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Inset Kitchen Cabinets...Beaded Inset vs Plain Inset

showing plain inset doors

showing plain inset doors

Using inset kitchen cabinets.

Hello kitchen cabinet shopper. If you have not read any of my other kitchen related hubs, please use my bio page to access other kitchen design tips. Kitchen design has been my lifelong passion.

This particular article is about cabinet style options, specifically my absolute favorite; 'inset' or 'beaded inset' cabinets. The image shown here to the right is a terrific visual of inset kitchen cabinets and doors.

Simply put, the doors and the drawer fronts are flush with the frame of the cabinet...see what I mean? Very often this style option is not so immediately apparent when featured in a whole kitchen. Other aesthetics tend to grab your eye first. It is actually a subtle detail but hugely effective to replicate vintage kitchens or 'old world' kitchens.

Many occasions I've had clients come to me with 5 or 10 kitchen clippings showing me what they like best. The common thread between each is the inset or beaded inset cabinet styling. Only when I bring that particular detail to their attention close up do they 'get it'...and love it.

Showing white beaded inset cabinets

Showing white beaded inset cabinets

Beaded Inset cabinets for a distressed kitchen

Beaded Inset cabinets for a distressed kitchen

A 'beaded' inset cabinet detail

If you noticed in the very first image, the 3 adjacent inset doors have a very 'plain' look. therefore the term..'plain inset'. Opposed to 'beaded' inset. 'Beaded' inset cabinet means adding a subtle groove to the face-frame on all four edges of the door.

Both doors shown at right here include a beaded (grooved) detail. That 'groove' essentially creates a shadow effect and slightly different look than 'plain' inset or 'square' inset cabinets. Personally, I prefer this beaded inset style over the plain inset.

The other choice you should have is the hinging. Look again at the very first image above, no visible hinges. Then to the close-up images to the right...notice the partially exposed butt hinges...those are true to the period look. Putting all this together your choices should be as follows...

  • plain (square) inset cabinets with concealed hinges
  • plain (square) inset cabinets with exposed hinges
  • beaded (grooved) inset with concealed hinges
  • beaded (grooved) inset with exposed hinges

As you browse through kitchen images on line, try to pick up on these variations, you'll notice kitchens done all 4 ways.

Inset cabinet doors were originally used in the 1800's and through to the 20's when all cabinets were built on the job by craftsman. For vintage kitchens true to the time period the plain inset cabinets with semi-exposed hinges would be the accurate choice. You will see an image of an original 1920s cabinets further down.this article.

Inset, brand to brand.

If you are considering true inset cabinets for a major project and have your design work in order, feel free to contact this author from my profile page for a simple brand to brand comparison. I have factory net prices on several major inset manufacturers and can verify your budget or your actual estimate.

Showing 'beaded' inset cabinets with exposed hinges

Beaded inset kitchen cabinet with exposed hinges

Beaded inset kitchen cabinet with exposed hinges

Another close up of beaded inset with 'old world' distressed finish

Another close up of beaded inset with 'old world' distressed finish

Inset cabinets for distressed kitchens

The image immediately below is a close up view of a beaded inset cabinet with the hinges exposed. Very nice.These particular images also show some of the authentic distressing details available to recreate a vintage kitchen such as...

  • Open joints
  • Crackling
  • Worn through
  • Fly specking, worm holes and dents
  • Glazing

Original 1920s cabinets with 'plain' inset doors

The way cabinets were made 100 yrs ago...note the latches and hinges

The way cabinets were made 100 yrs ago...note the latches and hinges

Absolutely flawless original vintage cabinets. Note the lack of toe space...continuous crown trim from cabinets to window, correct hinges and latches. These are original,  never painted, cabinets.

Absolutely flawless original vintage cabinets. Note the lack of toe space...continuous crown trim from cabinets to window, correct hinges and latches. These are original, never painted, cabinets.

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Inset cabinets important for distressed and vintage kitchens

t's really quite ironic in the kitchen business...All the same reasons we tore out and disposed of kitchens just 40 years ago...worn through, beat up, open joints, crackled cabinets with exposed hinges, thumb latches and magnetic catches are being replicated as fashionable new kitchens!!

The absolute #1 most essential ingredient to replicate those old style cabinets is 'inset doors'. That's just the way cabinets were built 100 yrs. ago.

If you have made an online inquiry about inset kitchen cabinets maybe you want to know more about the cost premium involved. On its own, the upcharge for inset cabinet doors is trivial. But there is a catch....more on pricing to follow.

White beaded inset cabinets

White beaded inset. A timeless classic

White beaded inset. A timeless classic

White inset kitchen cabinets

The image above from Southern Living, and posted all over the internet. It is one of my favorite kitchens. I absolutely love every detail of this kitchen. Perfect form, perfect function....The hood canopy is a little top heavy, but is proportionate to the room size.

Note that the main kitchen sink is just out of the picture to the left, but I see a pot filler faucet above the 48'' commercial style range. Also note the functionally correct choice of a refrigerator...full width and hinged on the right. A side by side is not always the best functional choice refrigeration. I also like the choice of walnut for the extra thick island counter with the heavy roman ogee edge detail. The bar stools match nicely to that island countertop.

This kitchen is a classic example of the subtle but effective use of beaded inset kitchen cabinets with a painted finish. I expect this look to be around for a long time.

Same brand, same door, inset vs overlay cabinets


Inset kitchens pricing

The real cost issue using inset cabinets is not the actual inset upcharge. It's the simple fact that you'll be buying truly custom cabinets. Either from a local shop or a big custom cabinet brand like Mouser, Smithport or Woodmode. Building cabinets with inset doors requires a level of fit and finish you won't find with any mass produced cabinets.

Therefore, right off the bat you'll be 50=100% more than Kraftmaid type semi-custom cabinets

Once you have committed to a high quality custom cabinet line, the actual inset door premium is fairly minimal. For example as an average kitchen.

  • 28 inset doors x 35.00 per door = 980.00
  • 14 inset drawers x 15.00 per drawer = 210.00

So perhaps a $1,200 upcharge for inset kitchen cabinets vs overlay (see image above) for an average kitchen which will be a small percentage of the total project and perhaps the best 1,200 bucks you can spend within your new kitchen.

In yesterdays world of cabinetry, it was extremely easy to pick out a custom kitchen like St. Charles or Quakermaid from the only other options...stock cabinets like Merillat and Aristokraft. Those days are way, way behind. In fact, many readers will not even recognize those names.

In today's world, a top notch designer using a mid-priced semi-custom cabinet line with a reasonable budget can create a magazine worthy kitchen (aesthetically speaking). About the only thing left to define high end custom cabinets are the inset cabinet doors and perhaps the complex hand applied distressing details.

Buyer caution, 2014

Be aware that when a certain look in kitchen cabinets becomes popular at the upper end, it's only a matter of time before a cheap stock version shows up. That is happening right now with some imported Chinese knock-offs with very American sounding names. Look closely at how tight the door fits within the frame. If that reveal is more than 1/16", you will not be happy with the or aesthetics. Brookhaven (by Woodmode) is hands down the best value for American made inset cabinetry. If you'd like more details on all that, contact me from the info on my profile page. I have the pricing on various brands to share. Otherwise be very careful with 'never heard of' products out there.

More on 'plain' inset kitchen cabinets

I've spent a lot of time discussing 'beaded' inset kitchens. However I wanted to end this article where is started...with plain inset cabinets.

I was able to locate 3 images of plain inset kitchens shown below. The irony is that as visually different as each appear, in the world of custom kitchen cabinets all three are the same exact door style...recessed panel doors with slab front drawers. Although I personally prefer the beaded inset, the plain inset (as pictured below) are actually more true to the time period.

Images of 'plain' inset kitchens



To sum up the topic on inset kitchens, this style of cabinet construction has been widely available for since 1998. Today, fifteen years later, I am very comfortable stating..."This is not a fading fad".

In the world of kitchen fashion, all fads tend to pass as soon as a look becomes overdone. It only becomes overdone when available at any price point. I just don't see that happening with inset kitchen cabinets. I love will you!!

My other kitchen articles

Comments on inset cabinets

Jan on May 18, 2017:

I am having my kitchen remodeled soon. My style is transitional and wonder if the beaded or plain inset cabinets fit this style.

Dave Hatton (author) from PA/SC..USA on September 26, 2014:

Hi Cynthia...yes I am pretty well informed on 6 square. You'll find my contact info on my profile page. I can be way more helpful that way..

CYNTHIA LATHAM on September 25, 2014:


LinStory from Seattle,WA on September 17, 2014:

Great article....I have seen the 2 different style cabinets before, but I just did not know what they were called (ie: "inset" versus 'beaded inset' cabinets).TXs for all the details!

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