An Essential Kitchen Design Guide: The Kitchen Island

You may be reading this because you’re researching a new kitchen installation project you’ve got planned. Perhaps you’re just toying with some minor but long-overdue renovations or simply looking to make better use of an already existing kitchen island that isn’t reaching its full potential. Whatever you have in mind, you’ve come to the right place. This is a short but efficient guide on how to get the most out of an essential kitchen centrepiece — the kitchen island.

The versatility of the kitchen island cannot be overemphasised, so we’ll look at the plethora of options and adaptations possible, but first, let’s look at what a kitchen island is and why it’s such a kitchen staple.

Picture your kitchen — or whatever space you’re working with — void of everything other than a box in the centre. This box is your kitchen island — it’s your blank canvas free for you to customise how you see fit.

An Essential Kitchen Design Guide: The Kitchen IslandWhat Is Your Kitchen Island’s Purpose: Multi-Functional or Specific?

The first step is deciding on the purpose of your kitchen island and the function it plays in your home. Do you have any specific aspirations for this space? Your kitchen may be a space solely reserved for cooking, dining and socialising, or it may be a spot for you or family to do work. The main purpose of your kitchen will determine how you get the most out of your island.

A kitchen island can be as multi-functional or as specific as you like, so take some time to think about the types of activities you would like it to accommodate and how often it will be used.

An Essential Kitchen Design Guide: The Kitchen IslandSize and Shape

Before you begin customising your kitchen island, you first need to make sure you understand its shape and size within the dimensions of your kitchen. This is an easy, and usually quite obvious, first step. Your kitchen island is often going to slot neatly inside the walls that surround it. For this reason, rectangular kitchen islands are the most common and most efficient, unless you are something of a maverick! A rectangular kitchen island also nicely complements the “kitchen triangle” concept.

For practicality, it’s often advisable that the kitchen island is situated around five feet from other kitchen counters — less than four feet is too close for comfort and much more than six is too far to allow you to efficiently travel between counters. Bear in mind that you’ll also need access to your fridge, oven doors, and cupboards and drawers when you’re measuring this out.

When thinking about the height of your kitchen island, thirty-six inches should be the minimum height to consider. Ergonomically, lower than this isn’t sensible, as it just isn’t practical. Somewhere around the forty-inch mark is usually a good height, but this will, of course, be dictated by personal characteristics. Do your research into the optimum height for you, as you’ll want your kitchen island to be easy to use.

Lastly, choose a shape that gives you enough space to walk around, and remember to consider its use and how much activity this space is going to see, especially if you plan on using your kitchen island as storage space for cabinets and drawers.

An Essential Kitchen Design Guide: The Kitchen IslandSurface and Material

It’s time to give this box some personality. Again, think carefully about your kitchen island’s purpose and function. If you want to use this space as a dining and socialising centrepiece, quartz and marble are bold, impressive and incredibly durable surfaces. If you plan to use this space for preparing food, a wooden surface might be more favourable than you think. Butcher block worktops, for example, are friendly surfaces for cutting and prepping dishes. They do require more maintenance than marble, stone and quartz surfaces, but they are far more versatile.

Wooden kitchen islands also have great adaptation potential. You could, for example, have a manoeuverable island or a drop-leaf top, which just isn’t possible with other materials. The aged wood of a wooden kitchen island also exhibits fantastic natural patinas, which can be a standout characteristic of your kitchen — especially in more rustic farmhouse-style kitchens.

Marble, quartz and stone, however, are the more popular choices of surface and material for people looking for contemporary style and durability. This does, of course, make them more expensive. These materials do not boast the ideal cutting surfaces wooden countertops offer, but they are far more heat-resistant and, most importantly, make for a visually impressive centrepiece in any kitchen. Marble, quartz and stone also come with stunning natural patterns. If you’re looking for some inspiration, we recently published a post rounding out the five best marble countertops — the most popular countertop in recent years.

An Essential Kitchen Design Guide:  The Kitchen Island

On, in, around and Above

Here comes the most important step — customising and accessorising your kitchen island — it’s time to get those creative juices flowing! Most of what is on a kitchen island can be infinitely played with until you find what fits best. This is a case of trial and error, so we’ll leave you to fiddle indefinitely until you decide on whether chopping boards, flowers, ornaments or anything else should deck your kitchen island! You must, however, consider whether a central kitchen feature will be located on the kitchen island. Typically, a stove or sink is placed on the kitchen island to create the ideal kitchen triangle layout, which makes your entire kitchen intuitive to navigate and use.

Next on the list is deciding how you are going to utilise what is within your kitchen island. Islands provide an abundance of space inside and a wealth of possibilities. Cupboards and drawers are your most obvious options, and carousel units or pull-out bins can be very handy too, utilising every inch of space on offer! The most creative ideas come in the shape of open shelving for books or a nice wine rack, whether you’re proud of your wine collection or simply want it close to hand. Both open bookshelves and a wine rack make your kitchen look decorative and homely. They’re not only useful installations but also help inject character into your kitchen.

You will likely have what will surround your kitchen island in mind from the very beginning. This area cannot be played with as much as the other areas, as you want to be able to access your kitchen island and have a comfortable amount of space to walk around it. Sometimes, the side of the island furthest away from the main kitchen wall can make for a great seating area. However, this will depend on the purpose of your kitchen island — is it a workplace, a dining area or a space exclusively used for preparation?

Finally, don’t neglect the space above your island! Some brilliant things can be done here and it’s an area that should not be underestimated. A personal favourite is a hanging rack, though this is not to everybody’s taste. In a rustic farmhouse-style kitchen, a hanging rack with pots, pans and other utensils is a charming addition — not to mention incredibly convenient. That being said, it can look cluttered and busy if you’re working with smaller dimensions, so this will depend on the style and size of your kitchen and your aesthetic preference.

Of course, with your kitchen island being your kitchen’s protagonist, it’s important to put it in the spotlight. You can also use the space above for overhead lighting. This shows off your wonderfully customised centrepiece, sets the mood and also provides clarity while cooking, preparing, working or whatever else. Lighting can also be used in smaller kitchens to make your space appear larger. Hanging floodlights are a great addition if you’ve not opted for a hanging rack, and if you have, adding clusters of small pendant LED lights are a great investment that will give you the best of both.

Stephen Flower is Managing Director at Ashford Kitchens & Interiors, a quality provider of bespoke luxury kitchens, bedrooms and home offices in and around Middlesex, United Kingdom, since 1984.