Before I dive into where to place the microwave in your Kitchen Designs, let’s look at the history of this appliance.

  • The first commercial microwave oven was introduced by Raytheon in 1947
  • Commercial microwaves were intended for use in restaurants and for reheating meals on airplanes
  • In 1955 the first consumer microwave by Tappan was introduced
  • This first consumer microwave was expensive at $1,295 (over $11,000 today) putting it out of reach of most people
  • Amana introduced a countertop model for $495 in 1967 enticing the upper end Kitchen buyer
  • Prices dropped dramatically in the 1970’s making the microwave a standard part of a new Kitchen
  • By 1986, 25% of households in the United States had a microwave oven
  • By 1997 over 90% of American households owned one

The issue with this appliances is that the Kitchen Designer still struggles with where to place it.

Read on to see how you as a Professional Kitchen Designer can find the best place for the microwave in your designs.

To begin with, you need to become familiar with the different types of microwaves on the market.

The Countertop Model Microwave

The countertop microwave is the most popular type of microwave on the market because of it’s low cost.

As the name says, it has been designed to sit on the kitchen counter.

The reason for this is that the appliance needs adequate air clearance on each side, the rear and the top to function properly.

In most cases placing it on the counter will achieve this.

A creative Kitchen Designer though, can work with the countertop microwave to give it a more built in look.

Recessed Into a Niche

Specifying the countertop microwave into a niche can give a more finished look and still provide air clearance.

Look for spaces where the microwave can be recessed into the wall allowing countertop in front of it.

I once had a recess built that pushed the microwave into the walk-in pantry making the unit less overwhelming in the Kitchen space. Look for spaces like this in your designs.

A corner can be a good location for a niche as long as you position the door hinge correctly.

I discovered years ago that:

Every hinged microwave hinges on the left!

Don’t make the mistake of placing it in a corner where the hinge is opening towards the user. It will be near impossible to get items in and out of the appliance!

Place It On A Shelf

A countertop model microwave can also be installed on a shelf if enough clearance is specified.

A traditional way of doing this is in an upper cabinet with full sides to “build in” the appliance.

By placing it beside the refrigerator, the depth of the microwave is balanced by the deeper refrigerator.

With floating shelves being so popular at the moment, this can also be an option for microwave placement.

Do watch the size of the microwave when doing this. Most are deeper than the standard 12″ deep shelf.

Plan a deeper floating shelf or choose a compact microwave for this type of installation.

Install It Above a Drawer

To ensure that the microwave does not get place too high, consider installing it in a cabinet down to the counter, with a drawer below it.

This placement makes the appliance accessible for most users and will often provide a small drop of space in front of the drawer.

Again, placing this cabinet beside the refrigerator provides balance for the depth of the microwave and the air clearance required.

Alternatively place this microwave cabinet in a corner or at the end of a run beside a wall.

Specify It On Top of a Raised Counter

I am a fan of the raised dishwasher and will often place the microwave above it.

This location provides the depth the microwave needs and puts it at a convenient location for most users.

Hang It From An Upper Cabinet

Some manufactures offer an accessory for their countertop microwaves that allow them to be hung from an upper cabinet.

This can allow the microwave to get off the countertop and still have lots of venting capacity.

Install It In A Tall Cabinet

The Food Storage Zone is a great place for the microwave because many items that go into the microwave come from the refrigerator or the freezer.

Placing the microwave in a pantry beside the refrigerator makes a lot of sense.

Place It Behind A Door

In some cases you may want to hide the microwave.

There are a variety of door types that accomplish this.

Explore pocket doors, tambour doors, flip-up doors and swing-up doors to hide the microwave away.

Design It Behind Double Doors

Sometimes the perfect solution is to design the microwave station behind a set of double doors.

Cabinet hardware manufactures provide solutions for double swing doors and pocket doors.

Both solutions can provide the perfect hidden, quick snack microwave zone.

The Built-in Microwave

The built-in microwave can be a microwave that has been designed to be built-in or a countertop model with a specialized trim kit.

Most contemporary built-in microwaves have swing down doors so the Kitchen Designer needs to factor this in when placing it.

Trim Kit Installations

Trim kits can be installed around microwaves placed in upper cabinets, tall cabinets and base cabinets.

The advantage of using a trim kit is to provide the correct amount of air space around the unit and to cover all the gaps.

Designers can choose from louvered and flat trim kits allowing the trim kit to reflect either a traditional or modern look.

Louvered trim kits are installed proud of the millwork while flat trim kits have the option of flush mounting them.

Stack Microwave Over Oven

Stacking a microwave oven above a built-in wall oven is a traditional installation.

Manufactures help the Kitchen Designer do this by providing trim kits that line up with standard oven widths.

Placed in a Mid-Height Cabinet

Mid-height cabinets are great units for Transitional styled Kitchens.

A microwave stacked above a matching wall oven works well in a mid-height.

For taller clients they can drop off items coming out of the microwave on the top of the cabinet.

Try A Non-Traditional Stack

Sometimes a non-traditional approach to stacking the microwave with appliances will meet your client’s needs.

Consider bar refrigerators, wine refrigerators, coffee makers and dishwashers as stackable companions in your Kitchen Designs.

Microwave Drawers

Several years ago the appliance manufacturer Sharp introduced the microwave drawer.

This product was the functional answer to the microwave that was being placed under the counter.

The drawer format made access to the microwave interior much easier and is definitely a go-to microwave in contemporary kitchen design.

Microwave drawers are the perfect addition to an entertaining zone in your Kitchen Designs.

They are also perfect for placing in the end of an island facing the table for quick reheats.

Over-the-Range Microwave

The Over-the-Range Microwave or OTR is a combination microwave and ventilation hood.

It has become the “builders” choice for a cost effective way to include both a microwave and a vent hood in the Kitchen.

I will admit it is not a microwave that I specify for my projects, but it is an option available to Kitchen Designers.

The main reason I don’t specify them is the safety issue. Installing a microwave above burners that could all be turned on makes it a dangerous placement in Kitchen Design.

Additional Placement Solutions

As a Professional Kitchen Designer you always need to be thinking about creative solutions for your Designs.

Here are a few to get you started.

In this first example the Kitchen Designer placed the microwave in a plaster niche under a wide hood producing a complete cooking zone.

Placing it to the left of the range works with the standard left side swing of standard microwaves.

For another take on a cooking zone set up, the Kitchen Designer of this dark cherry Kitchen teamed a built-in microwave with a pro styled double oven and warming drawer.

The countertop between the microwave and warming drawer provides drop off space for all 4 appliances.

Specifying a pullout counter under a microwave will provide a safe drop off place for hot items coming out of the unit.

If children use the microwave regularly, a lower countertop would be a great addition.

The final placement of the microwave in your client’s kitchen depends on a lot of factors.

Surveying your client to understand how they will use this appliance will help you develop solutions that work for them and their design.

I’d love to see your unique microwave location solutions. Please leave me a comment below telling me about them.

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Jan Rutgers B.Sc. H.Ec.

Jan Rutgers has been designing kitchens and products for over 25 years and is a recipient of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Top Innovators in 2020 for the Kitchen & Bath Industry. She has designed more than 1000 kitchens learning valuable skills with each one! Her experience in Kitchen Design, Millwork Manufacturing and Product Development has led her to create VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.

2 Comments on “Placing the Microwave in Your Kitchen Designs

  1. Jan I love reading your blogs and posts. You always seem to capture every angle on the “how to” of many different factors that sometimes stump designers.

    • Thanks for the comment Peter!
      The Kitchen Industry is a complicated one with multiple moving parts. My focus with the VESTA Blog is to write about these details and hopefully inspire designers to come up with the best solutions for their clients!

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