Full Overlay, or Partial Overlay on Kitchen Cabinets, the choice is Yours.

Full Overlay Doors and Drawers on Kitchen Cabinets.

If you are building a new house, or remodeling a kitchen, bath, possibly a study-home office or even a dressing room, choosing cabinets for those spaces will be something that you will be doing.  For most people, the two cabinet door types that they will be looking at will be either Full Overlay or Partial Overlay.  This post looks at the difference between the two style options.

Full Overlay Doors, sometimes also called Modified Full Overlay..
The above photo, which is the cover photo for this post, shows a wall of kitchen cabinets done in a Full Overlay.  Looking at the cabinets you will see that very little cabinet frame is showing between both door and drawer fronts. The look is trying to mimic fine furniture. The Full Overlay door is a bit larger of size and more heavier looking than Partial Overlay doors because when installed, it’s door, door, door and drawer, drawer, drawer one after another with no space for the eye to rest. The Full Overlay door is a more current design look and is a more expensive cabinet option because more wood is used to completely cover the cabinet boxes.

A kitchen with Partial Overlap Cabinets

Partial Overlay Doors, sometimes also called Standard,  Traditional or Half Overlay..
The above photo shows an example of a kitchen where Partial Overlay cabinets have been used. In this kitchen you can see some cabinet frame around each door and drawer front (most often about an inch or so), which gives this kitchen space a less heavy look. The spacing between the doors and drawers provides a relaxed spot for the eye to rest, as it goes across the fronts of the cabinets. The Partial Overlay cabinet has been around for years and is a less expensive door and drawer option because the door and drawer fronts are smaller than Full Overlay doors and drawers.  The quality of the partial overlay door is equal to a full overlay door, but less wood is used in its construction, as it does not have to cover the full cabinet frame.

Construction of Cabinet doors

Now let’s look at the construction of Joints on cabinet doors and drawers.

Illustration #1, seen above, shows the stiles of a cabinet door that is Mitered. The purpose of this kind of joinery is to bring together two parts at equal angles to form edges, just like the construction of a picture frame.

Illustrations #2 and 2a shows a Mortise and Tenon joint. Illustration 2a shows the tenon, which is the piece of wood on the left that is jutting out and the mortise on the right, which it will be inserted into.

Illustration #3 shows a kind of Shaker cabinet door held together using Miter joinery, illustration #4 shows an arched top cabinet door with Mortise and Tenon joinery.

Humidity will affect cabinet joinery as the cabinets expand and contract during the year. No matter if a cabinet is top-of-the-line or not, cabinet joints will eventually open up a bit, especially during Winter months when heat dries things out. Hairline cracks between the stiles and rails are going to show up, and there is no getting away from it. I have seen dark stained cabinets that you can see the light color of the wooden interior where the joints have separated. If you have painted cabinets, some cracking will eventually show up also. When it comes to cracking, people don’t seem to notice or mind the opening up of the mortise and tenon joints, as they are up-and-down/vertical cracks. People seem to be more turned off by the opening up of mitered corners, as those cracks are on an angle.

When you look at cabinets in, let’s say, the Shaker style, which has a recessed center panel, like illustration #3, the recessed center panel will be composed of a wood veneer, so you don’t get cracking down the center of the door when humidity changes. Raised panel doors, even if they are high-end, might show some vertical hairline cracks.  When a cabinet-maker joins two or more smaller pieces of wood together, to make one large panel, over time, those joined pieces could also separate a bit. Some cabinet manufacturers offer a raised panel door with a veneer top on it to hide eventual cracking.

Things to think about when selecting kitchen cabinets..

When picking out cabinets for your kitchen, think about how you want the room to look. If you want it to feel light and airy  go for the partial overlay cabinet door style, and consider one with minimal detailing on the inside and outside edges of the door’s frame.  Less detailing means a lesser price, not lesser quality.  If you want a more substantial look go for the full overlay and possibly a raised panel door.

When looking at cabinets, think about the kind of house you live in and how long you will be staying there.  If you live in a Cape Cod styled house, and you plan to live there forever, go right ahead and put in that Mediterranean villa styled kitchen that you admire.  If you don’t get your money back at the end, it doesn’t matter.  Otherwise think about the style of  house you live in and pick cabinets that you can live with, and really go with the building itself.

Think about buying cabinets in woods like Maple.  Maple is a strong wood, has minimal wood grain and looks nice stained or painted.  If you select Oak or Hickory for your cabinets, which have a lot of pronounced grain, those kind of wood grains will create busy movements up and across your cabinets.   If you have busy looking cabinets, you will then want to stay away from countertops, backsplashes, patterned wallpaper and flooring that is also too patterned or busy, as each of those things could fight one-another and your cabinets for kitchen  supremacy.

Think about the cabinet doors you pick.  If you pick something like the arched topped door, seen in illustration #4, you have a lot of extra movement around the top of your kitchen with all of those arches running one after another.

Did you know that painted cabinets cost more than stained ones?  A plain styled, lower priced cabinet, void of any decorative details, can go quickly up in price with a painted finish.

Finally the number one thing a person should think about when choosing cabinets, and it’s not about the doors and drawers. It’s about the construction of the cabinets themselves. If you can, pay for upgrades like all plywood construction, instead of getting the starter level cabinets made of furniture board. Make sure your cabinet have dovetailed drawers and that they are made of solid wood and invest in Soft-Closing drawers and doors.

So there you have it, a tutorial about choosing cabinets, I hope my post was inspiring.

If you have a minute look at my Instagram to see what interests me and what I’m up to https://www.instagram.com/fredgonsowski/?hl=en
and read the Companion posts.

Companion Posts on FredGonsowskiGardenHome.com
Color Theory..When Interior Decorating a Room, Remember Wood is a color too 3-9-2013,
Knobs, Pulls or Both on Kitchen Cabinets 4-10-2019,
Pick (Use) Four colors when Decorating a Room 3-7-2011,
Picking and Hanging the Right size Picture or Mirror over your Fireplace 6-23-2011,
Hanging Pictures Around a Room 8-3-2011,
Looking at Patterns used in Interior Decorating on Fabric, Drapes, Wallpaper and Carpeting 3-10-2012,
Arranging furniture 12 Different ways in the Same Room 9-15-2012,
How to Pick the Perfect GRAY Paint..A popular Choice of the moment 2-15-2014,
The RIGHT height of Table Lamp for your End Table 5-19-2011.


About fredgonsowskigardenhome

Your eyes deserve to view beauty. I hope Fred Gonsowski Garden Home helps to turn your vision, into a reality.
This entry was posted in Interior Decorating Principles, Kitchen. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Full Overlay, or Partial Overlay on Kitchen Cabinets, the choice is Yours.

  1. Joy von Glueck says:

    So Great to hear from you –and with Another educational piece that really opens my eyes to the reasons my own kitchen is not really “working.” ( Ill post a pic later)-but talking about how you need to be careful that you don’t end up with Too much going on between your cabinets( like having hickory), backsplash AND having very demonstrative colored granite. hmmmmmmm- think you identified why when I walk in the room something just does Not feel balanced..You Are Amazing—your insight is much more than educational facts…Thank you again Fred!!

    • Hi there Joy, I think when a person is planning a kitchen, they should think about keeping it simple and neutral of color, so it is hopefully timeless and is a neutral background that you can put seasonal decorations in front of as your pops of color. I am not a fan of overly busy countertops that fight your countertop appliances, fruit bowls, dishes or any kind of flower arrangement that might be in your kitchen. If a person wants color do it with place-mats, seasonal decorations, tablecloths, etc; inexpensive things that you can quickly change out and make a different look. A contractor that I’ve worked with says most people, that he is doing remodels for, now are doing white kitchens and rarely does he have a customer that wants cabinets in wood tones. The white cabinets suggest light and airy, and if you have an open concept room, white cabinets don’t look all that heavy on one side of the room. If you have dark cabinets, you have to counterbalance the dark cabinets with other heavy looking things on the other side of the room, and that dark visual weight could make the room look small. I’ve gone on many builder showcases of homes in the Saratoga Springs and Capital District of Albany, NY and they seem to only do white cabinets, but if there is an island in the space, that island might be a wood tone or a painted cabinet.

      It was soo nice hearing from you Joy, HAPPY SPRING and all my best to you ;-}

  2. Margaret says:

    I would have never known that painted cabinets were more expensive than stained ones, and could never understand why these “boxes” were so costly but now I do. So many details! The Easter cakes on your Instagram are so pretty and festive, just what’s needed to help usher in sunnier days. Happy Spring Fred!

    • Hi there Margaret, HAPPY SPRING to you too. Until a person is doing a kitchen, they never know how many details must be gone over, and considered.

      The Easter cakes, besides looking festive are really delicious. They are coconut almond flavored, yum ;-}

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