We’re no strangers to pint-size kitchens around here. From our condo to our garden unit and now our Tree House, we’ve always enjoyed packing as much form and function as possible into a small space. Bring on all the challenges!
When it came time to start making kitchen decisions at Tree house, we knew we’d have to think outside the box. The floor plan, although well laid out, is restrictive in the sense that the space not only does the job of a kitchen, but must be passed through on the way from the front (ahem, side) door into the main living space of the house. This immediately had us making choices that were not only visually lighter – nixing upper cabinets, for example – but physically more compact.
soap pump | toaster | S + P grinders | chopping block | cabinet hardware
As is visible in the initial Tree House tour, the old refrigerator was standard size and jutted out past the shallow wall that separates the kitchen from the living room. This got us thinking about other options and we quickly went down a rabbit hole of apartment size, under-cabinet and counter-depth fridges. (Oh, and Smegs! Lots and lots of Smeg talk.) In the end, we kept coming back to 24″ wide panel ready appliances, which, sure, are smaller than standard units, but they allowed for a seamless look that would make the room feel larger and more cohesive.
Throughout this process, we learned a lot about panel ready appliances. Think of this as a highlight reel to keep you from having to start from scratch, maybe?
Panel Ready Appliances Are Gaining in Popularity.
Between the time we selected our appliances for the Tree House kitchen and now, we’ve noticed panel ready appliances popping up with a bit more regularity. Or maybe it’s one of those things where we’re now noticing them more? Most big box retailers have options available, but fair warning, they may not be on display in stores. A current search shows multiple dishwasher options from Bosch, KitchenAid, GE and Whirlpool at Lowe’s. Bosch and KitchenAid also have multiple refrigerator options available.
While appliance finish trends come and go, appliances faced to match cabinet doors will have as much staying power as the cabinets themselves, which I suppose can be a good or bad thing, depending on the design! The options are literally endless. Want a white shaker-style fridge? No problem. Want a dishwasher that jumps on the high-gloss cabinet train? Do it!
counter stools | marble fruit bowl | wall clock
Appliance Pulls | Are they Necessary?
Nope! Another benefit of panel fronted appliances is that you’re able to select your own hardware. Lots of manufacturers offer specialized appliance pulls that are much larger (and way more expensive) than traditional cabinet pulls, but often not in every hardware finish.
We wanted to ensure that our pulls were consistent throughout the kitchen, so we restricted our search to drawer pull styles that had a very wide range of size options. We landed on these in aged brass, with a 12″ fridge pull and a 6″ freezer and dishwasher pull. They fit the bill nicely and allow for a firm grasp on the heavier doors, which is important.
We Wish We Knew…
We absolutely love our Bosch 800 Series Custom Panel fridge, but we do have one regret regarding the installation. Given the unusual size and built-in nature of the unit, neither we, nor our Lowe’s kitchen designer realized that the bottom freezer door would nearly skim the floor once the panel was installed. The installation instructions show the unit being slid into a cabinet that encompasses the entire fridge and incorporates a recessed toe kick. In hindsight, we wish we had known this as each of us has already stubbed a toe on the bottom of the freezer door – ouch!
soap pump | toaster | S + P grinders | chopping block | cabinet hardware | counter stools
Installing the fridge in a custom cabinet and lifting it off of the floor a few inches would not only eliminate future stubbed toes, but it would help the doors to align better with the cabinets in the rest of the room. After a pretty thorough search, we’ve not been able to locate a “standard” cabinet for a built in fridge, so this may be a custom item, which adds further expense. Note: On the opposite end, we found many photos online that show panel ready refrigerators installed exactly as ours! Perhaps there’s not a standard in this area just yet.
Appliance cost | Panel ready appliances are generally pricier than their standard counterparts. This is something to keep in mind as you budget for your renovation, and like anything, how important is it to you?
Custom panel cost | The price of the panels that will become the fronts of your appliances must be custom ordered. Of course, custom will add more to the bottom line, too.
Space | Many of the panel ready refrigerators we considered were smaller than standard 36″ wide units. It goes without saying, but counter-depth, built-in/under counter and 24″ wide fridges like ours offer less storage space. In our case, Tree House is not a full time home, and we were okay with this! In fact, we welcomed it. Less is more at Tree House.
Assembly + installation | Attaching and aligning the custom-made panels can be a bit stressful. Math is hard (for me at least). When it came time to drill the holes for hardware on all of the panels, I used no less than 3 sets of measurements before I made any permanent modifications. Allow for ample time, use the included templates and take lots of measurements.
Dishwashers | Panel ready dishwashers are the same size and shape as any standard dishwasher. They also slide into standard size openings, so in theory, upgrading to a panel ready model could be very straightforward if the panel itself could be sourced to match existing cabinetry. Our Bosch 800 Series looks great and is among the quietest out there. It even has an integrated light on the bottom of the door to let you know it’s running since it’s often hard to tell! (Kim’s favorite part.)
All said and done, we’re truly thrilled with the both the performance and aesthetics of our panel ready appliances and will absolutely consider them for future kitchen projects! As panel ready options increase in popularity, we’re confident that more options will become available and prices will drop over time. In the meantime, we still feel that the seamless look provided by built in appliances can’t be matched. Has anyone else gone down this road as well? We’d love to hear about your experiences!
PS – The inspiration for this post came from one of our wonderful Instagram followers. If you’ve got an idea for a post, a suggestion, or a burning question, feel free to drop us a note in the comments or shoot us an email!
I have a panel ready dishwasher (the same Bosch model you have!) and totally love it. I left the fridge and the oven – a double wall oven, where I cannot even comprehend the logistics of covering that – alone, but the dishwasher lives in a long bank of black lowers and I just didn’t want the visual break that putting a standard dishwasher in would have done. It did cost a bit more, but only paneling the one appliance that I knew would bother me the most felt like a worthy expense and a good compromise.
That does sound like the perfect compromise. For anyone interested in panel ready appliances but may be wary of the cost, perhaps it would be best to take a look at the kitchen layout and note which appliance may ‘stick out’ the most? I love how you solved your dishwasher dilemma.
I have a kitchen renovation slated for next year (my first, SO EXCITED!) and have my heart set on a panel ready dishwasher. Because of the layout of the condo and the kitchen, the dishwasher is the only appliance that could be seen looking into the room (after I relocate the microwave) and I’m very excited to go with the matching panel. I think it’s going to look amazing and a good place to upgrade.
This is so funny, I am Dutch and live in the Netherlands, where panel ready appliances are standard. Funny to see the differences between countries!
Isn’t it nuts? So many of the things we were initially looking for in the kitchen were hard to find here in the US. (Especially the under-cabinet appliances! We kept getting redirected to European appliance companies.)
Three years later and Bosch still doesn’t tell you what size your panel needs to be … it’s a big deal if you’re not excited about having custom doors made to match your existing cabinetry
Soooo, what size panel does one need for a panel ready bosch dishwasher? I came to this post hoping to find out (I’m doing my cabinet order right now…..)
Hi Julie! The information for the correct panel size might vary slightly by model. It should be listed somewhere in the spec sheet of the appliance. Hope this helps!
Bosches are amazing. We just replaced a dishwasher with Bosch. We didn’t get the quietest one (the 50-something decibel if I remember right) and you still aren’t sure when it’s running. I got some hilarious calls at work from Herr Gumbel wondering if it was broken and why the heck a red light was shining on the floor.
Hahah, we LOVE that red light! Our dishwasher is SO quiet that we honestly can’t tell if it’s running without it. Such a fun little touch.
This is a wonderful article with lots of helpful information. I apologize if you mentioned this and I missed it, but what happens when the appliance is at the end of it’s life and needs to be replaced? With the way appliances are updated to new models so frequently – it’s unlikely the same exact model will still be available to replace it with and then the cabinet fronts don’t fit anymore. Do you have concerns about this?
Great question! The cabinet fronts only have holes drilled on the back sides, so in theory, could be re-used on new appliances that were the same size and shape even if the hole pattern didn’t match up perfectly. Since we’re new to all of this, can any of our European readers confirm that cabinet fronts are traditionally swapped over to new appliances?
Another Dutchie here! I can confirm that you can replace the appliances within the existing cabinets and panels. We recently had our dishwasher replaced, no problem. But perhaps that’s also because it is so standard to have panel ready appliances (I didn’t even realize this wasn’t standard in the US, and I lived there for 2 years!)
Thank you for confirming! Even though we have a smaller fridge, the dishwasher is completely standard, so assuming we can find a counter depth fridge again (which should be no issue!), we’d be good to go – fingers crossed.
I live bin the UK and I have just had to replace my dishwasher, undercounter fridge (both panel ready) and oven. It was easy. You unscrew the doors and the appliance slips in as for the oven you just unclipped the kickboard to slip the oven out to replace it.
I know itbwoukd by fiddly, but would it be very expensive put a kick board under the fridge freezer. And would you consider it?
We’re very slow renovators so I’m still working on getting our kitchen actually finished. We’re planning panel ready appliances on the sink wall and will have an undercounter fridge and dishwasher. We only have a 9×9 kitchen, although we were able to extend one leg of counter space out a little up to a door on the range side, so the sink wall will be 18″ cabinet, 24″ dishwasher, sink cabinet, 24″ fridge, 18″ cabinet. I didn’t want to see a visual break every other cabinet and so decided panel ready was work it for our kitchen. We already had to pay a premium for the proper under cabinet fridge that vents from the front (most vent in the back and the heat build up can shorten the life of the compressor) so going panel ready was just a little bit more.
It’s actually due to you guys that I went looking for a custom RTA cabinet option for our lower cabinets and I found one that builds inset cabinets in custom measurements up to 1/8″. They also make custom panels for appliances if that’s all you need you could order them to match your existing cabinet, it’s very likely that their catalog of door profiles covers almost everything out there.
I think for your fridge you could have built a base out of 2x4s to lift the fridge up to the height of the cabinet toe kick and then used the same side panel and upper cabinet that you built around it. Obviously this would be hard to retrofit in your kitchen since you already have a custom cabinet that goes up to the ceiling. But for anyone else in this situation, I don’t thing a full custom cabinet would be necessary for the fridge, it just needs to be on a solid base to raise it up.
Hi, Ryan! Love hearing that about RTA. They’re such a great company! I don’t remember seeing inset options, but that’s cool to know. And completely agree about using 2x4s to raise the fridge up. The sad thing is that I don’t think anyone realized that was something we needed to do until it was too late. Could we still order a less tall upper cabinet and do this to the fridge down the road? Yes! Will we? That’s another answer, haha.
Like Rebecca, I live in Europe where these are standard. I have the panel fronts on our fridge and dishwasher. As a warning for the fridge- over time they start to lose some suction when closing. A friend of mine and I have both had the issue. That being said- they are beautiful!!
In the UK these built in appliances are pretty standard sizes. And there are “housing units” in the kitchen cabinet ranges to take these standard sizes. For fridges, wall ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers. I have just replaced my 5 yr old built in dishwasher with a new Bosch quiet one and it projects the time remaining onto the floor. It’s great. They just swapped it out and the old door fitted the new appliance perfectly.
Love that you guys went with panel ready appliances! Looks so good :) We got panel ready fridge+freezer as part of our kitchen remodel as well: My friends in Zurich started me down the rabbit hole of finding a set up that would fit our space because as others have mentioned: they are simply the norm in Europe! We went with Thermador. We finally committed to getting panel ready appliances when we realized the “nicer” counter depth fridges we saw in big box stores would have doors 4-5″ thick and effectively not be counter depth anymore. They sit along a long wall opposite our big island so it was important to us to keep the walkway as wide as possible & visually clean without things sticking out. We are super happy with our choice but as you mentioned: the installation is super stressful because it needs to align with neighboring cabinets! We thought we’d miss the extra cubic feet that comes with regular fridges but turns out we have room to spare now that we stopped overbuying and filling the fridge with things to be forgotten :P
I am a big proponent of integrated appliances for clients and I used them in my own kitchwn also. They have been more widely available to the high end custom market through subzero for a longer time but the price point is often prohibitive. Fisher and Paykel makes a fairly affordable 36” wide French door refrigerator with a freezer drawer at the bottom. I have had it for a few months now and love it. It’s actually rare to have an integrated appliance that needs a cabinet like you mention for your Bosch. Side panels are always required. Another tip I can offer is that most integrated refrigerators end up being truly counter depth (25-26”) with panels. This allows the countertop of any base cabinets nearby to finish into the side panel. This detail is always a nice way to make things feel integrated.
Loving all these tips and advice, guys! Thank you!
So I had a panel ready Bosch 800 series in my last house and while it looked great, that thing STUNK. I cannot tell you how many times I had to try to clean it out do repair work etc. etc. turns out it was a pretty common problem with the dishwasher we had so I’m hesitant to do it again..
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Thank you so much for this … it inspired me to pull the trigger and purchase panel ready dishwasher and fridge. Your guidance about the toe kick under the fridge really saved me! I’m wondering about the handles – did you guys use concealed mount handles (so no screw on the back side)? I’m wondering if the panel wouldn’t mount totally flush if not. Thanks!
Hi Julie! Glad we were able to help. We didn’t use concealed-mount handles since we didn’t want to be limited in our style options. On both the fridge and dishwasher, I used a chamfer/countersink bit to veeeery slightly countersink the head of the screw on the inside of each panel. They’ve all held up very well. Just go slow and countersink in small steps until the head sits flush. Good luck!
This is so helpful. I am also looking at a Bosch 800 series panel ready dishwasher. In fact maybe the exact same one you linked to — because of the water softener. two questions for you. I have tried every which way to get information about the pull for the dishwasher. My kitchen designer said I needed an appliance pull – but that limits the options and they are expensive and 12″ whereas all the images I see on line – including in your post — it looks more like 6″ for dishwashers. So did you just use a standard 6″ cabinet pull or a special “appliance pull”? this is important cause I have fallen in love with a Rejuvenation pull that does not have an “appliance pull” option, but does have standard cabinet pulls in 6″ length. Second, I too am looking at the Bosch SGV68U53UC because it has water softener. but it is slightly smaller than all the other dishwashers. I am not worried about capacity, but I am worried about installation if it is not standard size. what are your thoughts on this? thanks!
We just used a regular 6″ pull, and it’s perfect! No need for an appliance tool with this model, at least – it opens easily and has a nice suction when it closes. You’ll be just fine with the 6″ Rejuvenation pull your heart desires!
I’m late to the party, but found this because I’m looking at panel ready – but have no clue how/where to get the panel – especially if my current cabinets are discontinued and I have no urge to buy new cabinets.
Thanks in advance for your help!
If your cabinets aren’t available anymore, you might try finding a custom cabinet maker locally. They’d likely be able to build a pretty close match for you. Hope this helps!
Hi! These are the exact pulls we are considering for our kitchen. Is the brass aging nicely? Do you like to keep them polished or prefer the natural tarnish? Is there an “ugly” transition phase?.
They’re beautiful and so far, look like the day we purchased them.
Hi! I’m interested in a panel ready fridge and it looks like we need to put a hold on a full reno of our kitchen. My question is – can I use a panel ready fridge without the cabinet doors on it for now? Many Thanks
You can, but you may need to add hardware to use it easily!