Inset vs. Overlay cabinets

AGK2003October 2, 2013

So, we met with a millwork guy in our area recommended by family. He showed us photos of his work and they looked great. We did a cabinet layout of our new kitchen and we showed him pictures of the cabinet style we liked. I thought we were good to go. Now i am seeing this distinction of inset vs. overlay cabinets on GW. I had no idea! Been looking at photos and though most of the photos I like are of inset cabinets, there have been a couple of overlay that I like as well. Would you recommend one over the other? We are going for a fairly traditional white kitchen with SS pro-look appliances, chrome hardware, gray slate-like tile flooring (we have brazilian walnut in the rest of the house but i thought wood would drive me crazy in the kitchen) and we may paint the peninsula gray to contract w/the white. anyhoo, though we like a traditional look, we sort of like some modern touches. would you recommend inset or overlay for any specific reason? is one more desireable? would one be considered more "modern"? Thank you for any advice.

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We just got inset cabinets and they are gorgeous! One thing I wish I knew though is that the appliances do stick out a bit so keep this in mind when choosing appliances.
You can kind of see it here around the oven and microwave trim.
It's not too bad but I do wish I knew about it before in order to get 'thinner' appliances. (The European brand are usually a bit neater in size)

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 11:02AM
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I think overlay would be considered a more modern look.

I really like both. Full overlay offers a little more storage space and is sometimes less expensive than inset.

Inset is a very traditional look. SOme people have their heart set on it (like me!) and will be willing to give up a little bit of function for form.

Which does your cabinet maker specialize in? If it doesn't make much difference to you, maybe you should go with the type of cab he is most experienced in building.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 11:13AM
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wow lliN your cabinets are gorgeous! interesting about the appliances sticking out, i hadn't considered that.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 1:25PM
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If you're doing custom, there is no reason for the DW to stick out. It's not a big deal to do a 25" box depth when things are being custom made. Now an oven or range, they always sit proud of the cabinets by intention as a fire safety measure.

There are a couple of different reveals available than just full overlay and inset. Be sure you understand the difference and decide for yourself.

Full overlay. Has become the new standard. It's more expensive than partial overlay, because it takes more wood for the doors. You need to worry about clearances for doors to open, and may need fillers or extended stiles for that to happen. (Not a big deal.)

Partial overlay. This is the most traditional of looks, and the cheapest. The doors don't cover the face frames completely, and thus need less wood and are less expensive. This was the standards for many, many, years, and still probably looks best with a traditional home.

Inset. The most expensive choice. Requires the most precision from the maker, and the most commitment to climate control in your home from you. Wood swells and shrinks, and doors that sit inside the face frame can stick if you don't use your AC or a humidifier in winter. (Your other wood does this too, but it's more noticeable on painted cabinets and inset in particular.) Was popular before the 50's and in furniture, but fell out of favor until recently resurging to the forefront under the influence of Christopher Peacock's designs.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 2:45PM
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I agree with rosylady. I've decided I'm going to give up a little function for form. The insets are beautiful and more traditional, which is also the look I'm going for. What I didn't realize after looking at many many pictures online, is that with insets the hinges can be on the inside of the cabinets. I guess I was always seeing pictures with them on the outside. I made my first trip to a kitchen place today, and found that out. Does anyone know if there is a benefit to having it one way or the other? Or is it just aesthetics?

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 2:50PM
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Sherry-hidden hinge advantages-you don't see them, soft close readily available-
-take room inside cabinet whcih slightly limits shelf placement
-extra attention needed by maker if cabinets are softer woods (pine or alder)
-most often door swing is limited to 110 degrees though there are some wider swing hinges available depending on maker
- biggest disadvantage is a limitaion when "combining" cabine

Combining allows multiple cabinets to be joined as one during manufacture. With exposed hinges the intermediate stiles can all be made 1-1/2" wide whcih saves space and can be a nice look. Combined with hidden hinges need wider stiles almost defeating the purpose.
Exposed hinges advantages-
-you can see them
-combining cabinets
-doors swing fully open (sometimes requiring a door limiter)
-in most case do not restrict shelf placement

-soft close only available on higher end brands
-"most" are more difficult to adjust though better made ones use a mortised hinge which never needs adjustment

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 9:05PM
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AGK2003, it is so exciting to be starting this process isn't it? I'm hoping to be on the homestretch but I so enjoyed learning and I know I will continue to learn (both from my mistakes and for future renovations.) I think inset vs overlay boils down to an aesthetic choice. There are pros and cons--- storage is obviously something to think about. But at the end of the day if your heart tells you inset... well... you should follow your heart. I love the look of inset and probably sacrificed a good bit of function in my tiny kitchen but I think I will be happy when it is all said and done. Do make sure your cabinet maker is very very comfortable with making that kind of cabinet. Good luck! Excited to watch your journey.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 10:54PM
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I started out pretty much like you, not knowing inset cabinets existed. Can you go out and look at cabinet door styles in a kitchen showroom (or several showrooms)? That's how I fell in love with the door style I chose. Then you can start obsessing over bead, no bead, drawer style, exposed hinges, etc. The fun is just beginning. Seriously, I too have enjoyed the process & learned so much.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 11:54PM
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thanks all, it's extremely exciting! we have been renovating this house quite a while (there was extensive exterior work required as well), then took a break to plan our wedding:) and now are trying to finish so we can move out of my husband's co-op.

i've been to kitchen showrooms to look at door styles, but never studied the "whole package" with frame to notice inset v. overlay.

as to bead vs. no bead, is that just aesthetic?

    Bookmark   October 3, 2013 at 8:23AM
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I prefer's more of a vintage and/or furniture look. White full overlay cabinets still look like thermofoil, in my mind.

Here's my kitchen....still not done. Waiting on a honey-do list to be done and industry friends to finish me up.

And yes be careful about American dishwashers....if doing inset, get European or do as LWI said, order deeper bases or pull the cabinets out from the walls an inch or two.

I ordered an ASKO fully integrated DW. In the photo below, the DW is just to the right of my sink cabinet.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2013 at 2:58PM
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Cabinets with inset doors and drawers are definitely a traditional decision. This selection would not be a good decision if space and storage are an issue in the kitchen because the decorative elements that usually go with inset doors gobble space like crazy.

In addition, a decision to go with an inset door kitchen usually affects all the decisions in the rest of the home. It's an architectural style commitment if you want the home and the kitchen to work well together.

Finally, there is the issue of price. And I'll bet well-detailed cabinets with inset doors, glass details, pilasters, mouldings, & custom hoods could be double the price of kitchens with overlay doors.

1 Like    Bookmark   October 3, 2013 at 3:27PM
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Love your kitchens, IliN and Kompy. I especially love yours, Kompy. I think the red, vintage chair is speaking to me. It's saying that it wants to come live at my house. ;-)

    Bookmark   October 3, 2013 at 3:35PM
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I prefer the look of full overlay. As a bonus, I was able to get frameless cabinets as well with full overlay. Yay !

AGK, I see you do not have your email setup yet.
Here are a few threads you may find lots of information . . .

    Bookmark   October 3, 2013 at 3:44PM
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Actually you can gain space with insets versus framed full overlay if the runs are long enough to allow combining cabinets.
Slightly less clearance for door swing is required so extended stiles (as opposed to fillers) can be narrower.
Interior drawer width and depth remain the same.
There are some decorative elements used on stiles (chamfers, lamb's tongue, etc) that require less space to look good than a doing the same thing on overlay.

You do want wall cabinets a minimum of 13" but "most" brands do between 13, 13 1/2" or 14" standard (depends on the brand) just check, you do NOT want 12" deep walls.

I've combined frameless full overlay bases with inset uppers which can be a bit more transitional, one recent project was frameless for all and we did the "hutch" with inset.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2013 at 4:03PM
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How old is your house, and do you intend to do any matching of the period/architectural style of the house? Pre WWII or so hinges were typically exposed on inset cabinets.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2013 at 11:52PM
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I'm going with inset; love them.

I do want to suggest if going with custom cab maker, do not rely alone on photos of their work. Insist on seeing their work that u can touch and feel. I relied on photos for another project and was sorely disappointed in the finish work, which would not have shown up in photos. For the cost of those custom built-ins, I can barely sit in the room without cringing, eventually leaving the room.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2013 at 7:56AM
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so we saw the cabinet maker this weekend and are still undecided about inset vs. full overlay (which would be frameless). the house is 1970s and we are fully renovating, so no time/period pieces to match. it's really just going to be to our taste. he really pushes the full overlay for space though and given we do not have a huge kitchen that is a consideration.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 8:46AM
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1970's IS a style. Be sure you aren't over decorating a space that has more to do with minimalism or modernism than an Edwardian scullery!

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 9:53AM
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what does everything think of these? they are photos of the cabinet maker's last project. i liked them very much and could see them going well with a macabus quartzite or caesarstone in the london gray or frost carrina countertops and slightly less modern hardware.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 12:19PM
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    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 12:21PM
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pic 1

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 12:22PM
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AGK2003. is this Full overlay as it almost looks like frameless inset with hidden hinges? I really like it a lot. I love the color of the cabinets, the handles (I know you said you were going with less modern handles), and the overall look with the pretty appliances. I think the cabinet maker did a great job.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 5:43PM
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i'm not sure what "frameless inset" is, but they are indeed frameless. i would have called them frameless full overlay but then i am not familiar with all the styles. i'm glad you like them, because i liked them too. that's what was making it so difficult to decide between these and the inset. the inset is a pretty significant upcharge (though if we loved it we'd go with it) but we keep going back and forth. i actually think this might work better for our aesthetic because it is more modern, even though i think more traditional items like the gilmore pulls and white subway backsplash would work really well with these.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 6:34PM
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I like them too! One thing I don't care for, is the toe kick style.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 6:42PM
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thanks romy. where can i see different toe kick styles?

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 8:11PM
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It looks like he added a "shoe", like the shoe you add to baseboard molding to the recessed toe kick on the island and the tall cabinet on the right.
There are multiple different ways to finish the base of the cabinets or an island. For example, in lliN's kitchen, she has a toe kick valance or apron in front of her sink. Kompy has a recessed toe kick. In the picture I posted, Michelle16's kitchen, she has baseboard molding and also a valance in front of her sink. In the picture Beverly27 posted, there is baseboard molding to the left of the range and then a recessed toekick to the left of the baseboard molding. The island in that kitchen has a low profile valance. You can mix it up. Most people like either recessed or an apron in front of the sink or prep areas, so your toes have somewhere to go. It's all personal preference. You can do a google search, "toe kick gardenweb kitchen forum". There are multiple threads discussing toe kicks & toe kick drawers. I hope this helps.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 9:32PM
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AGK2003, I never responded to your question, "what is a bead". This is Michelle16's kitchen again (I love her kitchen). She has inset cabinets with a bead. The bead is the trim piece around the frame of the cabinet. Also, you can see she has baseboard molding on her island.
If you look closely at the drawers, you can see the molding detail in her flat panel cabinet. There are multiple different options for flat panel cabinets, making them either traditional, contemporary or transitional.
Lots of stuff to obsess about, which can make you TKO, totally kitchen obsessed.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 9:54PM
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Romy718, thank you for the education on toe kicks! I love the last few kitchens you posted. All the toe kicks are different but beautiful and really finish the cabinets.

AGK2003, OK, so those cabinets must be full overlay. They look very nice to me.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 10:43PM
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Some of my terminology may be incorrect. When I started my kitchen reno, I was totally clueless. This forum is responsible for my kitchen education. I don't know what I will do when my kitchen is done.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 10:53PM
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Romy, you sure have learned a lot! I also have learned a lot after joining near the end of 2006 when I first started to look for a refrigerator and then I became so active near the end of 2009 when I bought a dishwasher, gas range and gas hood, Then I got kitchen obsessed and started to plan for my new kitchen after I bought tiles in September 2011. I love this forum and the more I learn, the more I will be ready to finish my renovated kitchen and share. Your posts are so informative. Thank you so much.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 11:26PM
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A lot of the traditional detailing that you seem to be drawn to wouldn't be at home in a 1970's house. Something simpler, and more spare, without decorative toekicks, or elaborate moldings would be more appropriate. Look up "transitional" style kitchens, and minimize the traditional details in the cabinetry shown. You want to keep the cabinetry on the modern side, and then you can bring in more traditional details with the accessories. The current white on white look with wood floors (the holy trinity) wouldn't be appropriate in a 1970's home unless you were talking slab doors (not shaker) and plain white quartz counters (no marble or marble lookalikes) with the wood floor maybe being a riff of the popular parquet of the era in a porcelain or even a modern parquet, or even a standard traditional oak.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 7:20AM
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thanks very much romy, live wire oak, and everyone else responding. unfortunately i don't have much time to make these decisions, and though i believe my cabinet maker is excellent at his craft, he is not much for helping with design or options (plus we can't communicate very effectively since he speaks another language lol but he is very receptive to ideas). anyway, when we met this weekend, he said he would do the plain toe kick, which i believed to be the recessed, no "foot" like in the above, however, i did show him a picture of michelle16's kitchen island (i too love it!) and asked if he could do her moldings on our peninsula and he said yes. he will also do baseboard molding on the peninsula. but he said regular toe kick was better everywhere else since that is where you "work." i may also ask to do that apron look in front of the sink, since you see the sink straight across as you enter the kitchen and i think that might be a nice detail.

agree that i should stick with a more modern look with traditional/transitional accessories. but honestly, i live in a very suburban neighborhood of brooklyn which was built in the 70s and all the houses there are bought and entirely redone. so there is really nothing left of the original homes. ours was a high ranch with wood shingles and formica everything and carpet inside (which was mostly destroyed due to flooding the prior owner had from burst pipes) and we are redoing everything as a result. we replaced the exterior with "pewter" colored stucco (done super smooth because i wanted it to look like stone) and black window trims (so nothing 70s about it anymore).

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 8:20AM
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Another thing you might want to give some thought to now is how you are going to address the cabinet line at the ceiling. Are you going all the way to the ceiling & what are you doing between the top of the cabinets & the ceiling? You can look at more pictures of Michelle16's kitchen and her island by googling "Michelle16 gardenweb kitchen forum". There are also so many other beautiful white kitchens by GW members. There are plenty of people on this forum that will share their ideas.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 10:36AM
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romy, yes the plan is all the way to the ceiling and finished with crown molding. i've been drooling over all the white kitchens both here and on houzz.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 11:15AM
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AGK2003, what did you decide to go with: Inset vs. Overlay cabinets? Please do share.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 2:06AM
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Jakuvall and other KD's, when you use inset for uppers and frameless full overlay for base cabinets , do you use one manufacturer or two? In my search of gardenweb I have found that Cabico offers both (as posted by cjc123), are there others at that price point or lower?

    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 9:59AM
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You have probably already decided, but I just wanted to let you know that I, too, was drawn to the inset style. We have a 1979 Colonial, but I like to make changes to make it look like an older, more traditional home. I have Polar White Beaded Inset Shiloh cabinets on order.....renovation to start next month. Shiloh has a lot of inset styles, and they are currently offering the inset with no upcharge. If it's what you want, consider looking into it.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 11:00PM
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hi amh615! i have not yet decided and am actually going back and forth with a shiloh KD right now. i think in the end the shiloh price will not be able to compete with the cabinet maker and that will make the decision for us. one other thing that bothers me is the white finish colors offered by shiloh. wish they had a couple more options between polar and soft white. i can't wait to see your reno amh!

i also recently saw this inspiration photo on houzz which made me like frameless all over again.

Contemporary Kitchen by Portland Kitchen & Bath Designers Kitchen Cove Cabinetry & Design

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 3:59PM
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AGK2003: Shiloh does offer custom paint, so you can choose what white you want.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 12:14AM
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Shioh whites = 1) arctic, 2) polar, 3) soft, 4) eggshell, 5) ivory.

Here is a link that might be useful: Shiloh paint colors

    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 1:56AM
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AGK2003, what did you decide on for your cabinets? We would all love to know.

Mdln, thank you for posting the Shiloh Paint Colors.

I was sure I was going to do beaded inset but now I also like frameless full overlay. When I am done the April deadlines, I will be back to revisiting my kitchen design decisions.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2014 at 10:33PM
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hey lynn2006, we are going with the frameless by the custom maker. i think the aesthetic is a little more "us" and i liked the fact that we're not losing cabinet space like with inset. we're currently trying to finalize appliances.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2014 at 1:30PM
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Thank you AGK2003 for letting me know. I can't wait to see your kitchen!

I really would hate to lose cabinet space as I have a small kitchen so I am also going to revisit Full Overlay Frameless when my tax season ends as well as look at the Shiloh beautiful Inset again. I just really need the space.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2014 at 2:28PM
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