7/09/2021  •  ,

Overlay vs. Integrated: Choosing Built-In Kitchen Appliances

You want your new kitchen stocked with high-end, state-of-the-art, energy-efficient appliances, but you don’t necessarily want them front and centre in the design. You want a streamlined, clean, and open atmosphere in your kitchen—who wouldn’t?


This read is for you.


In this article, Deslaurier Design Consultant Adele Jacobs tells us all about built-in appliances and custom paneling. Specifically, we’ll go over the differences between overlay and integrated appliances and some key considerations when using panel-ready products in a design.


Ready? Let’s get started!



What is a Built-In Appliance?


Right off the bat, let’s define some key terms.


If you’re planning a kitchen reno, you’ve probably heard the term “built-in appliances” thrown around a lot. But what is a built-in appliance?


Technically speaking, built-in refers to all appliances that are set within a cabinetry system.


Sometimes, though, designers and other professionals in the industry use the word “built-in” as a generic definition for paneled appliances. Paneled appliances are, as the name suggests, appliances covered up by a custom cabinet panel.


Typically, fridges and dishwashers are the most common appliances to panel in a kitchen design. However, you can panel other items, too, as long as the device can accommodate the panel.


There are two primary types of paneled appliances:


  1. Overlay appliances
  2. Integrated appliances

Let’s look at each one.

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Overlay Appliances


An overlay paneled appliance has a custom-made cabinet door designed to fit on the front of the appliance and match the rest of your cabinetry design.


The key thing to know about overlay appliances is that the ventilation system remains exposed. That means that the appliance protrudes slightly from the cabinets and parts of the chrome will stay visible.


As you can see in this kitchen, although the front overlay on the fridge matches the rest of the kitchen, it’s still obviously a fridge, as you can see a strip of metal around the edges:


An overlay fridge

Integrated Appliances


Integrated appliances also use a matching custom panel, just like overlay appliances do, but the appliance is installed so that it’s completely flush and hidden within the cabinetry design. The ventilation system works differently so that it’s impossible to tell where the appliance is in the kitchen.


Here, you can see an integrated fridge that blends seamlessly with the rest of the surrounding cabinets:


A fully integrated fridge


As one would expect, overlay appliances cost more than standard built-in appliances with no panels, and integrated appliances typically cost more than overlay.


A Note on Buying Panel-Ready Appliances


Please note that if you want an overlay or integrated appliance, you need to buy appliances that are “panel-ready” (ie. manufactured to accommodate a custom panel).


Unless your current appliances are labeled as panel-ready products, you can’t use them in this type of application. You’ll have to buy new appliances for your kitchen renovation.


For this reason, paneling appliances can be a significant investment. Panel-ready items are by and large more costly than standard appliances. It’s often high-end brands like Miele that sell them.


So, when you walk into your local appliance store, you may find that your options are quite limited; they may only offer a handful of panel-ready selections compared to other stock.

A kitchen design with an integrated fridge

Do take your time deciding where to buy appliances because when it comes to overlay and integrated designs, you’ll depend on your supplier a lot for key information.


It’s very important to have a good relationship with your appliance supplier because you’re going to require a very specific set of instructions to custom order a panel to fit. A good appliance supplier will ensure the appropriate specifications are sent along to your contractor and designer.                                                                                                —Design Consultant Adele Jacobs


Hardware for Panel-Ready Appliances


As you shop for panel-ready appliances, you’ll also want to think about whether you want to purchase hardware from the appliance manufacturer (to match the appliance), or from a separate hardware supplier (to match the rest of your cabinet hardware).


Hardware for overlay and integrated appliances is often overlooked as an expense, but it shouldn’t be. Appliance hardware can cost hundreds of dollars for a single unit. Budget-wise, it’s important to consider what hardware aesthetic you want to achieve.


Interested in hardware? Read our article “How to Choose Cabinet Hardware”.


Paneled Appliances and Resale Value


Overlay and integrated appliances create a high-end, customized look in a kitchen. It’s a sought-after, sleek feature that really elevates a design.


As a homeowner investing in panel-ready products, though, you need to ask yourself if you plan to sell your home.




If you’re planning on moving in the near future, you won’t want to bring a paneled fridge that looks like your old kitchen into your new kitchen.


Instead, you’ll likely need to sell your kitchen with the appliances included.


A buyer probably won’t be interested in buying an integrated kitchen design without the integrated appliances to go with it, anyway—they’d have to go through the hassle of custom-matching new panels all over again.


For these reasons, it’s crucial to think about how long you intend to stay in your home and if you’re willing to leave your appliances behind if you decide to sell.


An integrated fridge in a kitchen design

Maintenance for Paneled Appliances


What about maintenance? Are overlay and integrated appliances hard to clean?


Just like any other cabinet in your kitchen, you need to practice care with custom panels.                                                                                                                                                                         —Design Consultant Adele Jacobs


Appliances are a high-touch area in the kitchen. How many times a week do you and your family members open the fridge? Probably a lot. And how many times out of that number are your hands wet from using the sink or sticky from cooking and baking?


With every touch, your paneled appliances can get dirty and wet. You’ll need to stay on top of safe cabinet cleaning to keep your custom panels in good shape.


Read “How to Clean Kitchen Cabinets” for more information.


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Repair Maintenance


Aside from regular cleaning practices, it’s good to be aware that paneled appliances may cost more to install and repair.


When you’re building your kitchen initially, adding the panel is extra labour for the installer. It stands to reason, then, that if a paneled appliances cost more to install, it will also cost more to uninstall.


So, if your fridge ever needs repair and the panel needs to come off, you can expect that your technician will charge more for the extra work involved in accessing the appliance.

Another fully integrated fridge and freezer combo

Overlay and Integrated Appliances: Are They Right For Me?


Only you can answer this question!


If you love the discreet look of overlay and integrated fridges, freezers, and dishwashers, custom ordering panels may be worth the extra cost.


If you love the paneled look but still want to trim costs, overlay might be a more cost-effective choice than the integrated alternative.


On the other hand, if you’re moving again in the next 5 years, it may not be worth leaving your new panel-ready appliances behind so soon.


Weigh the pros and cons for yourself, and if you need advice from a seasoned professional, Deslaurier Custom Cabinets is here for you. Our design team leverages over 60 years of experience to help homeowners like you craft their dream kitchen.


Fill out the form below to set up a free consultation in Jupiter, FL! 


Interested in becoming an authorized dealer in Florida? Connect with us on our Become a Dealer page!




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