Thinking About Installing Face Frame Cabinets? Read This First

Julissa Arangure
Written by Julissa Arangure
Updated December 15, 2021
A large traditional kitchen with wooden face-frame cabinets
Photo: bmak / Adobe Stock


  • A face frame cabinet looks like a picture frame around your cabinets.

  • There are three types of face frame cabinets: full overlay, partial overlay, and inset doors.

  • Face frame cabinets are sturdier, while frameless cabinets allow for more storage space.

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Whether you’re planning a total kitchen remodel or updating your cabinetry, one of the first steps is to decide what type of cabinets you envision for your home. While aesthetics are important to consider, functionality is also a key factor when choosing a cabinetry frame. Let’s review the characteristics of face frame cabinets, plus how they compare to frameless cabinets.

What Is a Face Frame Cabinet?

True to their name, face frame cabinets have a border or frame that covers the edge of the cabinet box. The face frame edges vary from 1¼ inch wide to 2 inches wide and are composed of stiles (vertical parts of the frame) and rails (horizontal parts of the frame), resembling a flat picture frame. Face frame cabinets usually feature exposed hinges and an overlay. Most cabinet box frames are made of plywood, but red oak, poplar, maple, and mahogany are also popular choices.

Benefits of Installing Face Frame Cabinets

Cabinet choice depends on the style of your home and your household needs. To help make the right decision for your kitchen, consider the pros and cons of installing face frame cabinets. Here are some of the main advantages to face frame cabinets: 

  • Adapts to all types of overlay: While both frameless and framed cabinets offer various options and styles, a face frame adapts to all overlay types and has more versatility when it comes to installation. 

  • Traditional look: Framed cabinets are known as traditional-style cabinets because they are the most commonly used style of cabinetry in American kitchens. This type of cabinet can be customized to match the theme of many kitchens, ranging from traditional to country farmhouse.

  • Budget friendly: If you’re looking to update your kitchen cabinets, face frame cabinets are more affordable than frameless cabinetry. You can expect to pay $5,000 to $20,000 or more for framed cabinets, while frameless cabinets cost between $6,000 to $30,000 or more. 

  • Adaptable: Framed cabinets adapt well to kitchens that have walls that are not perfectly squared or have uneven sections.  

  • Hinge options: When it comes to types of cabinet hinges, you have the option to choose either hidden or visible hinges with framed cabinets. You can add more flair to your cabinets by adding decorative hinges.

Drawbacks of Installing Face Frame Cabinets

While there are plenty of reasons to choose face frame cabinets, you should know their drawbacks before installing them in your home. Here are some of the main disadvantages of face frame cabinets:

  • Less drawer box capacity: While framed cabinets are sturdier, they have about 1½ less interior room than frameless cabinetry.

  • Limited accessibility: If you are storing oddly shaped or bulkier kitchen tools, the frame can prevent you from easily sliding them out, which can lead to drawers getting jammed.

Face Frame Cabinets vs. Frameless Cabinets

The main difference between face frame cabinets and frameless cabinets is simply how they’re built. Although there are many advantages to both cabinetry options, their differences may steer you in one direction or another. Here are the main differences between face frame and frameless cabinetry: 

Aesthetic Look

Face frame cabinets have a more traditional, American look. They are better suited for homes with a farmhouse aesthetic or those looking for a warm, comfortable vibe. Depending on your budget, the cabinets are usually framed with poplar or maple wood. 

Frameless cabinets offer a clean and sleek European look. They are usually made of  plywood with a veneer front edge, and they’re perfect for a contemporary home with a minimalist, seamless design.


The cost to install face frame cabinets can range from $5,000 to $20,000 dollars, depending on wood, construction, and your project’s size.

Frameless cabinets can run anywhere from $6,000 to $30,000 and will mostly depend on the quality of materials, level of customization, and the size of your space.


Framed cabinets are easier to install than frameless, especially if you have uneven walls. That’s mainly because the frame keeps the cabinet square. They also do not require European hardware, which is not typically found at hardware stores.

Frameless cabinets require a bit more work. Since they rely on the cabinet box for stability, you’ll need to use high-end materials, or you run the risk of them collapsing. There is also a very small margin for error when installing frameless cabinets because there isn’t an overhang like there is for a framed cabinet.

Types of Face Frame Cabinets

A kitchen with wooden face-frame cabinets and granite countertops
Photo: coralimages / Adobe Stock

Now that you know the advantages of installing face frame cabinets, you’ll need to ask yourself the following questions to decide what type of face frame you’d like to install. Do you want the doors to hide the face frame completely? Do you want some frame visibility, or do you want the door to sit inside the frame? When making a selection, consider all of the different cabinet door options

Inset Cabinet Doors

Inset cabinet doors have a very clean-cut appearance. They are set inside the cabinet frame, and a door pull or a knob is required to open the cabinet. Depending on your preference, the hinges can be concealed or revealed. 

Inset doors are typically more expensive and can cost anywhere from $150 to $1,200 per linear foot. However, keep in mind that this type of door provides the least amount of storage space in comparison to other door options since the drawers and drawers sit within the frame. 

Full Overlay Cabinet Doors

Full overlay, also known as modified overlay doors, cover the cabinet face, with hidden door hinges. The doors and drawers are extra large and aren’t set inside the cabinet frame, allowing more room for storage.

This cabinet door type hardly shows the cabinet face frame around each door and drawer front, making it the most seamless, modern, and contemporary look of the three options. One disadvantage of full overlay cabinet doors compared to inset is that their corners are exposed, making it easier to develop nicks and damage over time.

Partial Overlay Cabinet Doors

Partial (or half) overlay cabinet doors have a consistent 2-inch strip of the frame visible across the entire face of the cabinets. While some people prefer to have space between the doors and the drawers, if you like a sleeker, cleaner look, this may not be the cabinet door for your home. 

While the quality of the partial overlay is equal to the full overlay, less wood is needed to construct this type of door. Keep in mind that partial overlay cabinet doors tend to look disproportionate because there is a lot of space between each cabinet.

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