Not exactly what I was hoping for...When I first began dreaming about our kitchen remodel, I stuffed a folder with inspirational photos. They featured many different kinds of kitchens: cottage, Victorian, rustic, and '50s retro. But they all shared a common theme: big, eye-catching, decorative over-the-range hoods.
But that's not what we wound up with.
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.)
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. And 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 over-the-range hoods. Not microwaves.
But at some point -- around 3 a.m. 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 or a studio or 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.
1. Over-the-range microwaves are awkward.
One problem I read about again and again is that lower OTR 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. 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 my husband and I can easily reach it.
2. Over-the-range microwaves are unsafe.
Critics claim that young kids aren't able to use above-the-range microwaves safely, and I suppose that's true, but I don't need my three- and six-year-olds to microwave yet. 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 using the microwave while one of the burners is on could catch your clothes on fire. While this is technically true, I rarely use the microwave and range 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, but that fires are dangerous by nature 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.
3. Microwaves-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. 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 basic model that vented outside. 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.
4. 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 goes out of style. And for those of us with small kitchens and smaller 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. And I'm quite happy with it.
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Meagan Francis Meagan Francis has been honing the fine art of parental satisfaction since her oldest child was born 13 years ago, and shares her missteps, success stories, and what she's learned along the way via her blog The Happiest Mom, and book The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets To Enjoying Motherhood.