Learn all about my decision-making process for big kitchen appliances and get a deeper look into my newly renovated kitchen.
Last week, I finally got a chance to share photos of my new kitchen and some more thoughts on layout and design. After several months of cooking on a hot plate and not having a dishwasher and oven (my dishwasher was actually the appliance I missed the most!), I’m so happy to be back in a fully-equipped kitchen.
I’ve never believed that the quality of your cooking has to be dictated by the tools you have. Even in our makeshift renovation kitchen, I made some delicious and elaborate meals. We even often had guests over for dinner in our very cramped and messy garage.
However, it’s been so fun to have access to a brand new set of appliances. Since I got to start from scratch with my appliance choices, I took advantage of the situation and spent a lot of time thinking about how I could make the best choices for my cooking needs.
How to Choose the Right Appliances
I basically had to choose 6 different appliances:
- Range hood
The first thing you have to think about of course is your budget because otherwise, we’d all just pick the top-of-the-line gear but like all things in life, money is usually the primary constraint. There are definitely ways to get more out of your budget, like buying used from Craigslist or purchasing a floor model from a local appliance store. However, because we were under time constraints, I opted to just buy new since we already had a very generous budget of $15,000.
For each appliance, I tried to find as many reviews as I could online (Home Depot, Best Buy and Lowes were incredibly helpful) and used the number of reviews as a gauge for how popular the product was.
Choosing a Dishwasher
The dishwasher decision was the easiest one. We had had a Bosch in the past and thought it was great. It was incredibly quiet and cleaned dishes super well. The drying of plastic Tupperware wasn’t great but I also didn’t want any extra heating of plastic so that wasn’t a huge consideration for me.
I basically just purchased an updated version of our older Bosch dishwasher in stainless steel. Unfortunately, we’re a month in and it’s already malfunctioning. Hopefully the servicing department will take care of all of it and we’ll be back up and running soon. So I guess the lesson is that you can do lots of research and buy something new and of quality and still end up with a lemon!
Choosing a Refrigerator
Choosing the right refrigerator was definitely the hardest appliance decision. There seemed to be so many brands and possible layouts. Samsung, LG, Frigidaire, GE, Kitchenaid? Did we want the freezer on the bottom or the top? Or perhaps a side-by-side model? Or did we like the French door look?
It helped to sit down and write down a list of what I wanted:
- An external water and ice dispenser: I’ve never had this in the past and it seemed so fancy (even though it’s a pretty common feature)
- A counter depth fridge: Since we were planning on keeping our old fridge in the garage, I decided we didn’t need the largest fridge. This meant a counter depth option (meaning it wouldn’t jut out too much from where the counters and cabinets ended) would be fine for our needs
- More fridge space and access to fridge space: I tend to shop for the week and go through everything I purchase (I run a meal planning service after all). When I cook, I’m mostly grabbing items from the fridge compartment, so it made sense to have that space most accessible. Plus, we cook for leftovers so more fridge space over freezer space would be nice (and again, we were keeping our old fridge so would be able to freeze things in that freezer compartment).
- A non-smart fridge: I know Silicon Valley is all about smart everything but it just felt like one more thing that could go wrong so I’ll be a later adopter on this one . . .
Based on the list above, I decided on this Samsung model, a 4 door French door layout (see, I told you there are so many layouts to choose from!). There are 2 French doors for the fridge up top and 2 more French doors on the bottom freezer compartment. The freezer compartment is actually split into 2 separate sections. The left is always a freezer and the right section can be set to 4 different temperatures so you can use it as a freezer or more fridge space.
We’ve been using the bottom right as a fridge and it’s where we keep drinks and packed-up leftovers. Now instead of searching through the fridge in the morning, we know we can just open that separate compartment and grab our packed lunch. It’s such a simple little thing but has made life feel a bit more efficient, which always makes me happier.
Choosing a Range
The range was actually a fairly easy decision to make too. I had sort of debated between an induction or a gas* range top but I think I was always leaning towards old-fashioned gas.
There are definitely some downsides with gas though. You add a lot of heat in the air so if you live in a hot place without good AC, be prepared to do a lot of sweating over the stovetop (or consider it extra flavoring). Induction is also much easier to clean. You can just wipe the smooth surface with a damp cloth after cooking versus dealing with all the hardware of a gas range. Lastly, an induction stove is also safer for kids since the surface doesn’t stay hot. I definitely get a bit nervous now with a toddler around the stove, but I realize my children won’t have undeveloped brains forever and it’s a great way to learn about safety.
In the end, even after evaluating these downsides, there’s just something about fire that makes cooking a bit more satisfying so I decided on gas.
After working with such a crappy electric range for so many years – it only had 1 burner that got hot enough to boil water – this was definitely my big splurge appliance. I read reviews comparing 3 of the higher end brands – Viking, Wolf and Miele – and ultimately decided on this Miele rangetop because it seemed to be the most consistent at the high end and low end of BTUs so I could stir-fry or simmer to my heart’s content.
I only looked at rangetops because I was planning to place cabinet drawers underneath my range (freestanding or slide-in ranges always include an oven below). These cabinet drawers contain all my pots and pans, so they’re easily accessible for cooking. Because I entertain a lot and of course do lots of Cook Smarts cooking, the more burners the better so I went with a 6 burner option.
I still get so excited every time I hear the click of gas and have loved having 6 burners to choose from, all of which are powerful enough to boil water!
*What about an electric smoothtop or coil range?
As a serious cook, I would never consider a non-induction electric range if I had the choice – it’s just too finicky and hard to control. However, if you’re a serious baker, electric might be better for you since electric ovens are more precise. This only applies if you’re purchasing a range that’s a range / oven combo (I was getting a range top and wall oven so this didn’t apply to me).
These days there are also dual-fuel ranges where you can get a combination gas range and an electric oven together. It might be costly for the installation so talk to your contractor about that, but this might help you get the best of both worlds.
Choosing a Range Hood
My dad said that the most important appliance in a kitchen is the range and the second is the range hood. Because Chinese cooking is done at such high heat, it produces a lot of “wok hei”, literally the breath of the wok. Basically that’s just a euphemism for all the fumes released during stir-frying, which need to be vented out to keep your kitchen environment clean and safe.
In my old kitchen I had a microwave / range hood combo, which basically did nothing. It sucked the fumes up from the bottom of the microwave and then vented them right back into the kitchen through the top of the microwave. Our smoke alarm went off all the time and it left a lot of our surfaces grimy and sticky despite our best efforts to clean all the time.
I definitely knew that I needed something super powerful, especially since I had 6 strong burners. The power of a range hood is measured in CFM (cubic feet for minute), and my designers recommended that I get something with the ability to vent at at least 1000 CFM for the Miele rangetop I chose.
At that power, there just weren’t a lot of island range hood options but they did find this one by ProLine. It wasn’t a brand that I had ever heard of but after some Googling, it seemed legit and met our CFM needs (it’s got 6 settings and goes from 300 CFM to 1100 CFM).
It’s definitely a bit distracting to have a huge stainless steel contraption hanging down from the ceiling in the middle of the kitchen, but I really wanted a pro rangetop on a center island so the physical presence of a large range hood was the tradeoff I had to make.
So far, the venting has been great (test the power of your range hood by turning it on and seeing if it has enough suction to keep a piece of cardboard stuck to it). It gets loud at the higher settings but that’s because it’s working hard!
Choosing an Oven
A few years ago I saw an oven with French doors and immediately knew I wanted one for my kitchen some day. It just looked so sharp and also functional for a shortie like me (I’m just 5’1”).
For a wall oven installed at a higher height, it means that I don’t have to bend over an oven door while trying to lift like a heavy turkey into the oven. That might be an easy task for a normal height person but I’ve definitely had issues in the past. Plus since you can walk right up to the oven, it’s easier to get things in and out of all the shelves.
My husband asked, “Wouldn’t French doors be more of a pain since you needed both hands free to open them?” However, smart product designers have thought through that problem. Opening either one of the doors pulls the other door open too.
Choosing a Microwave
We eat a lot of leftovers in our house so a microwave is key for reheating them up. Plus, I find that the microwave can be a fast way to cook vegetables too so I like having a fairly roomy one. However, I didn’t want a large microwave taking up a lot of counter space, so I was looking for a built-in option.
And then I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have a second oven too? However, because I also wanted a built-in desk in our kitchen, it just wouldn’t have been possible to have a double oven and also a built-in microwave. Luckily, there are lots of microwave / oven combos available these days!
After reading lots of reviews, I ended up picking the GE Cafe Wall Oven (pictured above beneath the French door oven). My aunt had chosen it when she did her kitchen remodel a few years back and so I had experience using it. It has a bit of learning curve because it’s able to do so much – microwave, speedcook, baking, broiling, proofing, warming and toasting. I haven’t had time to test out all of the different features but think it’ll prove to be a versatile workhorse over the years.
Final Appliance Tips
Phew, that was a lot of info! Hope you enjoyed a look into my decision processes. At the moment I’m without a working dishwasher so like I said above, lemons will happen. Just make sure you purchase from a place that you trust for servicing. These days it might be worth purchasing the extended warranties since appliances have so many more bells and whistles – the extra features are great but can also mean that more things can go wrong.
Also, I hate, hate clutter and clearly was left with a stack of manuals after all these appliances were installed. Instead of keeping them, I have a Google spreadsheet with all the models, serial numbers and links to the manual so that I can easily have them handy. You can also save the manuals in PDF format to an iPad (or other tablet) for easy access too. In the spreadsheet, I also include any maintenance notes too – like do you know you it’s a good idea to clean your dishwasher’s filter and air gap every few months?
Here are the links to the 6 appliances I chose:
If you were upgrading your kitchen, which appliance would you splurge on? Or is there an appliance you own that you just love? Let us know in the comments below.
We’ll be going through how to get organized in the kitchen next week, so be sure to sign up for the newsletter below so you can hear all about it first!