The island is often the busiest spot in a kitchen. It is, after all, the space’s main gathering and work spot. It stands to reason, then, that a lot of thought has to be put into designing it. There are space considerations, storage, how it matches with the kitchen cabinets and so on.
Whether you enlist the services of a professional designer or feel confident enough to take the work on yourself, here are five important tips to help you build the perfect island for your kitchen.
Know the island’s main function
Kitchen islands can act as many different things. Will you be using it as a dedicated food preparation, cooking, and cleaning area or will you open it as a space where everybody can do everything from homework to entertaining guests?
This is probably the most important thing to consider; everything from material to size will follow according to the island’s designated function. Food prep and cooking will require more space and access to plumbing, venting, and electrical systems, for example. An island with a play area, on the other hand, will require child-safe materials and possibly lower counter heights.
The island’s main function can depend largely on the overall flow of activity in the kitchen, both working and living. If the cooking area is too cramped, consider moving the cooktop to the island. If you have kids running around, you may want to make one end a dedicated play area. Note that both options may require the island to be bigger, however.
Know what appliances you want on the island
Once you’ve decided on your island’s main function, it’s time to think about what appliances you want to install in it. You likely won’t be able to put everything you want in it, so try and prioritize at least five appliances.
If the island is meant to be for food prep and cleaning, then the main sink and dishwasher will likely be there along with nearby trash, recycling, and composting areas. A cooktop will be integral if you decide to add cooking into the mix, so make sure to take the space needed by a range hood into account.
If you’ve designated one end or side as a place for the kids to do homework, you might want to keep a food warmer or a microwave nearby. A small undercounter refrigerator will also help if your main refrigerator is too far from the island.
Know your storage needs
What appliances and fixtures you want on the island will affect the amount of island storage space available. If you want to use your island as a casual dining area, you’ll also need to take the space needed to stow away kitchen stools into account.
That said, island storage won’t be a priority if you have more than enough space for cabinets in the kitchen. It is, however, always best to make available storage as efficient as possible. Here are a few ideas on how to maximize island storage:
- Keep pots and large mixing bowls in extra-deep drawers. Drawers are particularly useful as they provide easy access, unlike cabinetry which require you to reach deep into the back to root around for whatever it is you need.
- Install open shelves for frequently used items like serving dishes and everyday dinnerware.
- Use drawer space more efficiently by using customizable drawer inserts for dishes, silverware, and other items.
- You can also stow items at one end of the island to maximize usable space.
Know how high your counter should be
Your seating decisions will have a large effect on counter height and your island’s overall design. Bar stools will require higher counter heights compared to regular table seats, for instance. The National Kitchen & Bath Association recommends the following space requirements:
- 18 inches of space above the knee when seated at a 30-inch-high counter.
- 15 inches of space above the knee when seated at a 36-inch-high counter.
- 12 inches of space above the knee when seated at a 42-inch-high counter.
- 24 inches of countertop space, per seat, to accommodate elbowroom.
One way to accommodate both cooking and eating at the island even if you use 42-inch-high bar stools is to make the dining side higher than the working side. This way, you have enough space to store the stools while maintaining a comfortable height for prep work.
Know how the island fits into your kitchen layout
This brings us full circle back to item number 1: The purpose of an island – which is to make the flow of your kitchen more smooth and cohesive – should dictate its function.
When designing your perfect kitchen island, think of the kitchen work triangle. Make sure that the working side of your island is easily accessible and functions smoothly with the opposite kitchen counter.
Proper spacing is key to the perfect kitchen island. You should be able to get to all major work areas without the island blocking your path. You should also make sure to leave enough open space around the island. About 3 feet of floor space at each end of the island is recommended.
Always remember that the island isn’t a separate and autonomous area; it is a small part of a much larger whole.