Which is worse?Microwave on counter or OTR?

Skyangel23April 10, 2014

I thought I was fine with an OTR microwave, but from responses here and other posts it seems that is the "black sheep" of the microwave placement family. :-)

Money for this build is very tight. We are about to start drywall so electrical is finished--to call him out again to add another dedicated circuit to put the microwave in the upper or lower cabinets would be $350 +. Plus the cost of the specialized cabinet itself is $300-400, depending what I would pick. Plus microwave and hood costs. And it would delay drywall and the build has been so slow already my husband would kill me if I caused any delays.

So instead of an OTR microwave, I could get a decent SS hood (I like one from Broan), but then my option is to put the microwave on the counter somewhere. We use ours multiple times a day, so the pantry won't work, and a very small one won't work either. We do have a corner that might work to place the microwave diagonally on the counter.

The other option was getting a bookshelf type cabinet that goes down to the counter. There is a standard outlet next to the fridge, so to look more "finished" maybe I could put the microwave on the counter but inside the "shelf". In my mind I think it would be like an appliance garage without the door.

Merillat does have an appliance garage but the door is a "tambour" (sp?) ribbed/flexible type door that I really don't like.

We don't cook much and when we do it is pasta and veggies, no meat, so the actual function of the hood isn't so important to me. I do want my kitchen to look as nice as I can get it on the tight budget that we have.

So, which is worse? The OTR microwave or on the counter? :-)

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OTR is worse to me because of the functionality and inconvenience of where it is placed. My microwave is on the counter (under an upper cabinet) with a few ceramic vases on top and I don't give it a second look. But I don't keep any other appliances on the counter which also probably helps with an uncluttered look. Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 4:25PM
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Both have their place - not every kitchen has the space for a built-in, or the budget or space for a MW drawer.

I had an OTR MW in my old kitchen, because compared to the behemoth MW I bought in 1983, it was the lesser of two evil. Now that small MW's are so much more powerful, a countertop model doesn't take up nearly as much space.

The only advantage to an OTR is that it doesn't take up space anywhere else. The disadvantages, as I see them are as follows:
1. takes up space above range - makes it hard to stir pots on back burners.
2. lousy ventilation (steamy veggies need venting too)
3. difficult to reach in to get hot items
4. difficult to use if someone else is at the stove
5. can be damaged by heat and/or from the stove
6. usually more expensive than counter models

I think you have plenty of room in your corner for a counter MW. I just measured the one in my office, which is more than adequate for reheating leftovers, and it's 19" wide x 15" deep by 12" tall.

At home I have a small MW with a curved back that fits perfectly in the corner. It does take longer to cook frozen veggies than our old one, but we are never in that huge a hurry. I did measure our dinner plates before I bought it.

I did a few things in my kitchen that are frowned upon here, but I didn't remodel to win a popularity contest here. Do what works best for you and your family.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 4:42PM
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Kelly Ryan

I think it depends on how much counter space you have too. I have the black sheep OTR MW b/c I'm working with a super tight space. I couldn't give up counter space or cabinet space. We are a family of 4. We've gone periods of time where we didn't even own a MW and survived just fine . I'm not worried about the OTR placement being an inconvenience, but I would have preferred the aesthetics of a hood. Maybe in my next kitchen ;-)

If you have the counter space, and you do use the MW several times a day, sounds like it might be more convenient to you to have it down there instead of OTR.

But I wouldn't worry about it being the black sheep decicion. We all make decisions based on what works for us.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 4:42PM
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Having a range hood sounds like a big plus to me. Also, on-the-counter microwave is more ergonomic than OTR. I'd try to put it inside a shelf, if possible, to conceal the sides.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 4:46PM
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With your layout I would definitely vote on the counter, for all the reasons for and against cited above.

I have mine inside the pantry cabinet, it is not difficult to use it there.
Your bookshelf cabinet sounds nice and would give you a bit more storage too.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 5:02PM
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I debated this too, and we are installing an OTR microwave/convection. We have a U shape kitchen and right now we have a microwave on the counter. It looks cluttered to me, and it takes up a substantial amount of room. Opening up the space worked best for us, plus with our new countertops I had visions of scratches. If I had an island, I would have loved to have had it installed there...

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 5:04PM
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Mine's on the counter in a spot that is virtually unseen and wouldn't be used for anything else. I'm very pro on the counter MWs.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 7:01PM
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I've had two very small kitchens (42 square feet and 55 square feet) and have had both. In the smallest kitchen I did have an OTR because there was almost no counterspace and the ducting that went through the building was really too small for more powerful venting anyway. In the bigger one I opted for a countertop microwave in a corner. I preferred this, and if we really needed that extra couple feet of counterspace for something like intense pastry making or whatever, we could pick it up and move it.

In my next remodel, coming up soon, I am doing another countertop microwave.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 7:19PM
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As one who had her microwave on top of the fridge for years, I'm here to tell you that to me OTR is better than taking up counter space. I'm 5'2" and that height was never an issue. f

Ok. I'll admit it. It sure looked clean all the time from my angle, but every so often I took rag in hand and stood on a chair to look. But that's it.

I don't like wasting counter space on microwaves., Even though I don't like my microwave undercounter as it is now, I'd still not put it on the counter.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 8:52PM
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Thanks for the responses.
annkh, I am already doing a few "frowned upon" things in my kitchen, such as laminate counters, drop in sink, and a desk area, which with our family will get used on a regular basis. I know my budget and I am actually fine with those options, but the microwave is really bugging me. I do like the look of a range hood.

lisadlu, I would probably do the same with not much else on the counters. And we do have quite a bit of countertop space. Would you mind showing me a picture of your countertop microwave? i am trying to search for pictures to get a feel for how it would look but I'm not finding much.

kitchen-reno, in my current, and smaller kitchen, I do have the OTR and it does work and look fine, I think. I have been thinking as my eight year old gets more independent that I would not want him using an OTR microwave for safety reasons, but that he probably could use a counter microwave quite safely.

Ilovecookie, I think some kind of shelf to hide the sides would look nice too. I will have to talk to my cabinet lady and see if Merillat has something that will work.

Linelle and Ineffablespace, would you mind sharing a few pictures with me?

CEFreeman, I can't imagine trying to take hot things out of a microwave on top of my fridge! I am 5'5, but a klutz. I am sure I would have scalded myself numerous times!

That is the dilemma--either it's taking up counter space and maybe making the counter look cluttered, or it's replacing a pretty vent hood and is not as attractive, user friendly, safe for kids, or as effective as a vent.

Some things I know my own mind. some things I don't. :-) I would love anyone's pictures who have theirs on the counter, or in some kind of appliance garage or bookcase-type cabinet, with sides and then shelving above the microwave that is on the counter.

I am thinking something like this, open shelving part only, but the microwave would need to be bigger!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 11:02PM
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I don't think laminate is frowned upon. It is often suggested here. Laminate is good functional surface and comes in many colors and patterns.

An OTR mw is not very functional, 1st because you are reaching sometimes too high over a sometimes hot surface. A person using the cooktop has to move if someone wants to use the mw. The exhaust fan doesn't work very well. I understand that this is a choice that sometimes is the best for very small kitchens. In your case I think you can find a better spot for the mw.

We have a gespacemaker mw that sits on an open shelf. The shelf is only 11.5" deep. It would easily fit inside a cabinet (without doors).

Get the most functional layout you can.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 7:36AM
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This is what we have for our MW. It's a 1.5 cubic foot MW, there is 6-7 inches of counter in front of the drawer...dh and I are not short people, but we still find this easier than using an OTR MW. If you have kids in the house - or short adults - an OTR would be a real safety hazard.

If I ever want to move the MW - maybe get a larger one or something - I could easily use that space as a shelf for cookbooks. A MW drawer always has to be a MW drawer, doesn't it?

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 10:30AM
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Our MW is a little Whirlpool with a curved back, that fits neatly into the corner. Because we have an angled cabinet in that corner, that space way back in the corner wouldn't be used for much else.

Here's DH cooking his first meal in our new kitchen. The range hood is simple and unobtrusive, but provides great light and vents to the outside.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 10:41AM
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Do you cook? If so, get the superior air clearance of the range hood (you said you like the look better, so it is not clear if you care about the air part).

We have our MW mounted in a niche, with a counter below. Near the coffee maker and fridge, so people can reheat away from the stove where cooking may be happening. You really need a landing space for any heated foods and drink, so MWs on counters make a lot of sense, too.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 10:46AM
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Which is worse, on the counter vs. above the range? It depends upon how much counter space you have and how you cook.

I have miles of counter space, much of it waaaay down to the end of the kitchen in wasted-space-land. I have the seldom-used microwave down there on the end.

My new kitchen, however, will be smaller and more efficient. I'm planning for a built-in shelf (not over the range) not unlike the ones shown by SkyAngel and Gladys.

I considered a microwave drawer for about 2 minutes, but they're just too expensive.

I'm going to have the shelf sized just for a new, small-ish microwave that I'll buy . . . and then since microwaves don't have a lengthy lifetime, I'm going to buy two extra ones, which I'll tuck away. If the original goes bad, I'll still have one "just the right size" to tuck onto that shelf. Paranoid? Maybe, but since the small microwaves these days are only in the $100 range, I'm willing to "buy insurance" rather than one day face the idea that a new microwave doesn't fit my existing shelf.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 11:19AM
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It sounds as if the microwave is your cooking appliance. So where do you want it?

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 12:25PM
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My teensy tiny kitchen will be renovated soon and we are going with an "above the counter" (but not above the range) microwave. The one we're using is a full 24" wide by only 12" deep, so it can be mounted under a wall cabinet.

If my kitchen were not so narrow, I would have looked at getting a slightly deeper regular old countertop MW and mounting on a wall shelf (someone posted a lovely SS one here a long time ago, sourced fairly inexpensively via an online restaurant supply place.) For me, every inch counts, so I'm sticking with the least deep possible.

Right now in pre-reno world we have a tiny microwave on a shelf above the sink. It's often inconvenient and I figured that an OTR would be even more so. My main goal was to ensure my husband and kids could use the MW without blocking some other function in the kitchen.

Here is a link that might be useful: Over the counter microwaves

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 12:47PM
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I have had a MW in various houses in all of the above positions, (except for the MW drawer). The one I liked the least was on the counter, the one I liked the best was a dedicated cupboard custom made, so that there was some counter space underneath, and I put cookbooks above. Presently I have an OTR MW which works really well for us. We are empty nesters, no grandkids yet, so no issues of having to be accessible for kids.

The fan on our OTR MW is about 10X better than the one on the old practically useless cheap hood fan we had before the reno. We were able to buy it at a boxing day sale for a steal of a deal, we ended up having to have a custom cupboard made for above the MW and to have something for it to hang from (which both we and our KD had sort of forgotten about when initially ordering the cupboards). So, don't forget about the venting and where that has to go and what is going above the MW.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 1:06PM
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It is a funny thing, that when I was shopping for cabinets/design, most every one of the "designers" was surprised that I didn't want an OTR microwave. Don't know if it had to do with the size of the kitchen, the budget, or if it is just so standard in this region.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 1:16PM
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Smalloldhouse, glad you went with the over the counter-I think you'll be happy with it.

Skyangel23, I agree with Debrak, the 24" GE Spacemeker would totally work with your idea. It can be mounted at whatever height in the stack.

I started out with an OTR in my plan and purchased it. I have been using it in my temporary kitchen and have found it so overwhelmingly large and noisy and the thought of it taking precious real estate from my kitchen, along with its lack of exhaust power led me to totally change my plan (thanks to similar GW posts like these several years ago). I planned to purchase a small countertop MW and put it on a shelf, but once my cabinets were in decided on the Spacesaver. It is below eye level, easy to reach, and flush with the cabinets. I've mentioned in other posts how quiet it is; you can barely tell it's running. We have not trimmed it out yet, but this pic gives an idea how it fits with the cabinets.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 2:10PM
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Skyangel, my kitchen is 10x10 and G-shaped. First shot is from my dining room. Does anyone see a microwave?

Here it is!

Now, admittedly, my fridge is not counter depth so it juts out and really hides the MW from the side. But based on how my kitchen is laid out, it's very inconspicuous till you're standing right in front of it.

You can see how much counter space I have. It's quite adequate for one person in a smaller kitchen. The space my MW occupies would be no use to me at all, other than to collect other items. Might as well have a working appliance there. I use my peninsula as fridge landing space.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 3:19PM
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linelle, I think that's a fantastic placement! I don't think I will have a good hiding spot like that though. One side of my fridge is the pantry, the other side is open to the breakfast nook and the family room. :(

bbtrix, may I say your kitchen cabinets are lovely. I like the glass doors with the glass shelves. I don't currently have an outlet up above around the upper cabinets though. Can you get a full sized plate in the space saver?

raee, yes, the OTR micro is quite common here too. Not so much in custom homes, but in builder communities and spec homes, yes.

raehelen, we've had The OTR micro in several previous homes, including the one we are renting now. It has always worked fine. I do like the look of the range hood, and my eight year old has recently showed interest in using the microwave, which I don't want him to do with it so high up. I think I would be less concerned too if it was just myself and my husband.

thank you for the link. it seems like quite a few people have that GE spacesaver. I do wonder if it would work as well and as fast as a regular microwave, since it is only 800 watts, and we use ours so much.

Mrs. Pete, we will have plenty of counter space. And we "cook" with our microwave much of the time. :-) Good idea on buying several back-ups. Then no worries about discontinued sizes.

annkh, thanks for the pics! That microwave does look awfully small though. Can you fit full size plates and tuppaware inside it? Your range hood is similar to what I had in mind. Simple and unobtrusive. :-)

Gladys, I like your set-up very much. Problem is our cabinets are from Merillat, and since they are stock cabinets they don't offer options like that. :-(

I do think next to the fridge would be the best placement for it, as it is out of the cooking zone if someone is using the stove, and very convenient for reheating left overs.

I've sent an email in to our KD to see what options there are with Merillat, to see if we can do any kind of low shelf or enclose it on two sides kind of like an appliance garage or bookshelf. If she will ever get back to me on pricing, who knows, maybe I can fit in adding an outlet and putting the micro under the uppers.

Thank you for all the responses. I will update as I finalize.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 9:14PM
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Here is another thought --

To regain some of the counter space that's taken by the microwave, you maybe could add a pull-out bread board under the microwave counter (or somewhere else).

For example:

Traditional Kitchen by Washington Kitchen & Bath Designers Laura Rodman Designs

Traditional Kitchen by Brooklyn Architects & Designers Martin Brandwein Architect

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 9:59PM
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I am planning a small budget reno. I have a very narrow galley kitchen. I am going with an OTR microwave due to limited counter space. I've never had an OTR, but my current range hood sounds like an airplane taking off, so I'm sure anything will be better. It will vent directly outside I have two windows in my kitchen as well. My sister has one and loves it; hers also vents directly outside.

I am tall, so I'm not worried about how high it will be. I do have two boys, 8 and 12. Currently they don't use the microwave a whole lot, mainly for popcorn and my 12 year old will occasionally heat up a can of soup. I have no problem with them using a step stool or asking me to help.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 10:36PM
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Skyangel, thank you! I am anxiously awaiting loading those new cabinets!

You will need an outlet somewhere close no matter which you choose, though the Spacesaver can be undermounted to anything sturdy it can be attached to at any height (with the undermount kit), or used on the counter. I am currently using both my OTR GE and the Spacesaver as I also use my microwave much. Though it needs more time for some things, like popcorn, I've not seen a huge difference for other items like veggies from the freezer, reheating leftovers and my home made frozen items. I'm using both concurrently now so I can get a feel for the time difference I'll need once I'm in the new kitchen. I cook from scratch to freeze and reheat meals during the week for lunch and dinner so I'd say I use it very much for all meals. I typically time what's being cooked/reheated in the MW to fit with whatever else I'm doing and do not see a problem with the transition. It fits a full size plate easily. I often put multiple items in. All of my French White casserole dishes fit. I have had full sized microwaves for 30 some years and am so glad there are now alternatives and could not be more pleased with the Spacesaver. I know every kitchen choice is so important and mind boggling. I hope you're able to find the best solution for your family.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 11:11PM
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I actually brought one of my dinner plates to the store, to make sure it fit in the MW, before I bought it. Where the space gets a little tight is in height.

It does take longer than other MWs we've had to cook frozen veggies, but not long enough to be annoying. And the controls are very simplistic, which I don't mind. We rarely make MW popcorn (because it's SO much better popped on the stove!), so I can't comment on that.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 11:26PM
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I have had mine on the counter for 18+ years. It is a little out of the way so as not to be in a prime counter top space. So, I do have to walk a bit to use it.

My in-laws have it OTR and I have found some disadvantages. If you use your microwave during cooking, I would not put it over the range - just too much a safety hazard IMHO. It would also make a crowded space if two cooks are trying to use the stove/microwave at the same time.

I think it will depend also on what kind of cooking you do. A good range hood is also a plus if you sear or grill things on your range. Those activities that create smoke or smelly foods will get much better ventilation.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2014 at 2:47PM
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From your diagram, it looks to me as though you have plenty of other countertop and wouldn't miss this corner. I am a very simple 'cook' and mostly use the 18" of countertop between my oven and my cooktop and the 18" beside my fridge/freezer. I have an old toaster-oven in my 'corner' for morning toast and evening rolls.

Can a microwave toast? I could put THAT in my corner when I dump the built-in microwave/oven. (Neither part is satisfactory.)

    Bookmark   April 12, 2014 at 5:38PM
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Skyangel23 -- I have something similar to the open shelving pic you posted on this thread. When we moved into our house, the kitchen had an OTR microwave which was terrible. We replaced it with a kitchen hood, and in our remodel we added open shelving with a decorative side panel. We use the shelves for cookbooks, and the open space above the counter is where we put our microwave.

Two things to remember are 1) make sure you put outlets where you need them (we put one outlet behind microwave and another behind the first shelf, where we have a Sonos speaker in addition to books), and 2) make sure you have enough clearance above the microwave to meet specs. Most counter microwaves require air clearance above the unit.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2014 at 7:22PM
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calumin, would you mind sharing a picture with me? That sounds very close to what is in my head. :-)

    Bookmark   April 12, 2014 at 8:29PM
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Skyangel23 -- here's what I setup in my kitchen.


    Bookmark   April 13, 2014 at 9:19PM
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Thanks Calumin. Yes, I am thinking something very similar to that.
So I found out we can't do an appliance garage or add doors without the expense & delay of adding another outlet to be in accordance with code, but we can do an open bookcase starting on the counter. I was thinking 18" deep to allow for a few different models. I will get a design and post it.
Thanks for the advice and photos everyone.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 10:09PM
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Here is the bookcase, which can be 15", 18", 21", or 24" deep. Not sure whether 18" or 21" would be better. I'll have plenty of counter space to the left and the peninsula is 5-6 ft. across the aisle as well.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 10:45PM
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Try your bookcases at home. 21" is awfully deep, either you won't be able to find anything in the back, ie if you have two layers of books, or you'll have wasted space in front.

Mine had the MW up off the counter, ie on the first shelf, so you could still use counter space, I think I stored my bread under there. I think 15" is probably enough. I just measured my honking big Panasonic, and it's 15" deep. I doubt you would get any MW deeper than that, and even 15 is a pretty deep bookcase. Mine in my kitchen now are 12" deep (Just books and wine, no MW)

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 11:02PM
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I like the bookcase idea but I'm also not opposed to on the counter. A kitchen is first and foremost a workspace and it needs to be functional for you.

We looked at MW drawers but were floored at how overpriced they were compared to a regular microwave. We went with a below counter option but have a regular microwave that is much easier to replace than a drawer should our daughter finally figure out how to cook a plastic doll in there.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 8:19AM
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heres what I decided on for my microwave

Here is a link that might be useful: Solution for microwave placement

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 9:43AM
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For what its worth......we went with the OTR microwave and really like it. Ours is a GE Cafe convection microwave, which is simply awesome. Last night I baked cod in the convection, 375 degrees and it was wonderful. And its vented to the outside. There is plenty of clearance under for stirring etc., and the exhaust power is fine, no problems. It does not pull my hair into it like my cousins 40 plus inch wide mega range and hood, but my house is just a modest 2,100 sq foot ranch.

Then again, we also went with Tarkett Transcend vinyl plank flooring due to the dogs and pool traffic and high end cabinets and level IV granite, so it works for us and we love it.

The MW on the counter was waiting for trash day, its long gone. Personally, I do not like like the look of a MW on a counter anywhere. The drawer ones are great if you have the budget, we did not give it that priority.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 10:38AM
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Thank you cparlf, threegraces, and raehelen for your advice. Yes, the micro drawers are expensive. I am not sure with how much we use the micro if we would want to bend down that much. Raehelen, I took your advice on depth of the bookcase and made it 15".

Here are the updated pictures of the design, with bookcase and range hood. thoughts? It seems like I could do the microwave on the countertop or on the first shelf up, as Raehelen suggested.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 3:57PM
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I prefer on the counter to OTR. If you have the available counter space use it. I hid my at the end of a run of cabinets before the remodel. This time around it is in the pantry. I also found with the size of our microwave, the cabinet I originally was going to put it in was too small for the microwave.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 4:04PM
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If you decide to put it up on the first shelf, do you have to have the side supports coming all the way down to the counter? I'm just thinking about useable counter space...there are pros and cons of both ways. Without supports, you can pretty well treat counter like the rest of your counter, with supports, you have a little alcove that you designate for something specific, like putting condiments you leave on counter (I leave jam, peanut butter, honey, salt and pepper, etc.)

Like any other cupboard, it could just be bolted to wall/studs, it doesn't have to rest on counter.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 4:37PM
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A bookshelf type doesn't necessarily have to take up counter space. We just finished cabinetry design for new construction kitchen & on attached, marked in red, is lift up cabinet that will hold counter top micro, although could be open - we just happen to be doing integrated so went with it covered. Like your bookcase idea too - if you've got room above though, you could free up that counter spot. .

I'd have praised OTR location. We loved convenience as we micro a lot during dinner prep, handy while working below at stove.

wouldn't get one again. OTR stand for Oversized Timer / Reminder for us - that's all its good since several months ago when heating element expired. You cant just pop in a new one like buying a replacement counter top micro.

When new house micro expire, unplug old, plug in replacement. A reminder that helped us decide against the pricier drawer micro.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 7:46PM
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