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Pros & Cons of a Refrigerator that Looks Like a Cabinet

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Are panel-ready fridges worth it? Installing a refrigerator that looks like a cabinet is a major trend in kitchen design. But, should it be? Today, we’re covering all the pros and cons of panel ready refrigerators.

Pros & Cons of a Refrigerator that Looks Like a Cabinet

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How To Design a Refrigerator that Looks Like a Cabinet

First of all, let’s define what a panel ready fridge is.

What is a Panel Ready Refrigerator?

Sometimes called sub-zero refrigerators, a panel ready refrigerator is simply a refrigerator that looks like a cabinet.

The mechanical shell of the refrigerator is installed and then a custom made cabinet panel is attached to the front.

The main purpose of this is to design a kitchen where the refrigerator blends seamlessly into the cabinetry, as if it doesn’t exist.

Design Process

If you’d like to achieve this look:

  • First, determine the dimensions you have to work with.
  • Second, select your panel ready refrigerator.
  • Third, work with a custom cabinet maker (or build your own!) to design your panels.
  • Fourth, install!

Of course, this is a very simplified version of the process. You’ll want to work closely with your cabinet maker and installer to determine all measurements and specifications are met as you design your refrigerator cabinet panels and surrounding cabinetry.

Panel-ready refrigerators have become increasingly popular over time for a high end kitchen design. You can learn more about kitchen design trends in this article.

But should they be included in your kitchen design? Let’s dive into the pros and cons of a refrigerator that looks like a cabinet.

Pros of a Fridge that Looks Like Cabinets

The main pro of a fridge that looks like cabinets is very straight forward.

It is beautiful!

Woman standing in front of a refrigerator that looks like a cabinet.
Photo Credit: Chris Loves Julia

Seamlessly blending your most used kitchen appliance into your cabinetry creates a high end, custom look. You can design your fridge panels to match your surrounding cabinetry, or you can make it stand out with a specially designed face frame.

Hands down, the look of panel ready fridges is the main reason most choose to go this route.

Additionally, here are more pros of a panel ready fridge.

  1. Multiple configuration options:
    • french door
    • side by side
    • panel ready fridge drawers available
    • smaller under counter options
    • column refrigerators
  2. Can be customized to any style, color or design
  3. High end appearance can increase home resale value

If you’re looking for a good resource to see some of the customization and configuration options, check out how Chris Loves Julia designed their stunning panel ready appliances.

Cons of Panel Ready Refrigerators

Next, let’s discuss the cons of a refrigerator that looks like a cabinet.

After designing our new custom kitchen, which you can see here, the number one question I received was, “Why didn’t you include a panel ready fridge?”

Pros & Cons of a Refrigerator that Looks Like a Cabinet

The answer was simple: expense and longevity.

Let’s elaborate:

  1. Expense: Typically, panel ready fridges can cost up to double that of traditional counterparts.
    • Not only is the actual refrigerator typically more expensive, but then you also have the additional cost of the custom panels.
  2. Longevity: They are more difficult to replace. Let’s face it, refrigerators do not have longevity anymore. So when your panel ready fridge goes kaput, you are then faced with very specific dimensions to fit a new one into. (A new one, that is also more expensive to buy again!) You may also need new panels made depending on the attachment mechanism of the new fridge.
  3. Increased Panel Care: While you can wipe down a traditional fridge with little worry, you need to take extra care in cleaning a refrigerator that looks like a cabinet. Wiping stuck on food and smudges from cabinet panels requires more care and attention, often with more grooves to clean.
  4. Lead Time: Panel ready fridges require a lot of planning, specific design, skilled installation and longer lead times than traditional appliances.
  5. Decreased Storage: Panel ready refrigerators often offer less storage. Most are counter depth to stay in line with surrounding cabinetry. This decreases storage space. You can counteract this by installing a very wide option, or a separate fridge and freezer, if you have the space. However, this also increases prices significantly.
  6. They are Hidden: The pro is that panel ready refrigerators are hidden. However, that can also be a con! Imagine you have a house full of guests and you aren’t readily available. They will be opening all your cabinets to find the fridge. Better keep those organized. 😉
Traditional kitchen cabinets with a refrigerator.

Are Panel Ready Refrigerators Worth it?

In my opinion, the expense and long term maintenance issues of panel ready fridges outweigh the pros of their beauty.

Others may opt to place more importance on the design and appearance than the expense.

Kitchen cabinet design.

Like anything in the design world, priorities and preference are so personal. I’ve discussed this topic with many designers and homeowners alike. Half of them would install a panel ready refrigerator again. Half would never do it again.

Good and bad experiences will always be available to take into consideration. And that is exactly what I wanted to share with you today. Both the good and the bad so that you can make an informed decision for yourself!

Designing With a Traditional Refrigerator

I would also argue that traditional refrigerators can be just as beautifully designed as those hidden behind a panel.

Large kitchen with walnut island.

My Refrigerator Source

There are many options for customization of color, door/drawer style, handle style, and more with traditional refrigerators.

I’d love to see it become more common place for something as essential as a refrigerator to be embraced in design rather than hidden. Ranges, dishwashers and refrigerators are here to stay, so we may as well value their contribution to a thriving lifestyle.

Get Your Free Design Guide

Thanks so much for stopping by the blog today. I hope this article on the pros and cons of a panel ready fridge has been helpful as you design your own kitchen.

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  1. We redid our kitchen last year and I went with a subzero paneled fridge. It was a big splurge. But, a big fridge was the number one item on my list and we had budgeted for that expense. In our case, with the sub, to have it made panel ready was not really more $$ than purchasing it with the traditional stainless panels. I would caution anyone considering a subzero. The panels, because of the sub design, are not has seamless as other refrigerators are. Despite the expense and the lack of seamless appearance. I do LOVE it! She is very large and very pretty! I hope that it does last. Because, as you mentioned, appliances do seem to be way too disposable these days.

    1. I love that you knew what you wanted and planned for it! Great advice on the sub zero consideration. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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