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Inset vs. Overlay Cabinet Doors

Should you choose inset or overlay cabinet doors for your kitchen renovation?

Choosing the right custom kitchen cabinets can be more work than you'd imagine. Let us walk you through Everything you need to know to choose the best kitchen cabinet design in 2023.

A gorgeous kitchen layout from

Inset vs Overlay kitchen cabinets

Every great kitchen has one important thing in common: a well planned cabinet layout. When planning your kitchen cabinet design, one of the first questions you'll ask is "should I do inset or overlay kitchen cabinets?" Poiema has been designing and building custom kitchen cabinets for our customers for many years. We know how challenging it can be to find trustworthy information to help you make a wise decision, and how making the wrong choice could cost you thousands in unexpected expenses.

In this post we'll lay out all the pros and cons behind inset and overlay kitchen cabinets to help you determine which option is best for you. Let's get started!


What's the difference between Inset and Overlay Cabinets?

When talking about cabinet design, you may often hear the phrases inset and overlay. These terms refer to the type of cabinet door that is built. Each door style has its pros and cons, including aesthetic differences, functionality and longevity. Depending on the look you're hoping to achieve, a designer may recommend one option over the other.

What is an overlay cabinet door?

Let's start by taking a look at how a standard kitchen cabinet is built. This will help us visualize the difference between inset and overlay doors.

Face Frame Cabinet
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A traditional cabinet is made of plywood construction. It's a simple box frame that serves as a shell for shelves, and to which our cabinet door will later be mounted. In the image above we see a "face frame cabinet". In this construction, the cabinet box is framed at it's face with wooden stiles and rails. This serves as a base to which the overlay door rests.

Overlay shaker cabinet

The above image shows a shaker style cabinet face with an overlayed door. Notice how the door rests on top of (or outside of) the cabinet box. Although not the same as an inset door, this is a very clean look and a popular choice for most kitchen designs.

Full-overlay cabinet doors have extra-large fronts that are designed to fully cover the face frame of the cabinet shell. With this design, the face frame is fully hidden by the doors. This method of cabinet making requires less skill than an inset door, and allows for quicker build times, which in turn usually means they are less-expensive.

Note: If you're contractor is recommending overlay doors, or just doesn't give you an option, make sure the reason behind their recommendation isn't that they don't have the skill to provide a quality product.

Overlay Cabinet Doors: Pros

  • Streamlined Look: Full overlay doors can provide a smooth appearance, and are a popular choice among many homes today.

  • More storage: An overlay door allows more space inside the cabinet box, so the drawers can be larger, providing more storage.

  • Less Expensive: 15-30% less expensive than inset doors.

  • Flexible: Because of their layover construction, overlay doors don't suffer from the same issues inset doors do when your foundation shifts. Small movements from a settling foundation usually don't affect an overlay door. The layover construction allows more space for the doors to move along with the foundation.

Overlay Cabinet Doors: Cons

  • Exposed Edges: Since the doors are exposed, it's easier for people and objects to bump against the edges, causing premature wear and tear.

What is an inset cabinet door?

Inset cabinets, also known as flush kitchen cabinets, have a door face that rests completely flush with the face frame.. For visualization, when you close an inset cabinet, the surface of the cabinets all the way across is flat. Depending on your preference, you can choose to pair inset cabinets with hidden or visible hinges.

Overlay shaker cabinet

The image above shows a shaker style cabinet face with an inset door. Notice how the door rests flush with (or inside of) the cabinet box. This style is often preferred by designers, and the team here at Poiema, because of its clean and timeless appearance.

Inset doors require a much greater level of craftsmanship than an overlay door. Because of this, these products are often 15-30% more expensive than an overlay cabinet. However, the quality of product received by a professional cabinet maker when ordering an inset door is often a reward in itself and well worth the additional cost if it fits in your renovation budget.

Inset Cabinet Doors: Pros

  • Clean Look: Full overlay doors can provide a clean and classic appearance. This style has seen an uprise in popularity since 2020, and are still a popular choice among most designers in 2023.

  • Less Damageable: Because the door face rests completely inside the face frame, there's a less likelihood that the edges of the door gets damaged from abrasions.

  • Craftsmanship: The quality of these cabinets are often less streamlined, so you'll receive a higher level of precision and skill.

Inset Cabinet Doors: Cons

  • Cost: Because greater skill is required to build these cabinets, the cost is usually 15-30% more than an overlay cabinet.

  • Storage: Since the door face sits within the frame, drawer boxes have to be smaller in order to fit within the cabinet box. This results in less storage.

  • Expansion: Inset doors often suffer from expansion, especially in humid climates, and have a tendency to stick when opening or closing. Homes with soft soil or known foundation issues should often avoid this cabinet style to prevent long-term problems.

Which is best for you?

We hope this article has given you the information you need to make the right choice on your next kitchen makeover! To summarize, if your home has foundation issues, or you have a smaller budget, try to stick with an overlay door style. If you're designing a new construction, have more cushion in your budget, and your builder is confident that foundation issues won't cause any issues, then an inset door can be a great and timeless option. You really can't go wrong with either design!

Happy Renovating!



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