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meaganfrancis

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Meagan lives in St. Joseph, MI with her husband Jon and kids Clara, Owen, William, Isaac, and Jacob; who range in age from four to fifteen. Meagan celebrates the art of sane + satisfying family life at her blog The Happiest Home, and shares her ideas on being a happier mom in her book The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets To Enjoying Motherhood, both of which have been hailed as down-to-earth, funny, wise, and helpful.

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In defense of the over-the-range microwave: or why I need to worry less about what other people think

By Meagan Francis |

When I first began dreaming about our (yes, still in progress) kitchen remodel, I stuffed a folder full of inspirational photos. The photos featured many different kinds of kitchens: cottage, Victorian, rustic, ’50s retro. But they all shared a common theme: big, eye-catching, decorative over-the-range hoods.

However, this is what we wound up with.

Source: My actual house

See, when we were shopping for appliances, I agonized over the range hood vs. over-the-range microwave decision. We purchased everything through a local appliance repair/scratch-and-dent warehouse, and they offered us a killer deal on a very gently used Jenn-Air range, refrigerator, and dishwasher set. (If you are familiar with Jenn-Air, you know it’s a high-end brand, and we got the whole set for less than the cost of a much less upscale kitchen set. Yay for Diamond Appliance!)

And the set would be an even better deal, they told us, if we took the matching over-the-range microwave, too.

I’d had my heart set on a cool-looking decorative hood, but we had already gone over budget, and weren’t really up for spending — at minimum — $400 for a lower-end range hood plus the cost of a new microwave. Plus, I was still at a loss for where we would put the microwave, if not above the stove: in a 10 x 10 two-sided galley, we don’t exactly have cabinet space to spare.

I stayed up late into the night, scouring forum after forum of people picking over-the-range microwaves apart. Critics called them dated, impractical, ineffective, passe, ugly, and … did I mention dated? It became clear that truly “now” designer kitchens all feature shiny decorative stainless-steel hoods, or perhaps custom-built wooden hoods. Either way, hoods. Not microwaves.

But at some point — around 3 AM when I’d decided that maybe we could just forgo flooring for a year or so and hide the microwave in the bedroom closet — something occurred to me:

This is my house. It’s not a designer’s house. It’s not a studio. It’s not a magazine layout.

So really, who cares what anonymous Internet critics think? We have to do what works for us. Our needs, our limitations, our preferences, our budget.

So … we bought the over-the-range microwave-slash-vent hood. And for the most part? I love it. Six months later, I’ve had enough time to put some of those common criticisms to the test:

“Over-the-range microwaves are awkward.”
One problem I read about again and again is that lower O-T-R microwaves, when hung too low, can make the kitchen feel closed in; but when hung too high, they can be impractical for shorter people to use or seem too close to the ceiling.

We hung ours just above eye-level, so I don’t have to stare at it while I cook.  Since we have high ceilings, it seems proportionate. Both Jon and I can easily reach into it, and since we’re the ones doing the cooking at our house, it works.

“Over-the-range microwaves are unsafe.”
Critics claimed that young kids aren’t able to use above-the-range microwaves safely, and I suppose that’s true … but I don’t particularly need my three- and six-year-olds to microwave yet, anyway. As for the taller people in the house, we can all easily reach into the microwave, though if we are taking something very full and hot out, we use a step stool and/or use extreme care.

Another safety concern that I’ve seen mentioned is that if you lean over the range while one of the burners is on to reach up into the microwave, you could catch your clothes on fire. While this is technically true, I rarely use the microwave and rangetop at the same time and in general, I am pretty careful about not lying on burners. Again, I’m not saying accidents can’t happen, just that fires are by nature dangerous and due diligence is always needed.

I think part of the reason these potential issues haven’t been a big deal for us is that we just aren’t big microwave users. I prefer the stovetop for cooking almost anything, and use the microwave mostly for reheating plates of food or occasionally making popcorn. Or melting butter for popcorn. (Or melting butter for anything.)

One big benefit of our Jenn-Air micro is that it doubles as a convection oven. That has come in very handy on holidays and before parties when I’m trying to bake a lot of stuff at once.

“Microwave-vent combos are ineffective.
Some critics claim that microwave-vent combinations aren’t as effective as hoods that vent directly outdoors. But since our stove was mounted on an inner wall and there was no easy way to run ducts to the outside, we were going to end up with a “filter” system no matter what. Basically that means that, rather than venting outside, grease and odors are captured by a filter in the vent and then recirculated back into the kitchen. Our particular Jenn-Air model slides out to cover more area when the vent is turned on, too.

Does it work well? I’d say it works just as well as our old range hood, which was a super basic model that vented outside. And I cook on high heat fairly often. The only time I’ve noticed cooking odors lingering for long is when we’ve made bacon. And in my opinion, there are worse things in life than a bacon-scented home.

“Over-the-range microwaves are ugly and dated.”
Well, it’s true that OTR microwaves aren’t making much of a splash on Pinterest these days, but I don’t think practicality ever really goes out of style. And for those of us with small kitchens and small budgets, an over-the-range micro/vent combo is a practical choice.

As for looks? Sure, I still ooh and ahh over the beautiful range hoods in designer kitchens, and if we had all the space and money in the world I’d probably go for one. In the meanwhile, though, this is our reality.

I have to say, I think it’s rather pretty. And when we finally get those shelves and that backsplash up – hopefully before 2013! – it’ll be downright lovely, don’t you think?

Lesson learned: When you’re considering different remodeling options, keep in mind that your opinions, lifestyle, budget and needs are what really matter. Have you learned this lesson the hard way, too?

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About Meagan Francis

meaganfrancis

Meagan Francis

Meagan Francis is a mom of five who loves everyday adventures and is in pursuit of a big life with her big family. Her love of family, food, home and travel fuel her writing here and on her blogs The Happiest Home and The Kitchen Hour.
 
Read bio and latest posts → Read Meagan's latest posts →

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25 thoughts on “In defense of the over-the-range microwave: or why I need to worry less about what other people think

  1. Cate says:

    I actually think your kitchen is adorable! Also, your “source: my actual house” caption cracked me up.

  2. Alison says:

    I have a tiny galley kitchen and i have often wished my micro was above the stove–it wastes so much precious counter space! I think yours looks fine!

  3. Sharon says:

    I love looking at fancy kitchen but I’m all about functionality. It has to work for you and your family.

  4. Clover says:

    I dream about a nice vent hood, but it’s just that– a dream. And our over-the-range microwave works fine. One thing I do worry about foodies sniffing at my choices is that I am rather attached to my smooth-top range. I’ve had gas ranges in the past, and I love the versatility, but this one is just so stinkin’ easy to clean! Oh, well, it will be years before we have the budget or time to change our tiny little kitchen, and it works for me to crank out meals every day, so no complaining!

  5. Tragic Sandwich says:

    I don’t think that I’ve ever second-guessed home decor based on someone else’s comments, but it’s taken me years to figure out what my taste in jewelry is–and to fully realize that it’s okay that it’s different than what my mother preferred.

  6. kristen says:

    Mine is over the range and I love it. I didn’t even know it was in poor taste! Heh.

  7. Olivia says:

    I’m short so in order for an over the range microwave to work for me, it would probably be hung to low for most people, but your main point stands. I love the look of designer rooms, but most of them don’t work for everyday life.

  8. SusanP says:

    Wow – never new the over the stove microwave had negatives! Ours was already like that when we bought our house twelve years ago. Never bothered me, although I am tall. Never had a safety issue that I can think of. I have accidently turned on the wrong burner on our electric/smooth top stove and burned an oven mitt though. The microwave finally gave out a few months ago and we debated how to replace it since it seemed the counter tops were cheaper. We decided we did not want to give up counter space and replaced it with an over the top one again. I can’t remember which architect said it but my favorite quote is “Form follows function”.

  9. Jen says:

    I could go on, and on! This is such an issue for me. We just had our seventh child and are in our first house after years of putting my husband through school. The house budget MIGHT equal a bucket of paint once in awhile. :) Since our budget is so tight I don’t feel like I have room to make mistakes. I stress about whether or not a change might make the house hard to resell if someday in a miraculous future we have a change to upgrade. I worry about whether or not it will seem wasteful if I repaint the one of two rooms I have actually painted a different color, even if I haven’t finished painting it the first color and it looks perfectly fine. ( I’m figuring out what I like?)
    I worry about the furniture that has been given to us by family that someday I would like to replace or repaint and how many people I might offend in wanting to repaint Grandma’s dresser.
    I worry about making a small house work with so many little ones but still look presentable. Etc, etc, etc.
    Thank you for supporting an idea that I have been trying to convince myself of. Make it MY house. And love it. Period.

    PS. The nester did a piece about 31 lovely limitations that also helped me. All about embracing your limitations. http://www.thenester.com/2010/08/this-is-your-house-is-it-who-you-want-to-be.html

  10. Janis Meredith says:

    The heck with everyone else. They do not live in your home. I did that with my first house. I always wanted a black and white bathroom and I got one. Kinda funked people out when they walked in it because of the crazy wallpaper design. But I loved it!

    http://jbmthinks.com

  11. Vicki says:

    We did the same thing when we redid our kitchen 2 years ago. It works for us – we have a beautiful kitchen now, but it is very functional. I try to let the designers inspire me but then make the decision based on what would REALLY work for my family. Easier said than done.

  12. Tasia says:

    When I moved into my new house after separating from XH, I got to decide for myself how I wanted to use the spaces. Me being me, I use many of my spaces differently than most people probably would, and differently than my friends suggested when they came to see my new place before I had furniture and we tossed ideas around.

    For one thing, instead of using the extra space in my kitchen as a dining area, I put a couch and TV in there and now the whole room functions as a gathering space where we all spend most of our time. My friends thought I’d end up hating that setup but I LOVE it.

    The dining table went instead to one side of the living room, where there is a big window with a bit of a view and it feels special when we choose to eat there instead of at the kitchen island. It’s also convenient for crafts and games since I can keep those supplies in that room instead of the kitchen.

    People seem to like it, too, even the ones who didn’t think it would work. :-)

  13. SleeplessinSummerville says:

    Like Kristen, I had no idea the OTR microwave was passe! Umm… at least it’s not avocado! I looks just fine and is practical for you. Mine also looks just fine and is practical, I guess that’s why I never thought anyone would criticize it. My husband and I are short and we have no problem reaching it. We never cook entrees in the microwave, so while we take things out that are hot (we hope), it’s never both heavy and hot. I’ve never come close to burning myself and as an added bonus, my two-year-old, who would dearly love to play with the microwave, can’t reach it unless I hold him up there and if I’m doing that I’m obviously making sure he doesn’t break anything or do anything unsafe :)

  14. Alexandria says:

    ???

    We have always had a microwave-over-range set up. Never heard that it was dangerous. Ha! {I can’t say I ever had to “lean” to use the microwave. Ours looks very similar. No leaning required. I just walked over to the stove/microwave to check. I don’t see why any limb or body part would get anywhere near the stove, with ours. I personally have a natural instinct to keep body away from stove. Even if the kids don’t, they will learn quick}.

  15. Meagan Francis says:

    You guys wouldn’t believe some of the passionate hatred out there for over-the-range microwaves! Here’s one of the threads I had bookmarked…and this is one of the milder ones! http://ths.gardenweb.com//forums/load/kitchbath/msg021322482709.html

  16. Veronica J says:

    I’ve had DH put in a micro-hood in the last 3 houses we’ve bought. It’s just so functional for us who are destined in life to have small kitchens with limited counter space! I will never go back to a regular microwave!

  17. Alison says:

    We remodeled our kitchen down to the lath board so I spent tons of time collecting magazine pages (before Pinterest) so I know exactly what you mean. We passed on the range hood too. It was just way out of our budget so we opted for a pot rack. We still have people ask why we didn’t install a fan/vent but whatever. We put in a ceiling fan instead. I haven’t had a problem. But I did take away one cupboard and made a space for the microwave in a wall shelf. It is probably too high and the kids won’t be able to reach it for many, many years, but that’s okay with me. To each his own.

  18. kim moldofsky says:

    We’ve got this going on, too. Though the microwave and are cabinets are a bit higher from the counter top than normal–maybe a 1/2 inch or so, but I’m only 5 feet tall. Every .5 inch counts!

  19. Tricia says:

    I, for one, am so tired of all the pointless internet opinions on everything (irony not lost on me that I am in the process of leaving a pointless internet opinion). I’m raising my child wrong. My house/clothes/lifestyle are outdated. The neighborhood where I own my house isn’t hip. I don’t look all cutesy like Zooey Daschanel. You know what, I OWN my house and can afford my lifestyle without relying on help from anyone and I think that’s something to be proud of. You deserve a pat on the back for being able to renovate your kitchen at all regardless as to how long it takes or what your choices are!

  20. Shirley Smith says:

    I enjoyed reading this post. I think that what you used in remodeling your kitchen is what the book of Proverbs calls “Wisdom” ;) And that my friend, IS THE THING to use! It is your house, and what is going to be best for you and your family is what matters. God wants us to be wise and good stewards over our money, our time, our resources, our family. You made Him proud, I’m sure. This is my first time reading your blog and I may return, I may become a follower too! Being a mother and a homemaker is a tough job, we don’t need any more added stress on top of what we do. Some worrying is not needed, and worrying about what “they say” (those critics) is not worth it. Your kitchen is going to finish well, and its functioning and your happy… :) Good for you happy mother!

  21. [...] For one, we all have different budget constraints, we all have different lifestyles, and different priorities. If you’ve ever renovated a kitchen (I haven’t), you probably will identify with this post by one of my favorite writers, Meagan Francis: In defense of the over-the-range microwave, or why I need to worry less about what other people thin…. [...]

  22. Monica says:

    I hate my microwave above the stove because it is so hard for me to clean. I want to put it in the pantry or in the garage especially since I don’t use it a lot but haven’t found the budget for a hood…

  23. I am glad you posted about O.T.R micro/vent. We are in the process of remodeling the kitchen. I can not use outdoor type vent, only one with a filter. And our plans call for a move of the microwave and it looks like the only place is over the range – but still need that ‘filter’ to do the venting. And like you say, it’s really only when making bacon that the odor is a (albeit small) problem. Thanks for your post.

  24. Jeri says:

    How were you able to hang the microwave without cabinets? We have a similar situation where we have no cabinets, but would still like a microwave over our stove.

    Thanks,
    Jeri

  25. Peter Kelley says:

    I have the same issue/question: we dont have cabinets either, could tell me in detail how you hung the microwave

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