The Microwave Dilemma
Let’s face it – all the Pinterest-worthy, scroll-stopping kitchens are mysteriously missing a microwave in plain sight. A largely American tradition, above-range microwaves have been the norm in our kitchens since the 1990s, and countertop microwaves more common before that. Then one day, I’m not sure if it was Joanna Gaines’ doing or just HGTV in general, but a range hood over the oven became more mainstream. Folks are coveting a more organic, timeless look in their kitchens these days. The thing is, most Americans cannot forgo their microwaves, so therein lies the dilemma of where to put them!
Now, I’ve written about “hidden” microwaves before. Re-locating the above-range microwave is the first thing I do when I move to a new house. Then I replace it with a vent hood. I’d much rather a pretty vent hood be the focal point of the room! I’ve DIY’ed this exact switch-a-roo thrice now in my own kitchens, and have helped friends and family do the same. My previous post on hidden microwaves featured five different ideas for re-locating your microwave (you can read it here).
But, after hearing more from my readers and designers, it’s clear to me that the way I originally did it was pretty darn efficient. Yep! The kitchen island is probably THE best place to put a microwave, and a countertop model with a trim kit is the way to go. Why? It comes down to three main reasons: counter space, cost, and ease of installation. I’ll show you the best way to get your built-in island microwave, and if you don’t have a kitchen island, don’t worry, this can work for lower cabinets too.
Why Put a Countertop Microwave in Your Kitchen Island?
1. You want to save counter space. I’m guessing that’s the main reason above-range microwaves became so popular in the first place. If you have a small kitchen, and counter space is a priority, that rules out a countertop microwave oven. And if you’re lacking kitchen space, it’s unlikely you’ll have a butler’s pantry to hide your small appliances.
2. It’s the most budget-friendly option. Without counter space, you’re left with a few more options, but most are pretty expensive! I love a microwave drawer just as much as the next girl, but I have yet to find one for less than $1k. (That said, the installation ideas below also work for a drawer-style microwave.) Other pricier options include 5-in-1 wall ovens or retrofitting one above an existing wall oven for that overall built-in appliance look. But, like I said, expensive!
3. Once we exclude leaving your microwave on your kitchen counter, the easiest installation is within an island or lower cupboard, especially if you plan to DIY this. The only tradesman you may have to pay is an electrician to install the power outlet. That’s it!
Common Concerns & FAQs for In-Island Microwaves
This one started a war on social media. Some people were astounded at the possibility of bending to reach an appliance. This surprises me since we bend to reach pots and pans, to open our ovens and to load the dishwasher. But hey, this is down to personal preference. If the thought of bending to open the microwave door and grab a plate of food annoys you, then you could consider installing one in an upper cabinet. But I’m telling you, even for tall people, it’s really not an inconvenience.
Safety Issues for Younger Children
At a lower height, it’s certainly easy access for kids. Mine were three and one when I installed my kitchen island microwave. Them messing with the microwave wasn’t an issue because my youngest couldn’t press the button hard enough and my oldest had no interest in it. But every kid is different, so if you think yours would try to cook objects in there, opt for a model that opens with a button instead of a handle, get a child-proofing device, and/or forgo this idea.
Ventilation is an important consideration when it comes to installing any microwave. For this type of installation, you would use the trim kit that is made for your specific model. Your trim kit should come with mounting brackets, which you’ll screw in the cabinet/island shelf and will raise the microwave up a couple of inches for ventilation.
Installation instructions will also have minimum clearance from the back of the cabinet, etc. Basically, as long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions, you’re good on ventilation.
Getting Started – Choose the Exact Location
Now that we know the quickest and cheapest way to get a built-in microwave, the first step is choosing where exactly you’ll put this controversial appliance. You probably want to determine the microwave placement then find a model to fit that space, not the other way around, unless you have a large kitchen with a ton of options. You’ll likely be removing double doors from one kitchen cabinet to make space for your new microwave, or one of your wider drawers. Most microwave models require at least a 16″ H x 24″ W cut-out/opening.
Some examples below may show a drawer microwave (instead of the countertop models we are going for) but the concept is the same.
Choosing a Microwave Model
For this built-in look, there are a few specific countertop microwave models that have a matching trim kit, specifically designed to go within a cabinet. I’ve listed some at the end of this post. To find the perfect fit, consider the dimensions of the cabinet space you’ve chosen.
Look up the owner’s manual/installation instructions for the model you’re interested in. This should be in the listing, but if not, copy and paste the model number into Google and find the manufacturer’s website (i.e. Frigidaire). You will definitely find the manual there, where you can see the clearance and required cut-out dimensions, like in the example below.
If you’re lucky, you’ll have a cabinet size almost perfect for a microwave you like. If not, you can choose one 1-2 inches wider and then cut your cabinet hold a bit larger, but usually you’re better off choosing a smaller microwave than the cabinet allows for. There are ways to remedy the size discrepancy, which we’ll go over in the next section.
You could also buy a smaller microwave (less than 1 cubic foot) and install it on a shelf without a trim kit. If you want a standard-size microwave though, most will have clearance requirements, so you’ll want the mounting bracket included with the trim kit. Trim kits also lend to a more sleek design; a more built-in look than if it’s just sitting in a shelf. The examples below, however, look properly built-in. So an option to keep in mind if you find a model you like without a trim kit, or you don’t want to spend the extra money.
Prepping Cabinets for a Built-In Microwave
Most larger microwave models require a 120 volt, individual, grounded branch circuit. If you aren’t skilled with electric, this is where hiring someone is worth it. They don’t cost too much per hour and adding an outlet shouldn’t take more than 1-2 hours if you already have electric somewhere in your island.
If you opted for a smaller microwave, check the specs and you may be able to use a regular outlet.
Microwave Cut Out
Once you’ve decided on the placement of your in-island microwave and chosen a model that fits the required cut-out, it’s time to make sure that cut-out is just right.
If The Cut-Out Is Too Small
If your cutout is slightly too small (and hopefully not by more than a couple of inches) you can cut a larger opening.
- Apply painter’s tape along the line.
- Use a utility knife for a shallow cut along the outline to prevent too much chipping.
- Use a jigsaw for your cut.
If The Cut-Out Is Too Large…
If your opening is too large for the trim kit to attach to, you can add wood pieces to the edges of the frame so you’ll have something solid to screw the trim kit into. There are many ways to do this. One easy way is securing them with wood glue, then drilling long screws through the wood into the cabinet. See images below.
You can paint the wood pieces the same color as your cabinets if needed, but the microwave trim frame will probably cover them.
Get That Microwave in There!
After prepping the opening and making sure you have the proper electrical outlet, installing the microwave is the easy part! Mount the braces within the cabinet, and slide the microwave in. Then screw the trim kit frame into the cabinet!
Here is a super short video of me installing my Frigidaire Gallery microwave:
How To Fix The Empty Space in Your Cabinet
Once your microwave is installed, you may have an empty space in your cabinet if the remaining doors/drawers aren’t a perfect fit. You have a few options here. You can buy or make a cabinet filler or buy or make a drawer front in the exact size you need.
In the photo above, I already had a drawer underneath, just not large enough to fill the gap. I kept the drawer there, but ordered a taller drawer front for the perfect fit.
If you removed doors (not drawers) to fit your microwave and there is nothing underneath it, you can retrofit a drawer. In my humble opinion, online options for full drawers are expensive for what they are. I’d pay the extra money for a perfect-sized drawer front, but as for the drawer, you can so easily make your own wooden box and then buy the right drawer sliders to complete the project.
Lastly, you could always keep the space empty and make it into a shelf space, like in the examples below:
Best Microwaves for an Island
Excited to try this out?! Below are some countertop microwave models with matching trim kits (usually sold separately, so I’ve linked both). Determine the ideal size of your cut-out, and start shopping!
*This section includes affiliate links. Read more here.*
I hope this post was helpful! If you try this microwave DIY I’d love to hear/see how it went. You can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out on Instagram @MarissaCalHome.
Wondering what to do with the space above your oven after you’ve moved the microwave?! I’ll definitely get around to writing a full tutorial on retrofitting a vent hood. In the meantime, you can read this section about DIY range/vent hoods from a previous post.
Thanks for being here. Until next time!