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Kitchen Island Designs Ideas Tips and More

The perfect marriage of function and style, your kitchen island is the key to a successful kitchen renovation.

Kitchen islands may have started out as an area to put your helpers to work peeling potatoes. But now they’re the center of the whirlwind of culinary activity, capable of accommodating a cooktop, sink or even a wine fridge.

Other functional kitchen gear may struggle to be stylish (we’re looking at you, stainless steel appliances). But kitchen islands have ascended to an art form. From gutsy color choices to ornate pedestals that pop against the relentlessly clean lines of contemporary design, your kitchen island can be a singular expression of your personal tastes.

We have all the design ideas and tips you need to ensure your kitchen island is a masterpiece in the heart of your home.

Proportion Is Paramount

Your kitchen island must, above all, fit well into your available space. If your kitchen island is too large, it will quickly become burdensome.

On the kitchen side of your island, you must have enough space to move as well as comfortably kneel and access cupboards. Consider whether an open dishwasher would close off a walkway. Measure the swing of the refrigerator door. You can avoid a sense of claustrophobia if you allow enough space for a person to walk around the person cooking.

kitchen island work area

A widely accepted rule is that you need at least 42 inches of space between your island and your kitchen’s work area. If your island will feature stools or benches, you’ll need at least 48 inches for the area to be comfortably walkable while someone is seated.

Perhaps your kitchen is large enough that walkability won’t be an issue. Your kitchen island can still be too large if it’s impractical for ordinary use. The average length of a woman’s arm is just under 24 inches. A kitchen island that is five feet wide would require most women to stretch to reach an egg that rolled to the center of it.

Measure your space and use masking tape on the floor to outline the kitchen island size you’re considering. Spend a day or two walking around that area to gauge the practicality of your design.

Kitchen Island Shapes

You’re not restricted to a rectangular kitchen island. Your island could be round or oval. Your seating area could be slightly curved to facilitate conversations while your kitchen side remains straight.

Determine How You’ll Use Your Kitchen Island

Remember, your kitchen island is for you. Your sister may love seating the kids around her kitchen island. But perhaps you’d rather keep the homework — along with the clutter — at the kitchen table. Whether it’s rolling cookie dough or laying out the take-out pizza, your preferences are the primary consideration when designing your kitchen island.  

family cooking dinner in kitchen

A cook will appreciate a large area for chopping, mixing and blending. Bakers may want an island that is a little shorter than the standard countertop so they can more easily knead or roll dough. Perhaps you want your island to be a place family and friends can gather while you cook meals.

Cooktop or Sink?

Adding a cooktop or sink to your kitchen isn’t as difficult or costly as most homeowners imagine. The biggest difference from a conventionally installed sink and cooktop is that plumbing, gas and electric lines must be run under the kitchen floor to access the island. Depending on your home’s construction, installing a cooktop or sink in your island shouldn’t be a problem.

Even if you don’t plan on installing a cooktop or sink in your built-in island, you may be required by your local building codes to install electrical outlets.

You can avoid turning your back to guests or children playing in the main area if you have a cooktop on your kitchen island. However, installing a cooktop along with a range hood for ventilation will dramatically increase your kitchen island’s costs. Additionally, cooktop islands may pose safety issues if the island also has a seating area.

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Assess Your Storage Needs

Designing a new kitchen island is a chance to beef up your kitchen’s storage. Decide early which items you want to store. You can build cabinets that will make your electric pressure cooker easier to reach or shelves for your collection of cookbooks.

kitchen island seating

Seating for Your Kitchen Island

Often, people squeeze too many seats in their kitchen islands. Unless the island seating will be used exclusively by children, you need about two feet of space to seat guests comfortably. Your countertop should extend over your island by about 12 to 18 inches to give your guests leg room.

When you choose chairs or stools for your kitchen island, consider the clearances surrounding the seating area. Measure the swing of any nearby doors. And plan to have a walkway that is large enough when people are sitting at the kitchen island, rather than just when the empty seats are pushed in.

Freestanding or Built-In

A freestanding kitchen island has several benefits over a built-in. If you’re certain you don’t want to use small appliances on your island, you can avoid code requirements with a freestanding island. Many freestanding islands have castors on their legs, or you can install them. You can easily move your island to accommodate a large group of people.

Freestanding islands or butcher blocks are an ideal solution for small kitchens. But even if your kitchen is big, there are large freestanding kitchen islands available.

On the other hand, you can customize a built-in kitchen island. Of course, if you want a cooktop or sink, a built-in kitchen island is your only choice. Built-ins also offer more storage options. If you design a built-in kitchen island, you’ll have a one-of-a-kind piece that will add value to your home.

Countertop Materials

Your intended use for your kitchen island may limit your countertop choices. Installing a sink, for example, will require a countertop resistant to water, such as quartz. Likewise, a cooktop will require a material impervious to heat, such as granite.

kitchen island materials

Don’t be afraid to be creative with your countertop material for your island. Done correctly, using materials in your island that contrasts with the rest of your kitchen can add visual interest to the space. Using a trendier countertop for your island is an effective way to update your kitchen without risking a major overhaul if the material goes out of style.

A black countertop, for example, will add drama to your island without making the entire kitchen seem dreary. Recycled glass is a newer, environmentally friendly option that can give your island flair. Even though concrete countertops began appearing several years ago, the material’s versatility lends itself to fresh designs.

When mixing countertop materials, keep these guidelines in mind.

  • Avoid countertops with different veining or patterns. If one material has a pattern, the other one should be solid.
  • Don’t mix laminate materials with natural materials. A possible exception may be butcher block because we’re accustomed to seeing wood accents with synthetic materials. However, make sure the synthetic countertop is solid so as not to contrast with the material in the butcher block.
  • Mix light with dark. If using black countertops with white, the veins in both may complement. A black countertop with white veins may complement a white countertop with black or gray veins.
  • Coordinate with kitchen accents. Accents of similar color or shape placed on each countertop will help bring your design together.
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Kitchen Island Lighting

Pay particular attention to the lighting above your kitchen island. Your existing lighting is likely insufficient for tasks. Whether the kids are doing homework or you’re chopping vegetables, plentiful lighting protects eyes and fingers.

Ceiling lights can also serve as a visual anchor for your kitchen island. Consider the competing elements in your kitchen remodel when choosing lighting above your island. The light fixtures you choose should either blend with their surrounding or create a focal point.

kitchen island lighting

Generally speaking, fixtures with small, glass shades will blend seamlessly with other visual elements, while larger fixtures with color or textured glass will grab more attention. Before you purchase light fixtures you love, first consider if they’ll overwhelm your space.

Try Painting Your Kitchen Island

Painting your kitchen island will add an artistic touch to your design. You can purchase a wood freestanding island or order unfinished cabinetry for your built-in. As your mood or tastes change in the coming years, you can paint your island to create an inexpensive new look. Matching your paint color to an accent wall or shelving can bring your design together.

Try purchasing a colorful decorative tile backsplash and paint your island to match one of the colors. You’ll create a cohesive look for your kitchen while drawing attention to your backsplash.

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Avoid Kitchen Island Mistakes with These Tips

Accept that a new kitchen island isn’t going to make you a different cook. If you’ve ever had a treadmill collecting dust in your basement, you understand that sometimes our purchases are more about who we wish we were. If you haven’t baked bread from scratch in the ten years you’ve lived in your home, you won’t start with a new kitchen island. Forgo the expense of a low marble countertop. Instead, design a kitchen island for the way you actually live.  

Create a visual board with colors and design elements you like. When it’s time to go shopping, it’s easy to fall in love with individual pieces without considering how they’ll look within your design. Creating a visual board with colors, fabrics and materials will help you coordinate your design.

Be absolutely sure about your kitchen island size. Building a kitchen island that is too large is the biggest regret among homeowners. Go to a show room with a measuring tape to get a realistic feel for the size you’re considering.

kitchen island bright interior

Once built, many elements of your kitchen island are difficult and expensive to change. Avoid common mistakes by following these tips:

  • Examine the area under your kitchen floor for joists, pipes or wires that will obstruct construction of your kitchen island. Often, moving the placement of your island a few inches before construction begins will prevent problems down the road.
  • Check your local building codes before you begin construction. It’s the only way to be sure you won’t have to make pricey corrections when it’s time to sell your home.
  • Consider your kitchen workflow triangle. If construction will obstruct your triangle, reconsider installing your cooktop or sink in your kitchen island.
  • Purchase a high-quality range hood if you put your cooktop in your kitchen island. Proper ventilation not only keeps your kitchen and home smelling nice, but it also prevents fires. As the price of your renovation mounts, resist the temptation to forgo quality when you purchase your range hood.
  • If you want stools with arm rests, take measurements. Arm rests have an annoying habit of not fitting under the bar top.

Successful Kitchen Island Design

Kitchen islands may be both functional and stylish, but designing them successfully requires careful planning and a good deal of decision-making. Kitchen island design begins by avoiding the most common mistake: building an island too large for your space. Once you’re sure your planned dimensions are workable, you can go about deciding how you’ll use your kitchen island. From there, you’re ready to address the variety of decisions that go into kitchen island design.

From materials to lighting to storage, you can create a built-in kitchen that works well for your family and adds value to your home.

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