Expert Tips for Choosing a Kitchen Island

Beth Asaff
kitchen island

Kitchen islands provide much needed space for food preparation, but many homeowners find it difficult to know whether an island will fit into their design and what options are available. According to Kimberly M. Stone, owner of the interior design firm Adore Your Décor and author of the FabJob Guide to Become a Home Stager or Redesigner, there are a few options to consider. The key is to consider your available budget, how long you'll be in the house and the desired function of your space.

Identifying Your Kitchen Shape

Contemporary kitchen design relies on one of four basic shapes to create a floor plan. Only two of these floor plans can easily accommodate a kitchen island, making it essential that the shape of the kitchen be evaluated before a kitchen island is planned.

Floor Plans that Accommodate Kitchen Islands

Large U shaped and L shaped kitchens can accommodate a kitchen island easily. By placing the island in the middle of the kitchen in a U shaped floor plan, you can easily create two work stations. In an L shaped kitchen, an island can further delineate the space between the open end of the kitchen and the rest of the house.

Floor Plans that Do Not Accommodate Kitchen Islands

Galley or peninsula kitchens are made of two parallel work areas centered around an aisle of floor space. For this reason, adding a kitchen island disrupts the flow of the space, making it difficult to use the kitchen. It is also important to have at least three feet of circulation area around all sides of the kitchen island, a design rule that these types of kitchens cannot accommodate.

Types of Islands

There are two basic types of kitchen islands: fixed islands and moveable carts. Both can add a great deal of storage and work space to your kitchen, but each has its drawbacks as well.

Built-in Kitchen Bar or Kitchen Island

kitchen island

If your kitchen is roomy enough, then the addition of a built-in bar or island may be a wise investment. One of the major benefits is that this piece can add a bonus dining area for breakfast, lunch, or even dinner. Eat-in kitchens are often sought after in the real estate market.

This can be accomplished when the kitchen island is designed with a bar on one side which will accommodate bar stools or tall dining chairs. "A kitchen island also adds food preparation and storage space, but the bar feature can additionally be useful as a spot for using a laptop or as a place for children to do their homework," says Stone. "This area would also be a fabulous buffet area when you are entertaining guests. Another benefit of a built-in kitchen island that increases its usability is the inclusion of a sink, stovetop, or electrical outlets."

Moveable Island Cart

Kitchen cart

As the name implies, a movable island cart is a highly versatile piece of kitchen furniture that can be easily moved around the space or moved out entirely. If your kitchen square footage is limited, this portable option would be the best choice because it allows you to choose to have more space when entertaining, cooking, or cleaning.

"This nimble piece can serve as an additional food preparation area as well as provide valuable storage space for kitchen tools and gadgets," says Stone. "Kitchen carts are often more affordable than permanent cabinetry, so this option is great for small budgets. Also, if you are a renter or apartment tenant, an island cart will add utility to your kitchen while still going with you when you move. You could even move the cart outside for a backyard barbeque party."

Designing an Island

If you're planning on including an island in your next kitchen remodel, you'll need to take a few things into consideration, such as space, size, function and style.

Island Space and Size

According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) the recommended amount of space between a kitchen island and a nearby counter or wall is 42 inches. In order to pass code, you need a minimum of 36 inches, and if you want to include a breakfast bar on one side of the island, this number will increase to 60 inches on that side. Use these numbers as a guide to determine how large an island you can include in your kitchen.

Remember that the counter will need to overhang at least 18 inches if you desire seating on side as well - if you don't plan on eating at the counter, the overhang is a standard 1 inch. If the island you can place is too small to be truly functional, consider a moveable cart instead.

Function

An island can include more than just a second counter and possibly some seating. Consider adding any of the following to your island design:

  • Kitchen island with sink
    Overhead Storage: Hanging pots and pans can add additional storage in a crowded kitchen.
  • Sink: A small sink used for washing vegetables and other small duties can allow the larger sink to be used primarily for dishes.
  • Range: Adding a range to the island can expand the amount of counter space available, or create enough space for a double oven.

Adding an island to your kitchen can also help you achieve an optimal work triangle - the design principal that helps create an efficient layout of space.

  • In a work triangle, the layout of space should be no less than 3 feet between appliances, and no more than 7 feet.
  • Moving a sink or range to the island can help larger kitchens become more efficient by shrinking the work triangle.
  • An island can also help by giving additional "landing areas" near the refrigerator or stove in kitchens without a lot of counter space, which can help maximize the work triangle as well.

Style

The style of your island can be dictated in two ways: by the function of it and by the rest of the kitchen design.

  • Kitchen island with butcher block
    Function: If you bake, consider a marble topped island for kneading. Or, if you cook often, a butcher block island top may be a useful addition to the kitchen.
  • Kitchen design: The island needs to complement the rest of the kitchen design. This means that it should have the same overarching style as the kitchen cabinets. Even if you choose a different cabinet color or door style, accents, corbels, toe kicks and moldings should all match.

There is no one way to decorate your island. It can match the rest of your kitchen with the same cabinets, color and counter, or it can use different materials and colors. If you do choose to use different colors, make sure they are reflected elsewhere in the kitchen design. An example would be cream colored cabinets and a Volga Blue granite counter along the perimeter of the room, with a slate blue island topped with Crema Bluette granite.

Lighting

Task lighting is an important part of any kitchen design, and if you include an island in your plan, remember to include some task lighting above it. This may mean adding pendant lights, track lights or just adding additional recessed lights above it to help illuminate the space. If you move your range to the island you will also need to locate your vent hood here, hanging it from the ceiling with the lights.

Enhance Your Kitchen Design

A kitchen island can be a wonderful addition to many kitchens. Adding one can bring additional function, style, seating and storage to the space. Take some careful measurements and a good look at how you use your kitchen, and decide if an island is right for you.

Expert Tips for Choosing a Kitchen Island