The Complete Guide to Full Overlay Kitchen Cabinets

If you’re remodeling your kitchen or building a new home, choosing the right cabinetry is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. The style of your cabinets impacts the whole aesthetic of the space, while also needing to be functional and durable for years to come.

Full overlay cabinets have become increasingly popular options for contemporary kitchen designs. But what exactly are full overlay cabinets, and what are the benefits and considerations of selecting them? This complete guide will give you all the details you need for designing your dream kitchen with full overlay cabinetry.

What Are Full Overlay Cabinets?

Full overlay kitchen cabinets completely cover the face frame so that none of the structural box is visible when the doors and drawers are closed. The doors overlay the opening by at least 1/2 inch on all sides, resulting in very minimal reveals between adjacent doors and drawers. The exposed portion of the cabinet case is only about 1/8 inch around the perimeter of the cabinet opening.

This differs from partial overlay cabinets, where a portion of the cabinet face frame remains exposed. Partial overlay doors and drawer fronts sit back about 1/4 inch from the opening, leaving more of a gap between them. The exposed case around a partial overlay cabinet is usually about 1 inch wide.

The main benefit of the full overlay design is it provides a very streamlined, minimalist look. The concealed cabinet frame and nearly invisible reveals give full overlay cabinets a sleek, contemporary style. Their seamless aesthetic makes them ideal for modern or transitional kitchens with clean lines.

Common Door Styles for Full Overlay Cabinets

While full overlay cabinets all share the same basic construction, you still have numerous options when it comes to the door style. Here are some of the most popular door designs that work well with full overlay cabinets:


Shaker cabinet doors have a very simple, flat center panel bordered by a square frame. Their straightforward styling complements the streamlined look of full overlay cabinets. Shaker cabinets provide a bit of visual interest while still being understated.


Slab cabinet doors live up to their name – they consist of a single flat, solid slab without any trim. Going handle-less with full slab doors creates a super minimalist, contemporary look. The lack of hardware further streamlines the aesthetic.

full overlay cabinet doors

Raised Panel

For a slightly more traditional flair, raised panel doors feature a center panel that sits higher than the surrounding frame. The dimensional detailing adds interest while still fitting with the overlay style. The shaded inner grooves provide subtle contrast.

Glass Insert

Glass insert doors combine a metal or wood frame with frosted, etched, or colored glass. They allow for open shelving in some areas while maintaining the streamlined overlay aesthetic. The glass instantly lightens up the look of the kitchen.

Benefits of Full Overlay Kitchen Cabinets

So why should you consider full overlay cabinets for your kitchen design? Here are some of the top benefits that make them a popular choice:

Streamlined, Minimalist Look

The main appeal of full overlay cabinets is the clean, minimalist appearance they provide. Their nearly invisible reveals and concealed case trim result in a super streamlined aesthetic perfect for contemporary spaces. The slab-style doors enhance the seamless effect.

Maximized Storage Space

With full overlay construction, you get to take full advantage of every inch of cabinet space. Unlike partial overlay designs, full overlay minimizes gaps between doors and drawers. You have more usable depth inside each cabinet box since it’s fully covered by the door. This efficient utilization of space translates to more storage capacity.

Design Flexibility

While they inherently provide a very modern look, full overlay cabinets still offer flexibility for various design styles. Their streamlined aesthetic complements open, airy floor plans. Full overlay cabinets can also be mixed with other door styles like raised panels for a transitional vibe. The concealed hinges allow for seamless mixing of painted cabinets in bold, contrasting colors.

Considerations When Choosing Full Overlay Cabinets

Despite their many benefits, full overlay cabinets aren’t necessarily right for every kitchen. There are a few factors to keep in mind before selecting them:


Due to the precision construction they require, full overlay cabinets come at a higher price than partial overlay designs. Each door must be perfectly sized to overlay the case trim by a consistent margin. The assembly process requires special expertise which is reflected in the cost. They range from approximately 20-50% more than comparable partial overlay cabinets.


Maintaining full overlay doors can also require a bit more care and periodic adjustments. Since the hinges are completely concealed with no exposed case trim, accessing them for adjustments is trickier. Keeping doors properly aligned and functioning smoothly may need minor tweaks seasonally as your home shifts.

Limited Customization

The ultra-streamlined look also means full overlay cabinets don’t lend themselves as well to certain customizations. You generally can’t use decorative knobs or handles since the hinges are hidden. Changing up the style of doors in the future is also very difficult with full overlay construction. Once they’re installed, you’re pretty locked into a particular look.

Full Overlay vs. Partial Overlay Cabinets

To help decide which is best for your kitchen, here’s a quick comparison of the main differences between full overlay and partial overlay cabinets:

Partial Overlay Cabinets

  • Door overlays main case trim by only about 1/4 inch
  • Leaves 1 inch or more of cabinet face frame exposed
  • Provides visible gaps between doors and drawer fronts
  • Typically the more affordable and customizable option

Full Overlay Cabinets

  • Door overlays main case trim by 1/2 inch or more
  • Fully conceals cabinet frame behind doors
  • Minimizes reveals between doors/drawers to 1/8 inch or less
  • Sleek, contemporary look but more expensive

Partial overlay cabinets tend to cost 20-50% less than full overlay designs. But they lack the seamless minimalism that makes full overlay cabinets so desirable for contemporary spaces. It comes down to which aesthetic and functional qualities are most important for your kitchen vision.

Design Tips for Full Overlay Kitchen Cabinets

If you do opt for full overlay cabinets, there are some design strategies to implement that will allow you to make the most of them:

Mixing Cabinet Colors

One great advantage of full overlay construction is it allows you to seamlessly integrate cabinets finished in different colors. You can, for instance, pair a lighter upper cabinet color with a dramatic dark lower cabinet color. The continuous case trim gets concealed behind the doors, so you don’t see mismatched frames.

Some popular color combinations for two-tone full overlay kitchens include:

  • White uppers, navy lowers
  • Gray uppers, black lowers
  • Beige uppers, espresso lowers
  • Light blue uppers, emerald green lowers

Don’t be afraid to have some fun and get creative with your full overlay color pairings! The clean overlay lines will pull even bold colors together beautifully.

Hardware Selection

Since most full overlay cabinet designs utilize concealed hinges, you generally want to stick with minimal hardware, if any at all. Simple bar pulls in a matching finish blend right into the streamlined look. For a super contemporary vibe, go for totally handle-less drawers and doors. This maintains the ultra-minimalist aesthetic.

If you do include hardware, position knobs or pulls toward the top of drawers and lower portion of doors. This keeps lines clean while still providing some grip room.

Cabinet Dimensions

With full overlay cabinets, ensuring proper clearance is extra crucial. You typically need a minimum of 1/2 inch overlay around each door and drawer front to hide case trim. This means your interior cabinet dimensions need to account for this overlay margin plus reveals between adjacent openings.

Standard full overlay cabinets require:

  • 1/2″ door/drawer overlay
  • 1/8″ reveal between doors and drawers
  • 1/4″ total reveal from end cabinets to side walls

Factor these minimum reveals into interior dimensions to prevent issues. And remember to leave adequate space around appliances, corners, and other functional areas.

Installing Full Overlay Kitchen Cabinets

Getting full overlay cabinets properly installed is key to maximizing their benefits. Here are some tips for either DIY or professional installation:

Professional Installation

Due to their precision fit, most homeowners opt to hire professionals to tackle full overlay cabinet installation. Look for an experienced kitchen remodeler or carpenter skilled in cabinetry. They’ll have the right tools and expertise for a flawless overlay installation.

Be sure to communicate that your cabinets are the full overlay style so they take proper care aligning and securing them. Expect to pay $100-$200 per hour for pro installation services.

DIY Installation Tips

Installing full overlay cabinets yourself is possible if you have advanced DIY skills. Be prepared for it to be labor intensive. Follow these tips:

  • Use a laser level to mark layout lines to ensure cabinets are perfectly plumb and level
  • Clamp cabinets together and pre-drill holes for fasteners to prevent shifting
  • Use scrap wood spacers and shims to provide consistent margins and reveals
  • Adjust hinge plates carefully as you go to align doors properly
  • Work slowly and methodically to achieve seamless final results

With practice, patience, and the right tools, DIY full overlay installation can save on labor costs. But don’t be afraid to call in a pro if the precision required becomes overwhelming.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you’re still undecided on whether full overlay cabinets are right for your kitchen, here are answers to some common questions:

Are full overlay cabinets more expensive?

Yes, due to their demanding installation and construction, full overlay cabinets are typically 20-50% more expensive than comparable partial overlay options.

Do full overlay cabinets work in small kitchens?

Definitely. The streamlined aesthetic of full overlay cabinets can actually make a small kitchen appear larger. Just be sure to allow for proper clearances.

Can you adjust full overlay doors after installation?

Some minor adjustment is possible by tweaking the concealed hinges. But in general, full overlay doors are difficult to restyle after installation due to their tight fit.

Do full overlay cabinets have more storage space?

Yes, since they fully hide the face frame, full overlay maximizes usable interior depth and storage capacity.

Can you mix full overlay with other cabinet styles?

It’s best to stick with full overlay cabinets only, since the cabinet dimensions are very precise. Mixing them with other styles can throw off alignments.

If you love the look of a super minimalist, modern kitchen design, full overlay cabinets can help you achieve that aesthetic beautifully. Their nearly invisible reveals and concealed trim provide uninterrupted lines that feel sleek yet warm. Combining them with contrasting two-tone colors creates a striking, contemporary statement.

Just be prepared for the added cost and need for precision associated with full overlay cabinetry. Taking time to design within their dimensional constraints will ensure your kitchen functions as flawlessly as it looks. With strategic planning and expert installation, full overlay cabinets provide a streamlined perfection that works in any contemporary home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *