Appliance Cabinetry Installation: Built-in vs. Integrated & Flush Inset Magic!

With the vast landscape of appliances available on the market, many builders, designers, and homeowners find themselves a bit confused as to the terminology being thrown around by both manufacturers and various partners in the industry.  The biggest confusion lies in how refrigeration (and other appliances) install into the cabinets surrounding them.

And it’s understandable how this can happen given the number of manufacturers producing “their version” of what has been a category created by industry leader, SubZero.

Given our relationship as a member of the SubZero Wolf Trade Program, we’re well versed in how to design and incorporate both built-in and integrated flush inset applications into your kitchen cabinets.  And, more importantly… we know how to install them.

This is a critical point that should not always be assumed when purchasing cabinetry from a dealer or showroom.  The installation, as always, can make or break any cabinetry package; particularly how they integrate with appliances in the space.

We’re happy to share our knowledge on how appliance integration gets done right so that you can rest easy knowing you’ll be getting the look and function you want without any last-minute confusion.

This is part of why we’re partnered with the industry leader, SubZero… they’re the industry leader and built-in refrigeration pioneers.

All the way back in the 1950’s, SubZero introduced refrigerators and freezers that were the same depth as standard kitchen counters.  And they have been improving on the concept ever since.  Now consumers have refrigeration that comes in all these varieties:

  • Built-In
  • Integrated
  • Pro Model, or Standard Depth
  • Counter depth, standard installation

These are terms you can find being used by a number of appliance manufacturers, but not all can truly deliver on built-in or Integrated flush inset as SubZero can.

For instance, other manufacturers have recently been offering their version of built-in appliances with a variety of “nearly flush inset” installation designed to mimic the true integrated flush look of the Subzero products.  This has lead to a bit of confusion as the term “flush inset” has become a catchall phrase for “no exposed trim or edges”.

I could write a novel with all the requests we’ve had to try and make non-integrated appliances “look close to” flush inset.  And we’ve attempted to take on the challenge.  But in the end, you can’t turn a Ford into a Mercedes… it just doesn’t work that way.

The critical component that many builders, designers, and consumers fail to misinterpret is the term “Flush Inset”.

Flush Inset: A cabinet which houses its doors to sit flush with the exterior framing, and/or paneling surrounding the doors.  In the case of an appliance, the panels, adjacent cabinet doors, and appliance front panels all are coplanar and flush to one another. 

As you can see, the term applies to appearance and the flush nature of adjacent doors and framing.  It’s nothing to do with the appliance itself, rather how it gets installed.

I take that back… it does have to do with the appliance.  In the sense that the appliance must be manufactured and dimensioned with a flush inset installation in mind; not just hoping we can do some cabinetry magic!

Now, back to the Built-In vs. Integrated.

To ensure you understand clearly, let’s break down these terms as they relate to (or not to) SubZero.


The original SubZero Built-in Refrigerator requires a countertop depth of no less than 26-3/16″. With a Built-In SubZero, you can help to disguise your refrigerator or freezer by putting a cabinetry panel on the face of the refrigerator, freezer or combination.

The face of the appliance will blend with your kitchen, but you will still know it is an appliance.

See the below images to understand all 4 installation options:

As you can see above, there are 4 very distinct ways to install your built-in refrigerator.  Many people think we can take any “built-in” fridge brand and make it appear as it would with the SubZero flush inset installation above.  But that’s not as easy as it would seem.  Not all appliances are created equal and require different clearances for hinges, toe kicks, grilles and the like.

Certainly, we can come close and build out the surrounding panels to have them flush to the door panels on your fridge, but it’s not exactly the same.

When selecting a Built-in model, many designers and customers these days are opting for the full overlay application above, as well as the flush inset.

Integrated SubZero

With an Integrated SubZero, you can literally make your refrigerator or freezer disappear by adding customized panels and handles (or none) to blend seamlessly into the surrounding cabinetry.  Most visitors to your home won’t know whether they are looking at a cabinet or an appliance.  From a planning perspective, the minimum depth for an Integrated SubZero is just 25″.

SubZero integrated refrigeration meets precise manufacturing tolerances permitting installation with a mere 1/8” reveal between appliance and surrounding cabinets. The new integrated models even have a simplified system for achieving perfectly aligned installation of custom cabinet panels — another reason designers and installers (An Original) love SubZero as much as homeowners do.

As you can imagine, the only installation option here is Flush Inset.  That’s the entire point, so no further discussion is required.

Pro Model, or Standard Depth

There’s no attempt to hide or design away the presence of a SubZero Pro Model; it’s meant to be industrial, stainless steel and in your face.  It’s part of the charm that certain homeowners are after… and it’s not to be mistaken for anything other than a commercial grade refrigerator.  This is different than your average standard depth entry-level fridge (non-Subzero), but both will protrude past the kitchen countertops and require additional space planning when using these models.

See the image below of a Pro model with flush installation (not flush inset).

Counter depth, standard installation

While not relevant to the integrated flush inset vs. built-in fridge conversation, it is worth mentioning this category.

This is the most common version of refrigerator you’ll find mass produced on the market today.  Manufacturers will provide a (mostly) counter depth application, but will almost always be a stainless-steel finish (or Grey) and you will know it’s a refrigerator.  These can be surrounded by finished panels and cabinetry to flow with a design, but they will never be integrated as a built-in would; nor even close to becoming invisible as an integrated, model will.

Choose the pros at An Original! 

Not all cabinet shops or designers know these important differences, but we live and breathe it.  To ensure a seamless experience in the area of appliance & cabinetry integration, we encourage you to save your time by calling our offices today for an appointment.

Call An Original at 480-991-3264

An Original, Inc. & the SubZero Wolf Showroom

The best way to truly understand the differences between built-in and integrated refrigeration is to see these products for yourself!  Our showroom is just a few minutes away from the Scottsdale SubZero Wolf showroom, and we’d be happy to show you how we can incorporate built-in or integrated flush inset refrigeration and appliances into your design.

For more information, or to speak with one of our expert designers, please call us at 480-991-3264.