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Inset Cabinets vs Overlay: The Unbiased Truth About Each Style

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If you are designing a kitchen, one of the choices you will need to make is your cabinet style. Inset cabinets vs overlay cabinets is one of the main questions a cabinet maker will ask. Over the years, specific styles have been deemed the “best” option by interior designers. However today, I’m sharing the unbiased truth about each style of kitchen cabinet so you can decide for yourself.

Overlay cabinets in a remodeled kitchen.

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The Difference Between Inset and Overlay Cabinets

Before we dive in, let’s define the difference between inset cabinets and overlay cabinets.

What Are Inset cabinets?

Inset cabinets are constructed so that the drawer and door faces fit inside the cabinet frame.

Inset cabinet style.

I designed inset cabinetry in my last kitchen remodel.

Inset cabinets offer a high end look. It was a common cabinet design in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and has stuck as one of the most sought after styles in kitchen cabinet design.

What Are Overlay Cabinets?

Overlay cabinets refer to a style of cabinetry where the doors and drawer fronts lay on top of the cabinet frame.

Overlay cabinet style in a kitchen.

There are partial (or standard) overlay cabinets and full overlay cabinets.

Partial overlay cabinets leave a larger reveal of the cabinet frame than full overlay cabinets.

In my opinion, full overlay cabinets replicate the look of inset cabinets because of the very small reveal.

I designed our current kitchen with full overlay cabinetry.

Now that we’ve defined both styles of cabinet, let’s quickly summarize the pros and cons of each.

Pros and Cons of Inset Cabinets

Inset cabinets are a stunning choice, highly sought after by designers. Here are the main pros and cons of inset cabinetry.

Pros of Inset Cabinets:

  • High end and elegant
  • Timeless look for longevity of your kitchen design
  • Increased resale value
Inset cabinets in a kitchen.

Cons of Inset Cabinets:

  • Typically 20-30% more expensive than overlay cabinets
  • Lack of door/drawer overlay can show increased nicks around edge of cabinet frame
  • Can be difficult to align properly with a very small margin for error

Pros and Cons of Overlay Cabinets

Overlay cabinets, whether partial or full, are also a beautiful option. Overlay cabinets are most often used in kitchen designs for the average homeowner.

Pros of Overlay Cabinets:

  • More affordable than inset cabinets
  • Many door styles available (shaker, slab, applied moulding…etc)
  • Provides more storage than inset due to accommodating the full extension of the cabinet frame
Overlay cabinet door style in a kitchen.

Cons of Overlay Cabinets:

  • Considered not as high end as inset (May be considered a con to most, however I would argue that they can look just as high end.)
  • May be considered dated

My Unbiased Opinion of Inset Cabinets vs Overlay

Having personally designed kitchens with all types of cabinet style, I feel I can unbiasedly share my opinion about this designer debate.

Even more so, because I have personally had kitchens with partial overlay, full overlay and inset cabinetry. With that said, note that this inset cabinet vs overlay cabinet debate really is most frequently seen in the design world. The average homeowner may not have such strong opinions over which option is best. So take that for what it is.

Inset Cabinets vs Overlay: The Unbiased Truth About Each Style
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If I were to design another kitchen for myself in the future, I would choose full overlay cabinets.

My case for full overlay cabinets instead of inset cabinets:

  • Full overlay cabinets can achieve a similar look to inset cabinets for a reduced price point.
  • They provide more storage and are less finicky to adjust.
  • Full overlay cabinets help hide nicks and dings against cabinet frames from putting dishes away. This was one of my biggest disappointments from having inset cabinets in our last house. The cabinet frame was dinged up all around the edge of the frame and the doors sat inside the frame, so didn’t cover the marks.
  • Overlay cabinets offer slightly more cabinet style options due to their larger nature. Inset cabinets have less space to work with if you want to do a more intricate applied moulding design.
Overlay cabinets in a traditional kitchen.

In my opinion, full overlay doors achieve a similar look to inset cabinets without any of the cons.

Are Inset Cabinets Worth The Extra Money?

With that said, I still ADORE inset cabinetry. I love how storied it is since it was made popular in the 1800s European era. It provides a lot of charm and elegance. So if you have your heart set on it, go for it! With the knowledge of what I’ve shared thus far.

Woman cleaning a kitchen counter.

To some, inset cabinetry is worth the cons associated with it. That is personal preference, and our homes should be personal.

If you’ve budgeted for inset cabinetry and know what to expect, then they are worth the extra cost associated with them.

However, if you are just trying to discern the differences between inset cabinets vs overlay, I hope that this article has enlightened you to help you make a final decision.

My Kitchen Design Sourcing

If you are looking for sourcing details, make sure to check out these two kitchen design source posts.

Inset cabinet in a large modern farmhouse kitchen.

Previous Home’s Kitchen Design Sources

Walnut kitchen island with full overlay cabinet style.

Current Home’s Kitchen Design Sources

More Kitchen Design Resources

If you’re new to kitchen design, make sure to read these additional resources next.

Kitchen sink with inset cabinetry.

I absolutely love designing kitchens. However, there are a lot of details that go into it. These articles will be helpful for you as you consider each element.

Learn More About Interior Design

I hope that this article on inset cabinets vs overlay cabinets was helpful to you!

If you’re looking to dive deeper into creating your own haven with straightforward interior design concepts, make sure to take my free e-course! It is a no-nonsense approach to creating a haven and totally free to you.

Thanks so much for stopping by the blog today. Check out this article if you want to see my most recent 1970s full gut kitchen remodel.

You can also follow along daily on Instagram and weekly on YouTube!


My case against inset cabinetry.

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