inset with beaded face frame

Cabinets come in a wide variety of styles, materials, colors and shapes.

There is a continuing debate about which type of cabinet door is better, inset or overlay, and it ends up being a personal choice as well as what type of budget is allocated. You might also consider which one your cabinet maker specializes in and is most experienced in building. The difference is the look and amount of available space and the cost. Quality is not defined by the way the door is attached but by whether the cabinet and drawers are built square and have good engineering and solid materials.


Inset is a very traditional and classic look, provides a furniture appearance, and is more expensive, sometimes as much as double the price of overlay doors. Inset was popular before the 1950s and in furniture but became less popular until recently when it re-surged to the forefront. It is an architectural style to choose if you want your older home and the kitchen to work well together.
But you have to be willing to give up some function for form. Inset limits, to a degree, access and drawer size. You may have no idea of the vast amount of cabinet space you will probably lose and how you may have to “puzzle piece” your cookware and containers in order for the drawers to close.
Full inset will have a stile and rail door with a raised or flat panel. The insets are beautiful, but the hinges can be on the inside of the cabinets and thus take up extra space. This selection would not be a good decision if storage space is an issue in the kitchen because the decorative elements that usually go with inset doors use up space like crazy. Pre World War II hinges were usually exposed on inset cabinets. If you have something like a late 1970s Colonial home, insets make it look like an older, more traditional home.


Partial overlay is the most traditional of looks and the cheapest. The doors don’t cover the face frames completely, thus needing less wood and are able to be less expensive. This was the standard for many years and still probably looks best with a traditional home.
Full overlay has become the new standard and is considered to be a more modern or contemporary look. Because the doors take more wood, it is more expensive than partial overlay. It is a Euro style that originated in post war Germany.
Full overlay has more storage space and usually costs less than inset. If you do not have a huge kitchen, full overlay is a space consideration because you will not lose cabinet space as you would with inset.
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