How To Hide A Microwave (Building It Into A Vented Cabinet)

So, remember that microwave that we got a great deal on a couple of months ago? Yeah. Well. We returned it.

A few of you questioned why we needed “such a big microwave” when we originally posted about it, which did get us thinking that we don’t do all that much microwaving. A bowl of soup here. A bit of reheating/defrosting there. And when we took down the kitchen’s original black over-the-range microwave (which was just as wide as our oven – 30 whole inches)…

… we realized just how hulking the new 30″ one would look in its new home next to our pantry. See, we had originally planned to build it in there like the one in our first kitchen, but that meant that it would butt up right against the side of the window:

So two weeks ago (after seeing how nice and open the kitchen felt without a lot of those heavy, overbearing upper cabinets)…

… we returned it and bought this much smaller countertop one instead for $84 (it’s 18″ wide). He’s nice and “modestly sized” as Sherry likes to say. I even tossed a tea mug in there for scale:

But much like the big original microwave that we got, we never planned for it to live on the countertop. Oh no, we got planz yo. This guy is getting built in…

This is one of our old upper cabinets (it hung to the left of our old microwave when it lived above the cooktop) and it just happens to fit the microwave almost perfectly. It’s actually a bit snug around the frame, but the frame is built in around the front edge of the cabinet if that makes sense. So on the inside of the cabinet there’s about two inches of extra space on either side.

The only problem was that:

  1. the cabinet itself was too tall for its new home next to our pantry (it would hang oddly low as-is)
  2. it wasn’t deep enough for the microwave to sink back into it and look flush (with extra ventilation room for safety reasons)

So we had some work to do. We had to adjust the height and depth of the cabinet, then hang it next to the pantry with a new door. That way the infrequently used microwave can be hidden away most of the time and when it’s needed we can open the door and zap our food while allowing the appliance to vent (more on that in a moment). Oh and we already had an electrician add an outlet where the cabinet will hang, so the microwave will have power.

Many custom kitchens actually have built-in microwaves, like this one from here, and this one, from here. So we knew it could look great and actually be really functional (warning: read the paperwork on your microwave to see what type of ventilation it needs – some don’t need any except for the ready-made space under the little legs while some have a vent on the side or back that needs room for aeration, which is something we took into consideration as we went)

But back to the whole cabinet being too tall issue. First up was chopping that baby down to size. I started by prying out the metal shelf rails. Luckily they came out with almost no effort.

Then I measured, marked, measured again, leveled, measured again, double-checked my marks and leveled one last time…

…before taking my jigsaw carefully along the lines I had drawn on each of the three sides.

What I was left with looked like a bad magic act. All that was missing was a lovely assistant chopped into two lovely pieces.

Are you nervous yet? I was. Although I felt a bit better because this was my second time doing this (I tested this method on another spare cabinet that we weren’t reusing first).

So that big cut started getting me to a better height, but I also had to cut a hole in the back to help with the depth/ventilation plan. Oh, and I had to put a slight notch in the bottom right side of the frame so that the microwave door could swing open more easily (this way we can shimmy the microwave over to the right in the cabinet, which gives the hinges on the left more room to swing so the door can open freely). Not to worry – it will later be concealed by a door.

Here’s a shot to show how the microwave stick outs the back – which also helps it vent since there will be a column of “free space” behind the cabinet for aeration all the way up and out the top of the cabinet (more on that a bit later).

Enough looking at its backside. Let’s look at the front. Is this starting to make more sense? Remember once we add a door that small notched out area for the microwave will be concealed.

Oh, and I added that shelf above the microwave by nailing in some fixed ledges for the shelf (which we already had) to sit on.

Obviously the cabinet was far from being ready to hang. It needed a top, for one. And it needed some extra support on the back if it was gonna sit away from the wall enough to let the microwave vent out the back.

So we devised a plan, I made a sketch (which I don’t expect anyone other than me to understand) and hit up the hardware store to grab some wood.

The new top was basically three pieces. A thin piece of plywood as a new top, a thin piece of pine on the front and a scrap piece of 2×4 to hold it all in place. It’s looking a bit rough at the moment, but bear with me…

Along the back I screwed in a few blocks of 1 x 4″s doubled-up. This way the cabinet will sit away from the wall a couple of inches and I still have solid wood to screw into when we go to hang the cabinet. Oh, and we cut a wide channel in a couple of the blocks to (broken record alert) help the microwave vent up the back.

Last but not least was the side. For this I used another thin piece of plywood that I clamped on tight, cut to size, and then nailed in place.

After all that “fun” stuff, it was looking more like this:

Significantly more cabinet-like if I do say so myself. Especially once it all gets painted the same color with a door in the front and some shiny new hardware.

Then with the help of my lovely assistant (nope, not the one I pretended to cut in half earlier in this post) we hung this Frankstein’d cabinet in place.

Here’s a view of the top so you get a sense of the venting on both the back and side. I drilled some holes in the left side of the cabinet to take advantage of the gap between it and the pantry (the gap exists because the cabinet frame was wider on that side).

So with cabinet hung, we put the microwave in place and plugged it into the outlet that our electrician put in when he was here about a month ago (more on that here).

Of course it’ll look better once it has a door on it (and when it’s all painted) but even with the addition of some cookbooks and plates it’s starting to look more presentable. Even if just a little bit.

Update: as for that little routed out area that will only be visible with the door open, many of our cabinets are less than gorgeous when they’re open (picture them stacked high with cookware, blenders, tupperware, and all sorts of other stuff!) so we’re of the “what happens in the cabinets, stays in the cabinets” mindset. If the doors are closed and the kitchen looks good, we’re happy!

This makes us all the more excited to take care of the door situation – which we’ll hopefully be posting about later this week. Until then, allow this terrible photoshopped rendering to demonstrate how the added door will hide the little routed our area for the microwave when it’s closed (it’ll be open whenever the microwave is in use, of course).

Oh and with this cabinet now hung next to the pantry it leaves us 14″ to the right of it (between the side of the cabinet and the window over the sink). And once the new 12″ deep floating shelves get hung on the oven wall of the kitchen there will also be exactly 14″ between the front of those floating shelves and the right of that window over the sink). So it won’t look crowded, and will actually be nice and balanced. Whew.

Getting the whole cut-down microwave cabinet thing done also makes us excited about our shrinking budget. Not only did we get $255 back for returning the jumbo microwave, we also sold our old over-the-range one on craigslist for $90 (which adds up to $345 back in the ol’ kitchen piggy bank). Plus, we craigslisted our old kitchen table & chairs for $120 and actually sold our old granite counters for $350! If my math is right, that’s $815 back in our pockets… well, it’s actually $731 after we take out $84 for the cost of the new microwave. Still, over seven hundred beans is definitely a welcome “kitchen refund” as we get to that hard “middle part” of the makeover that has us eager to reach some of the bigger changes that we’re slowly but surely inching towards.

No one wants those cabinets painted and the new backsplash hung more than we do, but we’re trying to be realistic about the timeline in here (we originally estimated that we’d be done sometime in January, which we still hope to accomplish). We don’t know how much we’ll have done for the holidays, but at the very least we’ll have our microwave concealed by the time company arrives (oh man, I first typed that as “by the time cabinets arrive” – clearly I’ve been spending too much time in the kitchen). And just to lay it out for anyone wondering what our next steps are, they’re a little unglamorous for a bit longer – and then they should get a lot more exciting:

  • cut down all the doors for the cabinets that we added
  • add window trim and build a window sill (we had to strip the window over the sink down here)
  • add toe kick around all the cabinet bases to make things like the peninsula unified with the rest of the kitchen (we’ll hold off on adding shoe molding until after we do the cork floors later)
  • remove all the cabinet doors (after making sure they hang straight and are fitted correctly) and wood putty and sand any gaps/cracks/old hardware holes, etc
  • prime everything
  • and then we get to paint – yeee haw! (we’re still torn between white and a soft tone like gray-beige, but we’ll share as soon as we’re sure!)

Continuing the list after that step gets us all clammy and overwhelmed, but a new lighting plan, cork floors, and backsplash tile with floating shelves and a built-in range hood are all on the agenda. One cabinet day at a time. What have you guys been doing in the kitchen? Demo? Holiday cooking? Painting? Microwaving?


  1. says

    It looks great! We actually don’t own a microwave at all. We’ve come to find that we really don’t need it and have a way to heat everything we would’ve used a microwave for. My best revelation is that popcorn tastes way better when it’s cooked on the stove. Anyway, I like the idea of concealing it and I’m sure if we ever decided to get one, I would want to do something like this! Can’t wait to see it all come together, but I’ll wait patiently!! :)

  2. E says

    So it appears from the pictures that the cabinet is notched on the right, but the microwave opens on the left? Am I missing something? I can’t figure out how that microwave will open…. I’m sure it works but it is just hard to tell.
    Looks great, though, love a hidden mirowave. Also love a microwave drawer….

    • says

      Yup, it’s notched to the right so we can shimmy the microwave over to the right in the cabinet, which gives the hinges on the left more room to swing so the door can open freely. Hope it helps!


  3. says

    Looking good! Are you guys going to trim out the tops of the cabinets too? Also, I seriously cannot wait for that wall of penny round tile to go up! I will be curious to see how you drill holes for shelf support.

    • says

      We’re currently on the fence about adding crown molding to the cabinets. We originally planned to do that but now sort of like the clean boxy lines and the modern feel so we’re not sure if crown is in the cards for us. Will keep ya posted!


  4. says

    Just to clarify – you notched out the right side of the cabinet so the microwave could be moved over to the right a little more, therefore allowing more vent room and more room for the door to swing without hitting the left side of the cabiinet, right? I got confused when you wrote that the notch on the right side made the door open easier – but I think I figured it out right. Is that what you meant?

    I think you made a wise decision scaling down the microwave, especially since you already had a cabinet to fit it! This is all genius, by the way. I can’t wait to get a house and use your renovating posts as inspiration to work on our own!

  5. Kristina says

    The notch in the bottom right of the cabinet is really unfortunate. I know you’re adding a door to cover it, but you’ll see it everytime you use the microwave. Will you be able to live with that imperfection FOREVER? It would drive me insane, but to each their own.

    Good luck finishing up the whole kitchen!

    • says

      Haha, oh yes, we don’t mind at all. John worried that trying to notch a straight line all the way up the cabinet would result in a crooked jacked up looking mess, so we like that it’s a little custom curve around the microwave- and it’s really not noticeable next to a shiny stainless steel appliance, which is definitely what you’ll see first when you swing the door open! From our experience a lot of our cabinets aren’t always gorgeous when they’re open (there are usually hinges or ugly looking items piled inside anyway, so we’re just happy if a kitchen looks nice when the doors are closed, haha).


    • Gracie says

      I was surprised y’all didn’t just take off the outer trim pieces in the front and replace them moving them a little further out so they line up with the lines of the cabinet ‘box’ instead (if that makes sense). That would allow you to move your microwave over and give you a little more space for your hinges without the notch.

    • says

      Couldn’t get them off! Haha. That was our first idea but it didn’t work without a lot of force that we worried would compromise the cabinet and we decided that cutting them off was waay too drastic. So it just wasn’t worth it for us since once the door goes on it’ll look seamless! But we can completely appreciate that others would have done things differently! If that notch bothers you I would never suggest living with it. We just have tons o’ cabinets full of tupperware and platters and cooking supplies that’s not too pretty with the doors open, so as long as things look good with the doors closed we’re happy!


  6. Thais Bessa says

    Our microwave is also petit as we make very limited use of it, like you guys. Have no complains about it.

    One question: how are you going to conceal the microwave power cable to connect to the plug behind? Or will it be on display??


    • says

      The plug will be in the back of the cabinet, so once we have a door on that cabinet it’ll be concealed! We had the same situation in our first kitchen since we had a built in microwave (when you open the cabinet door, you can see the plug on the top shelf).


  7. denise says

    Ah…very glad to see that it appears you’ll be doing a regular cabinet door (based on the photoshop representation) rather than one of those lift up doors like you pictured. We have that style for our in-cabinet microwave and I hate it! Although our cabinets are a medium cherry color, the mechanism that allows it to lift up and slide back has marred the finish on the front of the door in several places. Due to that, we rarely close the door, which I hate since looking at the microwave is unappealing. Based on my experience with white/painted cabinets, I would expect the results to be even more pronounced.

    • says

      Oh, that’s really interesting to hear! We figured a regular door would be easier for us to DIY, but it’s nice to know those fancy lift-up ones aren’t something we’re missing out on! Thanks for sharing!


  8. Deb says

    Just curious as to why John didn’t take the notch all the way up the side piece or at least notched the bottom all the way to the bottom? It would have given it a much cleaner look. I know it’s going to be painted and all, but it would have looked more seamless instead of a patch job. Love the idea of the microwave cabinet!!!!!

    • says

      John worried that keeping that line straight all the way up the cabinet would be a lot harder than just doing the small notch for the microwave, so instead of worrying about a crooked frame or a wiggly line, we’re fine with it being fitted around the microwave. It’s definitely one of those personal preference things though!


    • Laura says

      hehe I was going to ask the same thing. That’s the only thing that’s bugging me, but I can see how it may be a bit scary to cut!! Now I want a smaller, concealed microwave!

  9. Amber says

    I don’t get the notch on the bottom right side, because it looks like the door is hinged on the left side..? Unless the microwave buttons are part of the door (which it doesn’t look like)..? Maybe I’m just overthinking this!

    • says

      Yup, it’s notched to the right so we can shimmy the microwave over to the right in the cabinet, which gives the hinges on the left more room to swing so the door can open freely. Hope it helps!


  10. Sarah says

    Nice work! A few questions – what side of the cabinet will the door hinges be? If on the left as you’re looking at it, be careful about choosing a pull that won’t slam into the side of the deeper cabinet. And, could you post a photo from further away, to see where this is in relation to the rest of your awesome kitchen?

    • says

      Yup, we’ll definitely be careful about that (a cabinet used to hang there before and we didn’t have any issues about it slamming so we think we’ll be ok as long as our hardware isn’t super poky). As for some wider pics, we’ll have to share them in the next kitchen update, probably in a day or two!


  11. Anne says

    Ooh! lovely, I wish I could hide more of our appliances but we use them so much. The kitchen aide and coffee maker live on the counters and some days the bread maker too.
    Question: are you going to be doing anything about the gaps? For a few posts now I just can’t help but keep noticing the gap on the ceiling and beam. And now the gap between the cabinets. Sorry if I’m coming off as to perfectionist to you, its just been screaming gappy at me each time I look at the pictures.
    Beautiful kitchen otherwise :)

    • says

      Oh yes, those have to be dealt with!! We’ll be using wood putty to fix any issues between cabinets and trim/caulk to deal with ceiling gaps, etc. We hope to detail all that info as we go!