A built-in refrigerator provides a custom, upscale look. But you can achieve the look without the expense. Here's how.

June 08, 2015
Built-In Refrigerator
Built-In Refrigerator

A hallmark of high-end kitchens, built-in refrigerators (such as the one illustrated, right) integrate easily into surrounding cabinets and create a sleek, fitted, flush appearance. However, because ready-to-build-in refrigerators can cost two to three times as much as their freestanding and counter-depth siblings, a true built-in isn't always in the budget. A variety of tricks can achieve the integrated look without the cost. For instance, in the illustration, below right, the counter-depth refrigerator surrounded with cabinetry panels mimics the built-in version.

Types of Refrigerators

Determine the type of refrigerator you need. In addition to price, space limitations and features will influence your choice. Here are the most common types of refrigerators for the home.


Designed to fit flush with cabinets and counters, this type of refrigerator often has optional front panels that match other elements in the kitchen. Built-ins typically come in bottom-freezer and side-by-side configurations. You can also build in separate refrigerator and freezer units.

Pro: Built-in refrigerators align with cabinets and can be finished with matching fronts for a sleek, custom look.

Con: Built-ins are pricey, and they aren't the most space-efficient option because they're wide but relatively shallow.

Counter-Depth Refrigerator
Counter-Depth Refrigerator


Most counter-depth refrigerators need to extend slightly beyond the countertops to allow space for the doors to swing open. Read the manufacturer's installation manual for specific requirements for door clearance. However, some new models feature special hinges that allow the doors to open completely even when flush with surrounding cabinetry. Counter-depth refrigerators are available as side-by-side, bottom-freezer, and French-door models. For an extra cost, you can usually equip them with panels that match your cabinetry for an integrated look.

Pro: Counter-depth models offer the upscale look of a built-in refrigerator for less money.

Con: These refrigerators have less usable space than deeper freestanding models, and they cost more.

Regular Freestanding

This type of refrigerator is the deepest and comes in four configurations: top-freezer, bottom-freezer, side-by-side, and French-door versions. Although these refrigerators aren't flush with surrounding countertops, trim added to the front can integrate them with the cabinetry.

Pro: Regular freestanding refrigerators cost less than built-in and cabinet-depth refrigerators, and they offer the most usable storage space.

Con: Because it extends more than 6 inches beyond surrounding countertops, this type of refrigerator is the most difficult to give a built-in look.

Built-In Refrigerator

If you select a counter-depth or freestanding refrigerator, explore these ideas for making the appliance look like it was built into your kitchen design. Once your refrigerator looks built-in, take the upscale look further by making the refrigerator appear fully integrated. Using a trim kit with a custom touch such as beaded board, you can face your refrigerator with panels that blend the appliance with the surrounding cabinetry.

Build Cabinetry Around It

Surround the refrigerator with cabinets and/or matching panels to cover the top and sides. Choose a finish or a trim kit for the refrigerator that matches the cabinetry to help it blend in.

Pro: Building cabinetry around the refrigerator requires no demolition, making it a relatively easy and inexpensive option.

Con: The refrigerator extends farther into the room than a counter-depth model -- and beyond the countertops -- so you don't have the same streamlined look you get when the refrigerator is recessed.

Borrow Space

refrigerator with cabinets

Achieve a built-in look by using space from an adjoining room to build a recessed alcove for a freestanding refrigerator. In this example, the refrigerator niche, with open display space above, was patterned after the adjacent transom-topped doorway for visual symmetry.

Pro: The refrigerator becomes flush with the wall or cabinetry, offering a custom look.

Con: Building an alcove requires demolition and construction, and you'll lose space in the adjacent room.

Carve Out Stud Space

Carve Out Stud Space

Recess a standard-depth refrigerator a few inches into the wall behind it. The added depth might be enough to align it with surrounding countertops. This refrigerator backs into space carved from between wall studs. Before cutting into a wall, ask your builder or remodeler to check the wall's structure and add reinforcement if necessary.

Pro: The refrigerator is flush with the cabinets without stealing space from another room.

Con: Some demolition and construction is needed to recess the refrigerator into the wall.

Make It a Focal Point

Make It a Focal Point

Build a cabinetry wall around a freestanding refrigerator. Design the cabinetry with multiple depths to create impact and the look of a built-in refrigerator. The effect transforms a basic appliance into a focal point with lots of surrounding storage.

Pro: No demolition is required, and no storage space is wasted.

Con: The cabinetry takes up a significant amount of wall space, and the multiple depths give it a less streamlined look.

Install a False Wall

Nudge the cabinets forward. A false wall behind these pantry cabinets makes the freestanding refrigerator look like a built-in. The sleek, modular design matches the kitchen's contemporary style.

Pro: A false wall allows the cabinet depth to match the refrigerator depth without cutting into the wall or requiring custom cabinets.

Con: Building a false wall requires construction work, and the space between the two walls is unusable.

Extend the Countertops

Extend the Countertops

Add deeper countertops, as this illustration shows, instead of moving the refrigerator back. Stacking one or two 2×4s behind standard-depth base cabinets creates room for deeper-than-usual countertops. For extra cost, you could opt for deeper base cabinets and also gain more storage space.

Pro: Deeper countertops provide a larger work surface.

Con: Extending the countertops and base cabinets takes away floor space.

More for You

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