Built-in, Overlay and Integrated Refrigerators - What's the Difference?

These 3 terms are often used interchangeably, but they don’t all mean the same thing. The overlap can be confusing because while ‘built-in’ describes a design, it’s also used as an umbrella term that includes overlay and integrated designs as well.

We’ll look at the differences and attempt to clear up any confusion you or your clients may have.


Built In


A built-in refrigerator is fitted into a housing that allows it to sit flush, or almost flush, with cabinetry.  The space is either built into the cabinetry, or it’s a cavity created by drywall. Basic built-in refrigerators stick out a few inches from the cabinets so the refrigerator door can open without obstruction. 

Simple built-in refrigerators exhibit their original finish, like stainless steel, while other built-in refrigerators are covered with panels that match the cabinetry.  That’s where the terms overlay and integrated appliances come in.


Integrated Refrigerators


Integrated refrigerators are completely camouflaged when installed. That’s why integrated refrigeration is the most popular choice in professionally designed kitchens – it allows the most versatility for both custom design and placement within your floor plan.

The refrigerator is paneled to match your cabinets, but there are no obvious clues as to its location. Integrated refrigerators are built with an inset door. When it’s closed, the refrigerator sits perfectly flush and looks identical to any other cabinet in your kitchen.


Not everyone knows how to build for and around integrated refrigerators properly, so be cautious when selecting cabinetry, and use a high-class cabinetry company to make sure the end result is seamless and aligned. LEICHT excels at integrated refrigerator design and we encourage you to browse their 2017 catalog for inspiring design ideas.




Overlay units are also built-in. The term “overlay” just means that refrigerators are overlaid, or covered, with a panel to match your cabinet design. Like a simple built-in refrigerator, overlay refrigerators are not quite flush. They protrude slightly from the cabinets, and the compressor vents through the top of the unit.

Overlay refrigerators are not exactly hidden because you know that the appliance is there, but it matches the surrounding cabinetry and allows the design to flow throughout the space, uninterrupted by a large stainless steel refrigerator.

Choosing the right appliances for your kitchen can become overwhelming. That's why we partner with premier manufacturers like Miele, Gaggenau, Thermador, and Bosch. If you have any questions, send us a message or stop by the showroom. We're happy to help!

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Refrigerator Design Differences

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