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Designing #SocietySocialHome: Inset vs. Overlay Cabinets

Cabinets! Inset vs. Overlay? As we make our final decisions on the house, we've found one decision to be particularly difficult! We absolutely love the look of inset cabinets but are hesitant to pull the trigger because of the dramatic price difference ($$$!) and potential maintenance over time. Should we go overlay? In a recent Instagram poll over @societysocial, you guys were split 50/50, too! So, we decided to ask our favorite experts. 
5 interior designers / builders weigh in: Inset vs Overlay!
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With over 25 years of combined experience Tom and Cara have a true passion for creating beautiful, timeless homes and spaces, specializing in classic design, millwork and wainscoting. Based in Salt Lake City, they offer complete architectural plans and design and build/renovations of custom homes, long distance services of architectural plans and home design, as well as furnishings and styling. Along with their incredible team of the finest artisans and craftsmen, let us help you create a true haven of a home, built with the highest quality and designed to stand the test of time.
Tom and I are big fans of inset cabinetry. We feel like inset cabinets are truly timeless. Inspired by the work of skilled craftsmen and artisans of the Georgian and Victorian periods, inset cabinets give a nod to nostalgic styling and provide a true heritage look for a home. Because only skilled cabinet makers can pull off an true inset flush door, the quality is superior and often the cabinetry resembles more high end furniture. Inset cabinetry has perfect and clean lines, flush inset doors and features. With inset cabinets, you can personalize the design with either beaded or non-beaded details as well as time period and incredible hardware and latches. The beaded inset construction is fitted into the cabinet door creating an absolutely beautiful edge detail that evokes fine craftsmanship.

Cynthia Collins is a full-scale interior designer based in Dallas, TX.  She has had the opportunity to work on projects all over the country.  She and her team strive to balance a refined, sophisticated taste within every space while highlighting each client’s distinctive lifestyle and personality. Each detail is meticulously planned with the client in mind and chosen for its functionality, meaning and beauty.  She has a true servant's heart in everything she does and wants the very best experience for her team and clients.
Both! We specify overlay and inset cabinets all the time. Creating custom cabinetry gives us the ability to change the width of the styles and rails to create different looks. Just a 1/2" or 1" smaller or larger can change the whole feel quickly.  We get pretty specific with our shop drawings. There isn't a right or wrong but you will want to have a great workshop for inset...that work is precise! 

Alexis Cabinet Works, owned by Van and Sheila Sadler is a little shop in Alexis building high end custom cabinetry using all domestic products. Van has been building and designing amazing spaces for 20 years and both Van & Sheila love making a big difference in a small town. 
Both styles can be great choices with a reliable cabinet builder in a sound built home. With that said, we think overlay is the best option as you can still get a sleek design with a seamless look and can allow a larger margin for movement. If you are using real wood to build a long lasting inset cabinet, the wood will shrink and expand during climate and humidity changes.  If you've made a door or drawer front with a tight reveal (which is what makes inset look so great) weather changes cause the doors to expand and shrink causing it to rub or create uneven gapping. Also inset leaves less room and usable space inside the cabinet for dishes due to hardware and drawer slide build out requirements. At ACW we use a face frame overlay to allow a larger margin for movement. Overlay can be used in two different styles- Euro/ frameless or with face frames. We preferably use a face frame style because it allows adjustments inside the cabinets that are not noticed from the exterior.  With those adjustments any movement in your home due to settling or climate can be adjusted internally within our personal one year warranty. With overlay you are also able to mask walls that are not square- this is crucial in remodels and houses that have been framed poorly. 

Allison Elebash is a Charleston, SC based interior designer with roots in the coastal Southeast. From 2008-2012, Allison and her family lived on the island of St. Kitts to work on the launch of Christophe Harbour, a luxury resort community. Allison's design sensibility reflects her connection to the Southeastern and Caribbean beauty of seaside environments. Her interiors are clean, airy, and elegant with a brightness of mood and ease of livability. Her work has been featured in numerous publications, including Coastal Living, Better Homes & Gardens, Charleston Magazine, MACO Caribbean Living, Cocotraie, Real Life, Oasis, and various interior design blogs. 

Inset! It's a timeless, more modern style that is seamless and provides a "cleaner' style for the kitchen.  Inset cabinets appear more custom than overlay cabinets. I say go ahead and splurge, if possible, on the inset because the cabinet style is something that you typically won't change for 15+years. You can always re-paint cabinets, but changing the style requires renovating or replacing the cabinets, which is a much bigger project. Below is an image of a kitchen we recently completed at Kiawah Island, South Carolina.   


Lydia Menzies is the owner and editor of The Party Wagon - a website devoted to making the most of celebrations and lifestyle! She and her husband recently restored an old house to be their new home for their 2 children, 2 rescue cats, and 2 Golden Doodle pups. Come join the party!
My husband and I both love the look of inset cabinets, but we didn’t love the way we would lose space inside the cabinets. In order to optimize our space and maintain the look that we preferred, we asked our cabinet makers to modify overlay cabinets. My husband who is a builder designed the overlay cabinetry and changed the space between cabinet doors to be no more than a 1/2 inch so that it looked prettier. Another factor that helped us decide on customized overlay cabinets was that, with  inset cabinets, you often end up with doors not closing as well after house settling and expansion that occur in humid climates. We love how the customized overlay cabinet design was a perfect solution for us! This idea worked to give us a practical, hard-working space to accommodate storage needs for tableware while maintaining the aesthetic we wanted in our new kitchen. 

So which team are you? Inset or Overlay! Comment below! Next up our group of experts will weigh in on wallpaper!

We cannot wait!