Inset Cabinets vs. Overlay. The Ideal Style

Inset Cabinets vs. Overlay

The kitchen and bathroom are sincerely the heart of all homes and thus should look good. Regardless of the style of your home, cabinets do set a tone for the entire space. Cabinetry is simply an upgrade that adds value, function, and character. 

Therefore it is essential since it offers a beautiful custom feel that blends your different spaces’ design styles. 

You’ll have to make several decisions when it comes to cabinets. These decisions include the cabinet type, i.e., inset or overlay cabinets, budget, etc. 

But first, you need to know the differences between the popular inset cabinets vs. overlay.

Inset Cabinets vs. Overlay

You’ll need to make various decisions when remodeling your kitchen or bathroom. Undoubtedly the major decisions are usually about the cabinets. They are surely the foundation of any bathroom and kitchen design. 

Therefore you should make sure you get them right. Other than the appliances, kitchen cabinets are also your kitchen workhorses. That’s because they get daily heavy use and thus should function properly. 

Cabinets also take up a significant amount of the visual space in the room. So they should always look great and perfectly blend with the color palette and overall decorating style. One of the major decisions regarding kitchen cabinets should be on drawers and door frames.

Inset Cabinets 

They’re among the most popular cabinets in the market and many homes. They usually fit into the cabinet frame. After a perfect fit, they flush with the cabinet’s face when closed. 

Inset cabinets doors are flat like the rest of the cabinet. Therefore they have a knob that makes it easier to open the doors. Such doors might have exposed or concealed hinges. 

Most homeowners choose inset cabinets because of their smooth and clean appearance. There are three standard inset cabinet styles: mission, raised, and shakers. 

Raised panel cabinet doors are more popular in overlay installation and apply to inset cabinets. With this design, the door perfectly fits inside the cabinetry. However, some panel parts extrude. If you run your hand across it, you’ll notice it isn’t flush.

Shakers-style cabinet doors typically contain five pieces. They include a solid door and four connecting pieces to form a box that flushes with the entire cabinet. The appearance of the solid door is recessed.

On the other hand, the mission style has a high inset panel and arch.

However, you’ll have to pay the price for their quality and look. Overall, the price of inset cabinets is 15-30% more than that of overlay cabinets. Other than price, there are extra things you should know about inset cabinets. 

Here Are Some Advantages Of Inset Cabinets 

Clean Look

The doors and drawers of the inset cabinets are perfectly flush with the frames. It creates a streamlined look and is ideal for historic homes.

Baby Safe

The cabinet drawers and doors do not have sharp corners since they’re flush with the cabinet. Generally, there aren’t edges to chip and bump into.

Better Quality

Inset cabinets need more skills to make and install. Overall, they are usually well made and will last longer.

The Downside Of Inset Cabinets 


Inset cabinets need precise craftsmanship, and this makes them cost more.

Less Storage

Compared to overlay and other frameless cabinets, they offer less storage. Therefore you won’t be able to keep large utensils etc.

Higher Maintenance 

House shifting and humidity can cause the drawers/doors to break from their alignment. Breaking will make them rub against the cabinet’s frame. In such instances, you’ll have to adjust to enable them to operate seamlessly.

Full Overlay Cabinets 

The full overlay cabinets are popular for their smooth and clean lines. Plus, they have a flush surface that makes your kitchen appear more put together and less cluttered. Its build maximizes space and thus easier to store bulky items. 

The amazing bit is that you can purchase or custom-build it according to your most preferred design. 

An ideal kitchen should be a reflection of you. These cabinets have extra-large drawers and door fronts that cover the cabinet’s face. 

After successful fitting, you’ll only have ¼ inch of space between the cabinets. You can install the doors with frameless cabinet boxes or traditional frame cabinet boxes. 

Normally, framed boxes have a face frame made of solid wood that attaches to the box’s front. 

These are cheaper and stronger than frameless and are easier to install. Additionally, it offers extra support for door hinges. 

Frame boxes are also known as European. They are simply cabinet boxes that don’t have face frames. Frame boxes only work with full overlay doors. The combination offers the most modern and sleekest look. 

It’s the reason most people select full overlay cabinets over other types. Plus, you can easily customize them in various ways.

Some Of The Advantages Of Overlay Include; 

Modern Style

Full overlay cabinetry is surely the latest design in cabinetry. Therefore it can have a modern look than inset cabinets. Therefore if you want to create a kitchen with a modern, minimal style, it is an ideal choice.

Any Design Style 

Another amazing part is that you can build the full overlay cabinet doors to suit any design style. These designs include a farmhouse, transitional, traditional, shaker, craftsman, etc.

More Storage Space

The drawers and doors sit outside the cabinet’s frame, leaving extra room for the inside. Meaning you can store more or larger items. 

The double cabinet doors don’t require a vertical frame between them. It makes it easier for you to slide large items into the cabinets.

Lower Cost

Overlay cabinets have a similar look to inset cabinets. But amazingly, you can acquire them at a lower cost. Full overlay cabinets need less skill to make, which is the main reason behind their affordability. 

The good price point makes them ideal for anyone who needs to create a streamlined look at an affordable budget.

Similar Look

Both overlay and inset cabinets possess drawers and doors that rest flush. Therefore they create a uniform and smooth look. The full overlay cabinet doors achieve this by sitting over their frame. Contrarily inset doors achieve this by sitting inside their frame.

Downside Of Overlay Cabinet

Exposed Corners  

All the overlay cabinet corners are exposed, which means they are susceptible to dings and nicks. It will lead to rounded corners and chipped paint over some time. 

The corners are the most protected in inset cabinets since they sit inside the cabinet frame. They are only usually visible only when the door or drawer is open. 


There’s usually only a ¼ inch between drawers and doors in overlay and thus no space to slide your fingers. 

It means you have to buy door knobs and pulls. Note that you’ll also need this hardware with inset cabinetry. 

However, the cabinet’s hardware isn’t a bad thing. The right hardware will give your kitchen a perfect finishing touch. Therefore it’s something you should consider.

Partial Overlay Cabinets 

The partial overlay cabinets are the most popular and affordable option. If you’re operating on a tight budget, it’s the ideal cabinetry. 

Partial overlay cabinets offer a more traditional look and do not need hardware. That’s because they have space between the cabinet doors for your fingers. 

In this design, the door is on the cabinet’s face leaving a gap of approximately 1 inch between the doors. 

However, all overlay options offer more cabinet space since the doors are on the frames outside. Overall, partial overlay cabinetry is the least expensive option. But you should note that it doesn’t have that high-end look like other cabinet options.

Which Cabinet Design Is Ideal For You?

You should note that overlay cabinetry is a great alternative to the more expensive inset cabinetry. 

However, you should keenly check out the two designs before considering either. Each cabinet comes with its unique beauty, budget, and many more. 

But when it comes to selecting a cabinet design, there isn’t a wrong or right. Primarily you should choose one based on your style, look, and budget. 

The three cabinet designs offer different storage, but first, it is very important to look at cost and style. 

However, you might sometimes choose a design that isn’t in your budget. That shouldn’t worry you since there are twerks that you can make to reduce the overall cost. 

They include:

  • Wood type
  • Raised vs. flat panel – the flat panel is usually less expensive
  • Paint vs. stain – the stain is less expensive
  • Coped (butted) vs. mitered corners – copied is less expensive
  • Amount of embellishment on the door


Inset cabinets vs. overlays are the most popular and available cabinetry. You can choose to go with an inset, full or partial overlay. Inset and full overlay cabinets offer a more custom and modern look, while partial overlay has a classic appeal. 

The appearance of your kitchen will fully reflect your cabinetry style. However, note that there’s no right or wrong choice for cabinetry. But the choice should be one that will offer you satisfaction over the years to come.

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