Help! Cabinet/microwave clearance issues

dreamojeanAugust 24, 2013

Any suggestions for how to resolve a problem with my cabinets being hung too high and the microwave being so high that I can barely use it and it hurts my neck to look up at it? I've attached a photo for context. Gorgeous but we're not 6' tall people! (I'm 5'3, my husband is around 5'7", we have a child). We're used to a 21" clearance for cabs and microwave over the range, what we got is 23" for cabs and 26.5" for microwave (!). it's partly an IKEA cabinet problem since we need a 21" for the microwave and they only offer 18 or 24. I bought both and my contractor said the 24" would be too low and did the 18". But the 18 clearly doesn't work. I can buy the 24" this weekend and he can swap it out but it will hang 1-2" below the cabinet line.

I think under the circumstances (over or under the cabinet line), UNDER makes the most sense (clearance will be 20.5" from stovetop which is fine with me).

Also, query whether I should pay him (he's a time/materials guy) to lower the cabinets 1 or 1.5" (not so much so that the microwave really is too low, I wouldn't go under 19.5 or perhaps 19 clearance). IKEA cabinets are on a rail system (brilliant) so it would involve pulling them down, lowering the rail and putting them back up. Probably a half day, give or take, not prohibitive.

I'm inclined to suck up the cabinet 23 clearance (with the undercabinet lighting and skirt it will turn into the 21" I like, but a bit hard to reach the 23" cabinets) and just lower the microwave by 6" with the longer 24 cabinet. I also have a 16.5" faucet and a soffit at the top of the 39" cabinets at the 23" clearance and the contractor thought putting the cabinets up to the soffit was the cleanest. My designer (via email, she's on vacation) prefers a 21" clearance, to lower the cabs 2".

Thoughts? Suggestions? I have the weekend to figure this out, I have my contractor for 4 more days before we have to move into the space and make it work. Undercabinet lighting goes in tomorrow (Sunday) morning so I might really be out of time today unless I put off my electrician to later this week... Help!!

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As far as the microwave, the NKBA recommends the microwave be placed no higher than 3â below the users shoulder height.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 9:41AM
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The bottom of the cabinets should be 54" above the floor. With 24" clearance and not the usual 18" of clearance between the cabinets and counters, it's no wonder you have issues. Your contractor hung the uppers MUCH too high! Take them down and rehang them at the proper height. It also looks like you chose a much taller fridge cabinet than would align with the uppers, so the solution to the MW problem is to also choose a taller cabinet than needed and also hang it higher, so that the cabinets "stair step" across the top. Then your MW can align at the proper height. If you will be doing a crown molding, you also want to bump the MW cabinet forward 3" with blocking or else the crown won't work.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 10:13AM
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I'm 5'2". I prefer the bottom of the cabinets to be 57" above the floor (for looks -- I've had both 18" clearance and 21" clearance between counters and upper cabinets, and I like the 21" better). But (and it's a big but), I also have a microwave over range that's much too high and I absolutely hate it (so much that in my remodel, I'm going to put a drawer microwave in the island). I have to reach my arms up above my head to get anything out of the microwave, which isn't safe!

My vote (but I have no idea if this is even possible) would be to leave the cabinets where they are, have your contractor build a box under the over-microwave cabinet to attach the microwave to and lower it so the BOTTOM of the microwave is even with the bottom of the other cabinets.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 11:05AM
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sjhockeyfan, my contractor did offer to build a box (he called it a filler or something) to make the microwave flush with the lower part of the cabinets but tomorrow I get under cabinet lighting and if that and the skirt to hide it brings us to a 21" clearance, and the microwave would stick down under 1" below the bottom of the cabinets using a 24" cab, I'm inclined to just get the 24" cab so we can even reach that cab.

Debrak, that's very helpful and I'll measure that.

GreenDesigns, thanks for your input! I really really don't want 18" cab clearance with the sink there. If the sink was in front of the window maybe but I want 20-21" clearance above the sink - not the 23" I have but once under cabinet lights are in I might have 21 which is why the contractor hung them that way (in part). I'm dancing as fast as I can to find a solution that works :) - many thanks to all!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 12:48PM
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Sophie Wheeler

If you want more clearance at the sink, then just put a shorter cabinet just above the sink at the same time you put the taller cabinet above the MW. That's what most people do rather than hanging all the cabinets too high. Use a 15" or 18" tall cabinet above the sink, add a valance, and maybe a couple of puck lights. It will be much more functional overall. Having all the cabinets mounted that high is just plain strange and dysfunctional to boot.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 5:11PM
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> then just put a shorter cabinet just above the sink at the same time you put the taller cabinet above the MW. That's what most people do rather than hanging all the cabinets too high.

Agreed. I'd use a 30" or even a 24" fan cabinet over the sink. A look that works well is to use a very short cabinet over the sink and put a glass shelf a bit below it.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 5:31PM
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The distance from the floor to the bottom of the cabinets now is around 58-59". What I personally like is 56-57" (to give me a little more breathing room and clearance). So really the cabinets probably should come down 1.5".

That said, one oops - the cabinets aren't actually a 24" clearance - I, uh, forgot about the countertop height when I was measuring. Accounting for the countertop, they are 22.5 clearance, and once the undercabinet lights and skirt are in they will probably be closer to a 21" clearance which is exactly what I prefer (20-21" clearance). So while the 22.5 isn't my cup of tea for reaching things, the 21 or so clearance is nice for space to work. But since most of our work will probably be on our island, I tend to agree that the cabinets should come down an inch to a 20" clearance or even 1.5 inches to a 19.5 or so clearance and 57" from floor.

I also think if we get the 24" cabinet over the microwave, which goes 2" below the cabinet WITHOUT the undercabinet lighting and skirt, that once the lighting/skirt are in it will be fairly flush or just slightly below and not terrible, and at a 19" clearance to the stove - lower than I'd prefer but not fatal (hopefully).

Separately, turns out the highly rated Whirlpool microwave I bought that generally looks the same as the Frigidaire range, has a BLUE light on the microwave vs. the YELLOW light on the range - which looks terrible! So I'm toying with trying to swap out the microwave we bought for either a Frigidaire microwave (not rated that well but would match) or finding something similar with a yellow light so it's not strange looking. The level of detail involved in putting a kitchen together is staggering. I don't even know if the store will take the microwave back and swap it...

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 10:54PM
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As for changing the height of the sink cabinet and making it higher, I heavily researched that and would rather just get a different faucet than re-open that can of worms. I asked our designer and from a design perspective she preferred a straight line of cabs. Plus someone at IKEA told me that's the "old way" of doing things, and that nowadays it's more common to stick with the same height for the sink - she could have been wrong but seemed adamant about it.

In our current kitchen which has open shelving the clearance including over the sink is 21" and that has worked for us. But higher than that would be a pain and we're at 22.5 so...

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 11:02PM
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Dreamojean, I think functionality for YOU is far more important than what is perceived to be in style, or what might look better to one designer's eye. After all, you're the one who has live and work in your space.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 8:05AM
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Sophie Wheeler

If you can't reach the MW, then you can't reach the shelves of the raised cabinets either. Alignment height standards were developed for a reason. It's all meant to work together as a system.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 8:48AM
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So I've spoken with my designer and contractor and electrician and the consensus is to lower the cabinets 2" so clearance with the under-cabinet molding/skirt will be about 20.5 which is fine with me.

Also, I think with the skirt at around 2" I think we can use the 24" cabinets over the microwave since it's 4" higher than the bottom WITHOUT the skirt which is more than 2", so we have our 6" and we'll be flush after all. Go figure.

That means I'm headed to IKEA today for the missing cabinet. My contractor (time/materials, sigh) says it'll cost up to a day of work, and I know the value of his time and think it's worth the fix now vs. being uncomfortable.

I also verified that a 19" clearance for the microwave over the stove works just fine, minimum clearances are well under the usual 18" clearance everyone has apparently (I didn't look at our Whirlpool's specs specifically but this is what the appliance store told me).

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 11:23AM
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Good decision. Post back the finished pics when you're all done. Hope the rest is all clear-water sailing for you. :-)

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 12:16PM
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Thanks! As to the idea to make the cabinets over the sink shorter than the rest, my designer was adamant about not doing that, said it's not a good idea and it's way cleaner to have a "full set" of cabinets both for storage and for the look of the place. We have so little storage that I agree with her and if we have to jettison the higher faucet this week and find something shorter so be it. My electrician thinks we'll be fine with the 16.5 faucet (which is so pretty goodness gracious - a Kraus 60/40 for the 30 cabinet with a faucet that looks like a piece of sculpture for what it's worth).

And the appliance store and the designer said don't worry about the blue light on the microwave - I hate it personally but the appliance store ALSO said it won't take the microwave back anyway now that it's been installed, since it's officially "used" at that point so we're stuck with it or have to spend another $250-$350 for a 2nd one. Which is not my preference. (and we can do it later if need be anyway)

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 12:42PM
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Since someone asked me to post finished pics when done, here's a pic of the mostly finished kitchen - (that is, kitchen is finished but lacks a pantry/food storage so we are using space in the dining room for that, and the dining room needs decluttering/built-ins as a result but that's the subject for another post)

    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 2:40PM
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Very nice, are those the Ramsjo doors?
The MW looks much easier to reach and lines up very nicely. Great solution. It's so nice when people post their solutions.

The over sink cabinet is a bit low for me, but if you are happy with it that is the most important. If and only if you might want to change it in the future- for example before resale, it is pretty easy to change with the Ikea system since each cabinet hangs off the hanging rail, You might want to buy the shorter doors and an extra piece of light rail and end panel, and keep a few pieces of extra backsplash just in case you ever want to change it out in the future. Ikea is infamous for discontinuing door styles after several years.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 6:21PM
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Scrappy, yes we used the Ramsjo white Ikea cabinets and ended up with a 24" long by 30" wide cabinet over the microwave (over the range).

As for the sink cabinet, it's actually more than adequate for us and believe me we need the extra cabinet space anyway. The photo angle makes it look much tighter than it actually is. I'm 5'3" and my husband is 5'7" so perhaps if we were much taller it might be a problem but I doubt it. It's such a roomy sink that we just work in the depth of the sinks and on the countertop and it's just fine (I was concerned beforehand too but not an issue).

Good suggestion about the door styles! One thing I did was add the same cabinets in an upstairs area for that reason, so if we needed to poach doors we have a couple of spares... I suppose if we wanted to be smart we would buy a few additional extra doors in case of damage but then again the extra doors would be in the basement so at risk of damage anyway...

    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 6:27PM
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You might get lucky and find that a few doors added up to the size of the back of your island, and you could "store" the extra doors in reserve right there. As long as they were installed with narrow screws from the inside, you could always use them as future replacements.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 8:38PM
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