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Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

Posted by threeapples (My Page) on
Sun, Sep 11, 11 at 22:00

We are building a Georgian style home and will either have white or gray painted cabinets. The cabinets are being custom made and I just cannot decide which type to do. Do the inset ever look askew? If so I know that it would really bother me, but I keep hearing it's better than overlay. thanks for any input.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

I think its a personal preference, but I think more work goes into making an inset cabinet.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

Neither one is "better" than another; it depends on your situation. If your kitchen is small and you need the most storage space possible, inset would NOT be the better choice. With inset cabinets you lose a great deal of storage space, particularly in the drawers. If space is not an issue, and you like the look of inset, make sure you have very good-quality cabinets. Otherwise the spaces tightening or widening with changes in humidity may be a problem.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

(I'm guessing the same guy is doing the cabinets either way, so its very likely both ways are framed.)

Inset cabinets lose about the same amount of space as framed cabinets with full overlay doors. Inset may or may not lose a little bit of drawer length depending on how they're made.

If you live in a high humidity area without air conditioning, you might not want inset - but your cabinet dude would know that.

Frameless cabinets can be considered to have full overlay doors. When you open a frameless cabinet door, you see the sidewall of the cabinet(about 3/4") and not a face frame(about 1.5") that is about twice as wide. It is the traditional face frames that are "using" the space. Sometimes, its aggravated by the choice of glides when they are drawers.

Everyone concentrates on drawers (and pullouts) because a cabinet with doors isn't different enough to matter - except for very small cabinets (12" or less). In a small doored cabinet, losing the additional 1.5" in width can make a difference in what you can actually put in the cabinet. For example, a 9" framed cabinet has a usable opening of about 6" wide. So you COULD store a 7" x 7" item in the cabinet, but you CAN'T fit it through the opening to the cabinet.

So stupid drawer math! You lose the distance from the edge of the cabinet to the inside edge of the drawer times 2. In a cabinet with a traditional face frame, the loss is 4.5 to 5" - doesn't matter if its full overlay or inset. An 18" wide cabinet will have about 13"-14" wide drawers.

The drawer will have a depth - maybe its sides are 2" tall AND a clearance - the height you can use before something in the drawer smacks into another drawer front or part of the cabinet. You won't lose anything additional using inset over a full overlay, face framed cabinet. Inset cabinets have a drawer front the exact height that fits in the face frame. Full overlay has a drawer front larger than the face frame, but the capacity of the drawer is still controlled by the opening in the face frame.

With a traditional frame, you can lose a fair amount of drawer height when compared to frameless. What changes is the clearance - the measurement from the inside bottom of the drawer to the bottom of the next vertical obstruction, also known as the usable height. Generally, a frameless drawer will have about 1.5" more usable height.

Another great secret is that all drawers are not as long as the cabinet is deep. Ikea, for instance, uses 21" long drawers. Your cabinet maker will use somethin'. They may use the same glides and the same drawers and just reposition them 3/4" further back to do inset or they might change the drawer length.

IF they change the drawer length, that difference is the amount you lose by doing inset over full overlay. Say the drawer usable width is 14", the usable height is 3" and the usable length is 22" for full overlay and 2" for inset. You'd lose about 2-1/2 percent of a cubic foot.

Every cabinet maker is a little different. If you want framed cabinets, ask to see of the size of the frame can be reduced to help out with the issue. If the frame is smaller, the usable size of the drawers can be larger. Also, doing wider cabinets rather than multiple small cabinets can help because less space will be used in cabinet pieces.

If you want georgian inset, go for it.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

I prefer inset because of the period look. The little loss of space we made up by having our cabs built to the floor, no toe kick area except at the sink. We also had stiles made as small as possible. I did all drawers in a galley and one side is 30 deep with uppers either 15 or 16 (not sure). The range side is normal depth. If there is a cost difference and you like a period look inset is worth it. I am in a really high humidity area and the first year the we had a couple of drawers adjusted, no problems since.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

To add...with inset cabinets & drawers, you also lose the 1/2" to 3/4" or so of the thickness of the face frame.

When overlay doors are place on a cabinet, they are installed on the outside of the cabinet box. This means that plates, glasses, etc. can use not only the interior of the cabinet for storage, but also the face frame thickness. So, a plate or glass can sit inside the cabinet and extend into the face frame space. This can be an important 1/2" to 3/4" if you have 10" or wider plates. I, for example, have glasses sitting partially on the frame and partially on the cabinet bottom...being able to utilize the frame space allowed me to put a full extra row of glasses in my cabinet! In this case, btw, overlay has basically the same front-to-back space as frameless. (Side-to-side, though, frameless has more b/c with face frame you cannot store things in the frame space right next to the walls, approx 1/2" to 3/4" from the side walls. But, with a plate, for example, you don't need that space. Note that frameless will be constrained by the space taken up by the hinges, but that's only in two or three places and only on one side of each door.)

With inset, the door is installed in the face frame area, not in front of the cabinet box. Because of this, the only storage available to you is the space b/w the back wall and the frame...you cannot utilize that 1/2" to 3/4" space taken up by the frame b/c the door is in that space.

Drawers are similar. (With overlay vs frameless, the frameless definitely has more room b/c the drawer must fit b/w the frame on all sides (left/right/top or bottom).)


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

Lots of people conclude that if the door is smaller, the entire space inside is smaller. But the width of the space inside is the same either way. Whether it is overlay vs flush doesn't matter much because the frame is the same. (True, the door is further out in overlay, but that's a minor issue, 1/2" to 3/4" as stated above.)

Now frameless is a different matter. Indeed frameless gives you a larger opening, if you like the post-WW2-European-wood-shortage look. I mean, open wire shelving would give you even better access and space, and more airflow too.

We struggled with the issue of what looks better, but having gotten flush inset, I know I'll hate having to move somewhere with overlay cabinets. They look...not bad or anything but just...common.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

I like inset but they show wear a lot more than overlay. If you are klutzy putting dishes away or someone puts too many items in a drawer, the damage will show when the door is shut; it won't with overlay. This is especially obvious where you have paint chipping--not as bad with stained.

The extra 3/4 of an inch of extra space in cabinets where you can ooze out over the frame can make a large difference, especially with modern fat plates. If you get inset, be sure the usable space is large enough (that really goes for any cabinet, of course).


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

Fori's point is good about uppers of all types - but particularly those that use inset. You may need to spec a different depth of upper cabinets by adding on an inch or two to fit the depth of what you want to store.

There have been a couple of people over the years who found out their upper cabinets were too shallow too late.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

Of course, this may prompt you to buy smaller plates, which studies have shown lead to eating less...lol


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

I believe the heart of why people buy inset is what SeeBuyFly said about overlay: "They look...not bad or anything but just...common." People here at GardenWeb are very discerning about their kitchens.

I did not even consider inset. Every inch of space was important to me.

The other thing to consider is the age and architecture of your home. My home is from the 70s and inset just seems all wrong for the era, sort of like crown molding.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

I'll just point out that if you get 12" uppers with overlay, your cabinets stick out 12 3/4" because of the doors. You get the extra space because your cabinets stick out further. If you get 13" uppers with inset doors they stick out 13", and you get back the space. While it's something to be aware of when specing cabinets, it's not really and advantage or disadvantage. Our uppers are going to be 13" inset. Now frameless definitely gives you more space with drawers.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

Has anyone mentioned frameless inset yet?
Overlay or inset cabinets? Which is better? Are they both better, when frameless behind the facade?


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

"...I believe the heart of why people buy inset is what SeeBuyFly said about overlay: 'They look...not bad or anything but just...common.'..."

I believe the "overlay" you are referring to that looks "common" is partial overlay. Remember, there are two types of overlays, full and partial. Partial is what you get with builder-grade and some lower-end cabinets. Note the amount of cabinet/stile showing with "partial" overlay can also vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

However, keep in mind that "partial overlay" is also a period style and not necessarily an indication of "commonness".

The true indicator is the quality of the cabinets themselves. I've seen some pretty bad looking inset cabinets (construction & finish), so I can tell you being "inset" does not necessarily equate to quality or high-end! (Same with frameless, partial overlay, and full overlay.)


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

I used "common" not as an insult, but in the literal sense of "found everywhere".

It is full overlay that is most common in my experience; all the big box stores mostly offer full overlay. Indeed, old-fashioned partial overlay cabinets can be a distinctive style statement if you have an old-fashioned kitchen.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

It must be regional...I see mostly partial overlay in the MD/DC area. As a matter of fact, I had not seen full overlay until I found GW (same with quality frameless). Everyone around me either has partial overlay or inset. I originally thought those were my only choices and was going to get inset...then I found this site and switched to full overlay!


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

SeeBuyFly, I didn't take it as an insult and I doubt others did either, so no worries!


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

I stayed away from inset because I don't favor the look of exposed hinges (and I do like the look of full overlay.) I later learned that you can have inset with concealed hinges, which provides a very pretty look IMO. Just something to keep in mind, because if you choose inset it's another decision to make.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

My cabinets are inset and do show some wear from a hundred years of opening, closing and stuffing things in them. Of course I would never consider replacing them. But if they had already been replaced by later, inferior cabs, I would have new inset cabs built. I love the look and love my exposed, butterfly hinges.
Diane


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

I'm probably in the minority here, but my OCD is bothered by the uneveness in the spacing I see around some inset cabinets when the drawers are closed...I like full overlay better.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

When I look at kitchens I notice about a hundred things before I notice whether the cabinet doors are inset of full overlay. Partial overlay are a different story, but I lived in my current house for years before I noticed that my cabinets are partial overlay! Now that I'm enlightened, I still don't hang my head in shame when people come over. As others mentioned, you can't fit certain plates and platters in 12" deep upper cabinets with inset doors, so if you go that way make sure they are at least 13" deep.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

From everything I've read, inset cabinets are chosen for the look. They're more expensive because they're more challenging to get just right. And if they are historically correct they will often be a full inch thick and have butt hinges -- all adding to the labor and material cost but not really providing any improvement in function.

I love the look, and live in an old house, and my DH restored our old inset. As a "woodworker" and "cabinetmaker" he likes getting all the interfaces just right, and it is very gratifying for us both.

But practically speaking, overlay is just as nice especially if you're not doing a "historic" kitchen, and overlay gives you more space.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

We are doing inset with concealed hinges. I love the look. I also like the exposed hinges but they are expensive and they have to be individually mortised in which adds to the cost. It was a way to save money on our over budget cabinets.

As far as cabinets go, we are doing inset in kitchen, den bookshelves, den bar (behind pocket doors), master bath, study, formal powder room and butler's pantry. The rest (back hall bath, laundry, my pocket office, guest and boys bathrooms and entire basement) are getting partial overlay. There was no real cost difference between inset and full overlay with my cabinetmaker, maybe because 90 percent of what he does is inset. The only way to save money on secondary areas was partial overlay and until I came to gardenweb I didn't realize the difference :). We are still way over on cabinets, but just not quite as much over!


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

We are doing inset, but it's purely for the period look. It cost us a little more, but I think it was worth it. Here's a picPhotobucket:


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

My kitchen has beaded inset and framless. I love the look of the inset but get the most space with the framless in all my drawers and lowers and pantry. I have only had ONE person in over a year catch that the entire kitchen is not beaded inset! I think it is because all the uppers are inset that is what the eye sees. Also, I did have my entire china hutch done in the inset because I wanted it to look more custom - really love it. The only thing I have to say about inset is there are a few bruises to the wood on the frame where we have hit it while putting dishes away. I'm sure that as the kitchen ages it will look less obvious, and more of a patina ;-)
From Kitchen before and after


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

jillandmatt - how tall are your ceilings? We have a similar hood drawn in but it is shorter with panels above (it is the height of the first level of cabinets). I may like yours better :) We will have 10' ceilings in the kitchen . . . yours may be taller?


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

I also blent both types in my vintage=look kitchen .
I used the full-overlay on the base cabs and inset (not beaded) for uppers.
New aspect of Kitchen
For me it was a way to get the look of vintage inset at eye level where it could be appreciated, and use the heavily-molded lower door style and more easily panel the DW.
Casey


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

I thought I wanted inset doors--we're doing craftsman-style cabinets--but a highly respected cabinet maker says he refuses to even do them. He said, because they stand behind their finished product, he'd be at our house all the time re-adjusting the doors. Most of the discussion here seems to be about space, but that's not a concern for me. I just wonder how common it is to have problems with inset doors. We do live in a high-humidity area (DC area) but have AC. Is this guy giving me a song and dance? Maybe their "custom" shop isn't so custom? They don't make their own doors, but I understand that this is not uncommon for custom shops. They have a long history with a very good reputation, and I've seen full-overlay craftsman-style cabinets that look beautiful, so maybe I should opt for those anyway.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

I thought I wanted inset doors--we're doing craftsman-style cabinets--but a highly respected cabinet maker says he refuses to even do them. He said, because they stand behind their finished product, he'd be at our house all the time re-adjusting the doors. Most of the discussion here seems to be about space, but that's not a concern for me. I just wonder how common it is to have problems with inset doors. We do live in a high-humidity area (DC area) but have AC. Is this guy giving me a song and dance? Maybe their "custom" shop isn't so custom? They don't make their own doors, but I understand that this is not uncommon for custom shops. They have a long history with a very good reputation, and I've seen full-overlay craftsman-style cabinets that look beautiful, so maybe I should opt for those anyway.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

I posted that I have both kinds of cabinets. We live in RI and the weather is in flux also. However, we have central air like you, I had them come back once about 9 months later to adjust everything. I watched how he did it and feel if I need to do it I can adjust myself. My installer said that once the wood settled (by a year) there wouldn't be much shift. Actually the ones he had to adjust the most are the full overlay - not the inset. I do notice a bit of a gap in the dry winter months, I do nothing and accept it for winter shrinkage and it rights itself out once spring comes.


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

H-w-m?
Perhaps he should get them right the 1st time and make certain the hinge screws are long enough that gravity doesn't pull them out of the sockets.

I am in the DC area as well and absolutely love the look of inset. I think that's hooey. I'd shop cabinet makers.
My 1st question would be, "If you stand behind your work, how often do you end up going out to adjust your inset doors?"

Christine


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RE: Overlay or inset cabinets? which is better?

@cjc123 - what is the wood you used for your cabinets - and the stain on it, if it is not the natural wood color. I love your cabinets (the grain, the stain and everything). Thanks.


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