If you are remodeling a kitchen and going high end, you may be asking yourself: What is a panel ready refrigerator, and are they a good choice? If you want that really modern, high-end integrated look, a panel ready refrigerator may be a good choice for you. (For more tips on choosing a new fridge, check out our refrigerator buying guide!)
Panel ready refrigerators allow you to have your cabinet maker design a panel for the refrigerator doors that will match your cabinets, including the hardware like the handles. Panel ready refrigerators are typically only found in larger side-by-side or French door models and are more expensive than traditional models. They are usually purchased for very expensive homes along with other high-end appliances or as part of a designer kitchen remodel.
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An Introduction to the Panel Ready Refrigerator
Most panel ready refrigerators are a type of built-in refrigerator. These models are shallower than most refrigerators so that they are either totally flush with your cabinetry or only the doors stick out. They are designed to be surrounded on either side with cabinets or a custom opening. A carpenter or other professional creates custom panels to match your kitchen that are then attached to the face of the refrigerator.
Terms You Should Know:
Overlay refrigerator: This means the same thing as "panel ready."
Integrated refrigerator: Designed so that the refrigerator doors will be completely flush to the cabinetry. They use special hinges and other features to allow this. Some are panel ready, while others come with finished doors. Of course, the professional making the panels needs to follow the manufacturer's guidelines on panel thickness to achieve this look.
Flush inset: Another term for integrated refrigerators.
- Counter depth refrigerator: These are typically freestanding models rather than built-in. The doors will stick out past your cabinets but not as much as a full-depth refrigerator. Unlike a built-in refrigerator, the hinges do not pull the door edge inward as the door is opened, so if you tried to install a counter depth model "flush" with your cabinetry, the doors would get stuck on the cabinetry and you wouldn't be able to open them fully.
The integrated style is becoming more popular, and we are seeing more choices with this design feature!
Dimensions are an important factor. Unless the manufacturer states that the model is a "flush mount" option, a panel ready model's doors will usually extend about 2" out from the cabinetry, while an integrated model's doors will be completely flush with the surrounding cabinetry. Other factors include:
Door swing - Cavity width needs to accommodate the door swing
Space for water lines and plugs - Impacts cavity depth
- Panel thickness - Particularly important if you are interested in a flush inset style
When it comes to panel ready appliances, you'll want a contractor or other professional who is experienced with creating and installing custom panels and crafting a custom cavity as well. A professional will take into account factors like the space required for water lines and plugs to create a custom cavity for the appliance. The installation can add to the overall cost of the appliance but can be worth it to get that perfectly streamlined look!
Pricing & Brands
Panel ready refrigerator pricing starts at about $4,000 on low end and can range up to $10,000 or more with upscale brands like Sub-Zero. Other brands include:
Fisher & Paykel - This New Zealand manufacturer makes a variety of panel ready refrigerators with an integrated/flush design, including refrigerator columns, bottom freezer models, and French door refrigerators. Pricing starts at around $2,500 for a 24" wide bottom freezer model, up to $4,200 for 36" wide French door and bottom freezer models, and up to $7,500 for wine cabinets and 30" refrigerator columns.
KitchenAid - KitchenAid makes some freestanding panel ready models and some built-in panel ready models as well. The counter depth freestanding models are notably less expensive than most built-ins at around $3,000-$4,000. However, keep in mind that the doors will stick out from your cabinets, and the panel will not completely cover the doors when viewed from the side. They also need 1" of clearance on either side. (The issue of the doors needing to extend past the cabinets was a source of disappointment and confusion in many customer reviews.)
Bosch - Famous in the US for their dishwashers, they also offer some integrated refrigerators that are panel ready.
GE Monogram - This is GE Appliance's high-end brand. From 24" column refrigerators to 48" wide side-by-side built-in panel ready models, they have a great variety, and they emphasize flush inset installations. Pricing ranges from around $6,300-$10,000.
- Blomberg - A stylish European brand, they offer integrated panel ready column refrigerators, bottom freezer refrigerators, and French door refrigerators. Prices start as low as $1,499 for 24" wide models up to $7,300.
Other luxury brands to consider include Gaggenau, Thermador, Jenn-Air, and SubZero.
We'll review a panel ready refrigerator model below, a French door refrigerator model from KitchenAid.
Review: The KitchenAid KRFC302EPA
The KitchenAid KRFC302EPA is a 21.94 cubic foot freestanding panel ready French door refrigerator, priced at around $3,599. It's also available in black stainless steel style at around $3,669 and in stainless steel at around $3,559. It's a counter depth refrigerator (basically, these are models that typically have a case depth of 24-24.5" excluding the doors and handles), so while the doors will still stick out a bit and there's some clearance needed on the side, you can still get that integrated feel! Also, it's 72 inches tall, so you get extra three inches versus standard counter depths. This extra height would fill in the gap above many refrigerators and also means you get a sleeker look!
This model features five interior shelves in the fresh food section, humidity-controlled crispers, and a 3-tier freezer. The controls allow you to precisely adjust the temperature of the refrigerator and freezer cavities, and they are up-front for easy access. With the ExtendFresh™ Temperature Management System, you get sensors in the fresh food and freezer sections, so you can monitor their temperatures separately. LED lighting illuminates the interiors, and this model includes an automatic ice maker and a metal wine rack. You can also easily access filtered water with its interior water dispenser.
Refrigerator capacity: 16.35 cu. ft.
Freezer capacity: 5.59 cu. ft.
Automatic ice maker & interior water dispenser
ExtendFresh™ Temperature Management System
FreshChill Temperature-Controlled Full-Width Pantry
Bright, energy-efficient LED lighting
Depth Excluding Doors: 24.625"
Depth Closed Excluding Handles: 27.75"
When dealing with high-end products, it is critically important for you to speak with an experienced salesperson and look at a model in person if you can. For more information about the panel ready refrigerator design and the entire refrigerator buying process, feel free to download our free buyer's guide, linked above! It is packed with information to help educate you so that you can make a great purchase.
Thanks for reading. Hopefully, we've helped educate you about panel ready refrigerators. We hope you enjoyed it! You can explore more built-in refrigerator models here.
Leave us a comment below - We'd love to hear from you!
Editor's Note: This blog was originally written in December of 2016 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy as of the publication date noted above.