What Is a Kitchen Cabinet Face Frame?

Kitchen cabinets are the face of your kitchen, and the face frame is one of the biggest parts of that face. How big depends on the exact design, and what they’re made of has a big impact on their overall look. But first, what is a kitchen cabinet face frame?

The Face Frame Is the Cabinet’s Face

A kitchen cabinet’s face frame is the part of the frame that you can see from outside the cabinets, at a normal viewing angle. There are different designs of cabinets, of course, and some Euro-style cabinets don’t have face frames at all! Almost all cabinets designed and built in the U.S. do, however, and since they are the most easily visible part of a cabinet aside from the doors and drawer fronts, they’re typically made of the same material as those more-visible components, finished to exactly the same standard.

Whether or not your cabinets’ face frame is visible when the doors and drawers are closed, or only when they’re open, depends on something called “overlay,” which in turn determines a huge part of the look and feel of a kitchen cabinet model line.

Partial Door Overlay

A partial overlay means the doors don’t quite touch each other, and the face frame can be seen when the doors are closed. There are various degrees of this, from one-quarter overlay, in which the doors look like they’re almost an afterthought, and almost all of the face frame is visible, to three-quarters overlay, which is a more typical layout, in which only a thin strip of heavily shadowed face frame is visible between the almost-touching doors.

Cabinets with partial overlays look traditional. They aren’t meant to pull the eye by themselves, other than by their finish and quality, so they tend to “feel right” in many kitchen designs.

Full Door Overlay

Full overlay cabinets, also sometimes called European overlay, are arranged such that the doors and drawer fronts all basically touch, with just enough clearance not to actually scrape against each other. The face frames aren’t visible in these, other than little slivers when viewed at just the right angle. Not all full-overlay cabinets even have face frames, but if they do, they’ll usually still be finished the same, for a consistent look and feel.

Cabinets with full overlays look quite different. The front of the cabinets are all one flat surface (aside from any decorative elements on the doors and drawer fronts themselves). This gives them a clean look that can work really well in sleek or minimalist kitchen designs.

Zero Door Overlay

The rarest type of overlay, zero overlay cabinets, are also called inset door cabinets. In these, the entire face frame is visible, and the doors and drawer fronts close to be fully inside of it, and flush with it, creating even more dramatic and eye-popping lines and angles, for a striking look that can lend a potent flair to certain kitchen designs, and really make them pop, but they can look a little chintzy if they aren’t used properly.

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