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THIS is why some cabinets look expensive: the 3 types of cabinets

Have you ever walked into a house and known that the cabinets look nice and expensive but you just can’t quite put your finger on why?

The obvious answer is the finish, right? High end wood or a lacquer paint. And sure, the finish makes a big difference. But it’s not the main differentiator.

Warning: once you know this information, you can’t unlearn it. Sorry in advance if it makes you hate your cabinets.


By and large, most cabinets come in one of three flavors:

  1. Standard Overlay

  2. Full Overlay

  3. Inset

Let’s break these down and talk about why you might choose one over the other.


3 types of cabinets standard overlay

This is, as the name implies, standard. When you picture a builder basic cabinet, something that you see in nearly every home and all home improvement stores, it’s this.

In a Standard Overlay cabinet, the cabinet door just overlays the opening for the door, covering just a smidge of the cabinet box itself, leaving large gaps between doors and around the doors, like this:

3 types of cabinets full overlay

This is the least expensive option because there is a huge tolerance. If a door is a little bit large or small, or the cabinets installed slightly unlevel, you won’t really notice because of the big ol' gaps. This is why it’s the builder standard. The cabinet makers and installers can be less precise.

If you’re DIYing or trying to stretch your budget, standard overlay might be the door style for you.

3 types of cabinets standard overlay

Let’s compare that to...


Here, the doors and drawer fronts are also overlapping the cabinet boxes, but the gap between the doors is TINY. Usually in the neighborhood of about 1/8" to 1/4".

This gives a much more high end look. Everything looks fitted and finished. Scroll back to the Standard Overlay and see the difference!

You’ll see this style in both modern and traditional cabinets, and everything in between. It's incredibly versatile.

There’s a jump in cost here from Standard Overlay, since the doors and drawer fronts have to be precise to make sure the gaps between them are consistent. If the spacing on some doors is 1/4" and others are 1/2", your eye is going to notice that immediately. It has to be consistent to pull it off.

If you want a more modern or European aesthetic, or a traditional or transitional style with a gorgeous, clean look, full overlay might be for you.

3 types of cabinets full overlay

A step up from that is...


3 types of cabinets inset

3 types of cabinets inset

Inset cabinets have the doors and drawer fronts inset in the cabinet box, meaning the entire cabinet front is flush. This is the most expensive style because not only do the doors have to be incredibly precise, but the cut openings for the drawers and cabinets have to be just as precise.

This gives a gorgeous, classic look to cabinets. Due to the precision required, inset cabinets are the most expensive option.

If you like cabinets that have a furniture-feel, want a bit more traditional old world style, or just want your cabinets to look luxury and high end, inset might be the style for you.

3 types of cabinets inset


There are no hard and fast rules for how much of a cost jump you’ll find between Standard Overlay, Full Overlay, and Inset. We’ve priced this out for clients before and Inset was only nominally higher than Full overlay, but other times it can increase the cost by 30%.

The good news is that if you’re pricing cabinets, your contractor or millworker should be able to tell you what you can expect in terms of a cost difference.


It is VERY common to have more than one cabinet style in your home. You can opt to upgrade the most visible areas (kitchen, living room, master bath) to a full overlay or inset, and drop it back a notch in the less visible areas (laundry, kids bathroom) to help your budget.

Hope this helps you in your cabinetry selection process. And now you can impress your friends at parties with your vast cabinetry knowledge. wink

3 types of cabinets kitchen bathroom

3 types of cabinets

3 types of cabinets


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