Kitchen Islands: Create Your Own Perfect Cooking Oasis

Family playing together in kitchen

There is nothing new about a hardworking kitchen island. A hundred years ago it was simply called a farm table. Now the old farm table has modernized and, according to Brian Long of Harborview Custom Cabinets, the island is the newest focal point in kitchens.

Kitchen islands can range from 2 feet by 3 feet all the way to 5 feet by 12 feet, but Long cautions against making an island too large. "Homeowners have to remember that it involves a lot of walking in order to get around a gigantic island. If you have the space, breaking it up into two smaller islands makes much more sense. One could be used for prep and the other for dining, or whatever purpose suits your family best."

So how do you choose the kitchen island that is right for you and your kitchen?

There are seemingly endless options available when designing a kitchen island. To help you get started and decide on how elaborate your island should be, here are several types of islands to consider and the items to include in a plan:

What purpose do you want your island to serve?
  • Food preparation: It should be 36 inches high and include a prep sink, stove, knife storage and cutting boards.
  • Baking: It should be 30 inches high (the perfect height for rolling out dough) and include a marble countertop and a pop-up mixer stand inside a cabinet.
  • Eating: It should be 42 inches high, which is great for open floor plans as it helps to separate the kitchen from adjoining rooms.
  • Extra storage: It's usually 36 inches high, but can be a combination of heights and can include a wine rack or bookcases.
  • Entertainment hub: It should have bar sink, bar refrigerator, wine cooler, ice maker and dishwasher.
  • A combination of purposes: Mix and match any of the above.

What shape of island do you want?
  • Its shape should conform to the size of the kitchen and improve, not impede, traffic flow.
  • Rectangle: For traditional or contemporary and everything in between.
  • Oval: For small kitchens where maneuverability is an issue.
  • Triangle or wedge: Often used in open floor-plans to separate the kitchen from the great room.
  • Horseshoe: Practical only in the largest of kitchens; good for homes with panoramic views.

How big should the island be?
  • It can be 30, 36 or 42 inches high, but can combine different levels.
  • Distance from the kitchen island to wall cabinets and appliances: Must be at least 36 inches, but preferably 42 to 48 inches.
  • Test the size before you build: Use painter's tape to outline on the floor its desired size, shape and location.

How should the island be constructed?
  • Most kitchen islands are made of several sizes and styles of base cabinets, all anchored to each other and the floor.
  • They can include drawer units, door units, wine racks, bookcases and appliances.
  • Islands can match the wall cabinets or be of a contrasting finish or color.
  • Electrical lines must be run to accommodate extra outlets, appliances and overhead lighting.
  • Water and drain lines must be run if they include a sink, dishwasher or ice maker.
  • For a funky, eclectic island: Use an antique furniture piece topped with a stone slab.

What kind of countertop should I choose?
  • Granite: Very popular now, especially in traditional interiors and though extremely durable it requires special care to keep from scratching, cracking, or chipping ($45 to $150 per square foot).
  • Quartz: Stone composite that is eco-friendly and available in a large selection of colors ($45 to $125 per square foot).
  • Marble: Provides the perfect surface for rolling out dough on a baking center ($45 to 125 per square foot).
  • Butcher block: Great surface for cutting or prep area, but needs extra care to prevent bacteria growth ($45 to $75 per square foot).
  • Tile: Good for entertainment hubs or storage centers, but grout is more challenging in food prep areas ($5 to 25 per square foot).
  • Stainless Steel: Very high tech, great for serious cooks with a modern flair ($75 to $150 per square foot).
  • Concrete: Can be custom shaped to fit any size island and is very durable ($80 to $120 per square foot).
  • Recycled Glass: Gorgeous, jewel-like and eco-friendly, though not as easily available as other options ($50 to $80 per square foot).

One final thought before embarking on your island adventure: Betty Nelson of N2 Granite recommends that once you have decided on all your kitchen island options, take one further step and consider the logistics of getting everything in place.

"Granite slabs are moved with hydraulic lifts," Nelson warns. "Can we get our equipment close enough to your kitchen to get the slab in?" She adds: "Be cautious if this is a new construction site, as there have been instances when the truck has sunk in the mud. There have also been times we couldn't maneuver the countertop around a tight corner or narrow doorway and we were unable to install the countertop. It is a rare occasion, but it is better to plan ahead than to be faced with challenges later."

Barbara Green is The Design Diva and owner of Sensibly Chic Interior Design. She creates one-of-a-kind interiors that reflect your taste, lifestyle and budget. Follow on Twitter @thedesigndiva.
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