Fridge Inside a Cabinet: Design Thinking or Unthinking Designer?

Fridge Inside a Cabinet

For anyone who stays in hotel rooms, the three pictures above would be familiar. They are the pictures of a mini-fridge inside a wooden cabinet. The cabinet is usually closed from all sides, except for a small hole/ slit for the wiring. This seems to be the case in all types of hotels, regardless of their “star” rating.

Anyone who has some knowledge of refrigeration or thermodynamics or basic physics knows that the closed cabinet will get hot, because:

  1. Electricity is being burnt inside the cabinet to operate the fridge compressor. Consumption of electricity generates heat.
  2. There is no escape for the heat. Wood is not a good conductor of heat.

This generated hot air will remain between the fridge and the walls of the wooden cabinet till someone opens the cabinet door (see discussions on quora here). Because of the hot air just outside the fridge, the fridge will take longer to reach a suitably low temperature. The electricity consumption will be higher, and the compressor will have to operate for a longer time.

It is like having the hot exhaust of an air-conditioner emptying in the room that is being cooled.

So, does placing a running fridge inside a wooden cabinet meet the needs of any of the stakeholders? Let us look at each category of stakeholders, in a hotel context.

  1. Guests: The fridge does not cool properly. The drinks are not cold (lukecool? :-)). Cooked food kept in the fridge spoils quickly, and can lead to sickness. Also, one has to open 2 doors to reach the items in the fridge.
  2. Hotel Housekeeping: Guests keep complaining, and requesting for ice. The fridges break down more often, requiring repair. The insides of the fridge are also more difficult to clean. And dust gathers in the cabinet, outside the fridge.
  3. Hotel Management: Electricity bill is higher. Repair costs are higher. Risk of fire is higher. Guests can fall ill after eating stale food, and have a poor experience at the hotel. Consumption of excess electricity and generation of heat is environmentally unfriendly (contrary to the hotel’s claims of being environment conscious).

Here are some questions to consider:

  • How did this fridge-in-cabinet trend start? What were the considerations and constraints? How did this trend get adopted so widely?
  • Why is it continuing? What should be the triggers for designers to reconsider and question old designs?

Please feel free to share your views, experiences, and queries, using the “comments” feature.

Author: Rajesh Naik

I'm Rajesh Naik, and this is my personal website If you are interested in contacting me, I am also available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite.

6 thoughts on “Fridge Inside a Cabinet: Design Thinking or Unthinking Designer?”

  1. I think the reasons for placing the fridge in confined space of cupboard / dressing table, etc can be:

    a.) Children, guest should not be able to tamper with the mechanism such as compressor, etc
    b.) It is space saving
    c.) Fridge, if kept in open may give a clumsy look
    d.) Since kept in closed area, the requirement of dusting is minimized
    e.) The noise of the fridge gets muffled up. This is more so, since in a relatively smaller room space, the humming of the fridge can be felt as a little louder.

    I have also observed in many places that the upper side of the cabinet is hot many times and is not suitable for keeping laptop, etc.

  2. I think the cabinet is used purely for aesthetics and to give a common color coding to the room.. I have noticed that cheaper (small) fridges have bad exteriors and can be an eyesore in the room. And hence without bothering about thermodynamics they tend to create these “hot spots” in the room!
    Instead, why not keep fridge in the washroom? Enough space to dissipate the heat and people anyway want bathrooms to be warmer (note we use hot water in hotel washrooms irrespective of the season)!

    1. “Instead, why not keep fridge in the washroom?”

      — Many people will be uncomfortable eating and drinking from a fridge that is close to the pot! So, not a Human Centric Solution.

      By the way, there are mini-fridges with decent finishes now available – and the differential costs are not higher than the cost of a wooden cabinet.
      And many of these hotel chains have the scale to place bulk orders for custom-built finishes.

  3. Putting a refrigerator in a closed cabinet is idiotic. Put a bunch of vent holes in the cabinet so the frig can do it’s job.

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