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The Cabinet Center / Cabinets  / Inset And Overlay – Differences Between Cabinets
Inset And Overlay

Inset And Overlay – Differences Between Cabinets

Stating that, “not all cabinets are the same,” is usually received one of two ways. If you’re telling that to a design enthusiast, they’ll scowl because they understand that cabinet design is infinitely intricate. Everyone else will be indifferent, because other than size, shape, and color, cabinets are cabinets. If you’re the former, there’s no need to feel contempt. If you’re the latter, you have a lot to learn, because not all cabinets are the sameTwo of the most significant identifying characteristics of cabinets are inset cabinets and overlay cabinets. Unless you go independent with open-shelf storage, inset and overlay are basically your only two choices in a two-party cabinet system. They each have their pros and cons and traditional cost-benefit tradeoffs. If you’re in the market for new cabinets and don’t know which to go with, it may help to know the differences between inset and overlay cabinets. Here they are:

Doors: Inset vs Overlay

The primary difference between the two is that inset cabinet doors are set into the cabinet frame and fit flush on the face of the cabinet. In contrast, overlay cabinet doors completely cover the cabinet face and require hinges.

Design Leanings

A huge difference between inset and overlay cabinets is found in design. They’re manufactured differently, making inset and overlay cabinets fundamentally different. As part of the larger design outcome, inset and overlay cabinets adapt to many different design styles and spaces. Inset cabinets feel more luxurious, sleek and timeless, and fit right in with minimalist, futuristic kitchens. Overlay cabinets look more traditional and ornate, and more flexibly fit into anything from traditional to contemporary.


Cost is a major difference between cabinets. It may surprise you that inset cabinets actually cost 15-30% more than overlay cabinets, but it’s the truth, and it’s not because of the materials used or other fixed-cost elements. It’s because of the craftsmanship and time required to manufacture inset cabinets that make them more expensive. With the higher cost, you get greater quality and a more luxurious design feel.


Cabinets also differ in practicality. For example, overlay cabinets are more susceptible to damage with their exposed doors and typically lower quality materials, while inset cabinet hardware is probably more obtrusive and prone to causing accidents.

Storage Space

You’d think that because inset cabinets usually cost a bit more than overlay cabinets, they should have proportionately more storage space, but that isn’t the case. What you pay more for in design adaptability and less interference (protruding frames, knobs, and handles) on the exteriors, you lose out on in terms of storage space. It also places a size limit on what each cabinet and drawer can store. Lastly, depending on heat and humidity levels, the built-in doors of inset cabinets and drawers may need adjusting as they may expand and create friction within their frames.

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