets with too many coats of paint, sticky doors with chipped, grimy edges, and rusty hinges to have much love for them. They look nice in magazine photos but that's about it for me.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 12:45AM
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We did them for the same reason elofgren did (and with exposed hinges too)--we have a 1910s Arts & Crafts bungalow, so it was the right fit. (That said, we also have frameless cabinets in part of our kitchen, on the side that is not visible from the other rooms of the house--a compromise of form and function.) Ours cost the same for inset as for frameless, so that was hardly a factor. They can potentially swell or otherwise change in fit, though, which is a downside. (Ours are painted and we chose MDF door panels for them to help mitigate this and haven't had any issues, but it also helps that they don't have decades of paint on them!)

For island, we had our uppers built an extra inch deep to accommodate dinner plates (although in the end put the plates in drawers anyway). Not sure if semi-custom lines will do this or not, but I don't notice the difference aesthetically and it can pick up a lot of space if you have tall ceilings.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 12:57AM
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Lynn-most brands of insets don't need aa center stile forr cabinets 36". Wide or less,same as frameless (where at 39 you get a partition) I carry one that will go up to 42. Once in a while we add a stile though to allow 2 doors on the same cabinet to swing in the same direction.

Wood moves so yes they can swell- not an issue with climate control or MDF but big deal some homes/locations

Most brands semi or otherwisel make uppers a standard 13 or 13i1/2" deep for inset, my cheapest brand, Showplace is 13 and offers a NC increase to 14. I have run into an occasional brand where depth is an upcharge.

Functionally- less clearance is needed in blind corners and some space can be saved "combining" cabinets using a common stile.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 6:31AM
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You can't get the same period look with full overlay so the cost & minor loss of space is worth it to us. Anything else would not have looked right in our 1870 home.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 7:09AM
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I'd be interested in them for two reasons.

1. looking around at the furniture that my husband and I have collected over 10 years of marriage - most of it is inset.

2. I have an older home, it fits with the age of the house.

I lied, here is a third reason:

3. It's a clean look. And I do think, to some extent, minimalism is in after a 10-20 year sojourn to Tuscany and all those heavy corbels and carvings.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 7:38AM
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Hollysprings said, "Frameless cabinets are actually the most functional, but Americans virtually won't buy them."

The part about Americans not buying frameless is incorrect. Please provide backup for that statement. Or, perhaps it's regional, but here, not only are 80% of kitchens frameless, but that has been the case since the early '90's. I know this because I did my first kitchen reno in 1992, and learned then the difference between framed and frameless cabinetry. I chose frameless then, and did so for my next kitchen, and will do so again for the kitchen I am working on now.

As others have mentioned, inset cabinets have a certain look associated with more traditional decor. And, as Elofgren mentioned, they better be "just so", i.e. very good quality, or you will have doors/drawers sticking, or spaces around doors/drawers, if the quality of the workmanship isn't good. I am sure you've seen inset drawers that aren't straight in their frames, a little lopsided, and then when you pull them out, you have to wiggle them a bit to get them to pull out. A good-quality inset cabinet will not do that.

I am surprised no one has mentioned the space issue (or maybe I missed it in this thread). Inset cabinetry will provide less storage space than frameless, especially for the drawers. I know there have been threads about this on this forum, so you could do a search. But the upshot is that if you have a small kitchen needing every bit of storage possible, frameless cabinetry will be the more practical choice. If your kitchen is spacious, and your decor traditional, inset cabinetry is a lovely option.

Edit: I just noticed Island had brought up the space issue of inset cabinetry. And that's a great point s/he made about the upper cabinets. Standard depth for uppers, whether framed or frameless, is 12". But the frame in inset can take up 3/4 to 1-1/2" of that 12" (depending on the cabinet), so that if your dinner plates are 11", which many are, they won't fit in the cabinet. A solution is to order your inset cabinet uppers at a depth greater than 12", like 15". It will be an upcharge, but then you will have the inset look, and still be able to store dishes.

This post was edited by Mrs_Nyefnyef on Wed, May 22, 13 at 8:41

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 8:27AM
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"Frameless cabinets.....Americans virtually won't buy them.". Gross overgeneralization IMO.

The entire post equals "gross overgeneralization."

When we were building 7 years ago, I couldn't find a local company that carried the look I wanted for our home (furniture style cabinetry), or a custom cabinetmaker in my budget for inset cabinets.

This cabinet style goes with our new "old" home, and I love the look. While I enjoy hearing someone say they like our kitchen, if they don't say a word I'm not loosing any sleep.

I don't get the watch comment, since my phone is usually in my handbag. It's a lot easier to look at a watch than get the phone out. Even my 27yo son still wears a watch. I never enjoy reading a post that slams a "group," whether I'm in it or not.

Anyway... I like Mrs Nyefnyef's suggestion of making cabinets deeper for dish storage. The cabinet next to our fridge is extremely deep and we store one set of our everyday dishes there. Many uppers won't hold the slightly larger dinner plates.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 9:17AM
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Are inset that popular - is there a majority of new housing stock plus renovators who choose inset over frameless?

I grew up with inset but have only had frameless in my series of NYC residences, and am choosing frameless for my kitchen in a 1890 house. I need the flexibility and space maximizing of all the inserts and pullouts, because every inch counts for me. Most of the people I know who are renovating in my area are also choosing frameless over inset for the same reasons, plus of course the cost factor.

I think you can achieve a traditional look with frameless cabs, since the overall look of the kitchen includes the interplay of cabs with cabinet hardware, counter material, sink, appliances, faucets, lighting, backsplash, flooring and kitchen furniture. We old house owners don't need to say unilaterally, "only inset can possibly work in my space".

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 9:33AM
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90% of all American cabinet companies produce framed cabinets. There have been major manufacturers who've ventured into frameless production and went out of business. There are a few major frameless brands, but the framed lines (and sales) out number the frameless 10:1. Now, if you are in Cananda, or close to Canada, the numbers of framless makers starts to rise. "Euro" cabinetry out numbers framed cabinetry in Canada. And thus you get some trickle over into the norther states that abut Canada. I think that a lot of people posting responses to this thread don't really undestand what "frameless" cabinetry is and confuse it with full overlay.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 9:35AM
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My personal preference is frameless, my own kitchen is. As green suggests there are more brands with framed than frameless, I'd even say that at this time there are more insets than frameless available.

As to popularity, while it is true that there are far more brands of framed cabinets and many more at the lower price points, I think it is more a matter of dealers and salespeople than the public.
I worked at a WM/BH dealer for a long time. (We did handle other brands) 80% of my sales were BH frameless and often the clients did not know what that was until we showed them, was an easy sell when we did. OK that was 90 m north of NYC but this is hardly a cosmopolitan area so don't think that was a factor. Today 1/2 my work is frameless.

Pretty sure there are good reason that Kraftmaid gave it a try a few times and why Lowes and HD are offering it.

Cost- I can currently offer a decent quality inset for less money than I can a frameless cabinet. Actually in two brands I carry it inset is the same cost as full overlay. Only at the upper end of the price spectrum does frameless start to be less expensive.

Uppers- of over 2 dozen brands that I've worked with or considered only one had standard 12" wall cabinets for inset. All are 13 and up which gives the same interior storage compared with a standard 12" overlay cabinet. I would not buy or sell insets that had 12" uppers.

Overall storage- no one can argue that in "most" cases frameless offers a little more storage, a little.

Inset is second though. The biggest practical difference is in drawer height. All that I carry also increase the top drawer opening on inset partly compensating for the loss of vertical storage. There are mods that help further.

The smallest kitchen I've done to date was a NYC apt where I used insets because we got more storage. This was because insets need less clearance in corners and walls.

There is no accessory that can't be used in insets and only a few of the European options need special sizing.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 10:35AM
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I have a book ("Shop Drawings for Craftsman Interiors" by Robert W. Lang) which describes how to achieve an inset, Arts-and-Crafts look with frameless cabinets. But to my eye, it doesn't look "right" and you definitely have to use Euro-style cup hinges.

(I'm finding my ideas of "the right way" to build cabinets are not quite compatible with the way modern cabinet shops do things.)

Face-frame styles with traditional hinges should have slightly more storage inside than other framed cabinet styles since the knuckle of the cup hinge takes up some room.

One thing I don't get, that maybe some of the pros who've posted can answer, is why inset drawers need to have false fronts. With an undermount drawer slide (which is what every cabinet shop I've talked to uses), couldn't the front of the drawer box be exposed? And the drawer box itself be the full width of the opening? Like it would have been if no drawer slides at all had been used.

By the way, I am not a cabinetmaker, at least not a good one. However, I mess around with woodworking so I have some notion about how to make a strong joint and how to work in a traditional style.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 10:43AM
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Our 1908 home has inset cabs that I am keeping. I love the look of them and the exposed butterfly hinges. The cabs go to the ceiling too. I wouldn't even consider removing them. I stripped them after we bought the house and repainted them. It wasn't hard.


    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 11:20AM
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The reason I chose inset is that I don't want my kitchen looking like a hardware store display. I don't care for the hinges showing and I like everything flush except the cabinet knobs.

Besides that, so what?

I've never had sticking, swelling or any issues at all with inset. But I never had any issues except for a hinge coming loose once or twice and I'm on my 6th kitchen over a lifetime. In that time I've had everything from full custom frameless cabinets to the current painted semi-custom inset to the crappiest NYC apartment-grade fake-wood grain particle board cabinets with hinges that made them even uglier. Materials and quality differed. But seriously, the biggest factor was looks.

Get a cabinet style that suits your home and that you like. Generalizations are useless.

Personally, if I ever have another new kitchen, I'm going for interior LED lighting which is the single most significant "new" functional improvement for kitchen cabinets in the last ten years and which no one ever discusses.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 11:21AM
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I did inset cabinets because I love the look and I love the pretty hinges. I was willing to sacrifice the extra vertical space in my drawers to get the look I loved. My kitchen is partially open to the dining room and is visible from beyond there so I wanted to stay consistent with the rest of my apartment. Many people who have seen my kitchen say that the cabinets look like furniture and that the kitchen itself doesn't scream "kitchen" (if that makes any sense).

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 11:41AM
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"... is why inset drawers need to have false fronts. "

A small local guy, or a very hi-end brand could be persuaded to do without the false front, but why add the extra cost. A properly made drawer the box is a total of 1/4" narrower than the false front.

To do a false front you would have to use either exposed dovetails (lovely) or blind dovetails. Blind are a different set up than is typical in kitchen cabinet manufacture. Staining and finishing get more complicated, there is less tolerance or adjustment which is useful in production.

If a drawer head is damaged to the point it can't be repaired you need a total replcacement (unless of your using hide glue which is where dovetails started....

... An interesting aside- in the days before plywood thin solid wood was used for drawer bottoms. It was prone to splitting. Dovetails provide a mechanical connection and can be used with a less strong and reversable glue such as hide glue. If the drawer bottom failed the glue could be loosened and completely removed, replace the bottom and reassemble the drawer box. Modern alphitic resins combined with plywood have made them overkill, dovetails are there only to satisfy consumer aeshtetics. The drawer can no longer be disassembled and there are many ways to make an equally strong drawer box now. That said I still use dovetails when I occasionally make a drawer only because I like doing them- by hand :)

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 12:04PM
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I know I'm late to this party, but I had to chime in.

My reasons for absolutely adoring inset cabinets is as far from driving a jag or wearing a rolex to make a statement as one could get. (I find that judgemental and a projection of the speaker's sentiments. Kind of like, "She thinks she's..." )

I love beaded inset cabinets (not beaded is a very close 2nd) because they take my breath away. They are my ahHA moment in finding what I wanted in my whole house, not just my kitchen. I love them so much I'm retrofitting every cabinet I've made, found or purchased to be inset.

I don't find myself losing any space in my drawers, either. In a 24" deep cabinet, the undermount glides would be facilitate a 21" drawer box. That's what I already have, so I'm just moving the slides a tiny bit back. No biggie.

I just love them.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2013 at 1:06AM
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