What You Need to Know About Kitchen Islands

kitchen island with 2-sided seating

What You Need to Know About Kitchen Islands

A kitchen island is the most often requested feature in a new remodel. And for good reason – it offers a great way to increase both counter space and storage space, something people always seem to need more of.

But while the advantages of having an island may seem simple, deciding what to include in your ideal island can be difficult when beginning a remodel. There are many considerations that go into how an island looks and functions.

Kitchen Island as Part of the Wellness Kitchen

Typically, the island serves as the kitchen’s hub, where people come together to help with the cooking or eating. Because of the pandemic, homeowners now want their kitchens to be safe and healthy spaces. And having a place to socialize is an important part of a wellness kitchen because enjoying company contributes to overall health and well-being.

An island is the perfect centerpiece of the social kitchen, with room for food prep and space for sitting, standing and moving around.  

One Island or Two?

Kitchens with double islands offer twice the counter space and twice the storage. You will have rooms for a second sink, a built-in cooktop/range, more seating – more of everything.

 In a large kitchen, two islands fit the space better than one huge island, with a countertop that looks like an airport runway.

What Goes into the Kitchen Island?

What should you include in your new kitchen island so that it is functional, practical and beautiful? We’ve rounded up some of the most requested island components for your consideration.

1. Seating

Most homeowners want seating at their island since it creates a social setting and provides a practical space for working and/or eating.

Most islands are rectangular, with seating at one of the short sides, along the back or a combination of the two.

If your island will be used mostly for doing homework or having a quick snack, you will want all the seats facing the same way. If you like being able to look at the person you’re having a snack with, then you’ll want seating on both sides.

One-Side Seating

An island with seating on just one side is a common arrangement. However, for family meals, this seating arrangement is not ideal.

Placing all seats on one side means everyone will be facing forward in a line, and that makes conversation difficult. This arrangement works fine when just one or two people will be seated and chatting with the cook or when most meals involve just one or two people.

Choosing an island without legs or sides will give a bit more space to scoot the stools to the side so diners can face toward each other more easily.

Two-Side Seating: Adjacent Sides

Adding one or two seats to an adjacent side of the island can make it more inviting. By extending the island overhang to two sides instead of just one, guests can sit facing each other.

Backless Stools

If you place seats in the traffic aisle or in the chef’s workspace, backless stools will be the best option. Or choose a style that can slide fully under the counter and out of everyone’s way.

Stools with Arms

Seats with arms take up more space than backless stools, plus they can’t tuck under the countertop. If you do choose stools with arms, plan for each guest to have 28 to 32 inches of width for comfortable seating and elbow room.

Calculating Kitchen Island Seating

The National Kitchen and Bath Association  provides recommendations for people sitting at your kitchen island. Each seated person at a 36 inch high countertop requires a 24 inch wide by 15 inch deep space for comfortable elbow and knee clearance. On a 10-foot island, this will allow for four to six seats, depending on your choice of stools.

Further, how you use island seating will affect the depth of the countertop overhang. The minimum depth is 12 inches, but ideally it should be between 16 to 18 inches of overhang to give enough knee space with bar stools.

2. Two-sided Cabinet Configuration in Kitchen Island

Do you want cabinets accessible from both sides of your island? You can have it, however, it all depends on the island’s depth. Typical base cabinets are 24 inches deep, and when cabinets are deeper than this, items in the back are hard to reach. For this reason, on an island deeper than 24 inches, it makes sense to build it using shallower cabinets p

When the island is configured with cabinets back-to-back, the work side can be used to hold frequently used items, while the back side can be used to store things used less frequently. The trade-off here is that the doors will be blocked by the stools. Whether having to move the stools to reach certain items is an inconvenience or not is a personal preference.

3. Storage

A kitchen island can add lots of storage to your new kitchen. Since some kitchens are doing away with upper cabinets, island storage helps make up for that lost space. Islands are built using base cabinets. Manufacturers of in-cabinet storage systems have come up with an amazing variety of built-ins, and any of these can work in your island. It’s up to you and your kitchen designer to decide what’s right for what you need to store.  

Drawers

Drawer storage in your kitchen island is both functional and convenient. Drawers provide a place for everything, from spatulas and ladles to dishware and even small appliances if drawers are deep enough. If space is an issue, shallow drawers can also be useful.

Open Shelves

Open shelving is practical and a great way to give your island some personality. You can store items you want to grab easily, without any doors in the way. Open shelves are typically installed on the ends of islands.

Don’t Forget Your Pet

The end of an island is a great spot for a dedicated pet feeding station. It’s a designated area for your pet that is out of the way and yet convenient for their food and water.

4. Pullout Trash and Recycling

Trash pullouts are important for a functional, efficient kitchen. They take care of hiding your garbage and recycling, but they are still easy and convenient to get to. In fact, a trash or recycling pullout is the most popular specialty storage feature among homeowners who are remodeling a kitchen, according to Houzz research.

Your island is likely to become your main work surface. And that makes it a good spot for a pullout trash-and-recycling center. You can wipe food scraps and crumbs right off the surface into a bin.

No one wants to have to look at a messy freestanding garbage can in their new kitchen, a trash and recycling pull-out is just the ticket.

5. Kitchen Island Countertop

The right countertop material is a key component for an island that will get used hard and used every day. A kitchen island typically becomes the main prep space, so you want the surface to be as durable as possible.

Engineered quartz is the favorite among homeowners, and for good reason – it’s heat and stain resistant, extremely durable and comes in many, many patterns and colors. Silestone, Cambria and Caesarstone are well-known brands in the quartz market. Countertops with sanitary/health benefits have become increasingly important to remodeling homeowners, and engineered quartz has anti-microbial properties.

 
But quartz isn’t the only surface material available. Your kitchen designer will have other options that might work better for your budget and style preferences, including some you might not have heard of, such as quartzite – natural sandstone that is fused under heat and pressure with sparkly quartz crystals. Granite is still popular with people who want natural stone. Honed or matte finishes are requested most often. And wood is always an option, especially if you want something that’s eco-friendly.

Here’s an article that goes into the pros and cons of the various countertop materials from which to choose.

Personalize Your Island

Make your kitchen island something special by infusing it with your personality, style and flair. Add a shelf for cookbooks, a wine rack or ornate countertop brackets. You can make it look like a piece of furniture by adding furniture-style legs.

You can choose a finish color that’s different from the other cabinets in the room. Or possibly introduce a cabinet style for the island that’s different from the others. If most of the kitchen is white with plain Shaker-style doors, having an island with raised panel doors and an antiqued finish will be sure to make the island one-of-a-kind and yours alone.

Install LED lighting strips to the underside of the island counter, in the toe space or in both to bring a fun modern element and extra brightness to your new kitchen.

Other Considerations for a Practical, Efficient Kitchen Island

Outlets

Building code requires at least one outlet for an island (more depending on the size of the island). You and your kitchen designer will determine the best location(s). You might also want to consider an outlet in a drawer for charging devices, so they’re not left out on the countertop.

Have the outlet cover it painted or stained to match the wood finish of the island. You do not want a bright white plastic cover on your beautiful blue island.  

Secondary Fridge / Fridge Drawer

Installing a beverage fridge or fridge drawer in your island can be a great way to let people grab a drink or snack without disrupting the main work triangle in your kitchen or getting in the way in the main traffic area.

Microwave / Microwave Drawer

A microwave in the kitchen island lets people heat up leftovers or make popcorn without getting in the way of the cook.

If you use your island as your main food prep area, having the microwave close by will minimize trips back and forth. Plus, installing the microwave in the island gets it off the countertop, freeing up more work surface and eliminating clutter — something people want to do in their kitchens these days.

Prep Sink

If you don’t want your main sink in the island, consider adding a prep sink instead.

When you use your island countertop as your main prep area, you can rinse items right next to where you’re working, rather than rinsing items in the main sink and dripping water on the floor as you transfer them to the island. Convenient!

Dishwasher Drawers

A dishwasher drawer or auxiliary dishwasher in addition to your main dishwasher can be very handy when entertaining. Some people install one for glassware only. No matter how you want to use it, having it in the island is a convenience location.

Conclusion

A kitchen island should integrate perfectly into your new kitchen and never make it feel crowded. An experienced kitchen designer will guide your decision making, help you avoid costly mistakes and ensure you get an island that is both practical and beautiful, one you and your family will enjoy for years to come.


Kitchen Design Partner exists to offer insight and advice about all things related to kitchen remodeling. Our goal is to connect homeowners with talented, experienced kitchen designers who live and work in their communities. We are a serious resource for anyone preparing to remodel their kitchen so they can make the best possible choices about designers, contractors and products.