If I were to blame anything for the slippery slope of home renovation we're about to careen down, it would be the microwave.
"What's the big deal?" you might ask. "So your wall microwave broke. So replace it. Done."
No. Not done. Never done.
Our appliances, when we moved into the house, were ancient. The brand, Admiral, no longer exists. The user manuals are yellowed with age, stuffed into those transparent folders you can clip into three-ring binders. The font even seems musty. This didn't bother us, because when we shuffled into this house we figured it was the perfect canvas for upgrading them ourselves over the years; like so many things you think you can't live with, though, it slowly became less and less of a big deal until after a while we actually said to each other, "Eh, it WORKS, mostly, a lot of the time. Let's go to Egypt instead."
Last year, for Valentine's Day, Kevin and I finally gave each other a new dishwasher, because the plastic-over-metal racks in the old one were wearing thin and rusting, which we convinced ourselves would poison the beans. Also, it was so loud, we couldn't run it after midnight without risk of being arrested for a noise violation. But the real dinosaur I'd been yearning to kill was the wall oven -- yes, the same wall oven that once spent a month living in someone's repair shop because it wouldn't heat up properly and left a beef wellington raw in the center after six hours on 400. (And the same wall oven that returned to its alcove working pretty well... but missing a knob.)
A few weeks ago, I got my chance. The microwave, which perches above our oven, abruptly died. And it was sudden. One day it heated up my leftovers just fine. The next it needed five minutes to bring a modicum of warmth to a chicken tagine, and two days later, corn muffins took ten minutes to heat from room temperature. Goodbye, ancient friend with the turntable that didn't turn; hello, sleek modern something with things that do things. Right?
Maybe. A cursory glance at what was available, and we realized gas ovens these days are all twenty-four inches wide both inside and out -- matching the current capacity of our oven, more or less, but not the width (ours is the standard 30-inches on the outside, but it's insulated enough that the actual cooking space is 23-24 inches wide inside). Slotting a narrower unit into our more cavernous space would look dumb, and it seemed stupid to spend all that money on an oven that is substandard in cooking space compared to what most home-buyers are used to having and/or wanting. Just because we don't cook our turkey in the oven doesn't mean other people won't want to, you know?
But, ah, to put in an electric oven requires a special line installed to power it. That's $500 right there. And that's where our imaginations started to run a little wild. Because, see, our kitchen doesn't have a pantry -- no long, tall cupboard that's ideal for dry goods, or which can be compartmentalized to give you a place to tuck brooms and mops (which currently live in the corner, propped up against the wall). And so we got to thinking, if we're replacing all this stuff, why not reconfigure as well? Let's spend several grand just to avoid dropping $500 on the special electrical line! Makes perfect sense.
Currently, our kitchen has a separate cooktop over a cabinet with a pull-out drawer and a fan in the range hood, and then a single wall oven with a microwave above it and two cabinets: one below the oven, and one -- divided into vertical slots, for things like cookie sheets and cutting boards -- above the microwave.
And here is a photo of the room, from before we bought the house, and shot slightly in fish-eye to look larger.
We don't have a table; we have two black and chrome barstools, then of course high chairs, a small black bookshelf for cookbooks under that window and the one to its left, and then to the left of the doorway from which this photo was taken, a Crate and Barrel kitchen island against the wall, black, with a blond butcher-block top. Also, our fridge is taller and a bit wider, and black; the dishwasher, which you can't see, is also black.
So, option #1, which we'll call Big Drama, is this:
-- Knock out the cooktop and cabinet directly beneath it (but not the cupboards on either side), and replace it with a freestanding gas oven range, which keeps the energy efficiency of gas.
-- Buy a range-hood microwave (or whatever they're called) and install it where the cooktop's fan is now, because it is designed to function as both fan and microwave.
-- Knock out the cupboard beneath the oven (but keep the one above), and use that entire empty space to install a pantry with pull-outs, and a tall, slim gutter to the left into which we can tuck the brooms and whatnot.
-- Re-varnish the cabinets. I think I would also paint the new pantry's door panel with chalkboard paint, for shopping lists and for the beans' artistic fun when they get old enough not to try and snack on the chalk.
Option #2, which we'll call Boring Minimalism:
-- Replace the appliances but keep them where they are
-- Possibly still re-varnish the cabinets (one of them is cracked up top, and another, the previous owner's kid drew on it with green ballpoint pen and every time I belly up to that panel the green flower there smirks at me).
Here are the reasons Big Drama is giving me pause, and I'm hoping you wise folks out there have some words of wisdom for me on these scores:
1) Are wall ovens considered more desirable than the other kind? If we're keeping the microwave lofted, we're not forsaking counter space to do this, but I don't know if there's any kind of idealized value placed on having an oven in the wall rather than on the floor.
2) Do we think it's stupid to put an oven where a dude could possibly reach it? Or are we likely to find one heavy enough (or even lockable) to make that a moot concern?
3) We have a 36" cooktop, so we'd want to replace it with a 36" range. Those are terribly hard to find; so far we turned up a Kenmore that seems fine, but the oven itself is still only 30" (which we could live with but it's not as stylish); a Fisher Paykel, about whom I know nothing (I've read scathing reviews of their washing machines but can't find anything about their ovens) that has no digital readout of temperature but does at least have a timer, and is attractive; a mad expensive Electrolux that doesn't have a timer nor a digital readout for temperature, but has a gigantic oven; and an even more mad-expensive Dacor, which is similar to the Electrolux. We MIGHT have located a place that could help us preview the Fisher Paykel but we're not sure, and the others are probably not available to view.
4) Is the pantry as desirable as we think it is? Right now our dry goods are stuffed into a double cupboard above the counter -- the one to the left of the fridge -- and then part of another cabinet above the toaster oven, which we keep on the counter to the right of the cooktop. I think the displaced frying pans and saucepans can go in the cupboards to the left and right of the range (drawback: no drawer) or in our kitchen island (drawback: not near the range), and the displaced baking trays and bowls in the cupboard currently beneath the oven can take whatever space the cookware doesn't occupy (one potential hiccup is the roasting pan, but we'll worry about that later), and basically everything can shift up and around now that the dry goods would all be in our nice long tall pantry. Tupperware could go in a higher cabinet, for instance. Does all that sound reasonable, or am I insane?
5) If we re-varnish the cabinets, how dark do we go? We've never been a particular fan of white cabinets, which I know is one option, and we could just keep them the same but I'm not really a light-wood person. We get nice natural light in the kitchen, so that helps the space feel big. Do we shoot straight to dark wood (like most of our furniture in the other rooms) or will that be too oppressive? Do we need to re-evaluate our stance on white cupboards?
I'm sure there are other questions, but right now these are the ones we're trying to deal with -- like, will we get a better oven and a better cooktop if we just keep them separate and continue making do with our lack of pantry? We feel a bit squeezed out of the space we have, some of which is because I don't think all the cabinets are being used as best they can be, because they're not really designed with dry goods in mind. Will we regret putting an oven on the ground that curious hands can touch, or are they all made so well that a pre-heating oven won't hurt them if they bump it? Are oven doors heavy enough that it's unlikely Liam will tug it open until he's old enough to know not to do it?
We are making such a meal out of this. But at least when it's done, one way or another, we can then proceed to make all future meals on nicer appliances.